Four-way Miami Beach Commission fundraising race could spell photo finish Tuesday

This is a race to watch on Election Day.

The race for the Miami Beach Commission seat representing Group 1 will come to a head Nov. 2, when voters will decide which of four candidates they want to replace outgoing Commissioner Micky Steinberg.

They include college professor and former Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, local business owner Raquel Pacheco, restaurateur Adrian Gonzalez and industrial sales contractor Blake Young.

A fifth candidate, businessperson Greg Branch, withdrew from the race last month to take a TV job.

None is a shoo-in to succeed Steinberg, who is leaving to run for term-limited Sally Heyman’s seat on the Miami-Dade Commission. And if no candidate secures more than 50% of the vote, the two candidates who receive the most votes will compete in a runoff on Nov. 16.

Rosen Gonzalez, who was elected in 2015 but resigned to take a failed run at Congress, leads the pack in overall fundraising with more than $82,000 raised since entering the race in July.

She still holds $36,000, which is close to what she raised — and spent — between Sept. 1 and Oct. 15.

Over that stretch, Rosen Gonzalez took in 79 contributions, with individual donations ranging from $5 to $1,000.

Many of her donors came from the real estate, hospitality and service industries, including $1,000 checks from Miami-based CMR Properties, Miami Beach restaurants La Cerveceria Ocean, Big Pink and Free Spirits Sports Café, and the Marseilles Hotel.

The Miami Beach chapter of the Communications Workers of America union and the Florida chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) also gave $1,000.

Like her opponents, most of Rosen Gonzalez’s spending was for standard campaign costs, including events, ads, outreach, media, materials, food and supplies.

The second-biggest fundraiser, Adrian Gonzalez, made his best gains between Sept. 1 and Oct. 15, raking in nearly $40,000. That’s close to two-thirds of what he raised since launching his bid in July.

And he still has most of it; his most recent filings with the city show more than $54,000 unspent.

Over the last month and a half, Gonzalez took in 76 contributions ranging from $10 to $1,000. Many came from the real estate, hospitality and service sectors, including $1,000 checks from Korean barbecue restaurant Drunken Dragon, local bar Two by Two, real estate company LeJeune Properties and Realtors Thomas Rodgers and Mo Garcia.

Candidate Raquel Pacheco, whom Ruth’s List Florida endorsed in July, has about $11,000 left of the $54,000 she’s raised since joining the race in May. That’s because she’s spent at a deficit since Sept. 1.

Since then, she has taken in 32 contributions ranging from $10 to $1,000. Notable donations included $2,000 from companies owned by billionaire car dealer and former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman; $1,000; $500 from fellow Ruth’s List endorsee Janelle Perez, who is running to unseat Sen. Ileana Garcia in Senate District 37 next year; and $100 from independent Ibis Valdés, who is running for a Miami-Dade Commission seat against Florida House Speaker Pro Tempore Brian Avila.

In last place, though not for lack of personal investment, is Blake Young, whose ledger with the city shows he technically raised $1,300 and spent just $40.

However, a closer look at his filings reveals he counted nearly $15,500 in in-kind spending, most of which went to campaign costs he covered out-of-pocket. He’s said he’s running a “donation-free’ campaign.

This is a race to watch on Election Day. While Rosen Gonzalez, 48, is a name many voters may recognize, she’s repeatedly attracted controversy in her public service career, including engaging in feuds with fellow commissioners and a gaffe last month, when she claimed to be “the most high-profile Hispanic Democrat in the City of Miami” despite not actually being Hispanic. (Her ex-husband is.)

A former member of the Connecticut Army National Guard, Pacheco, 47, runs a translation business and has suggested doubling the number of police in the South Beach Entertainment District instead switching the last call for alcohol from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m., a solution Mayor Dan Gelber and former Mayor Philip Levine have championed to vocal opposition.

But as the Miami Herald reported, Pacheco has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy twice, most recently in 2017, which could cause concern for some voters about her aptitude for budgeting, one of the Commission’s many responsibilities.

Gonzalez, 47, has also had money problems. His family’s restaurant, David’s Café, closed its Alton Road location last year after its landlord filed to evict the business for rent nonpayment exceeding $51,000.

Now facing a foreclosure lawsuit against his home and another suit by creditors for debt exceeding $36,000, he runs a pop-up cafe at the Shelbourne South Beach hotel called Cafecito by David’s Café.

And without fundraising muscle, Young has fought an uphill battle that could prove too steep. We’ll see Tuesday.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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