Former Miami Beach City Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez didn’t stay away from local politics for long.
On Monday, two months after stepping down from the commission, Rosen Gonzalez filed to run for her old seat. She was forced to submit her resignation last year when she ran for Congress in order to comply with an expanded state resign-to-run law, but she did not have to leave office until January.
“I’m back,” Rosen Gonzalez, who was first elected in 2015, announced in a press release. “I am returning to fight the special interests who threaten our quality of life with overdevelopment.”
Former state Rep. David Richardson is also jumping back into local politics.
On Friday, Richardson filed to run for the City Commission seat currently held by John Elizabeth Alemán, who recently announced that she will not run for re-election. The mayor’s job and three other seats on the seven-member commission are up for election in November. The deadline to file election paperwork isn’t until September, but candidates can start raising money after they file.
Richardson, a retired forensic auditor, was first elected to the state House in 2012 and served three terms, garnering praise from criminal justice reformers for his investigations into inhumane conditions in state prisons. Richardson decided not to seek a fourth term in 2018 so he could run for Congress. He and Rosen Gonzalez both lost to Donna Shalala in the Democratic primary.
“I think there are a number of issues that I’m going to be able to sink my teeth into,” Richardson said, listing sea level rise and supporting the city’s new inspector general’s office as two of his priorities. “I’m a very detail-oriented person so I’m looking forward to getting into the details,” he said.
Richardson faces only one opponent so far. Blake Young, the owner of an industrial sales contracting company, said in a letter that he would bring his experience working with engineers and business executives as well as his knowledge of infrastructure projects to the City Commission. Young, a North Beach resident, said he had a “keen interest” in the future of that neighborhood.
The race for Rosen Gonzalez’s former seat is more crowded.
Rosen Gonzalez already faces three opponents, although as a former commissioner she will likely have an advantage. Rosen Gonzalez, a professor at Miami Dade College, has the support of a contingent of vocal Beach residents concerned about the pace of development on the island. She was often critical of major development projects during her tenure and opposed the city’s $439 million general obligation bond program, which will fund a wide range of infrastructure, parks and public safety projects.
The outspokenness that has endeared Rosen Gonzalez to her supporters has also gotten her into trouble on more than one occasion. In an email sent to the city manager after a 2017 shooting in South Beach, for example, Rosen Gonzalez argued that Miami Beach should stop its body camera program and “give the cops back their bullets.” She was also the subject of an ethics complaint alleging that she used her official position to intervene in the police investigation of a political supporter. The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics scolded Rosen Gonzalez for a “lapse in judgment,” but ultimately cleared her in the probe last year.
In the statement announcing her bid for re-election, Rosen Gonzalez highlighted legislation she sponsored providing city employees with paid parental leave, creating anti-drug programs for parents and teens, and requiring hotels to provide workers with panic buttons in order to protect against sexual harassment and assault.
Sexual harassment is an issue that’s likely to come up during the campaign because Rosen Gonzalez is running against a man she has accused of inappropriate behavior.
In 2017, Rosen Gonzalez alleged that real estate broker and commission candidate Rafael Velasquez exposed himself and tried to force her to touch his genitals while the two sat alone in a car. The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office decided not to charge Velasquez, saying there was not enough evidence to prove a crime took place. Prosecutors also decided not to pursue Velasquez’s counterclaim that Rosen Gonzalez made up the incident and filed a false police report in order to further her congressional campaign.
Velasquez, who has filed a lawsuit against Rosen Gonzalez accusing her of inventing the claims, said he was “glad” that the former commissioner had decided to run for the same seat.
“We know the history that Commissioner Rosen Gonzalez has with me and I am glad that she decided to run in the group and that we will have the opportunity to address any issue of public concern and interest and let the voters make their decision,” he said.
Velasquez said that if he’s elected, he would focus on the implementation of the general obligation bond program and work to ensure that the inspector general’s office has the necessary tools to hold public officials accountable.
Two other candidates, Michael Barrineau, a real estate broker and member of the city’s planning board, and Steven Meiner, a lawyer with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, have also filed to run for the same commission seat.
Barrineau applied to fill Rosen Gonzalez’s seat when it was vacated in January, but city commissioners ultimately chose to appoint former Beach Commissioner Joy Malakoff to serve out the remainder of the term. In his application, Barrineau said he would focus on a number of challenges, including protecting the city’s water quality, preparing for sea level rise and improving public safety. He highlighted work on a zoning ordinance for North Beach’s Town Center as one of his accomplishments on the planning board.
Meiner said on his campaign website that he plans to focus on reducing crime and implementing “cost-efficient” resiliency efforts including creating more green spaces designed to soak up floodwater. He also promised to work on eliminating corruption and waste, including by providing whistle-blowers with a monetary incentive for reporting wrongdoing.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber announced in February that he is running for re-election. He faces a challenge from Beach resident Konstantinos Gus Manessis, who works in property management. Commissioner Ricky Arriola is also up for re-election, but has not yet filed paperwork to run.
Miami Beach commission seats are not based on geographic areas, so candidates can pick their seat. Commissioners are limited to two four-year terms.