Mud flies in heated Miami Beach mayoral race, with runoff likely

Four candidates –  three former city commissioners and a well-funded outsider – are running in the highly competitive race to be the next mayor of Miami Beach.

In the last days before Nov. 7 election day, the campaign has intensified with direct mail mudslinging. Each day, Miami Beach residents find their mailboxes filled with dark accusations of corruption, collusion, fraud and reckless behavior.

One mailer called former Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Gongora spineless and corrupt, in the pocket of developers. Another described former commissioner and state legislator Michael Grieco as “dishonest and negligent.” Candidate Bill Roedy, a retired MTV executive, is labeled as “British Billy” because he worked for an extended period of time in London. Commissioner Steve Meiner is accused of not supporting LGBTQ rights.  

The race is as expensive as it is heated. Gongora has raised and spent more than $500,000, the biggest portion of it coming in contributions from real estate and development interests. Grieco has raised roughly half that much, with large contributions from development concerns, nightlife companies and law firms. Meiner comes in last in fund raising, with only $77,000 raised mostly from individual donors.

While Roedy’s fundraising doesn’t match his rivals, he has spent more than $2 million of his own money on the campaign. 

The winning candidate will need to secure more than 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 7, or there will be a runoff between the top-two voter getters two weeks later. And that is the most likely outcome with four well-funded candidates in the race, said Sean Fineman, a political science professor at Barry University.

Name recognition and personality may be the deciding factors, Fineman said. 

“You have four high-profile candidates for mayor, and the race has turned negative and nasty. Right now I’ve seen a race to the bottom… it’s gonna come down to perceptions of who might be best to lead the city, but who might have some taint of corruption from the past,” he said. 

The winner will succeed current Mayor Dan Gelber, who can’t seek reelection because of term limits. Gelber is in the last days of his third two-year term. The nonpartisan position pays $10,000 a year. 

Despite the accusations, the four candidates have similar platforms, citing crime and safety, environmental protection, and overall quality of life as the most pressing issues in Miami Beach.

Here’s a look at the contenders:

– Gongora, an attorney and former city commissioner, is running for mayor for a second time. He first ran for mayor in 2013, finishing second to winner Phillip Levine. Gongora first entered office as Group 8 city commissioner in 2006, serving for one year and becoming the first openly gay elected official in Miami Beach, before going on to serve as commissioner for Group 3 from 2019 to 2013, and 2017 to 2021. Gongora has currently spent over $550,000 on this campaign.

In campaign materials and at public forums, Gongora said he would strengthen the Miami Beach Police Department with more technology, help elevate Miami Beach as a center of art and culture, and better manage quality of life issues, such as traffic, infrastructure and development.

“I love the city, and I’m committed to making it better. I had reached my term limits at the end of ‘21, and I saw the current mayor was term-limited now, and I realized the city needed my leadership in moving forward,” said Gongora in an interview with Jackie Nespral on NBC 6 South Florida.

Gongora did not respond to repeated requests to be interviewed. 

– Grieco, a former city commissioner and state representative, is also running for mayor for a second time. In 2017, after serving four years as a city commissioner, Grieco started a mayoral campaign but dropped out of the race after it was revealed that he had accepted an illegal contribution from a foreign donor to a  political action committee he claimed he knew nothing about. Faced with evidence that he lied about the contribution, Grieco pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor campaign finance violation, and was sentenced to a year of probation, but only served six months. Three days after the end of his probation, Grieco announced he was running for and won a seat in the Florida House of Representatives, representing District 113 for the last four years. Grieco has currently raised and spent over $300,000 in this election cycle.

Recently, he gained notoriety after a loaded handgun belonging to Grieco was found in a gym bag at South Pointe Park, which Grieco said was stolen from him.

Grieco’s platform is centered largely around public safety and crime prevention. He has advocated for gun and drug checkpoints on Ocean Drive, increased cooperation with local and state law enforcement, limiting access to residential areas, and increased transparency and communication for constituents.

“I have a proven record of running and winning, and then getting re-elected unopposed in 2020… it’s because the residents of Miami Beach, and in fact, the whole district, recognize the fact that nobody works harder than me, and nobody’s more responsive than me, and I plan on taking that into the mayor’s seat,” said Grieco in an interview with NBC 6.

Grieco did not respond to repeated requests to be interviewed.

Group 4 City Commissioner Steven Meiner, an attorney with the Securities and Exchange Commission, is running for mayor after serving one term as city commissioner. In an interview with Caplin News, Meiner said that crime and rehabilitation, as well as limiting overdevelopment, are the most important aspects of his platform if elected to office.

“Everyone always jokes about politics in general, and certainly Miami Beach gets its fair share… those criticisms are alarming, big picture wise, and I’m trying to get the message out that I’m different, and I’ve shown it with my votes, with my platform… and getting back to the basics of what our residents expect from our municipal government- public safety, clean streets and being able to move around freely.”

Meiner said his work in public service stems from a desire to help the community. Initially seeking to improve quality of life in his neighborhood, Meiner’s frustration led to him running and serving on the commission.

“I tried to get involved and couldn’t really get anything done. It got to the point where I met with a commissioner, and he said, ‘you know how you get things done? You run for office.’ and I did,” said Meiner.

“I felt like after four years, I’ve been a very active legislator, I felt it was time to take that next step and be able to implement from that administrative standpoint more than what I can do as a commissioner.”

Of the four candidates, Meiner has spent the least, totaling it at $77,000.

Bill Roedy, former CEO of MTV Networks International and Vietnam War veteran, is a newcomer to Miami Beach politics. Roedy, however, said his lack of political experience separates him from his opponents, who are too involved in the corruption and graft he says has long plagued Miami Beach politics. Likewise, his campaign, nearly all self-funded, keeps him out of the pockets of private interests. Roedy has currently spent well over $2 million of his own money during this campaign.

“I’m not in the pockets of any special interests, I’m not in the pocket of any developers. I’m using my own money in this campaign,” said Roedy.

Roedy identified public safety, environmental issues, and housing affordability as key issues he would tackle as mayor.

“We’re going to be working closely with the police and updating them with new technologies. We’re going to be looking at updating the infrastructure to handle the environment, with climate change, expanding and improving the seawall,” said Roedy.

Alexander Luzula is a junior double majoring in political science and journalism, with a minor in international relations. After graduating, he wishes to pursue a career in journalism.