A tumultuous year in City Hall has left the residents of North Miami Beach represented by a mostly unelected council. Three of six members of the council plus the mayor are appointees, although the mayor was previously an elected councilwoman. On Nov. 6, residents will elect commissioners for six of seven seats, ushering in a possible changing of the guard that many hope will put an end to corruption and discord that have plagued City Hall.
In April, former Mayor George Vallejo stepped down as part of a plea deal regarding campaign finance violation charges brought against him by the State Attorney’s Office. The vice mayor, Beth Speigel, became interim mayor and was eventually appointed to the position through the November election by a council vote. Her commission seat was left vacant.
That was after Marlen Martell left her commission seat to take a job as city manager of North Bay Village and Frantz Pierre was removed for chronic absenteeism, leaving the council without the necessary quorum to vote on city business for almost a month.
Pierre was reinstated by a judge. He served just long enough to vote to fill two vacancies by appointing Fortuna Smukler and Ingrid Forbes. Then he was accused of taking money from a strip club owner in exchange for votes and charged with single counts of bribery, unlawful compensation, organized scheme to defraud and grand theft and seven additional counts of money laundering. Pierre was then removed from the council by governor’s order and awaits trial. He was replaced by Evan Piper.
To add to the chaos, in May the council pushed out the long-serving city manager and city attorney, leaving those positions filled by interim administrators as well.
Both Smukler and Forbes are incumbents on the November ballot. Speigel initially sought to run for mayor, but withdrew from the race early on. The current Seat 2 councilman, Anthony DeFillipo, filed to run for mayor. The only seat not up for reelection is Seat 3, which is held by longtime councilwoman Phyllis Smith, whose term expires in 2020. Some commissioners — the non-appointees — have held office for nearly a decade.
In three races, former longtime commissioners and even a former mayor are running for reelection.
The 16 candidates vying for the six open seats — the most candidates of any of the 16 Miami-Dade municipalities that have commission races on the Nov. 6 ballot — are divided into a dizzying number of slates and alliances. Some candidates were straightforward about their allegiances, while others said they supported certain like-minded candidates but refused to name names. The fight for endorsements has taken an ugly turn as attack ads fly.
Most notably, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees endorsed a slate of candidates for commission, as did the International Union of Police Associations North Miami Beach chapter. The police union endorsed Ray Marin, a candidate for mayor who served on the commission years ago rather than DeFillipo, a current commissioner, who some thought was the favorite in the race. In an email, DeFillipo expressed his outrage at the union’s lack of endorsement, even going so far as to question whether it was real.
“IUPA has not gotten involved in the city politics or made this political for many years,” DeFillipo wrote in an email to the police chief. “If this is true I see your department going backwards. I am including the interim City Manager in this email so he is aware of this communication and actions the department is taking.”
The candidates raised a combined total of more than $300,000. If spread evenly, that would come out to about $20,000 per candidate. However, the big donors in town, city vendors like developers, other contractors, gave to a handful of favorites. The candidates’ campaign finance forms can be found here.
Here’s a brief breakdown of how the money, alliances, and policy positions break down for each candidate in each race.
Anthony DeFillipo, 48
Anthony DeFillipo is a licensed real estate associate and has served on the North Miami Beach Commission since 2013. His Seat 2 term expires in November, and DeFillipo is running for mayor instead. He brushed off questions about scandals over the past year. DeFillipo said the biggest issue facing the city is the water system.
“We have been responsible in repairing and maintaining the operations of our plant and not letting it run to failure like previous administrations did,” DeFillipo said. His goal for the future: more of the same program from the past five years. “We need to continue building on this solid foundation for more economic growth and more jobs,” he said.
By the end of September, DeFillipo had raised $60,595, more than any other candidate on the ballot.
Robert Dempster, 41
Dempster is a sales consultant at AT&T. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Stetson University. He’s worked in sales for various organizations around Miami-Dade, including the Miami Heat. He has never held public office, but says he hopes with this election residents “have the courage to clean house and elect a bright new crop of Commissioners, and that this new generation of Commissioners has the strength to stay the course and not fall prey to those developers and vendors that seek to undermine the public trust in the name of profit.”
“Whether it’s about public contracts or zoning decisions, a Mayor’s first responsibility — and my first priority when I’m elected — must always be to represent the residents first and foremost,” Dempster said. Dempster said he is supporting McKenzie Fleurimond for Seat 5 and Michael Joseph for Seat 7 on a platform of sustainability and transparency.
By the end of September, Dempster had raised $8,540.47. He says his donors fall into two categories: longtime personal friends and a wider progressive activist community, but no city vendors. Dempster was endorsed by AFSCME.
