Miami Beach

Miami Beach votes No on pay raise for commissioners; all three races go to runoff

Voters in Miami Beach rejected a proposed pay increase for city commissioners and the mayor that would have increased their salaries 650%.

The salary hike was rejected by voters last year by fewer than 600 votes. This time around, nearly 1,200 votes separated those opposed to those in favor of the salary bump.

But voters will return to the polls to elect their leaders, after none of the 12 candidates vying for three City Commission seats netted a simple majority of total votes.

All three races are headed for a runoff. As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, 100% of precincts had reported their vote totals but Miami-Dade County still has to tally provisional and vote-by-mail ballots pending review by the canvassing board.

In Group IV, former Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, 46, is seeking to regain her old seat that she gave up to run for Congress in 2018. She faced a former political ally she accused of exposing himself to her on the campaign trail in 2017.

Rosen Gonzalez received 38% of the vote, ahead of Steven Meiner and Michael Barrineau, who were neck-and-neck at just under 25% at the end of Tuesday night. Just two votes, or 0.01% points, separated them. Barrineau, a 61-year-old real estate broker and member of the city’s Planning Board, held a slim advantage, but late-night drama saw both men swap leads as final ballots were tallied. Before a runoff takes place on Nov. 19, a recount will likely be required to determine who will face Rosen Gonazlez.

Rafael Velasquez, 46, whom Rosen Gonzalez accused of exposing himself to her in 2017, based his campaign on regaining his reputation. He has an active defamation lawsuit against Rosen Gonzalez. He earned the fewest votes in Group IV, just 14% of total ballots cast.

Rosen Gonzalez, a speech professor at Miami Dade College, ended the night by thanking voters for letting their voices be heard. She said she looks forward to “being their champion” and working on issues like crime, traffic, overdevelopment and water quality.

“I am so thrilled that the residents of Miami Beach sent such a strong message that they want me back in office,” she said.

The race was marked by controversy from the beginning, and it received the most votes of the three commission races. Barrineau is also linked to Rosen Gonzalez, as the two briefly dated in 2015.

“Tonight, one thing is clear, voters are ready for pragmatism and less drama,” Barrineau said in a statement. “We will go through the process of a recount this week and I’m confident that process will reaffirm what we already know — it’s time for a new vision that is focused on our community. I’m ready to do just that.”

Meiner, 48, said he was confident his campaign’s message had touched voters disenchanted with politicians.

“I think that message resonated loud and clear,” he said.

In Group V, incumbent Commissioner Ricky Arriola received 45% of the vote. He will head to a runoff against challenger Raquel Pacheco, who received 24% of ballots cast.

ricky arriola.jpeg

In a post on Facebook Tuesday morning, Arriola shared a photo of himself running with friends. He seemed confident he would win outright.

“[T]his is the only running I am doing today! No runoffs,” he wrote in a comment.

Tuesday night, the 51-year-old said he was looking forward to his next election.

“I’m very pleased with our performance, 21 points ahead of my closest competitor,” said Arriola, the founder and CEO of Inktel Holdings Corp., a customer service company. “We’ll keep going until our next election in two weeks.”

He was first elected in 2015.

Pacheco, 44, the owner of a language translation and interpretation firm, said she was “in shock” that she forced an incumbent into a runoff with just under $13,000 in her war chest. Arriola boasted $257,000 in campaign contributions, including a $100,000 loan. She said she felt inspired that voters wanted a first-time, grass-roots candidate in office.

“I’m just incredibly proud of my team,” she said. “I am in shock.”

In Group VI, former state representative David Richardson stood out as the night’s top performer, receiving 48% of the vote. But it was not enough to earn a simple majority, so he will meet Adrian Gonzalez (38%) on Nov. 19.

David Richardson, Group 6 Atiosis Blanco

Richardson, 60, said he was “extremely proud and humbled” that his campaign earned the most votes in his race.

“I’m committed to fighting harder than ever to grow our movement and share our vision for Miami Beach over these next two weeks,” he said in a statement. “I’m committed to finishing what we started when we launched this campaign back in March and I’m eager to knock a few more doors and win in two weeks.”

Gonzalez, 45, the owner of David’s Cafe Cafecito in Miami Beach, said he was “fired up” for the runoff.

“I think it was a spirited first round,” he said.

Voters also rejected Referendum 1, which would have increased the mayor’s term from two to four years and changed the mayor’s term limit from three two-year terms to two four-year terms. About 55% of voters cast ballots against the measure.

