Miami Beach will get a new mayor and two new commissioners this year. There are familiar names among the candidates and appealing newcomers. After interviewing all the candidates, the Herald makes these recommendations.
The race for mayor drama tically changed with the downfall of Commissioner Michael Grieco, who resigned from his commission seat on the dais and surrendered to authorities on Tuesday over his connection to an illegal campaign PAC.
He has been foolish enough to play fast and loose with the law, and paid the price, saving residents an overheated and divisive campaign. Now the coveted job of running one of the county’s most dynamic cities is up for grabs, sort of.
Left in the race to replace Philip Levine are Dan Gelber, June Savage, Daniel Kahn, and Kenneth Bereski III. In their candidate interviews with the Editorial Board, all expressed a deep knowledge of the city — and its problems and challenges. From traffic gridlock, to overdevelopment — and did we mention sea level rise?
Savage, a Realtor, is an energetic activist, working a grassroots campaign; Kahn, a local businessman with some solid ideas on what’s wrong with the city and how to fix it, but little support, and Bereski, an outside-the-box candidate in tune with the city’s challenges largely is running on his own.
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But Dan Gelber, 56, is the candidate with the most experience in government and the gravitas. We think he should be the next mayor of Miami Beach. The city needs a firm and steady hand, and Gelber — a one-time federal prosecutor who spent decade in the Florida Legislature before running unsuccessfully for state attorney general in 2010 — can best provide it. A partner in Gelber Schachter & Greenberg, a boutique law firm based in Brickell, Gelber’s return to politics is most welcome. He will bring an integrity and low-key demeanor that will put the city first. His father, Seymour Gelber, was a respected judge and, later, Miami Beach mayor in the 1990s.
Gelber told the Board he will aggressively address the city’s traffic and overdevelopment issues and continue efforts to make the city more resilient to sea-level rise.
He also said that, in light of recent ethical lapses in the city, he would create a office of inspector general with independent oversight. It’s a solid idea to help restore integrity to of city operations.
Gelber says that as mayor he would focus on improving public safety. “That means focusing on a return to community policing in every neighborhood in the city and increasing our police presence and improving our approach,” he said.
Gelber’s lengthy experience makes him the only candidate in the race who can accomplish these goals.
For Miami Beach mayor, the Miami Herald recommends DAN GELBER.
After losing his last commission election by only 77 votes, Mark Samuelian, 53, is making his second bid.
Samuelian is an eager-to-please candidate with a grasp of the key issues facing Miami Beach. He has put in the hours as a city activist; he is facing newcomer Rafael Velasquez, 44, both vying for the seat vacated by Michael Grieco.
Samuelian, a residential rental business owner, has served as president of Miami Beach United and is well-known in City Hall activist circles. He says he’s running because “Miami Beach faces serious and urgent challenges” and his business and engineering expertise will make hin a valuable commissioner.
“We need to rein in overdevelopment and find creative ways to keep people moving. Expanding the trolley across all of Miami Beach is a good first step,” he said. He also would focus on flooding, safety and city responsiveness.
Velasquez, a self-employed real estate broker who was born in Germany, is new to politics, but not to activism. He is passionate about the city and wants to help.
He says the commission should pay more attention to individual Beach neighborhoods and offer better policing. He’s also spurred by the current fraught political climate across the country.
“I believe that we as a global city can’t remain silent in this current era of rising hate, fear, racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry. We need to stand up for all of our communities at every level of government,” he told the Board.
Samuelian is president of Miami Beach United, an organization that advocates preservation and smart growth in the face of rampant development. The group have been a primary force in crafting a ballot initiative focused on North Beach development.
For the Group 2 commission seat, the Herald recommends MARK SAMUELIAN.
Michael Gongora is seeking a return to the City Commission, chasing the seat that Joy Malakoff is leaving, citing a spinal injury from which she still is recovering.
Given the level of his accomplishment during his first go-round as an elected official, voters should confidently return him to the dais. He brings institutional knowledge, an understanding of the pertinent issues and a sense of stability that will serve residents well.
He faces Adrian Gonzalez, of the beloved and stalwart David’s Cafe, who says he wants to be a voice for small business, a praiseworthy goal. He says that the city is moving in the wrong direction. He calls it the “Wild West,” where residents don’t feel safe no matter where they live. Gonzalez wants to put the brakes on raising the streets as protection against sea-level rise. He says that already some business have flooded because they are now lower than the sidewalks.
However, Gongora brings commission experience and know-how. And he’s been on the side of right for much of his political career. He decries the lack of community policing on the Beach and what he says is a disconnect between the police department’s rank-and-file and administration. He says that the police chief exhibits a “low energy” that’s not in keeping with the go-go nature of the city, though Gongora is keeping an open mind.
Both candidates express confidence in City Manager Jimmy Morales. Gongora hopes that Morales will become more independent once a new mayor is sworn in.
For the Group 3 commission seat, the Herald recommends MICHAEL GONGORA.