Showdown nears for 4 candidates vying to be new Miami Beach Mayor

Miami Beach Mayor 4-pic
The race has generated more than $4.3M in combined fundraising and some hostilities between the candidates.

Miami Beach’s top elected office is up for grabs next week, and for the first time in more than half a decade, Mayor Dan Gelber isn’t among the candidates.

Four men — Vice Mayor Steven Meiner, former Rep. Mike Grieco, former City Commissioner Michael Góngora and former MTV executive Bill Roedy, a first-time candidate — are competing to succeed Gelber, who must leave office due to term limits.

Grieco and Góngora are registered Democrats. Meiner is a former Republican now without party affiliation. Roedy is a member of the Independent Party.

The race, which is technically nonpartisan, has generated more than $4.3 million in combined fundraising and some hostilities between the candidates.

For voters, the biggest issue is public safety. In the past three years, Miami Beach has imposed curfews to curb violent disorder in the city’s nightlife hotspots after several shootings during Spring Break.

Also weighing heavily are concerns of overdevelopment in the city, including the potential replacement of historical neighborhoods and buildings with new structures that, while more resilient, may be incompatible with the character of the neighborhood.

Legislation preventing local governments from blocking such development died in the waning days of the 2023 Legislative Session, but the measure is likely to return and fare better next year.

In a September forum discussion, all four candidates cited their past support of the LGBTQ community and gave examples to prove it. But they were split on the proposed rollback of alcohol sales from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. in Miami Beach’s entertainment district that a majority of voters backed through a nonbinding straw ballot item in 2021.

Grieco and Meiner said they supported the rollback. Roedy said he opposed it except during “high impact weekends like Spring Break, which must end.” He added that there isn’t much evidence showing the change would be effective year-round.

Góngora, who voted against the rollback in 2021, told the Miami Herald he still was against the move, explaining that it “doesn’t address public safety issues we face around the clock.”

Early voting is underway and ends Nov. 5. Election Day is on Nov. 7. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote to win outright, a Nov. 21 runoff election will be held between the top two vote-earners.

Miami Beach campaign finance rules prohibit real estate developers, lobbyists and vendors with pending matters before the city from making political contributions to candidates’ individual campaigns and their political committees. However, that rule does not extend to electioneering communications organizations (ECOs), which can run advertisements supporting or attacking candidates within 60 days of an election as long as the ads do not explicitly tell voters whom to support at the ballot box.

As detailed by The Real Deal, hundreds of thousands of dollars from real estate companies seeking business in the city poured into the race. Góngora and Grieco were the main recipients.

Roedy, whose long-term residency in Miami Beach has been called into question, and Meiner have taken comparatively little from real estate interests.

Michael Góngora has been involved in Miami Beach government for 17-plus years. Image via Michael Góngora.

For Góngora, 53, this year’s race is his second for the city mayoralty. He ran back in 2013 as well, but was the runner-up to Philip Levine, Gelber’s predecessor.

Góngora finished his third stint on the City Commission in 2021, when he unsuccessfully sued Miami Beach to run for a third term. He’d previously served on the panel from 2006-2007 and from 2009-2013 before returning in 2017.

He argued that voter-approved term limits did not retroactively apply to his Commission tenure. A court sided with the city.

A lawyer in private life specializing in community association litigation, he has served on numerous county and municipal zoning, advisory, reform and enforcement boards. He also created the city’s Sustainability Committee, among other contributions.

Like his opponents, Góngora’s campaign platform encompasses several pressing issues in the city. He wants to improve public safety by hiring more police, installing video cameras across the city and creating a “Real-Time Crime Center.”

He also wants to accelerate sea-level rise mitigation projects, maintain the city’s stormwater master plan, upgrade infrastructure, improve roadway flow through traffic light calibration and back “responsible” development commensurate with the existing scale of neighborhoods and zoning strictures.

During his time in office, he helped lead efforts to initiate a citywide recycling program and backed an effort to push for more eco-friendly development.

He received endorsements from Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia, all three City Commissioners whose seats aren’t up for grabs this year and a handful of former local officials.

The Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police, Miami Association of Realtors and Miami’s Community News are also backing Góngora’s campaign. So is The Victory Fund, a political action committee committed to increasing the number of LGBTQ people in public office. Góngora is the first openly gay person to serve on the Miami Beach Commission.

He raised $616,500 through his campaign account, inclusive of about $244,800 worth of carry-over funds from prior campaigns and $55,000 in self-loans.

His ECO, Leaders We Trust, collected about $200,000. Nearly all of it came from an ECO supporting his campaign called A Better Future for Miami Beach.

The fundraising included $50,000 from Location Ventures, a firm that came under scrutiny this year amid revelations by the Herald that it had paid Miami Mayor Francis Suarez at least $170,000 in consultant fees while seeking approval of a project in the city’s Coconut Grove neighborhood. Those payments and other compensation Suarez received are now under federal and state investigation.

Funds supporting Góngora’s candidacy included $15,000 from the OKO Group, which is building a hotel and condominium in the city’s Faena District, and $10,000 apiece from Clara Homes and developer Russell Galbut’s Crescent Heights, the latter of which is building a 45-story residential tower on Alton Road.

Góngora has been at odds with Grieco, who secretly recorded a December meeting the two had at a restaurant in which Góngora bragged about Galbut’s support. Grieco told the Herald he recorded their conversation to ensure nothing he said would be misrepresented by Góngora, who he said was trying to keep him out of the race.

Grieco said Góngora’s claim about Galbut represented a campaign finance violation. Góngora argued it didn’t, noting that the money went to an ECO supporting his campaign, which is allowed. He countered that Grieco had violated state law by recording him without his consent.

Florida is a two-party consent state, meaning it is generally illegal to record someone without their knowledge. There is an exception when the person being recorded has no reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in a public place like a restaurant.

Like outgoing Mayor Dan Gelber, Mike Grieco would bring state lawmaking experience to the Miami Beach Mayor’s office. Image via Florida Politics.

Grieco, 48, is a criminal defense lawyer and former Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney. He served as a Miami Beach Commissioner from 2013 to 2017, when he briefly ran for Mayor before resigning and pleading no contest to campaign finance violations.

He has long maintained that he had no knowledge of any misconduct and has pointed to his subsequent election to state office as evidence voters believe and support him.

Grieco served as a state Representative from 2018 to 2022. He ran in 2022 to unseat Republican Ileana Garcia in Senate District 36, but dropped out of the race two months before the Primary Election, complaining of a lack of funding support from Senate Democratic Leadership.

In his second campaign for Miami Beach Mayor, Grieco touted his familiarity with the legislative process in Tallahassee as a boon to progress at City Hall, where he vowed to boost public safety, particularly during times of high crime and activity like Spring Break and Memorial Day Weekend.

His website features a seven-part strategy for dealing with the city’s “public safety nightmare,” including restricting public parking and access to Ocean Drive during peak periods.

Grieco’s campaign collected about $332,500 through Oct. 20, including $75,000 worth of self-loans. His political committee, Strong Leadership for South Florida, raised $390,000 since he left state office late last year.

Real estate-related donations to Grieco’s campaign include $40,000 from the operator of the Miami Beach Marina, which hired Greico as a lobbyist last year; $21,000 from Related Development CEO Steve Patterson; and $10,000 from companies linked to Arc Pe, a private equity firm headquartered in the city that offers real estate lending.

He received endorsements from LGBTQ advocacy group SAVE Action PAC, the State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Transit Workers Local 291, which represents thousands of public transportation workers in Miami-Dade.

Grieco’s 2017 resignation from the City Commission came after it was revealed he’d accepted $25,000 from a non-American donor, through another donor, while running for Mayor. He said he didn’t know the contribution had ties to an organization suspected of soliciting funds from foreign nationals.

Once a six-month probation barring him from running for office expired, he ran for and won the seat representing House District 113. Voters re-elected him in 2020.

But the incident still trails him. This past January, a judge recommended that the Florida Bar suspend Grieco’s law license for 90 days as further punishment. So far, there’s been no action on the recommendation by the Florida Supreme Court, which is responsible for final judgment.

Last month, Grieco drew negative attention after leaked Miami Beach police footage showed he had lost a handgun at a city park on Aug. 13. The video, shared with news outlets, showed a woman turning in a bag containing several identifying items of Grieco’s and a loaded Glock 43 at a city police station.

