Philip Levine’s opponents like to cast him as a political neophyte. They take great relish in pointing out they have never seen him at City Hall and that his local voting record is spotty, but apparently his campaign has become the keeper of the election rules.
Levine has taken or threatened legal action on journalists, bloggers and opponents of various stripes (real or imagined) because they are allegedly breaking regulations.
These actions come by filed complaints, lawsuits, or notices to remedy the rule breaking.
Ellen De Valle, a former Miami Herald Reporter, says she was threatened with “Stalking charges” by the campaign when she reached out to the candidate and his campaign manager for comment on a mailer.
According to an article on her website, Political Cortadito, Campaign Consultant David Custin contacted her and belittled her credentials:
“We will only engage and respond to official journalistic publications (The Miami Herald, The Miami NewTimes, The Miami SunPost, etc.) that have a history of covering Miami Beach Politics. You are a blogger with a site that does what it does. That’s it.”
This was after the Levine campaign spoke to Political Cortadito when she ran a story on Candidates Michael Gongora and Matti Bower taking them to task for suggesting there was an anti-Hispanic campaign being waged.
Custin, according to De Valle, then said something that might give an insight to their overall strategy.
“However, should anyone or anything (individual or political organization), including you, commit slander or slanderous remarks about Mr. Levine, they better have the money and a good lawyer, because he will sue.”
J.P. Morgan is a blogger whose City Debate site also received a threat from Levine’s lawyer. City Debate also covers Miami Beach politics. It was Morgan’s post on Levine’ media company, and an Alaskan Unfair Trade lawsuit that prompted the legal response.
According to a letter that Morgan has made public, Levine-Attorney JC Planas called Morgan’s writings an “electioneering communication.” The logic goes that as Morgan has not registered as an electioneering committee, he is therefore in violation of Florida Statutes.
This was also filed with the Florida Elections Commission and the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust.
Planas ends the letter with: Should you continue to send out any emails that contain false or inaccurate facts about Mr Levine, my client has instructed me to file a lawsuit against you and your company for slander.
A similar threat was alledgedly made to Alex Fernandez, an aide to Commissioner Deede Weithorn, for sending out his personal picks for candidates via a mailed flier.
“They are going around trying to shut everybody up,” Fernandez told the Miami Herald recently.
Planas has also attempted to stop Mayoral Candidate Steve Berke from filming debates. Berke is running for mayor, while simultaneously producing a documentary with MTV.
In one instance Planas tells Berke in an Email that Berke is in violation of city code and that:
“He is neither a journalist nor is the footage he is shooting for his personal use. He is in the process of filming a commercially viable television program that he is marketing to a network.”
Berke’s Campaign Manager told the SunPost that in one debate Planas attempted to stand in front of the camera to restrict filming.
The Miami Herald’s Christina Veiga attempted to talk to Levine about the lawsuits, but he declined to comment. She was asked to submit questions via email. What followed was a request from Levine’s aid that Veiga print the letter “verbatim” and that she was not to edit or paraphrase the answers. The Miami Herald chose to print the entire letter in its entirety, including the directive from the Levine campaign.
De Valle thought it could set a precedent, and called it a “smart” move by the Herald to show the “campaign’s audacity.”
Investigative Journalist Francisco Alvarado, formally of the Miami NewTimes and now CNN Latino, said the daily’s printing of the story “pretty much verifies the thrust of Veiga’s story.”
To paraphrase the Levine Campaign’s answers to Veiga’s question about the “chilling effect” these lawsuits have on his opposition: they contend the question is absurd, and call into question the daily’s ability to be neutral.
On Wednesday afternoon, De Valle, Morgan, Berke, Fernandez and Mayor Matti Bower called a press conference to denounce what they are calling Levine’s alledged intimidation tactics and disregard for the 1st Amendment.