BEACH VOTERS READY FOR CHANGE AS LEVINE IS ELECTED NEW MAYOR LATE FRIDAY.
Late on Tuesday night, Roger Abramson worked the P-lot in his usual gregarious manner. He had crossed the street from the entrance to the Botanical Garden,where a hoard of sign holders stood, and was the first person voters came in contact with as they exited their cars and walked towards the polling station. Abramson rushed to get a greeting out, introduce himself as a candidate for Group 3, and ask for support -all before the voter walked off the narrow slab of sidewalk. To those who would accept it, he handed them a postcard that encapsulated his candidacy; it came with a mint.
Some wouldn’t even break their stride as Abramson came up to them for a word, but would attempt to exchange pleasantries while on the move.
“Good luck” one man said over his shoulder while he quickly crossed the street.
Another man didn’t even bother to fake interest when Abramson approached him, “they gave me a list,” he said while patting his shirt’s pocket.
“They gave me a list?” Abramson murmured to himself, “what does that even mean?”
That man walked across the street and kissed Abramson’s rival, Joy Malakoff. It made sense now.
It was a couple of hours before the polls closed and the votes were trickling in at City Hall and the Botanical Gardens; the demonstration-size crowd were mostly campaign workers; a cub reporter the Miami Herald sent to get color was struggling to find an actual voter to speak with. Still candidates like Abramson, Dave Crystal, Michael Greico, Michael Gongora, and Joy Malakoff prowled the labyrinth of sign holders for the chance to change one more mind, one more vote that could help secure a ticket to the second round, the probable run-off in two weeks. With so many candidates, it was almost a sure thing.
A woman walked out dejected when she didn’t quite make the 7:00 PM cut off. Before a single vote had been counted, Greico told her she’d have another shot in two weeks.
And she will.
Custin’s Candidates all survive; Hilliard’s fail to receive a majority
The incumbents were unable to muster up a majority in any of their races. One was dealt a mortal blow this election cycle, the other two live to fight another day; all had more people vote for their various opponents than the percentage they received.
Every single candidate who hired David Custin as a consultant (Grieco, Malakoff, Philip Levine and Elsa Urquiza) has either moved on to the run-off, or is the Mayor-elect.
“Stay involved over the next two weeks, so we can complete the change in Miami Beach,” Levine told his supporters during his victory speech, a call to support his fellow Custin-Candidates. He was joined on stage by Grieco, Malakoff, and a grinning Jonah Wolfson.
It was, and still is, an election of slates. Neither side will go near that word unless it’s to toss it on their rival, and perhaps some didn’t mean to run in one, but they are.
The issues force them too.
52 acres of concern
None is as clear as the issue of the Convention Center upgrades. There are inherent slates here: supporting the 52-acre plan, or opposing it.
According to Miami Beach’s Convention Center Advisory Board, there is no middle ground in a cheaper upgrade.
As previously reported in the SunPost, the board has warned the commission and the city administration that Miami Beach stands to lose $390 million dollars if the plans for the 52 acre upgrade is scrapped or significantly delayed. The tentative agreements are based on the current plan moving forward said the board’s Chairman, Stu Blumberg.
City-funded studies have concluded that in order for the MBCC to be competitive, it must have a new ballroom and a headquarter hotel with at least 800 rooms.
The members of this board have in the past made bleak proclamations like that there will be “no second chances” for the center if the project is scrapped. They are also fond of reminding people of the threat of a potential convention center breaking ground across the bay.
“It’s not complicated, because if the city doesn’t wish to be in the business…then don’t talk about a renovation and don’t talk about a hotel,” said the chairman.
Opponents of the plan say it’s too expensive, and gives away valuable public land in lengthy 99-year leases. There is also a fear that the 52-acre plot will be turned into a behemoth that will devour the quality of life beach residents have come to enjoy. Levine has compared the project to an amusement park-sized annoyance.
Then there is the cloud of suspicion the project was born under. The Procurement Director at the time, Gus Lopez, was forced to resign when the City Manager’s office became aware of suspicious emails. The emails suggested that Lopez and his associate were putting together a team to bid on the MBCC project. He was later arrested on dozens of charges, headlined by Racketeering. One year after he was arrested in October of 2012, Lopez is still in jail on a bail amount of $780,000. His defense team tried to lower the amount, but it was denied.
The city only went forward with the selection of a developer when the State Attorney’s Office did something with little precedent: they commented on an ongoing investigation that had months before it would conclude, and told the city they should expect clear sailing when it came to the MBCC.
This may have satisfied the commission, but no one has really asked the public what it thinks. The plan has to come before the public in a referendum, and this Tuesday passage was made more difficult.
Wolfson and his PAC won at the polls, and any decision regarding public land will need to win by 60% of the vote instead of a super majority.
Wolfson has never been for the MBCC project and has gone from being a single voice in a chamber, to a single scoring major victories with no help from his fellow commissioners, who all but Ed Tobin voted for the current developer South Beach ACE.
Aside from passing his 60% edict, Wolfson successfully sued the city to have the MBCC referendum removed from Tuesday’s ballot. The courts decided that the language and conditions were too vague for residents to vote on it.
