The #MeToo movement is suddenly roiling a small-town-Miami mayoral race after a former politician went public with accusations of sexual impropriety in an unusual way — by recording an election-eve robocall funded by dark money.
An account of the alleged kiss, dialed directly into the homes of South Miami voters by former Commissioner Valerie Newman, is untrue, according to Mayor Philip Stoddard, the object of the accusations. Paid for by anonymous donors, the claim could sway the results of Tuesday’s election and affect the career of a college professor who won national headlines last year for his solar energy initiatives.
“What Newman says is absolutely false,” Stoddard told the Miami Herald. “This woman is quite a piece of work.” He believes Newman’s accusations are a political ploy to help his opponent, former mayor Horace Feliu, defeat him in Tuesday’s election.
The latest accusation to rock South Miami’s small-town, sharp-edged politics stems from an incident seven or eight years ago — Newman can’t remember which year — that she said happened after a Thanksgiving dinner at Newman’s home in South Miami that was attended by Stoddard, at the time the city’s newly elected mayor, and his wife.
Newman says Stoddard, 60, complimented the meal she prepared, then leaned in to show his appreciation by forcing a “French kiss” on her, with family members in the nearby dining room.
“I pushed him away. I started making noise. My husband came in and he says,‘You’re lucky I don’t punch you in the face,’ ” said Newman, 66. “I did not believe that it was a result of sexual attraction. I believe the man likes to make women feel uncomfortable for whatever reason.”
Newman’s husband, Kevin Hurley, 64, confirmed his wife’s account. He didn’t see what happened, he said, but he “heard the reaction afterward.”
Stoddard said that he and his wife may have eaten Thanksgiving leftovers at Newman’s house in 2010 or 2011, but that he never kissed Newman.
And if it did happen — and if Hurley did threaten to punch him — surely the guests in the next room would have heard the commotion, he said.
“It’s absolutely absurd,” he said. “I’ve been 100 percent faithful to my wife since we’ve been married.”
After posting the accusation on her Facebook page in November, Newman was contacted Wednesday by a political committee run by a suspended lawyer and children’s author. Stephen Cody, the chairman of A Better Miami Dade, asked Newman to record the robocall, and she agreed, recording the call on Thursday morning.
Hours later, it was out. A resident of the city confirmed receiving the robocall at about 6 p.m. Thursday.
In the recording, Newman calls Stoddard, the longtime mayor of South Miami now running for a fifth term, a “creep” who should resign from office. Newman, who ran a failed campaign for mayor against Stoddard in 2014, said the message came “on behalf of all the women of South Miami.”
“He forced himself on me in my own kitchen against my will while our spouses and children dined one room away,” she says in the recording.
Stoddard said he had “absolutely no recollection of kissing Valerie Newman on the lips” and that the rest of her robocall is “absolute nonsense.”
“They can’t even remember what year this was,” Stoddard said. “Her husband has never threatened me with any physical harm. That’s ridiculous.”
Gray Read, Stoddard’s wife, accused Newman of exploiting the #MeToo movement for political gain.
“They are completely exploiting these women,” said Read, 64, an associate professor of architecture at Florida International University. “It’s completely false and it’s completely politically driven.”
Stoddard, who also teaches at FIU, called into question Newman’s credibility and her ethics, noting that in 2011 she was the subject of a city ethics review after being accused of “bullying people inside and outside of city government in order to complete her personal agenda,” according to the review.
But two of Stoddard’s former campaign volunteers, who later rebuked his administration, told the Miami Herald that Newman recounted the alleged “French kiss” incident to them in 2014 when Newman was getting ready to move away from South Miami politics and start over in Tampa.
A Better Miami Dade, the political committee that paid for the robocall, was established in mid-January as a way to sway voters in local and state races, said Cody, who was suspended in 2013 by the Florida Bar Association and ordered to pay a former client $13,049. He was publicly reprimanded in 2016 for failing to pay the fee, according to court documents. The sole financial supporter of the committee is a newly formed nonprofit with a nearly identical name: A Better Miami-Dade, Inc., of which Cody is listed as the president, director, secretary, and treasurer.
The nonprofit, which first registered with the state last month, contributed $33,000 to the political committee last month, and Cody said the money was raised by donors. He would not, however, identify those donors.
“Mr. Cody is a suspended attorney, and he doesn’t have enough money to pay what he owes in order to get his license restored,” Stoddard said. “So who’s paying for it?”
Newman, who now lives in Tampa but served as city commissioner from 2009 to 2014, never filed a police report regarding the alleged incident, saying she didn’t think the police would take the accusation seriously.
But the recent prominence of the #MeToo movement, on which many victims of alleged sexual assault have found the confidence to publicly accuse their abusers, gave Newman the motivation she says she needed.
“When it happened in 2010, even though I felt violated and repulsed, I didn’t feel like that was something anybody would pay attention to,” Newman said. “But now with this moment, I realized, ‘Yes, he did violate my space.’ ”
Newman was a political enemy of Stoddard’s during their time together in City Hall and believes the call is the result of a grudge she holds against him.
“No,” Newman said. “I’m living a wonderful life in retirement. I have no grudge against him, but he is a despicable human being.”