Miami Shores has three newly elected Village Council members and some redrafting to do in its municipal charter after its biennial election.
Coming in as the village’s likely new Mayor is real estate investor and retired veterinarian George Burch, who scored 23% of the vote Tuesday. He will serve a four-year term along with local business owner Jesse Valinsky, who won 22% of the vote.
Jerome Charles, a veteran film and TV industry vet who received the third-most votes (21%), will serve a two-year term in accordance with village rules.
For four other candidates — lawyer and entrepreneur Andy Bellinson, engineer and business owner Deepak Ganju, lawyer Peter Walsh and architect Wesley Castellanos, who has served on the Village Council in an appointed capacity since December — it’s the end of the road.
The winners will replace term-limited Council member Alice Burch, who is married to George Burch, and take the seats former Council members Katia Saint Fleur and Crystal Wagar vacated last year before a new state lobbying law went into effect. Castellanos and lawyer Timothy Crutchfield, whom the Council also appointed, have since served in their stead.
Burch, Valinksy and Charles will join Mayor Sandra Harris and Vice Mayor Dan Marinberg, who have faced criticism in recent months for their support of a new comprehensive plan allowing more density in the three-square-mile municipality.
Many of the village’s roughly 11,500 residents are up in arms over a divisive proposal to build a housing complex across 23.5 acres of vacant, privately owned land. Barry University, the village’s largest employer, wants to sell the property to homebuilder mammoth Lennar, which intends to construct 130 townhomes and a 470-unit apartment community in the municipality’s northwest corner.
That requires final approval of a redrawn comprehensive plan Miami Shores officials have worked on for more than a year allowing more density within the village. A review of the plan by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is due April 28.
Two political committees formed on either side of the issue in advance of Election Day. Miami Shores Future, which backs the comprehensive plan, raised $105 and endorsed Castellanos despite his vote in Feb. 21 against the plan.
Miami Shores United, which collected 1,700 signatures opposing the plan — representing close to 15% of residents — spent $18,000 of $27,000 it raised on this year’s election, including $1,000 checks to Burch, Charles and Valinsky. The group also endorsed the trio.
The nonprofit Save LGBT gave too. The group’s involvement in the village election carried added weight this year, after Marinberg, who is openly gay, told his followers on Facebook he’d received an email rife with threats and homophobic slurs. He said Harris also got a message with death threats against her and her family.
Police later identified the sender as a former village resident now living in North Carolina.
Save LGBT gave to three candidates: Castellanos, Bellinson and Walsh.
The election was at large, meaning residents could vote for any of the seven candidates they wanted. While the position of Mayor is selected by the Village Council at its inaugural meeting, the person who receives the most votes in a preceding election is traditionally the one chosen and serves in the role for their first two years in office.
While some mail-in ballots awaited tallying at 8 p.m., the Miami-Dade Department of Elections showed that roughly 39% of Miami Shores’ 7,057 registered voters participated in the election Tuesday.
A lifelong resident of South Florida who moved to Miami Shores when he was 2, Burch has been a trustee of Miami Country Day School and a donor to Brockway Memorial Library, Doctors Charter School and the Miami Shores Community Alliance.
He raised $28,000 toward his candidacy, more than half from his own bank account.
Burch promised, if elected, to work to “trim density” in the comprehensive plan, build new facilities for the community and a local school, preserve public land, speed septic-to-sewer conversions, replace failing water pipes, underground power lines, reduce through traffic, improve resiliency and support law enforcement.
Last week, he was the target of an anonymous letter sent to several voters in the village that appeared to include the city letterhead. The letter attacked Burch for opposing the comprehensive plan and for being a Republican.
Miami Shores Village Manager Esmond Scott has denied the letter came from the village offices and said he’d consulted with the village attorney and police chief about the matter.
A 45-year resident of Miami Shores, Charles is a veteran media expert who until 2020 worked as a senior editor for Discovery Inc., the parent company of The Discovery Channel.
He vowed to take a “resident-centric” approach to future planning and preserve the village if elected.
Charles ran a fully self-funded campaign, raising $1,500 through April 6.
Valinsky, who describes himself as a “small businessman and a nerd,” is a 15-year resident of Miami Shores Village. He is the owner of Steve’s Pizza, a local restaurant chain his father opened almost half a century ago.
Before joining the family business, Valinsky said he owned a “rapid prototyping workshop with unique capabilities” where he “assisted many independent investors and institutional projects with the design and production of custom components.”
Since entering the race, he raised $9,000, more than half of it his own money.
Miami Shores residents also gave overwhelming approval to 10 charter amendments, each of which received at least 70% support. They voted yes on:
— Authorizing “non-substantive stylistic and technical changes” to improve clarity and provide for gender neutrality in the charter’s language.
— Creating a “Citizen’s Bill of Rights” to encourage government participation.
— Requiring a runoff election in cases where two candidates receive the same number of votes.
— Requiring Village Council candidates to run independently and refrain from issuing joint campaign literature except for endorsements.
— Codifying that elections in Miami Shores are nonpartisan.
— Increasing the residency requirement for Village Council candidates from six months to a year before the qualifying date of an election.
— Increasing a village-wide referendum for the sale, exchange, lease or lease renewal of municipal property.
— Requiring a review of the Village Charter at least once every 10 years.
— Requiring when proposed charter amendments conflict with one another that the one with the most votes is adopted.