It’s an open secret on Miami Beach that some candidates are running as a loosely connected slate tied to Mayor Philip Levine and political consultant and lobbyist David Custin. Both men had ties to the Relentless for Progress PAC that aroused a political stink on the Beach and was recently dismantled.
It’s important for voters to know this, and to know which candidates are on which side of the Beach’s political divide. That does not disqualify anyone on the ballot, however, nor should it be the only consideration for voters picking a candidate.
What matters is ensuring that independent voices remain an effective force in the Beach’s governance structure. The Herald made its recommendations for mayor and the City Commission seat for Group 4. Here are our choices for the remaining commission seats.
The candidates are Mark Weithorn, 58, a web site developer and lawyer, and businessman Ricky Arriola, 47. The two share broad agreement that transportation/parking, flooding and building a modern convention center are priorities, though they disagree on important aspects.
Mr. Weithorn says the city’s new flood-prevention pumps are failing, but Mr. Arriola believes the new system will work well once all pumps are installed. The process, he says, is in the initial phase and should be given time to show it can work. Mr. Arriola supports the convention center plan because it includes a park as an essential element; Mr. Weithorn believes the hotel planned for the site is too high and would not be welcomed by Beach residents. Mr. Arriola says the city is on solid financial footing. Mr. Weithorn says the city is on an unwarranted spending spree (even though it just approved a lower tax rate).
Mr. Arriola is a vendor to the city, providing customer service support for the building department, but he says he will not renew the contract that expires in April and wants the city to find a substitute soon.
As the spouse of term-limited Commissioner Deede Weithorn, Mr. Weithorn is part of a troubling trend of “legacy” candidates for public office. That doesn’t aid his candidacy. Nor does it help that he won’t disclose how he would vote on a controversial referendum to develop a site in North Beach. Mr. Arriola, for the record, favors it.
Our choice is Ricky Arriola, whose extensive civic involvement demonstrates that he can make the tough decisions he will face as a commissioner — particularly his work as chairman of the board of the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Mr. Weithorn says his opponent is part of the Levine-supported slate trying to create a super-majority on the board, but Mr. Arriola has proven himself to be an independent voice in his civic activities and hopefully will remain his own man if elected to the commission.
For Miami Beach commissioner, Group 5, The Herald recommends RICKY ARRIOLA.
Candidates John Elizabeth Aleman, 47, and Mark Samuelian, 51, are making their first bid for elected office. Mr. Samuelian is a relative newcomer, having lived on the Beach only a few years. Ms. Aleman has been a Miami Beach resident for 21 years.
Both have well-thought-out ideas on the key issues facing Miami Beach, including solutions for traffic and transportation, coping with sea-level rise and improving quality of life. On the city’s finances: “Good but could be better,” Mr. Samuelian said. “Strong financial condition,” Ms. Aleman said after a preliminary review. Both commended the work of City Manager Jimmy Morales, and both support the convention center plan.
The two candidates have significant differences, however, regarding current city government. Ms. Aleman believes things are generally moving in the right direction. Mr. Samuelian doesn’t dispute that, but says he doesn’t like how things are being done and fears lobbyists have increasing influence on city government. He cited the Relentless for Progress PAC and noted that Mr. Custin is Ms. Aleman’s campaign manager. Ms. Aleman denies any connection to the PAC and called the idea that she was recruited to run “patently false.”
This race is nearly a toss-up between two candidates with impressive professional skills. Ms. Aleman has a strong background in information technology, having been chief information for MasTec at one time. She later turned her energies to the PTA, making her mark as PTA president of the year in Miami-Dade County in 2013. Mr. Samuelian, a private financial investor, is co-founder of Capital Plus Partners and a former partner at Accenture, a worldwide business consulting group.
In a close decision, we give the nod to Mr. Samuelian, whose skepticism about the way business is conducted at City Hall could make him the kind of genuine independent the commission needs at a time when the city faces significant challenges.
For Miami Beach Commissioner, Group 6, The Herald recommends MARK SAMUELIAN.