Mayoral candidate accused of trying to silence critics

While campaign pot shots have come to be expected, one Miami Beach mayoral candidate’s response has come under question.

Candidate Philip Levine’s campaign has aggressively filed several complaints and a lawsuit against people who he says are launching illegal attacks against him. The campaign has also sent cease and desist letters to local TV stations for airing ads without the proper disclaimers.

Levine’s opponents say his litigious response to attacks is an attempt to muzzle their free speech.

“They are going around trying to shut everybody up,” said Alex Fernandez, who was recently hit with a Florida Elections Commission complaint filed by Levine’s attorney.

The attorney, J.C. Planas, counters that election laws are being broken. All of the complaints filed — at least four so far, plus a lawsuit — revolve around disclosure and reporting requirements for political ads. But those requirements only apply to political organizations that send out ads and raise money for campaigns.

“I am not in a political campaign. I am a resident,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez has run for office in the past and is currently an aide to Commissioner Deede Weithorn. He sent out a letter — which he says he paid for himself — encouraging voters to cast ballots for certain candidates. Levine was not among his recommendations.

A political blogger recently faced similar charges after he wrote disparaging reports about Levine. Those charges — a state elections complaint, an ethics commission complaint and a lawsuit — were all dismissed. The lawsuit also targeted two political organizations, a company with ties to those organizations and others.

Joseph S. Geller is an attorney who represented some of the defendants in the lawsuit. He said the suit was an attempt “to try to silence your opponent from speaking, from communicating with the voters.”

Fernandez said he and a group of residents called a press conference for Wednesday to “denounce the intimidating tactics being used by the Philip Levine for Mayor campaign against Miami Beach residents for expressing their freedom of speech during this election cycle.”

Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower will speak at the press conference. Bower is term-limited but she is running for a commission seat. She supports one of Levine’s opponents, current Commissioner Michael Góngora. A third candidate, entertainer Steve Berke, also is in the race.

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that Mayor Matti Herrera Bower called the press conference. Bower will speak at the event, but Fernandez and other residents organized it.