Miami Beach

New Miami Beach commissioners: Communication with residents, bike safety among top issues

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and his mother, Diane Ziman, celebrate his reelection Tuesday night at Lucali Pizza in Sunset Harbour.
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and his mother, Diane Ziman, celebrate his reelection Tuesday night at Lucali Pizza in Sunset Harbour. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Mayor Philip Levine and three political newcomers will likely bring big change to Miami Beach’s commission come Nov. 23.

Levine won a second two-year term as mayor in Tuesday’s election; Beach residents Ricky Arriola and John Elizabeth Alemán are newly elected commissioners for Groups 5 and 6.

The Group 4 commission seat will be decided Nov. 17 when top vote-getting candidates Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Betsy Perez meet for a runoff.

The four join Commissioners Michael Grieco, Joy Malakoff and Micky Steinberg, who weren’t up for reelection this year.

In a city of more than 90,000 residents, about 10,700 residents cast ballots in Tuesday’s election, or nearly 24 percent of the city’s 44,576 registered voters.

One of the races came pretty close. After she beat opponent Mark Samuelian by fewer than 100 votes, Alemán told the Miami Herald she’s ready to get started in her new role after a long campaign.

Alemán said she still has to convince many residents she’s right for the job, pointing to her slim margin of victory.

There are residents who didn’t vote for me, and I’m going to need to earn their confidence. And I intend to do it, and I’m confident that I can.

John Elizabeth Alemán, newly elected Miami Beach commissioner

“There are residents who didn’t vote for me, and I’m going to need to earn their confidence,” she said. “And I intend to do it, and I’m confident that I can.”

Along with big-picture items including the city’s anti-flooding pump program and long-term transportation issues, Alemán said one of her priorities stems from campaign conversations with residents when she was knocking on doors. People told her they were tired of seeing public construction projects start in their neighborhoods without advance warning.

“I heard some residents in different parts of the city that they were surprised when projects would come into specific parts of their neighborhood,” she said. “I think we can do better in letting residents know what’s coming.”

During the campaign, Alemán, Arriola and Perez appeared together to meet voters, and they were seen as a three-person slate aligned with Levine. The candidates all bristled at the suggestion, and they each made their case for why they weren’t beholden to the millionaire mayor.

At a campaign event hosted by Levine in early October, Arriola said in an interview that he supported Alemán, Perez and Levine, but he had no alliances.

“There’s zero alignment,” said Arriola, a successful businessman and son of former Miami City Manager Joe Arriola. “And that’s the total truth. I speak my mind, do my own thing, and that’s the way it is.”

Arriola campaigned to make city streets more bike and pedestrian friendly. A triathlete, he often said he didn’t feel safe walking or biking along the Beach’s congested streets.

Since election night, Arriola has not returned calls or messages from the Miami Herald.

In a city of more than 90,000 residents, about 10,700 residents cast ballots in Tuesday’s election, or nearly 24 percent of the city’s 44,576 registered voters.

Levine said he saw this election as an effort by voters to “come together to move the city forward.” He feels the new commissioners have visions that jibe with his. And the mayor didn’t reject the notion of a slate.

That would be hard to dismiss. An invitation sent Thursday for a Betsy Perez fundraiser to be hosted by Levine on Monday in Sunset Harbour lists the host committee: Arriola, Alemán, Malakoff and Grieco.

In a post-Election Day interview, Grieco considered the slate conversation old news.

“Just because people run together as a ‘slate’ when it comes to macro ideals related to the city does not mean they are going to vote together on every issue,” Grieco said.

Grieco, a Levine ally during their 2013 campaign, has openly disagreed with the mayor on more than one occasion during the last two years.

Levine acknowledges that his preferred candidates won on Tuesday, but that the others also ran as a slate.

“It’s not a matter of a slate. It’s a matter of ‘Are you a candidate of tomorrow or a candidate of yesterday?’” he said. “They were the slate of yesterday. We’re the slate of tomorrow.”

On Levine’s to-do list: a streetcar system in South Beach.

In early August, the Beach got an unsolicited proposal from French firm Alstom to build a $148 million wireless streetcar system that would run along Fifth Street and along Washington Avenue to the Miami Beach Convention Center. It would later connect to a future transit system across the MacArthur Causeway.

Levine told the Herald he wants to use the Alstom proposal as a basis for a public solicitation for bids from other firms.

“Let’s go out to market,” he said. “Let’s have them come back with similar proposals so we can analyze it.”

The mayor captured 65 percent of the vote on Tuesday. Some longtime activists and vocal residents who in 2013 voted for Levine this year backed his opponent, David Wieder.

Levine called this group a “a tiny minority that shows up at City Hall every day and screams and yells.”

“They do not represent the majority of Miami Beach residents who voted [Tuesday],” he said.

To his strongest detractors, Levine offered this statement: “You know what my feeling for them is? This is a democracy. The system is the system. And in two years, they’ll have another chance.”

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

  Comments