Miami Beach mayoral runoff turns into battle of allegations, endorsements

The heated mayoral runoff campaign between Commissioner Steven Meiner and former Commissioner Michael Gongora has evolved into a battle of endorsements, reflecting the divide on the Miami Beach city commission.

For Meiner, support has come from outgoing Mayor Dan Gelber and his predecessor, Philip Levine. And Gongora’s backing has come from Gelber’s commission opposition, led by Commissioner Kristen Rosen-Gonzalez. 

And playing in the background: A daily onslaught of negative campaign mail about both candidates, much like the runoff to the general election. 

In the general election on Nov. 7, the two mayoral hopefuls were virtually neck and neck – with Meiner receiving just over 30 percent of the vote and Gongora just over 28 percent in a four-person field. Neither received a majority of the vote, which forced the Nov. 21 runoff. 

Meiner, an enforcement lawyer with the Securities and Exchange Commission and current city commissioner for Group 4, is running on a platform of strong anti-crime legislation and limited development, touting a record of significant improvements to Miami Beach policing and conviction records during his time in office.

“I have a number of different strategies on how we can reduce crime and deal with spring break, making sure we’re prosecuting misdemeanor crimes, cracking down on drug dealing. Dealing with overdevelopment, I actually have a legislative proposal out there, several months I brought that we would make it harder for our commission to approve increased height and development and also work on traffic issues,” said Meiner.

Just days after the general election, Meiner was endorsed by Gelber, who was unable to run again due to term limits. 

“On a personal level, Steve has the toolkit necessary to be an effective mayor. He has always been empathetic to the stresses of others; open-minded to differing views; willing to reconsider a position; and happy to share success with others,” Gelber said.

Gongora ran on a platform of improving policing and safety on Miami Beach, including introducing updated technology in policing and a real time crime monitoring center. He also emphasized art and culture in the city and improving quality of life.

“Public safety is the number one issue, it’s why I filed to run for office. Prosecution is good, but we need enforcement on the street and I’m focused on putting police out on the streets and sending a message that you cannot come to Miami Beach and commit crime and that we are a city of laws. We need police actively walking… we need police to make arrests where warranted, and yes, once they are arrested, we need there to be the follow through and we can’t miss the first step,” said Gongora in a recent interview on Channel 10’s This Week in South Florida.

Gongora did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Gongora has been endorsed by a number of Miami Beach politicians, including Group 1 Commissioner Kristen Rosen-Gonzalez and former mayor Matti Herrera Bower due to Gongora’s focus on historical preservation and limiting development.

“During my tenure alongside Michael Gongora on the City Commission, we diligently worked to enhance economic opportunities, preserve our unique and historic community, and address the varied needs of our residents,” said Herrera Bower, who served three terms as Miami Beach mayor from 2007 to 2013. 

Rosen-Gonzalez criticized Meiner as being too pro-development and said Gelber’s endorsement confirms that. 

“Meiner… is being endorsed by Mayors Phil Levine and Dan Gelber, two men whose tenures have resulted in the up-zoning of our entire city, buildings being built everywhere, with no resolution at all for traffic,” she said.

Sean Foreman, a Barry University professor who specializes in local politics, said the strongly negative direction of the race was a significant factor in its outcome, and was part of the reason the other two candidates, Bill Roedy and Michael Grieco, didn’t make the runoff, 

“So much money was spent on negative ads, but it was really directed at Grieco and Roedy… all that money being spent led to those two candidates coming in third and fourth, and the real beneficiary was Steven Meiner. Even though he didn’t raise and spend tons of money, he came in first place because he stayed out of the negative campaign ads that the others threw at each other,” said Foreman.

Foreman also said that the first election night results do not necessarily indicate the same results for the runoff.

“A runoff is a whole new election. People have to go out and vote again. You can’t take the first round numbers for granted, but the person who comes in first does have an advantage…they look like the front runner,” said Foreman.

“Endorsements don’t always matter much, and it might not have mattered in the first round. In fact it could have been negative… showing that Gelber was really picking sides. But now that we’re down to two candidates, I think it means more and it’s coming from the person who holds the job,” said Foreman.

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.