Politics: What the Miami Beach Voters Are Saying

SunPost Takes to the Streets to Listen.

Pity the Miami Beach voter.

That this year’s mayoral race would be a spectacularly nasty affair comes as no surprise, considering it pits a current commissioner with years of service (Michael Gongora), against a cruise ship millionaire with no political experience (Philip Levine). Add to that, an ex-comedian making a documentary of the whole shebang (Steve Berke) and a former Mossad agent who is batty as hell (Raphael Herman). But it doesn’t end there. Throw in two seasoned political handlers, a team of litigious attorneys, a few political bloggers and some PACS…. As we said, pity the Miami Beach voter.

What is unexpected are the rapidly churning scandals that have not only escalated the mudslinging between two of the nominees, they’ve given it an underpinning of actual substance. In the fray, we have bloggers suing candidates and candidates suing bloggers. We have PACS accusing commissioners of corruption and bad business deals. We have political handlers diving in with lawyers blazing and behind it all is an unseen puppet master guffawing as he plays this particular chessboard. Sounds like a Hollywood Blockbuster, But it is very real. And for Miami Beach, business as usual.

With new revelations about these beleaguered candidates coming out almost daily, voters on Miami Beach are facing a historically unpleasant dilemma.

“Honestly, I don’t really care for any candidate,” said Samuel Herrera. “All this crap definitely sends a bad message to voters. What do you do?”

What do you do? Herrera was among about fifty voters loosely polled by the SunPost via email and in person on Tuesday who expressed a range of reactions not so different from the five stages of grief.

Denial: “Who knows if the guys are really as bad as all those mailers say” said Bob LaSalle, a long time beach resident.

Anger: “I am disgusted by this display. It shows poor moral character,” said Mike Turner. “They should know better. It’s not just corruption but the appearance of corruption.”

Bargaining: “I wish we had more qualified candidates,” said Sue Cohen, a homemaker. “I wish Libben had stayed in the race.”

Depression: “My vote won’t make a difference,” said Mohammed Siki. “When it comes down to it, what difference can I make?”

And finally, acceptance: “Politicians are always surrounded by the scandalous. They’re politicians, right?” sighed Frank Ruben. “It’s discouraging, but I will still vote.”

The Mayoral candidates were described by a select few as “slimy,” “unreachable,” “sketchy,” and as “a joke.” But overall it seems like Miami Beach is a city divided mostly into two camps between Gongora and Levine. With Berke coming in at a close third. (Most applauded him for staying above the fray.) And Herman, he just made people laugh.

Surprisingly, some voters had much more positive enthusiasm for the commission races. Charles Urstadt spoke glowingly about two contenders. “I like Jorge Exposito’s quiet but effective approach to government. We need more people like Jorge on the commission. People who are not interested in show-boating but simply trying to do the best for the city. Micky Steinberg has been in the city all her life and devoted herself to it on various boards and through her charity work. She is a mother of two young kids and we need that kind of perspective on the commission.”

“Joy Malakoff!” declared Andrew Thomas. “She gets my vote. Her business acumen is what we need in City Hall.”

His wife, Cindy Thomas nodded her head enthusiastically, “We also really like Jonah Wolfson. We like when he stands up to everyone during city meetings.”

Her husband shussed her. “He’s not running this time, dear.”

“Has it always been this confusing?” She replied with a shrug.

But it is the mailers from the PACS that cause the most visible reaction

“We hate getting our mail during election time,” said Thomas, “too many fliers, so I end up tossing them.”

“I know very little about anything but I know I’ve heard bad things about both Gongora and Levine,” said one female voter who declined to give her name. “Jesus, who the hell am I supposed to vote for?”

Good question. Besides the mailers, both candidates are running attack ads on television that may not be of much help. The finger-pointing between the two campaigns bears an uncanny resemblance to two schoolyard brawlers hauled into the principal’s office.

This mayoral race is far more negative than any in recent beach election history. What has added to the fray is that one side (Gongora) has unwittingly garnered support from local bloggers and other candidates who have teamed up to attack Levine. Why? Well it seems that Levine’s team has become quite litigious, filing ethics or election law violation complaints or “SLAPPs,” (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) against local bloggers and some TV stations. Most have been thrown out, but the end result is a group of bloggers, commission candidates and private citizens coming together to denounce Levine’s supposed “political harassment and censorship” during a Tuesday press conference.

“I think voters are going to have a hard time by the time Election Day rolls around because both Gongora and Levine are probably going to be so tarnished with all this stuff.” stated North Beach teacher Brian Davis. “Personally, I am voting for Steve Berke. At least he has run a clean campaign.”

One voter headed into Starbucks early Wednesday morning looked totally flummoxed when asked simply, “What do you think of these candidates?”

“I think,” he said, “I need a cup of coffee.”

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