Grieco said the bag “was stolen and within less than an hour found safely at the police station.” He added that the police video was released in violation of Florida’s Marsy’s Law, which affords crime victims confidentiality.

Roedy called for Grieco to drop out of the race. He said Grieco, an outspoken opponent of Florida’s new permitless carry law, displayed a “glaring lack of judgment.”

Of note, a consultant who ran Grieco’s mayoral campaign in 2017, David Custin, is now working for Góngora. Consultant Christian Ulvert, who helped Gelber deflect Grieco’s challenge in 2017 and worked on Gelber’s 2021 campaign, worked on Grieco’s campaign this year.

Scant polling data has been shared this election cycle to indicate whom voters prefer in the Mayor’s race. A 2022 survey Grieco’s campaign commissioned and shared in February found Grieco held citywide favorability across political lines and demographics, particularly among Jewish residents and those 50 or older.

Steven Meiner is the only mayoral candidate to eschew using a political committee or electioneering communications organization. Image via Steven Meiner.

Meiner, 52, works as an enforcement lawyer with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He was elected to the Miami Beach Commission in 2019.

As an elected official, he has supported efforts to expand a city prosecutor program and policies to arrest people for filming police officers and homeless people if they refuse to go to a shelter.

He also backed adding more misdemeanor crimes to the city code, a pre-trial diversion program for people in need, a volunteer civilian patrol program and opposed bail elimination for misdemeanor crimes.

His campaign platform includes prioritizing environmental protections for Biscayne Bay, which has been subject to fish kills in recent years, and protection against overdevelopment.

Meiner wants to implement a “traffic management software system” in the city, provide free ferry services to and from Miami, provide employment and mental health care opportunities to people living on the street and install new water and sewer piping to reduce leakage.

He has proposed raising the required City Commission vote share from five of seven Commissioners to six of seven for approval of buildings larger than what is allowed under a given area’s zoning.

Meiner raised $86,600 through his campaign account, an overwhelming percentage of which came through personal checks. He is the only candidate running who did not solicit funds through a political committee or ECO and says his non-reliance on real estate dollars means his City Commission vote can’t be bought.

The Miami Herald endorsed him, as did SOBESafe, a community organization focused on reducing crime.

Former MTV and HBO executive Bill Roedy has spent more than $2 million of his money on becoming Miami Beach Mayor. Image via Bill Roedy.

Roedy, 75, is a former entertainment executive who positioned himself in the race as a “political outsider.”

He’s a first-time candidate and the only one running for whom the Mayor’s job would be full-time.

Retired since 2010, Roedy is also the only military veteran running. He volunteered during the Vietnam War, serving there and at three NATO nuclear missile bases in Italy and reaching the rank of captain.

His prior government experience includes service as the first ambassador of UNAIDS, a United Nations joint venture focused on fighting AIDS worldwide.

Roedy’s website boasts a broad campaign platform. He called for a 10% increase to Miami Beach Police Department resources, opening a real-time traffic center and the formation of a “detective force, inspired by anti-terrorism and crowd control” units to deal with crime in the city.

He also wants to impose a moratorium on approval of high-rises in Miami Beach until a new study of infrastructural, transit and environmental needs can be conducted; bring in the “best and brightest world-level experts” to strengthen city infrastructure against sea level rise; address traffic through a “real-time traffic center” and limiting non-residential parking to garages; and prioritize construction of affordable housing for the elderly, disabled and low-income families.

In terms of fundraising, Roedy’s been largely self-reliant. His campaign account took in $2.57 million. Of that, all but roughly $20,000 came from his bank account.

Meanwhile, his political committee called Miami Beach Leadership in Action amassed $83,500 from nine deep-pocketed donors, less than half of whom listed Miami Beach as their home address.

In early October, the Miami Herald questioned Roedy’s claim of being a long-term Miami Beach resident. Roedy graduated from North Miami High School, and his campaign website says he and his wife have lived in Miami Beach since 1999. But he also said in a 2021 podcast that he has British citizenship and lived in London for more than three decades.

He’s since told the Herald he spent “at least four months of the year” in Miami Beach during that span.

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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