The pay raise for commissioners also failed. Voters had rejected a nearly identical referendum in 2018. The main difference between this year’s question and the 2018 referendum was that the new version stipulated the raise would not go into effect until the city’s November 2021 general election instead of taking effect immediately.

The city charter set salaries in 1966 at $6,000 and $10,000, respectively, for the commissioners and the mayor, but that does not include the monthly stipends and car allowances elected officials enjoy.

With all stipends and allowances taken into consideration, commissioners receive $39,000 a year, the city said. The mayor makes $40,000. Their pensions are dependent on the overall earnings, not what is set in the charter.

Referendum 2 cited the lower figure when asking voters if they wanted to raise the salaries. The referendum asked to increase the pay to $45,381 for commissioners and $75,636 for the mayor, the value of the 1966 salaries adjusted for the cost of living.

If it had been approved, salaries in the future would have increased annually based on the Consumer Price Index, up to 3% a year.

Voters approved Referendum 3 with 74% of the votes in favor of the measure, which will establish procedures for the commission in the event of a member’s resignation. Commissioners would be required to decide whether to appoint a new commissioner or schedule an election to replace the commissioner.

When Rosen Gonzalez resigned to run for Congress, the City Commission appointed former Commissioner Joy Malakoff to fill the Group IV seat until November.

On Referendum 4, which will establish “Pride Park” as the name of the new park on the parking lot known as Convention Center Park/P-Lot, 58% of voters approved.

On Referendums 5 and 6, which dealt with allowing increased density for development of historic buildings and office space, more than half of voters rejected the measures. About 51% opposed Referendum 5, and 54% opposed Referendum 6.

For attorney Cathi Graham, 70, who voted Tuesday at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, the interpersonal politics of the Group IV race turned her off. So in the contest she dubbed the “wacka doo race,” she voted for Meiner.

“I’m voting for him because he’s not wacky,” she said.

She cast votes for Arriola and Richardson, as well, and opposed ballot questions related to pay increases and term-limit changes.

After just over 29,000 voters in Miami Beach cast ballots last year, when a high-profile governor’s race and midterm elections drew voters to the polls, city leaders expected a low turnout this year.

On Tuesday, a weak stream of voters walked in and out of the 24 precincts set up for voting on Election Day. At Miami Beach City Hall and the nearby Botanical Garden, supporters waved signs and candidates gathered to sway minds that had yet to be made up. During lulls in voting, candidates mingled among each other — and some, like Rosen Gonzalez and Group V candidate Jonathan Welsh, danced. Others made last-minute calls to voters.

“The challenge with local, off-year elections is that turnout is significantly lower — something we saw today with a slow trickle of voters coming in on Election Day,” said Christian Ulvert, a campaign consultant involved in the campaigns of two candidates.

Election Results

Group IV

Kristen Rosen Gonalez: 38%, 3,700 votes

Michael Barrineau: 23.86%, 2,316 votes

Steven Meiner: 23.85%, 2,315 votes

Rafael Velasquez: 14%, 1,374 votes

Group V

Ricky Arriola: 45%, 4,178 votes

Raquel Pacheco: 24%, 2,250 votes

Stephen Cohen: 22%, 2,104 votes

Jonathan Welsh: 7%, 683 votes

Group VI

David Richardson: 48%, 4,618 votes

Adrian Gonzalez: 38%, 3,627 votes

Blake Young: 9%, 879 votes

Mohammed Islam: 3%, 330 votes


1. Mayor’s term

Yes: 46%, 4,384 votes

No: 53%, 5,110 votes

2. Commissioner, mayor pay

Yes: 44%, 4,209 votes

No: 55%, 5,340 votes

3. Replace commissioner

Yes: 74%, 6,544 votes

No: 25%, 2,295 votes

4. Pride Park naming

Yes: 58%, 5,442 votes

No: 41%, 3,797 votes

5. Historic buildings

Yes: 48%, 4,580 votes

No: 51%, 4,782 votes

6. Office space density

Yes: 45%, 4,231 votes

No: 54%, 5,082 votes

Martin Vassolo covers the politics and government of Miami Beach for the Miami Herald. He began working for the Herald in January 2018 after attending the University of Florida, where he served as the editor-in-chief of The Independent Florida Alligator. Previously, he was a general assignment reporter on the Herald’s metro desk and a political reporting intern.