The Race Begins

Political Candidates Start to Declare for the 2013 Race

What is shaping up to be a busy and action packed election year on Miami Beach, kicked into gear with a seventh candidate officially announcing candidacy last week.

Local attorney and charitable fundraiser, Michael Grieco threw his hat in the ring for the Group 3 position currently held by Michael Gongora.

Open seats include the Mayoral, Group 1 position currently held by Jerry Libbin. Group 2 position currently held by Jorge Exposito and Group 3 currently held by Michael Gongora.

To date David P. Hundley has filed to run for Mayor along with Commissioner Jerry Libbin. David R. Cardenas, Christine Florez and Elsa Urquiza have signed up for the Group 1 seat, while current commissioner Jorge R. Exposito has filed to run in his existing seat.

Not yet officially declared are current Vice Mayor Michael Gongora who is running but is playing coy to what exact seat he will be seeking. Also in the running is Steve Berke. He ran against Mayor Bower two years ago and managed to get a hefty 30% of the votes as well as national press attention. Berke is weighing his options between another Mayoral run versus a commission seat. And then there is Mayor Bower. Although she has not yet officially declared, the rumor mill is very active and has Mayor Bower running for a commission seat. She did not reply to emails or calls.

Currently Urquiza has $5000 in contributions. Hundley has $25. and none of the other candidates have filed any financials this early in the game.

SunPost had a chance to speak with some of the candidates and quiz them on some basic issues.

David Hundley

David Hundley

Mayoral Candidate

You have been on Miami Beach for how long?

I relocated with my family back in 1978 and was intrigued with Miami Beach the first time I visited.  As I began to meet her people, understand her many cultures and jog her sandy shores I fell in Love with the City I now refer to as Mi Amore…Miami Beach.  To me it was a natural progression to become involved in her Politics and Community Affairs.

Your Profession is?

I consider myself honored to have been both a Realtor and Builder in Miami Beach.   When I was a Realtor it was wonderful to introduce others to Miami Beach’s exciting characteristics and personality.  And as a builder I was fortunate enough to contribute not only to her populace by ensuring a quality standard of living accommodation and business locations but also to contribute to her perpetual beauty.

Why run now?

For me this is just ‘my time’. I love Miami  Beach and want to continue to see our area grow and flourish for all of our residents and businesses.  We are a city that welcomes the world and yet in some ways we do not meet the needs of our residents…Seniors need affordable housing and safety, kids need safe places to play, we must advocate to protect our environment and exclusivity of choice of lifestyle needs to be honored always.  So why now, because I know that I will be a forever Miami Beach resident and I want to help lead this amazing City forward.

What is one qualifying issue of your candidacy?

I cannot remain true to myself or my constituency by naming only one issue.  At the risk of sounding redundant there are some issues that are too pertinent to exclude, ie Affordable Housing for all, Transportation, Education, Mental and Physical Health issues, Family Matters, Animal Rights…Basic Human Rights as expressed in the Constitution of this Great Country of ours.  I am a good listener and in my run for Mayor and after I am elected, my door will be open to all residents.  I want to hear about issues and concerns, develop initiatives to address said concerns and measure those objectives for real and impacting changes or resolution for our residents here in Miami Beach.

What should your fellow Beach residents know about you? 

I hope my obvious Passion for Miami Beach speaks volumes to my fellow residents and as you yourself said to me I am one of your longest standing advertisers and promoters…approx 25 yrs I’de say!  But I guess I’d like to share that I take full advantage of living here.  I  work here and can look around the City and see many buildings that I have helped improve.  I bike around the City daily stopping, chating, helping when I can…just really enjoy being here.  And I’m proud to say that I’m a graduate of FIU (Florida International University).

Although I’m a bachelor I’m a real family guy, my Mom and Sister live close by which is important to me and I enjoy working with young people of all ages, sharing acquired experiences and guiding where possible.  I am involved in the Leadership Program and relish learning about how our City operates and how I can make a positive impact on improving the City.  By the way Kim, even if I do say so myself, I’m a darn good cook.

What should your opposing candidate know about you?

I think he should know that I will not be an easy opponent to beat…try as he may.   My passion, my love , my dedication and my understanding of what makes the heart of Miami beat makes me a Warrior and Champion of the City and her people.  I am running for Mayor of Miami Beach because I know that this is the right timed for me to be the Mayor.  I am a person of he people and truly want to serve this City.  We are a City of many languages but doing the ‘right thing’ transcends all language barriers thus ensuring that our needs will be met and humans rights upheld.

The one thing you would like to change about Miami Beach if you had the chance?

To me Miami Beach is simply the most beautiful place in the world to live.  But like any growing City there are always challenges that we must face.  Right now I am out there talking to residents and business owners.  As my candidacy moves forward the change I will want to make is the change that resonates from my conversations with other residents.  Being the Mayor of Miami Beach is about serving all the people.

What challenges lie ahead in this race for you?

