Two first-time candidates with similar ideas on transit and different approaches to combating sea level rise are in a runoff for Miami Beach City Commission Group 4.
Elizabeth “Betsy” Pérez, executive director of the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, a speech and communication professor at Miami Dade College, will face each other in the Nov. 17 runoff.
The Group 4 race began with four additional candidates: Michael DeFilippi, Scott Diffenderfer, Isaiah Mosley and Jonathan Parker. The field was pared to two on Election Day, Nov. 3.
DeFilippi, Diffenderfer and Parker have endorsed Pérez in the runoff election.
Also on Nov. 3, Beach voters returned Mayor Philip Levine to office and elected Ricky Arriola and John Elizabeth Alemán to Groups 5 and 6, respectively.
Early voting for the runoff is this weekend, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at two locations:
▪ City Hall, 1700 Convention Center Drive
▪ North Shore Branch Library, 7501 Collins Ave.
Rosen Gonzalez supports the city’s plan to combat rising tides with stormwater pumps, but she’s not sure the Beach needs to move as fast as it has. Gonzalez told the Miami Herald she’s concerned about the possible environmental impacts water from streets may have in Biscayne Bay.
“The new pumps might keep our streets dry, but look at the water we’re pumping into the bay. We’re sullying our waters,” she said. “It’s not just about getting it done. It’s about doing it right.”
Pérez, on the other hand, is pleased with the pace of pump installations and wants City Hall to keep moving fast. She said the expelled water is cleaner than before because a filtration system that catches solid gutter trash like bottles and cans.
“It’s being filtered into the bay responsibly. Full-steam ahead. We cannot wait any longer,” she said. “I’m ready to get in there and listen to the experts. But in the meantime, the water is coming out cleaner than before.”
Scientists working with the city are currently studying water quality in Biscayne Bay using samples from recent high tides. Preliminary testing done late last year showed higher levels of harmful nutrients in the bay.
CAMPAIGN ETHICS REFORM
This year’s election season was marked by much conversation surrounding the now-closed political action committee Relentless for Progress. The PAC, which intended to support candidates during the election, raised $1.4 million from a number of city vendors, real estate developers and lobbyists. Chairman Jonah Wolfson, who is a term-limited commissioner soon to be succeeded by either Rosen Gonzalez or Pérez, closed the committee in September amid controversy.
Pérez, who did not seem bothered by Relentless for Progress and said it was transparent, said she supports campaign ethics reform that would limit the influence of special interests in local politics.
“I want to make sure everyone that I work with in the city does everything ethically and above board,” she said.
Throughout election season, Rosen Gonzalez has spoken out against the PAC and wants to curb so-called “soft money” from entering Beach races.
The PAC issue has been a larger part of Rosen Gonzalez’s message to voters. She’s repeatedly spoken out against Relentless for Progress and called for prohibiting the use of PACs and electioneering communication organizations in local elections.
She’s billed herself as a grass-roots candidate who would be an independent voice on the dais. She has the support from a group of longtime local activists who fiercely decried the PAC.
“I would like my office to be a true safe haven for anyone who wants to voice their opinion,” she said.
Pérez, a friend of Mayor Levine, was one of three candidates favored by the mayor and shares a campaign consultant with him.
TRAFFIC AND CONVENTION CENTER HOTEL
Beach traffic is a constant problem, and both candidates believe more parking garages can help alleviate some of the stress.
The city’s trolleys have become popular options in North and South Beach. Rosen Gonzalez supports them, but she wants to revisit some of the routes so riders don’t have take long return trips.
“If you get on the trolley in North Beach, you’re not getting off for 40 minutes,” she said.
Parking for residents is a concern for Pérez, who said she’s heard many residents complain about not being able to find a spot in their own neighborhoods.
“I’m ready to get in there and do anything I can to make sure parking has a voice and parking is studied,’ she said. “I want to help.”
Both women want to see a headquarter hotel built next to the soon-to-be-renovated convention center. They cited advice from tourism officials when saying the success of the renovation depends on the existence of a hotel next door.
Candidates for Group 4
Kristen Rosen Gonzalez
▪ Age: 42
▪ Occupation: Speech and communication professor at Miami Dade College
▪ Educational background: Tufts University (B.A.), Barry University (M.A.), Barry University (PhD - expected 2017)
▪ Years as a Miami Beach resident: On and off, more than 20 years
▪ Previous public service: Has never held public office. Member of: Miami Beach Leadership Academy; Miami Beach Commission for Women; Ruth’s List Advisory Board
Elizabeth “Betsy” Pérez
▪ Age: 52
▪ Occupation: Executive director of Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame
▪ Educational background: Associated Travel & Tourism School, North Miami Beach
▪ Years as a Miami Beach resident: 32 years
▪ Previous public service: Has never held public office. Board member, Animal Welfare Society of South Florida. Member of North Beach Development Corporation. Served in the Miami Beach Public School PTA for more than 25 years.