On Tuesday, the Shore Club Hotel could have rivaled any well-coached daytime talk show audience. Unison wooing and clapping made the bedrock for disjointed accusations that mutually gargled each other up. One person’s prolonged wailing was reminiscent of a police siren. In a commotion the standing-room-only crowd struggled to rearrange themselves as some tried to move towards the candidates at the front, while many were content to stay in the back and point fingers into the air. Some English-only speakers half smiled while shrugging as in Spanish the phrases ‘Fidel’ and ‘roba el dinero’ wafted through the air.
A mayoral debate co-sponsored by the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club and the Miami Beach Taxpayers Association broke down into a screaming match between candidate supporters as allegations of an anti-Hispanic election slate and talk of votes being bought flew wildly.
Fireworks began when Philip Levine answered a question about service in the City of Miami Beach. The woman asking felt city workers gave priority to homeowners over renters.
Levine answered that the government needed a change in culture, in the middle of his answer he threw in the Spanish word “mañana,” which means tomorrow.
In full he said:“The most important thing we need to change in our government is the culture of this government. Changing this culture from one of the mañana, pushing things forward, kicking the can down the road, sending things to committee, talking about flooding, not getting flooding fixed. Making sure that we get moving forward.”
That day, the word only served to fuel the speculative accusations out there that Levine is the figurehead of a slate of candidates, and that this slate is running an anti-Hispanic campaign. The candidates under this accusation all share the services of political consultant David Custin, are non-Hispanic white, and are running against incumbent Hispanics.
Resident Carla Probus asked him about the possible anti-Hispanic campaign tactic and added:”You just made a comment about mañana mañana mañana, it came off kinda racist to me.”
To which Levine’s supporters jeered and groaned at her. It was loud, but nothing to what would happen soon after.
Levine responded by saying: “Let me answer Mayor Bower’s question Okay,” to which the crowd loudly Oooh-ed with the voracity of schoolchildren who had all just heard a good burn.
He was referring to past instances where termed-out Mayor Matti Bower, who is seeking a commission seat, had suggested to a local political blogger that Levine and his crew were running an Anti-Hispanic campaign.
“I won’t let them do this,” she told Elaine De Valle, a former Herald reporter and now independent blogger for her website Political Cortadito. “Take back from what?” Bower reportedly told De Valle in a sly indication that it meant from Hispanics. According to De Valle, Gongora was next to Bower nodding along.
On Tuesday, Levine addressed it: “You know what’s interesting, when I have someone like Ms. Probus, who as you know is Commissioner Gongora’s best friend and his appointee to all the various boards. And they sense they are losing power they are going to throw anything out possible. There is no slate, whatsoever.”
Commissioner Michael Gongora was audibly angry when he addressed the comment.
“The Comment on Mañana I consider it to be disrespectful for the Hispanics in the room,” he said.
He then continued in Spanish: “Y es una lastima para las personas presente que no hablan inglés,” he was cut off by angry storm that defined that debate. The last thing audibly heard was his saying, still in Spanish: “Comprar sus voto.”
Translated Gongora said: “And it’s a shame for the people here that don’t speak English…Buying your votes.”
That was the detonation for the explosion that lasted a good five minutes. It was what brought to life a table of about a dozen elderly men and women, of Hispanic origin, all wearing white Levine campaign shirts.
“No lo esta comprando,” one woman shouted over the dense rukus, “he is not buying us.”
In the hostile gurgling Fidel Castro made an appearance, in reference to an attack mailer against Levine, simultaneously a man twice tried to get out a soliloquy that ended with “el roba el dinero,” he steals the money.
And one especially angry middle aged woman tried to make it to the front of the crowd screaming in Spanish that it was Gongora who was insulting the people in this room who couldn’t speak English.
Attempts to get the crowd in control by MBTMBC Moderator David Kelsey, banging on the table, went unnoticed by crowd. Kelsey told the SunPost he was close to stopping the event.
The event went back to order when an older black woman came to the microphone and told the crowd, that she knows real insults from a less tolerant time. That did the trick. The candidates made their closing arguments.
Before the “Mañana” comment it was a standard stump speech recital between Mayoral Candidates Steve Berke, Levine, and Gongora.
The SunPost caught up with a visually steaming Gongora after the debate. Gongora was lost in thought, when asked what he thought of the reaction of the crowd to his comment, he just said “pissed!”
It is Gongora’s stance that those elderly supporters don’t understand what is going on in the room, and are just bussed in there. He told the SunPost that he knows some elderly folk who are being paid to wear the shirt, but will vote for his campaign anyway.
“It’s an abuse of low income elderly people,” Gongora said to the SunPost.
Levine denies that’s the case. He told the SunPost he met all those supporters going door to door. Levine, for all the money he is spending on the campaign, qualified by collecting signatures and not paying the fee.
He also dismisses the anti-Hispanic charge. He told the SunPost that his girlfriend is Cuban, and so is his campaign consultant. Plus he did some of his answering in Spanish.
When asked about the slate, Levine denied it.
The SunPost brought up that some of the signs of his campaign and that of Joy Malakoff appear side by side, he denied there were put up by his campaign.
When the SunPost brought up that such a pairing of campaign signs were visible at 1916 Bay Road, a location he listed on his candidate forms as a real estate holding he answered that his campaign doesn’t put up signs for other campaigns.
As for the elderly with the Levine shirts, none would speak to the SunPost on the record.