When I decided to run this race I made the commitment to put all outside interests on hold and get out and shake the hand of as many of Miami Beach’s residents as humanly possible.  Also intervies such as yours Kim as well as radio and television spots when possible will be another way for my extended Miami family to be able to look me in the eyes, hear my voice, feel valued in my knowledge, understanding and sincerety, thus feeling secure to vote for me.

Jerry Libben, your only opponent so far, is entrenched in the community, how will you get noticed?

Mr. Libben is certainly entrenched in the community but I still think that as the residents of Miami Beach get to know me I will be their choce as Mayor.  So in closing I ask each and every reader to go back to the beginning of this interview and look at it again now that you’ve gotten to know me a bit more.  I respectfully request every reader share this article with friends and family, spread the word of my sincerity and watch for other opportunities to hear my voice and read my words.  I promise I will not disappoint you.

Steve Berke

Steve Berke

Undecided

Are you running in this upcoming Miami Beach election?

I am running for either mayor or commissioner, but I haven’t decided yet.

It has been said that Mayor Bower is considering running for commission this year, thoughts?  

I have heard from multiple sources close to Matti that she is running for commissioner.  However, with the amount of corruption and scandals that have plagued Miami Beach in the last two years, I am not sure why residents would vote for her again.  She has been sitting on that dais for nearly 14 years, and I believe it’s clearly time to get some new blood in there.  Unfortunately, Matti has been around for so many years and her political machine is so strong, that I’m not sure anyone can defeat her if she runs.  With voter turnout so low, and Matti’s superior absentee ballot collecting techniques, it will be tough for anyone to defeat her and she knows that.

What do you plan to do differently during your campaign this time around?  

There is going to be a lot less “schtick” this time around.  While I will continue to creatively raise awareness to serious issues, I need the residents of MiamI Beach to take me seriously and understand that I have a great deal of respect for the position of mayor or commissioner.   If i get elected, I will respect the residents of MiamI Beach and treat their interests in a serious manner.  I fully understand that the decisions I would make can have a profound impact on our community, and I believe the residents of Miami Beach deserve someone smart enough and dedicated enough to taking on the challenge of solving our city’s problems.

Michael Gongora

Michael Gongora

Undecided

Are you running in this upcoming Miami Beach election?

Yes

Mayor? Commissioner or as of yet undecided?

Yes

Last year was filled with city government scandal and your constituents were pretty upset, why should Miami Beach voters re-elect you?  

When I understood that the City of Miami Beach had an endemic corruption problem, I was one of the first Commissioners to demand transparency and accountability with regard to the corruption. After repeated episodes of corruption, I became convinced that the only way to begin the arduous process of restoring confidence in the City Administration was to make change in the City Administration and I acted accordingly. During my tenure on this Commission, I know that I have been relentless in making it crystal clear that I expect transparency and accountability from everyone in the City Administration and will tolerate nothing less.

It has been said that Mayor Bower is considering running for commission this year, thoughts? 

I would wish her the best of luck in whatever she decides.

Anything new that you want readers to know about you?

Miami Beach is at a crossroad and new leadership is necessary that can restore public confidence in city government.  Miami Beach residents deserve leaders that are focused on their needs and take a balanced approach to decision making.  This is a great city and the possibilities for the future are endless.

Christine Florez

Christine Grace Florez

Commission Group 1

You have been on Miami Beach for how long?

I have been a permanent resident since 2008 but I have ties to Miami Beach and South Florida that go back longer than that. My mother retired to Miami Beach from New York about 20 years ago and I visited her several times a year.  Going further back, my family vacationed here and in South Florida since I was a child. In addition, my paternal grandfather came to America from Cuba in the early 1900s via Key West, eventually settling with all of his family in the New York City area.

Your profession is?  

I am retired but I worked as a researcher in public relations for 20 years.

Why run now? 

Different people, people who don’t know each other, have asked me to consider running for office over the past few years.  Their respect for me inspired me to get involved in my neighborhood but the moment is upon us for people who care about our community to get involved in a dynamic, impactful way. Since I have the time, energy and commitment, I believe there is no time like the present.

What is one qualifying issue of your candidacy? 

Focusing on what makes Miami Beach such a great city, the residents, while balancing the demands of businesses in our community.  Residents are the lifeblood of our community and are what make our City such a great place. The residents care so much about their City.  I see that love everywhere I go, and I want to make sure that love is respected and nourished.

What should your fellow beach residents know about you?

I am determined to represent this great City with all the care and respect I feel for Miami Beach residents, its architecture, its history and its neighborhoods as well as the visitors and business owners who support our community.  People will come to know that I will work with passion and compassion for all its residents.

What should your apposing candidates know about you? 

I will campaign with respect for their commitment to our City.

The one thing you would like to change about Miami Beach if you had the chance?

I would create a better network to support the residents that are working in their communities to improve our City.

What challenges lie ahead in this race for you?  

Having enough hours in the day to reach out to all the people committed to our City from residents to business owners to City staff.

What should Miami Beach voters know about you?  

