For years, including decades before any sitting City of Miami Beach official has held office or even been visibly active in politics, SunPost has taken its responsibility to offer its best electoral recommendations to the public seriously.
Arguably more important, SunPost has consistently advocated for clean, fair and issues-based competitions between candidates. Collectively, we have demanded that candidates prove their own merits and to not rely on the politics of personal destruction. At times, individual candidates or campaigns have stepped so far beyond the line of acceptable politicking that it fell on the city’s only independent local newsweekly to call out foul play.
But what to do in today’s toxic political environment, and that refers to more than just that of Miami Beach? We live in a political world today where there are no more rivals, only enemies to by wholly destroyed. We live in a national political world where to voice dissent of any kind immediately prompts the worst kind of name-calling, dehumanizing and personal attacks; a world of published enemies list on presidential websites; and a world where such a simple act as speaking out in favor of the principles upon which the country were founded is tantamount to treason.
Today’s political environment is a gutter and a filthy one that extends from our own beautiful Miami Beach straight to the halls of power in Washington D.C. SunPost firmly and unequivocally condemns and rejects the tone and tenor of this type of politics. It repulses this newspaper and it should repulse our readers as well. But it should not so turn off voters that they do not vote at all because then the selection of our political leaders falls to those with a vested interest and the certainty of bad government and the influence of gutter-dwellers whose only interest is self-interest.
How’s that working for the country overall these days?
It isn’t that SunPost has ever hesitated to target individual candidates or campaigns that crossed lines of decency – or target those individuals if they came to hold office. There have been years in our long and storied history in which some city leaders simply refused to speak to SunPost editorial staff as a result. Yet, some of those same individuals, many years later, are respected and trusted sources for today’s SunPost. It’s one of the benefits of SunPost being a local institution that was here before any current candidate had any political profile in Miami Beach, and will be here long after today’s politicians have moved on.
With such a lengthy institutional memory and in that context, SunPost offers its recommendations for the Nov. 5 Miami Beach City Commission elections.
The Mayor’s Race
This year’s major competition is to supplant Matti Bower as mayor and it has been a hotly contested one from the beginning, with a major contender dropping out, a new contender emerging as if from nowhere, and a hard-working and charismatic young man full of ideas entering the fray. Virtually any observer would cite the true competition as being between Commissioner Michael Gongora and entrepreneur Philip Levine, with former athlete/entertainer and activist Steve Berke in the role of spoiler with a good chance, at the very least, of forcing a runoff that looked unlikely just two months ago.
Gongora has been a charismatic, convivial and active city commissioner. He is also deeply kind and personable and his record in office is one of a thinker. As the city’s first openly gay official, he has represented both the Cuban-American and the LGBT community with honor and crossed a chasm some would have thought impossible 20 years ago.
Levine’s tremendous business acumen and success makes him an attractive candidate as well. Rarely has the Miami Beach City Commission had the benefit of someone with the level of business knowledge and experience as Levine. At a time when many citizens all over the country are calling out for those who know how to run a business as opposed to how to run never-ending campaigns for office, Levine’s emergence as a contender should come as no surprise. He is also capable of expressing his positions eloquently and has garnered the support of national and regional political figures. Many of his supporters represent the best engaged and proven supporters of good government and necessary reforms, which can’t be ignored.
Berke is an intriguing candidate whom SunPost hopes to see continue in politics and civic involvement regardless of the outcome of this election. Bright, articulate, creative and personable, he’s introduced many to a new, modern style of campaigning that represents a new era of candidate in Miami Beach.
Each of the three contenders also have their faults and are worthy of criticism too. SunPost, as previously stated, will not entertain the accusations, allegations and negativity each campaign has leveled at one another. The competition has been ugly, rarely touched significantly on issues of actual interest to Miami Beach voters, and has instead focused on the politics of personal destruction. From allegations of racism not supported independently, to pandering to ethnic communities, to strictly personal attacks, this race has been about little except one candidate seeking to destroy the other. Missing has been a vision for the city that transcends the 3-4 items political consultants hammer into their candidates upon which to focus. Instead have been hate-spewing mailers, secretive political organizations donating to campaign war chests and lobbying phone calls with even uglier accusations. Missing are things like indictments, photographs or proven evidence of wrong-doing. Each of the three candidates is guilty to some degree. While Gongora and Levine, both seemingly good men, battered one another for the most part, it must also be noted that even the more positive Berke has repeatedly cited his distaste for Levine as a chief reason for running for office. Mr. Berke, Levine’s earned wealth does not disqualify him from office. Still, it is the other two campaigns that have gone to such negative extremes, that while they might not have turned off all voters, they have successfully demonstrated ambition and gamesmanship that are unseemly in politicians in a city the size of Miami Beach.
