Miami Beach mayoral candidate makes a splash with Internet chat

The race to become Miami Beach’s next mayor has made it to the “front page of the Internet.”

Former comedian, pot enthusiast and serious Miami Beach mayoral candidate Steve Berke took to the social media site Reddit on Sunday night for one of the site’s popular Ask Me Anything sessions.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 3,000 users had left comments — both silly and serious — for Berke. The conversation had been voted on more than 60,000 times.

Interest in the discussion landed it on the site’s homepage Monday. Berke shared screen shots that show the post at one point was the No. 1 entry on Reddit.

“This shows that the entire world is going to be watching this election,” Berke said. “You can’t buy going viral on Reddit. It just shows that the entire country sees my plight as a compelling story.”

Reddit has been described as “the front page of the Internet.” It is a community of Internet users, some anonymous, who vote on the importance of posts, pictures and news stories. The more “up” votes a post receives, the more prominence it is given on Reddit’s homepage. Posts can also be “down” voted, which pushes the post down in the ranks.

Basically, Reddit’s homepage is a snapshot of the most popular things people are reading about, watching and talking about online. Users are called Redditors.

The Ask Me Anything sessions, called AMAs for short, allow Reddit users to send in questions which the host answers. It’s like an online chat room, but more interactive.

While plenty of political figures have participated in AMAs, they’re usually pols with a national reach. That a hometown mayor’s race would generate enough interest to land it on Reddit’s homepage is unusual. Then again, so is Berke’s campaign.

Known for his YouTube videos promoting the legalization of pot, the 32-year old Yale grad first ran for mayor in 2011 as a comedian. In that unsuccessful race, he downed shots of alcohol on camera and surrounded himself with models.

He came back in 2013 with a campaign free of punch lines — Berke says he’s retired from stand up — but now an MTV2 film crew is following him around. Berke says he is the subject of a documentary about the political process.

Berke says he runs an unconventional campaign to encourage voters who don’t typically make it to the polls, and inspire young people to get involved in politics.

His AMA session ran late Sunday night into the wee hours on Monday. After catching a bit of sleep, he was back on Monday.

Comments ranged from weird to encouraging to incredulous. They were sprinkled with profanity (including Berke’s own answers) and many Redditors have usernames that could never be printed in a newspaper.

“I’ve gotten voicemails, ‘I’m a Miami Beach voter. I saw your AMA on Reddit. You have my vote.’... I’ve gotten thousands of dollars in donations in the last few hours. I’ve sold dozens of t-shirts. I’ve had kids write to me saying I’ve inspired them to get involved in local politics,” Berke said.

Berke faces current Commissioner Michael Góngora and multi-millionaire Philip Levine in the race to be mayor. Early voting is already under way. The regular election is Nov. 5. A likely run-off would be held Nov. 19.

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