Editorials

New day on dais in Miami and the Beach

Miami City Commissioner-elect Ken Russell celebrates his victory with campaign workers and friends.
Miami City Commissioner-elect Ken Russell celebrates his victory with campaign workers and friends. MIAMI HERALD

Miami and Miami Beach are beginning new political chapters this week with the swearing-in of a combined four never-before commissioners — and political novices.

New blood can be transformative, for good and for ill.

On Miami Beach, three new commissioners are scheduled to be sworn in Monday morning.

During the election, there was much talk of “a mayor’s slate” — candidates backed by Mayor Philip Levine and who, if elected, would be an automatic bloc of Yes votes for his initiatives. Perfectly understandable, but not great for ensuring a mix of voices on the dais.

When the election dust settled, only one slate candidate, Betsy Perez, failed to win.

Joining the commission are John Elizabeth Alemán, a former businesswoman; Ricky Arriola, a businessman, and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, a Miami Dade College professor.

Ms. Alemán is earnest and excited about her new role, and she’s also strongly aligned with the mayor. The Editorial Board recommended Mr. Arriola because he convinced us he would be his own man, and we recommended Ms. Rosen Gonzalez in the run-off, too, for her independent streak. Their votes will be pivotal ones.

Mayor Levine begins his sophomore term with many challenges ahead: sea-level rise issues; the construction of a new convention center; traffic gridlock.

The Editorial Board recommended the mayor in his re-election bid — however, it might have seemed like a shotgun wedding. We recommended in one breath, but also offered constructive criticism in another.

During his first term, Mayor Levine seemed to have cultivated some detractors, largely people who were rubbed the wrong way by his demeanor. We get it. He’s been called the “Mayor Bloomberg” of Miami Beach — a wealthy businessman who doesn’t suffer fools and wants to get things done fast. His quick action to address sea-level rise in his city has been impressive.

But in politics — and when you represent such an engaged constituency — a defter touch works wonders.

We hope the mayor’s re-election experience — and the Relentless for Progress fiasco — have been enlightening and wish him and all the commissioners the spirit of cooperation, the benefit of vision and the ethical clarity to do their very best on behalf of all constituents.

Across the bay in Miami, the reelection of District 1 Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort, who is ending his political career, went as smoothly as expected.

However, Ken Russell, South Grove resident, entrepreneur and now Miami commissioner-elect, expects to be sworn into office on Wednesday, no doubt giving thanks a day early for his victory in one of the more convoluted elections in recent memory.

He made his way from underdog to winner after beating eight other candidates, then, propelled into a runoff, the last opponent standing, Teresa Sarnoff, stood down.

Now comes the hard part: Mr. Russell looms large as the elected representative of a relatively affluent waterfront district that has seen tremendous development and growth during the past decade. But he also has to bring a broader perspective, because he will have say-so in what happens, or doesn’t happen, citywide.

His very election says that District 2 voters are ready for something different in an elected representative. Someone, basically, who will look out for the interests of the less connected, the small businessowners, the people who pay their taxes and want to see more of a return.

In fact, some of his initial opponents said that, whoever won, the challenges of mostly affluent Coconut Grove can’t be the main focus of the new commissioner. The interests of small businesses downtown need consideration; new police hires need to be better trained, psychologically sound and deployed in high-crime areas; and the dwindling middle class needs something more than to be pushed out by luxury developments.

Already, Mr. Russell has his marching orders.

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