Raymond “Ray” Marin, 75
Marin is a certified public accountant and shareholder, director, and officer of Hixon, Marin, De Sanctis & Co. accounting firm. Marin was a North Miami Beach city councilman from 1989-2005 and mayor from 2005-2009. He was endorsed by the police union.
“I only came out of retirement due to the corruption in the city and being voted the second most corrupt city in Miami-Dade County,” Marin said. One of his top priorities is implementing ethics seminars throughout city government. “The culture of corruption in NMB needs to cease,” he said. “We need to bring ethics back into government.”
Marin is not running as part of a slate but says he does have friends on the ballot. Marin had raised $32,616 by Oct. 5, and said “local professional consultants and attorneys have contributed about $9,900. Most of the professionals have been known to me personally for many years and a few are personal friends.”
Jay R. Chernoff, 60
Chernoff is a real estate managing broker working at Terrabella Realty. He served as a councilman in North Miami Beach from 1989-2007. He said the recent corruption scandals and ethics violations prompted him out of retirement. “The city is not stable right now. Me personally I’ve lived here my whole life and to see it disintegrate from when I left to now is ridiculous,” Chernoff said.
Chernoff is not running as part of a slate but says he supports Raymond Marin for mayor and David Templer for Seat 5 because the three have worked well together in the past. Chernoff was endorsed by the police union.
By Oct. 5, Chernoff had raised $9,068, mostly from attorneys and people he knows personally. He says it has been more difficult than expected to get financial support. “When I ran before, if you gave me a contribution, it didn’t give you anything else,” Chernoff said. “It didn’t guarantee them a yes, it didn’t guarantee their project and they know that.” But he doesn’t necessarily think that’s why the money is not flowing now. He’s just been out of the game for too long, he said.
Ketley Joachim, 56
By the end of September, Joachim had raised $21,288.98. Joachim did not respond to the Herald’s request for information.
Paule Villard, 58
Villard worked for the Miami Police Department for 28 years and retired as a sergeant. She has never held office in North Miami Beach, though she has been a resident there for more than 30 years. Villard was endorsed by AFSCME.
Villard decided to run because, “There are so many frustrations among the citizens regarding scandals, corruptions, and misconducts of the elected officials which bring a lot of embarrassments for the constituents. This must change. When elected, as stated in my platform, I will promote government accountability, transparency, and boost employee morale.”
By the end of September she had raised $26,102, most of it from personal acquaintances, she said.
Dianne Raulson, 76
Raulson is self-employed and works in public relations and government relations. She is a former Miami-Dade County fire commissioner, and founder of several Florida nonprofits. Raulson has never served in the city government but said her reason now is simple: to get the city moving forward again. She said the biggest issue is the lack of trust in government.
She would address those issues by “working with the community & NMB staff to restore respect and integrity and addressing the day-to-day issues that face the city such as: lower taxes, traffic challenges, safety, improving services and the environment,” Raulson said.
Raulson is not running as part of a slate. By Oct. 5 she had raised $11,754, mostly from friends, family, and in her words, “business associates spanning over 30 years of relationships.”
Fortuna Smukler, 55
Smukler works for her family business, Bichachi Warehouse, and is also in business with her husband at Miami Microtronix. Smukler was appointed to Seat 7 in May 2018. Before that, Smukler was active on various committees. She said the biggest issue in North Miami Beach is the lack of trust in the local government, brought about by corruption scandals. Smukler was endorsed by the police union and AFSCME.
“I will not do anything to our residents to disappoint them for their vote in me,” Smukler wrote in a statement. She said she would like to do something about the negativity in the campaign process which she called “ridiculous.”
By Oct. 5, Smukler had raised $37,684, including contributions from Waste Management, which handles the city’s trash pickup, and CH2M Hill, which operates its water and wastewater systems. “I have received money from the Waste Company and from the Water Plant,” she said, “yet the following week after receiving a campaign contribution from the Water Plant, as a commissioner, I voted against them. Giving money to my campaign does not buy my vote.”
McKenzie Fleurimond, 36
Fleurimond is the owner of McKenzie Insurance Group Inc. He served as an appointed councilman from 2010-11, and on various community boards the following years. He said the city suffered a “black eye” over the past year. “Companies, businessmen and professionals want to know if we are a still a good place to do business,” Fleurimond said. “The truth is we are fertile ground for businesses to launch and for families to purchase homes. NMB is open for business.”
Fleurimond raised $4,165.18 as of Oct. 5. Of his donors, he said, “at this point I have not received money from anyone with special interest in North Miami Beach.” Fleurimond was endorsed by AFSCME.
Alter Gambarte, 37
Gambarte is a self-employed construction permit consultant and owner of Sprout LLC. He previously worked in the city buillding department and is on the board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce.
