Newly sworn in, Mayor Philip Levine wasted no time on Monday to claim a mandate from the public and outline his goals for the coming term.
“I was humbled by the 14% margin of victory and the mandate without a runoff that you the people of Miami Beach gave me,” he said during his inaugural speech. “You didn’t whisper about change you shouted.”
“I have to listen to that, we have to listen to that loud voice. And I pledge to follow your clear mandate,” said the mayor.
Levine beat his chief rival, Then-Commissioner Michael Gongora, 50.48% to 36.4% during the November 4th General Election. All other races went to a runoff election two weeks later.
Now elected, Levine outlined a list of “very-important issues” he would like to tackle right away.
Levine wants to create a new standing sub-committee to tackle the issue. Commissioners, he says, would devise “short, medium, and long-term solutions” to the ever present flooding problem.
Miami Beach Convention Center:
“We all agree, we may not need something so mass, something so large,” said Levine. “But I think we all agree that this convention center must be renovated, must be state of the art.”
The City’s own Convention Center Advisory Board has said if the renovations don’t go as planned, the city stands to lose $390 million dollars in tentative deals already on the books. The Miami Herald reported recently that some of those conventions have already pulled out.
Studies financed by the city have all concluded that in order for the MBCC to stay afloat in the convention business, it needs to have a new ballroom and an 800-room headquarter hotel. Although the deal with the convention center is still within a massive 52-acre plot of land, much of the grandiose visions first presented when the two finalists were dueling each other have been reduced.
What is left is essentially the ballroom, the 800-room hotel, and various retail operations in the plot of land. If those are the targets for the new commission, then they will be aiming at the very core of change the advisory board and the city’s tourism industry say is absolutely necessary.
Members of the MBCCAB have said, that if those are taken out the city has “no second chances” to reclaim the conventions market.
The voting block who approved the current MBCC plan and developer, South Beach ACE, have all been voted out or retired. Those were Former-Mayor Matti Bower, Commissioners Gongora, Jerry Libbin, and Jorge Exposito.
Commissioner Deede Weithorn also voted for the plan and developer, but said during the vote that she reserved the right to vote against it in the future if it didn’t gel with her.
Dissenting votes were Commissioners Jonah Wolfson (who is against the renovations) and Ed Tobin who wanted to go with the other developer, Portman CMC. Both remain on the dais along with the four new votes.
Levine may choose to tank the current plan and attribute it to being part of the “mandate” given to him by the public.
“We need a convention center that fits the city,” said Levine on Monday. “And that we get what the city wants.”
Levine plans to have the issue on the January Commission Agenda.
Miami Beach Police Department:
The new mayor wants to authorize an independent, outside organization to audit the police department.
The MBPD has made many headlines in the last couple of years; those headlines have been sometimes embarrassing, and sometimes deadly. Still to reach a conclusion are investigations into the deaths of Raymond Herisse and Israel Hernandez.
Herisee was killed in a hail of police gunfire during the 2011 Memorial Day Weekend. In a resulting civil suit, Miami Beach City Attorneys have so dragged their feet on releasing information on the case that presiding Judge Victoria Sigler called it an insult to her court.
Hernandez died after he was tased by the MBPD. The teen was caught spray painting the side of an abandoned building, and ran from police. The family have sued the city, as well as participated on numerous marches and vigils for their dead son. The investigation is ongoing, but sources in the police department anonymously told the Miami Herald that the teen was on drugs. The MBPD information officers have refuted those assertions as not being official, according to the Miami NewTimes.
This new independent auditor will have some teeth, as Levine intends to “make any and every necessary change that audit recommends.”
The Mayor said the city must return to customer service. He made a point to mention the building department, and plans to work closely with the City Manager on this.
Levine plans to overhaul community boards with people who have the “capacity and ability to solve our problems.” He railed against political appointments based on cronyism, and promised diversity on the boards.
Calling Seniors a “treasure,” he promised to support senior centers and the senior meal program.
“If this is a city that can think of spending a billion or so on a convention center, clearly we have enough fund available for our seniors,” said Levine.
As a gesture, the wealthy mayor will donate his entire salary and benefits package towards the senior meal program.
Public input will be sought and not subverted said the new mayor.
“Let the people speak, we need to hear from them,” Levine said.
His “door knocking” isn’t over, he plans to continue the election-time method to seek out input.
He promised a commission the residents could be proud of, and that would seek a consensus.
“We will act professionally, with a sense of absolute decorum,” said Levine.
As Levine and the radically new commission go forward, this is how the new mayor hopes the government will go:
“Everybody on this commission has something great to contribute, it’s about bringing out the best in everyone of the commissioners and bringing out the best of the people who work for this city. “