But what will they vote on when it does reach the ballot?
With a new commission, Wolfson might not be a single voice anymore, and a different project is very possible.
The City Commission has already changed
The commission is already different with Mayor-elect Levine defeating Gongora, (a recount went through late Friday that declared Levine the winner with a 50.49 votes to Gongora’s 36.43) and taking into account the exiting of Jerry Libbin.
The Mayoral race is the only one that didn’t make it to a run off. By far, it was the nastiest one in the county. The amount of mailers could fill up a very venomous manila folder.
Even the candidate’s mothers weren’t safe. On social media, Steve Berke accused a member of the Levine team of calling his mother an expletive while campaigning during election day.
“What a classy campaign he’s running,” said Berke on Twitter.
The SunPost spoke with Berke’s mother about the incident. Dr. Berke said her son was talking politics with the individual when the expletive started flying. According to the candidate’s postings, it was repeated and recorded on film. As pretty much most bits of this campaign were recorded by Berke.
As the SunPost has previously reported, legal threats flew at neck-breaking speed and eventually joined two active opponents to denounce their mutual opponent at a press conference.
They also took great relish in mentioning that their wealthy opponent was trying to buy the election with his exorbitant spending.
Levine has defeated them both, even if their votes were combined. Albeit by the most narrowest of margins.
Gongora brought up the money issue when he addressed the television media:
“Obviously I’m disappointed with the results, but thinking about it realistic after the fact , when someone spends millions of dollars compared to the couple of hundred of thousands of dollars that we had to spend, it’s not to be unexpected that the results would come out this way. ”
“It’s all about the money,” Gongora also said. “I think we learned an important lesson in this race…when some body is spending millions of dollars in an attempt to buy the mayors seat in a small town. It’s hard to compete with that.”
Levine took the stage at his campaign party to the theme of Rocky.
“This is the most humbling, amazing night of my entire life,” said Levine. “This is a victory for the people of Miami Beach, this is a victory for the city of Miami Beach.”
Quite a scene, and the Miami Herald might have missed it-as at first, reporters and photogs from the daily were banned from entering the victory party.
Credentialed Reporter Brittany Charity was turned away by Levine’s crew.
“The online MiamiHerald staff was officially not allowed entrance into Levine’s watch party,” wrote Charity on Twitter.
The Miami Herald had previously endorsed Gongora over Levine. They had also printed a letter the campaign sent the paper in response to dodging verbal questioning from a reporter. The paper also printed the “demands” the Levine campaign had included to the daily on how they were allowed to use their written response.
Eventually, after some confusion, the Herald’s beat reporter got a text from the campaign that assured her that all was well, and they were allowed in.
By way of numbers, Berke’s 2020 vision was defeated as he only got around 12% of the votes. The iconic transportation system between the mainland and the island was novel, and he received the endorsement and promised financial support of Sir Richard Branson or Virgin fame, but it wasn’t enough to move him from third choice status.
“I am proud that we focused on issues and my 2020 vision, rather than negative character attacks from behind shadowy organizations,” said Berke in a statement.
His previous run against Matti Bower netted him 23% of the vote
14 years and a run-off
Bower’s decision to run for a commission seat has rubbed some voters the wrong way, and it showed in the numbers. She will head back to the polls in two weeks against Joy Malakoff. Detractors believe she is abusing the spirit of the charter code.
Bower scared off some candidates and attracted two: Joy Malakoff and Abramson. Abramson, who convinced himself to run when speaking about the futility of running in this city without big money, ran a lean campaign and came away with 15% of the vote. He is a well known activist.
Malakoff , a former banker has been part of the Miami Beach business scene for many years. She is one of the Custin Candidates, and enjoyed an anti-incumbent surge that had her trailing Bower by only 4 points.
Malakoff has said that she hired Custin as a consultant, but that she remains “independent.”
Remains to be seen where the 15% of Abramson support will go.
Nice guys finish 5 points out of winning outright
Commissioner Jorge Exposito also finished in the 45% range. As with Bower, Exposito’s two challengers combined for a higher percentage. Grieco beat out Dave Crystal for second, and will face Exposito in a run off.
In a SunPost questionnaire Exposito acknowledged his ‘nice guy’ tag, but he gave a warning: “I am a nice guy but do not confuse that for weakness.”
In the same questionnaire Grieco promised he would not be outworked.
A guaranteed new face
Group 1 got pretty nasty too. Sherry Roberts got the brunt of it with questions as to her legal residency. Reports lead to last minute filings with the Elections Commission, and a late lawsuit. The lawsuit was promptly dismissed. In the most competitive group this election, Roberts came in third and missed the cut.
The run off will feature two formidable candidates in Micky Steinberg and Elsa Urquiza.
All questions passed
Every ballot question passed by a wide margin. Including the straw poll on Medical Marijuana. Unfortunately for pot fans, the straw poll, along with any possible resolution it might spawn, is non-binding.
No Answers Yet
As the SunPost went to press, every race on Miami Beach was undecided. It seems, that this election cycle, Miami Beach voters are ready for change.