Among candidates, Gambarte said he supports DeFillipo, Ketley Joachim, Henry Dube, Raulson and Ingrid Forbes. “Over the last 5 to 10 years we have seen many positive changes. We need to continue and expand on the progress that has been made,” Gambarte said.
By the end of September, he had raised $6,850. “I have received many contributions from individuals as well as companies that currently do business with the city,” Gambarte said. “They support me because they understand my priority will be to put the best interest of all the residents of North Miami Beach first.”
Gambarte was arrested in 2015 for a violation of an injunction to protect against domestic violence, sentenced to 12 months probation and fined court fees to be paid by October 2020.
Margaret “Margie” Love, 66
Love is a retired teacher. She has never been part of city government before and is not running as part of a slate. But she says, “This is the year of the Woman,” and hopes to be part of a new wave of representatives in government.
In addition to transparency and accountability in government, Love wants to focus on the police force. “I would bring forth, a strategic plan, for the recruitment and retention of new Police Officers. Within that plan, I would propose an incentive, sign-on bonus, which hopefully, could also be, retro-active, for one or two years,” she said.
By Oct. 5, Love had raised $12,220. Of her biggest donors she said, “I am very proud to say; that I am the ONLY candidate, in the last four elections, who has never accepted a campaign contribution! I have funded all of my campaigns, myself.”
David Templer, 56
Templer is a trial attorney and partner at Templer & Hirsch. He was a North Miami Beach commissioner from 2005-07, when he lost his seat to Frantz Pierre, who was arrested earlier this year on bribery charges. “I hope to help clean up City Hall and restore the faith and confidence to our City and our Police Department,” Templer said. Templer was endorsed by the police union.
Templer said he is is supporting Ray Marin for mayor and Jay Chernoff for commissioner.
By Oct. 5, Templer had raised $17,638. His three largest donors are a lawyer, property manager, and operator of a local car dealership. “My three largest campaign donors are all neighbors,” Templer said.
Henry R. Dube, 25
Dube is a student at Miami Dade College and works for Florida Preferred Mortgage. He is a licensed Realtor and mortgage loan originator. He has never been a part of the city government but said he is running on a platform of transparency and accountability.
“I am running a grassroots campaign,” Dube said. “My community believes in me and knows that I will do what is necessary for the interests and betterment of the city.” By Sept. 28, Dube had raised $6,700.
Barbara Kramer, 54
Kramer is the owner of Ford Window Treatments, her family’s business, where she has worked since high school. Kramer has served as a North Miami Beach commissioner since 2009, and most recently sponsored an ethics ordinance in an effort to curtail corruption that has plagued the council over the past year. She is not running as part of a slate. Kramer was endorsed by AFSCME.
Kramer believes one of the biggest issues facing the city is the sustainability of the water system. “We need to move off of septic tanks and provide a sewer system throughout North Miami Beach. We also have miles of pipes that need to be replaced for water and our waste water collection system,” Kramer said.
By the end of September, Kramer had raised $25,565. “Developers, attorneys, residents and friends” were her primary contributors, she said. “I would want my constituency to understand the transparent relationships I have made through the years with my contributors. It is natural for me to have an open door, professional and friendly association with people as an elected official as it is in my business and personal life.”
Ingrid Forbes, 53
Forbes is the chemistry manager at Kappa Laboratories. She has served as an appointed commissioner since spring of 2018. She is not running as part of a slate. “I have no ties or affiliation with the other candidates. My focus is my race,” she said. Forbes was endorsed by the police union.
“The biggest issue is the concern regarding the privatization of our water plant,” she said. “I would work to have a consultant that represents the city’s best interest audit and determine the prioritizing of work orders. In the long term I would like to address how to best regain control of this valued asset.”
She said her platform focuses on youth opportunities, public safety and support of the police, cleaner streets and neighborhoods, and greater oversight of the water plant.
As of Oct. 5, Forbes had raised $8,405. “My top contributors have just been friends and family, some with small businesses,” she said.
Michael Joseph, 37
Joseph is an associate at the Galbut Walters & Associates law firm. He has no prior affiliation with the city government, a fact he promotes. “I offer a clear break from the scandal ridden past,” Joseph said. He also said corruption is the biggest issue to tackle in the city. Joseph was endorsed by AFSCME.
“As commissioner, I will pass an ordinance mandating ethics training for elected officials, senior staff, and campaign finance reform like in Miami Beach’s banning political contributions from people or companies that do business with the city,” Joseph said.
By the end of September, Joseph had raised $39,159. “All of my donors are friends, family, coworkers, and my law practice clients that feel that I have the right vision and integrity to lead the city,” Joseph said. He is running on an unofficial slate with Robert Dempster for mayor and McKenzie Fleurimond for Seat 5.