Still, there is something to be said for experience and in this case, Gongora’s time on the city commission has clearly taught him things that will make it far easier for him to get things done than someone new to the commission and someone who has to build relationships with the commission majority. Given the nature of the campaign, SunPost very nearly could not reach agreement on this race. However, experience does count and in a close competition, the newspaper reached accord.
For Mayor of Miami Beach, SunPost recommends Michael Gongora.
In arguably the most open of all seats on the city commission, Group One pits apparent top contenders Sherry Roberts, Elsa Urquiza and Micky Steinberg against one another as probable top vote-getters. Compared to the ugliness of the mayoral campaign, these women have conducted themselves with good character, despite the attacks of outside parties on one candidate or the other.
Although both Roberts and Urquiza have campaign experience and have held up well during the course of the campaign, SunPost has focused its recent consideration on Steinberg. Wife of former Miami Beach Commissioner Richard Steinberg, Micky clearly is familiar with the trappings of power and the way the Miami Beach Commission works. With the support of her husband and family – a family whose commitment to this city cannot be questioned – Micky Steinberg’s fairness is above reproach. She furthermore represents a new generation of potential commissioners without ties to any cadre currently sitting at the dais. Her positions have been expressed with reason and logic and she has conducted herself above reproach.
In Group One, SunPost recommends Micky Steinberg.
Incumbent Jorge Exposito is the presumed favorite in a “group” system devised by city hall to protect incumbents many years ago – a system criticized by this newspaper for decades. Pitted against Dave Crystal and Michael Grieco, this has been one of the least publicized competitions in this year’s election.
If conventional wisdom amounts to anything in this case, it’s quite a shame. Exposito’s tenure has not been marked by any particular legislation and more often than not, he has gone along with the commission majority without remarkable input. This is in no way a criticism of his ability – it just hasn’t been demonstrated that he stands apart from the pack. And many Miami Beach voters might worry about that pack in a city with rampaging police bullies, pension obligations mounting and a reputation around South Florida for city hall corruption.
Crystal is bright and committed but has not come across as someone able to build bridges between different schools of thoughts; or otherwise span the chasm between interest groups.
Grieco is an intriguing candidate though. Grieco worked both in Congress and at C-Span and has demonstrated a knowledge of government that exceeds many municipal candidates. He has been deeply involved in his community without any evidence of seeking personal gain. After graduating the University of Miami School Of Law in 1999, Michael started his legal career as a Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney. As a prosecutor, he learned about not only the rule of law, but its application throughout the county. Michael excelled in the office, spending a majority of his six years focused on Gang and Narcotics enforcement before becoming a supervising Felony Division Chief in 2005.
The idea of a former prosecutor sitting at a commission dais better known in recent years for dubious behavior and cronyism is simply delicious to SunPost.
In Group Two, SunPost recommends Michael Grieco.
Another intriguing competition that few see as terribly competitive, Group Three pits incumbent Mayor Matti Bower, looking to stay on the city commission in some capacity, against chief rival Joy Malakoff.
Malakoff has been a community leader and constant presence in Miami Beach for decades and is undeniably a committed resident and supporter of the city. Smart, savvy and with a long history in civic activism, she knows her way around the halls of power and one assumes, knows how to get things done.
Were Malakoff facing any untested candidate or one without the experience of Bower, the decision would be a no-brainer. Malakoff would have made a good commissioner more than a decade ago and her appeal is no less today.
But Bower does have that experience and more. After decades of trying to get elected and 14 years in office, Bower is the ultimate city hall insider. While at times, this has led to accusations of cronyism and insider dealings – she did, after all, preside over the most recent slate of corruption in city hall and walk away without much political damage — she has also learned the ropes better than any current member of the city commission, and there is something to be said for that. Bower’s personable nature is another strong appeal, as people inside and outside of city hall like her. Bringing people together is going to be an important trait in what is likely to be a very contentious city commission.
The urge to recommend that 14 years in office is more than enough for any politician is great. But once again, experience counts, and Bower, like other incumbents will – and should – bear the brunt of all of the community’s anger if this next administration is a failure.
In Group Three, SunPost recommends Matti Bower.