Municipal elections in Miami-Dade County on Tuesday ended with, of course, triumph, loss — and uncertainty.
In the city of Miami, incumbent Wifredo “Willy” Gort easily retained his City Commission seat, while the most closely watched commission race ended in a runoff, as predicted. Less expected was that Teresa Sarnoff — who, as the wife of departing Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, was definitely the one to beat — got beat, though she’s still in the game.
Ken Russell, a political novice, ended up with more votes than Ms. Sarnoff, though less than the 50 percent plus one needed for an outright win. A novice, perhaps, but a pretty savvy one whose message of looking out for the residents who have a hard time being heard resonated in a district that is both benefiting from, but also on the front lines of, rapid growth and development.
There’s so much at stake for both candidates — and the city — and we urge both to keep it classy.
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In Miami Beach, voters sent an emphatic message in favor of incumbent Mayor Philip Levine. He rolled right over political newcomer attorney David Wieder and won reelection with more than 60 percent of the vote. No doubt, Mr. Levine is thrilled, too, at the victories of two of his unofficial slate members: Ricky Arriola and John Elizabeth Alemán were elected to the City Commission.
However, the Group 4 commission race remains an unknown until the runoff between Betsy Perez and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez determines the winner. Ms. Perez is the missing link in the mayor’s slate and, if elected, would allow him to have pulled off a neat trick of getting a commission with a solid majority of his supporters.
That will be great for him. But we remain skeptical that a rubber-stamping commission will be good for the city and its residents.
Their well-being, after all, is what the candidates said they wanted to ensure. Theirs are the voices that the candidates said they wanted to hear.
That hasn’t always been a given during Mr. Levine’s tenure. But concerns about his relationship with former Commissioner Jonah Wolfson’s PAC, Relentless for Progress, and with super-plugged-in lobbyist David Custin were overcome by what voters see as improved quality-of-life issues: Pumps are being installed to handle flooding, despite their inauspicious rollout during recent king tides; a new police chief is actively addressing the police department deficiencies that have brought scrutiny, criticism and embarrassment in the past; the Convention Center and hotel reboot is on track.
With such a reelection boost, Mr. Levine can kick off his second term with a commitment to continue the good things that his supporters at the polls affirmed. It’s also a chance to address the legitimate demerits that his critics have raised, instilling more transparency, less ego, both the appearance and reality of government conducted above board and with integrity and a greater ear for residents’ concerns.
On the listening front, elected officials can start by paying close attention to the voters who spoke loud and clear about Ocean Terrace development in North Beach. They swatted down a poorly vetted and premature proposal to raze several boarded-up hotels in the historic district and build a high-rise complex that, opponents said, was out of scale and out of character with the area.
City leaders should use the loss at the ballot box to follow the rules, suss out through proper channels — starting with the Historic Preservation Board, for instance — what does and doesn’t work there, require a realistic proposal and let the public have a say first, instead of trying to shove a nebulous plan down their throats.
It will be a clear sign of respect for the process and for the people who put them in office.