I am in love with Miami Beach and believe that its future will be even brighter than it is today but I do know there are very big challenges to be addressed such as the Convention Center construction should a plan be passed by voters, sea level rise, making government more efficient and reducing waste all the while focusing on the concerns of residents.

You have two opponents so far, how will you get noticed?  

I believe the key to being successful and getting noticed is hard work and commitment to building relationships with voters. I will do this through all avenues available to me but nothing can replace meeting with voters one on one and introducing myself to new people.  I will be knocking on a lot of doors!

Elsa Urquiza

Elsa Urquiza

Commission Group 1

You have been on Miami Beach for how long?

Approximately 52 years.

Your profession is?

I am retired after having worked for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for 35 yrs.as an Enforcement Manager and Interim Director of the San Juan, Puerto Rico office.

Why run now?

Because I have the experience, commitment and integrity to make a difference.

What is one qualifying issue of your candidacy?

Resolving the flooding issue which is affecting us.

What should your fellow beach residents know about you?

That I am fully aware of the many issues that affect us and I am capable of making the necessary changes for a better Miami Beach.

What should your apposing candidates know about you?

That I am a serious, hard working candidate. That I am respectful and wish them well.

The one thing you would like to change about Miami Beach if you had the chance?

Find a positive solution for Urban Weekend. Focus on bringing more renewal energy to Miami Beach by harnessing our annual sunlight and wind, to bring the residents of MB cleaner and more affordable energy.

What challenges lie ahead in this race for you?

Reaching every voter prior to election day.

What should Miami Beach voters know about you?

That I am a beach woman. I grew up on the beach, have been here almost my entire life. My children are “Mt. Sinai kids”, attended our beach schools. I know the different neighborhoods and their issues, and I will work hard to maintain and enhance their quality of life.

You have two opponents so far, how will you get noticed?

Unlike my opponents, I have been heavily involved with my community for many years. I sat on the MB Personnel Board for 4 yrs. I also sat on the Board of Miami Beach Community Development Corporation, Vice-Chair of the MB Human Relations Committee, board of Ayuda, board of Seniors Are First. Selected by the City to oversee the 2010 “Be Counted” Census project. I preside over the board of Rain Parents, a MB not for profit entity, which main goal is to assist families who are in need of financial assistance. Currently I serve in the MB Zoning Board of Adjustment where I was its Vice-Chair for 1 year.

I do volunteer service with seniors at the different “comedores” within our city.

Within the past 3 years my work with the Hispanic community was recognized and I received the “Hispanic Resident of the Year Award” both Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County proclaimed September 26, 2011 “Elsa Urquiza Day” for “making a difference in the community” and Seniors Are First awarded me its “Humanitarian” recognition.

Michael Grieco

Michael Grieco

Commission Group 3

You have been on Miami Beach for how long?

10 years Miami Beach, both Mid and South, and My law office has been here the last 4…never leaving (15 years Miami Dade).

Why run now?

This is both an exciting and pivotal time in our city, and the commission is the caretaker of the future of the beach.  I feel I bring a unique perspective as a forward-thinking family man with a focus on proactivity, in lieu of the perpetual reactivity we’ve seen in the past.

What is one qualifying issue of your candidacy?

Focusing on Quality of Life. Big picture issues are important, but the things that affect us everyday are key. Traffic, noise, parking, police and fire, road conditions, pedestrian safety, flooding, and corruption are just a few of the many problems that have been ignored for way too long.

You were an Assistant State Attorney in Miami, does that help or hurt your campaign?

It does nothing but help. In addition to providing me with over 6 years of law enforcement experience, my time as a prosecutor gave me a taste of public service. I liked it. It was an amazing experience, but limiting, as I could only help one person at a time. As a commissioner I would have the opportunity to assist more people on a bigger scale.

What should your fellow beach residents know about you?

I am a proud father, family man and dog lover. I want to help give parents in Miami Beach a voice, while never forgetting the masses. I sit on the Board for the South of Fifth Neighborhood Association, and I’m heavily involved in multiple children’s charities, Including Miami Children’s Hospital and Big Brothers Big Sisters. I am also a Mount Sinai Young Founder and sat on a couple of city boards over the last few years.

What should your apposing candidates know about you?

That I am doing this for the right reasons. As opposed to those that run- for their ego, because they think they can buy the election, due to a sense of entitlement, because they think it’s their turn, to reach higher office, and/or because they have nothing better to do, I filed my candidacy in an effort to show the residents of Miami Beach that being relatively young and forward-thinking are assets.

The one thing you would like to change about Miami Beach if you had the chance?

I’m staying away from bigger polarizing issues on this question but…I’d like to see the city become cigarette smoke-free, including the parks and on the sand.

What challenges lie ahead in this race for you?

The biggest challenge will be to get the voters to start thinking of themselves as beach residents primarily when they head to the polls, instead of voting because of someone’s last name, age, gender, etc. We need to start making decisions for this city that are bigger than just one group of people, and I have the energy and drive to listen and process what people have to say and apply it when shaping policy.

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