MAYORAL CANDIDATE PROPOSES AMBITIOUS TRANSPORTATION PROPOSAL.
Mayoral candidate and former entertainer Steve Berke unveiled his campaign platform at a well-orchestrated press conference, Wednesday, with the highlight being the proposal of an elaborate mass transit system, connecting Miami Beach to the mainland.
The high-tech, multi-media presentation at Lincoln Road’s Haven Lounge was a far cry from the usual stump speech, glad-handing and obfuscation on difficult issues that characterize many municipal elections.
Dubbing it 2020 VISION, Berke said his was a six-year plan to address specific issues plaguing Miami Beach: fiscal responsibility, street flooding, law enforcement, marijuana decriminalization and transportation.
But it was Berke’s plan for an integrated public transit system connecting Bicentennial Park on the mainland to South Pointe Park in Miami Beach that Berke called the “centerpiece” of his vision.
“By creating the longest urban cable car in the world, the fully fundable ‘Skylink’ solves most of the congestion issues we have in Miami Beach, along with giving us a tourist bucket-list attraction that’ll be right up there with the Eiffel Tower and the London Eye,” Berke said.
The Skylink component would provide an environmentally friendly means of transportation that would also be iconic and provide incredible views.
“At South Pointe Park, it would connect directly to what we’re calling Deco Train, a light rail system that we think would have a direct positive impact on traffic in Miami Beach,” Berke said.
Berke further suggested that terminals could connect with the Port of Miami, providing a benefit to cruise tourists, and possibly to American Airlines Arena, etc. Connections to such iconic sites might also be a buoy to Berke’s proposition that the entire project not cost the taxpayers.
“We’re looking at $450 million, or less than half what the City is spending on the convention center project, and there is no guarantee that the convention center is sustainable or even that it won’t bankrupt the City,” Berke said. “This is a better use of funds and I think there will be ample funding available for naming rights.”
Berke pointed to the 36 million British Pounds that Emirates Airlines paid for similar naming rights in London – more than half the cost of that entire project.
“It’s a perfect opportunity for a Richard Branson or a Micky Arison or someone in that league,” Berke said. “It would be tremendous exposure.”
Berke said he has been working nonstop on 2020 VISION and hadn’t had the time to reach out to potential name sponsors.
“My goal is for this to cost taxpayers nothing,” he said.
Several dozen attendees at the press conference also heard the other major planks of Berke’s platform.
The candidate pointed out that many people his age and younger now view police not as heroes but instead as enemies, and this needs to be addressed in the wake of numerous scandals within the Miami Beach Police Department.
“I’m calling for an independent review and disciplinary board with real authority,” Berke said. He also said he believes in testing for steroids and Human Growth Hormone (HGH) at MBPD, something he said no other department in the country yet does.
“There’s a history of police officers and steroid use in Florida and I think police officers should be held to at least as high standards as professional athletes,” he said. “Anytime a police officer is involved in a shooting or in a violent situation, there should be a test for steroids and HGH use, among other things, to make sure that officer isn’t under the influence of things that cause hormonal imbalances. HGH has been proven to cause road rage and there is plenty of evidence that these substances have a lot of effects.”
The MBPD might not be thrilled with the possibility, but as part of his fiscal responsibility plank, Berke is also eyeing what most know to be the City of Miami Beach’s bubbling problem with union pensions – including the police union.
“We have to focus on our pension liability because it is completely unsustainable,” Berke said. “Unless we do something about it, Miami Beach will become Detroit – and, you know what? Detroit didn’t think it would become Detroit either. We need a leader who can take a hard stance with the unions and not be bullied by them or be all cozy with them like [the city commission] is now.”
Berke said that the reason street flooding has never been adequately addressed citywide is that politicians function from election to election, and the work that needs to be done will take a considerable amount of time. “We need to get the best experts from The Netherlands, who are experts in this, have a plan and begin the process. It wouldn’t help me get elected because I wouldn’t see it completed in my term.”
While street flooding, public transportation and fiscal responsibilities are often discussed by campaigning politicians, Berke’s specifics and energy seemed to have an impact.
“He has the benefit of the conviction of his ideas,” said one veteran political observer who has seen Berke speak.
Whether Berke’s intent to decriminalize marijuana has appeal beyond, perhaps, a youthful base remains to be seen. But Berke points out in his bionotes that he was not a recreational drug user, but rather discovered the many medical benefits of marijuana when it helped alleviate chronic pain from his injury.
Still, though, it was Skylink that prompted the high-tech presentation at Berke’s press conference.
“As the centerpiece of my vision is Skylink, which would be the world’s largest urban cable car system, environmentally friendly, spectacular and a new icon in South Florida.”
Berke’s competition to supplant Matti Bower includes Commissioner Michael Gongora and entrepreneur Philip Levine.
For a transcript of Berke’s presentation and visuals related to his proposition, visit www.steveberkeformayor.com and click on “Press Room.”