Miami Beach to elect 3 new City Commissioners

Miami Beach Commission race 2023
None has prior elected experience, though all have been active in the community they hope to serve.

Miami Beach voters on Tuesday will select three new City Commissioners who, alongside a new Mayor, will replace more than half the city’s elected officials.

While the Mayor’s race is a four-way contest and could go to a runoff, the Commission races feature just two candidates apiece, meaning the top vote-earner on Election Day will win outright.

None of the six running have prior elected experience, though all have been active in the community they hope to serve. And while there are ample overlaps in policy positions among them, each has managed to distinguish themselves enough to provide voters a clear choice.

The top issue for Miami Beach residents this year — and the candidates seeking their support — is public safety. In the past three years, Miami Beach has imposed curfews to curb violent disorder in the city’s nightlife hotspots after shootings during spring break.

One potential fix a majority of voters supported through a nonbinding straw ballot item in 2021 is a proposed alcohol sales cutoff in the city’s entertainment district at 2 a.m., three hours earlier than the current 5 a.m. last call.

In all but one of the races, the candidates largely agree on the matter.

Also weighing heavily are concerns of overdevelopment, 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.

Early voting runs from Oct. 23 to Nov. 5 at Miami Beach City Hall and the North Shore Branch Library. Election Day is Nov. 7.

The Miami Beach Commission and its elections are technically nonpartisan.

(L-R) Real estate broker Andres Arias and marketing pro Tanya Katzoff Bhatt are squaring off for the right to succeed Steven Meiner in Group 4. Images via the candidates.

Group 4

In Group 4, no-party real estate broker Andres Asion and Democratic marketing professional Tanya Katzoff Bhatt are running to replace Steven Meiner, who is running for Mayor.

Asion, 48, is a former Republican and self-described lifelong Miami Beach resident whose firm, Miami Real Estate Group, specializes in high-rise development sales. He also runs an eponymous nonprofit that has drawn praise from city and county officials for its work during the pandemic.

He sits on the Miami Beach Board of Adjustment and is a former administrative assistant to Xavier Suarez, a former Miami Mayor, Miami-Dade County Commissioner and the father of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.

Bhatt, 56, has lived in the city for two decades and owns the marketing firm LaunchBrand.

She sits on the Miami Beach Planning Board and Miami Design Preservation League. Previously, she served as President of Miami Beach United, a nonprofit resident advocacy organization.

In spite of his day job, Asion maintains that he wants to tamp down on irresponsible growth in the city. His campaign website also lists incentivizing residential property owners to keep rents down and helping homeowners improve their properties’ resilience as priorities.

That approach, he said, will “make sure the unique character of each neighborhood is taken into account when planning for sea level rise and when improving our existing infrastructure.”

Bhatt, meanwhile, wants to see a better law enforcement approach to cracking down on spring break misconduct and other public safety issues. She’s floating the use of license plate readers to “stop dangerous individuals from roaring across our causeway in cars loaded with guns and drugs.”

Other priorities include improving traffic, prioritizing sewer and stormwater projects over additional development in the city and preserving historical structures. Bhatt also wants to reform permitting, arguing it “should not take four years to open a restaurant.”

The two candidates are split on the 2 a.m. last call issue, according to a Herald survey of candidates. Asion is against the change, calling it a “one-size-fits-all solution that does not consider the diverse needs” of the city’s entertainment district. Bhatt said she is for following through on voters’ preference by not granting any new 5 a.m. licenses while allowing bars with existing ones to continue operating as long as they remain in good legal standing.

Despite filing one month after Bhatt, Asion holds the edge in fundraising. As of Oct. 20, he collected $190,000 through his campaign account, a significant chunk from real estate businesses and professionals.

His political committee, Defending Democracy PC, is chaired by consultant Christian Ulvert and has raised $47,000 since the 2022 election, nearly all of it from real estate interests.

Bhatt took in more than $151,000 through her campaign account since filing for the race in February. An overwhelming portion of it came from individual donors.

An electioneering communications organization (ECO) supporting her campaign called Miami Beach for All of Us raised an additional $44,000. Most of the funds came from real estate businesses.

Bhatt also enjoys support from the Miami Herald and SAVE Action PAC, an LGBTQ advocacy organization. Asion told the Miami Herald he’d donated thousands of dollars to the group.

This year, a social media account called No MAGA Takeover Miami Beach uncovered past social media posts by several candidates, including Asion, who in a since-deleted post to social media called Republican Ron DeSantis “the best Governor in the country.”

Asion later explained he was referring only to DeSantis’ early elimination of COVID restrictions, not his culture war policies, and stressed he is for reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and has a gay brother.

(L-R) Hotelier Mitch Novick and marketing pro David Suarez are competing to succeed term-limited Commissioner Ricky Arriola. Images via the candidates.

Group 5

For the Group 5 seat, Democratic hotelier Mitch Novick and no-party marketing professional David Suarez — both long-time, civically active residents — are facing off to replace term-limited Commissioner Ricky Arriola.

Both candidates are for the 2 a.m. rollback.

Novick, 59, owns the Sherbrook Hotel and has long advocated for historic preservation during his 35 years of residency, including as Chair of the Miami Beach Preservation Board and Miami-Dade Historic Preservation Board.

To that end, his real estate company has successfully restored buildings from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s.

His platform focuses on stopping crime in the entertainment district, strengthening city policies to further protect historic buildings and neighborhoods, safeguarding and adding to the city’s affordable housing portfolio and protecting residents from utility rate hikes.

He also wants to improve public safety by first addressing the “attractive nuisance” of Ocean Drive and then funding police to enforce new rules curbing mischief in the area.

Suarez, 39, is the marketing director for skin care company LifeCell. He was born in Miami and is a board member of the Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority.

In 2021, he led a successful effort called Save SoFi to, among other things, stop short-term rentals in the South of Fifth neighborhood.

His platform prioritizes improving public safety by expanding the police department, assigning police units to every neighborhood and reducing Miami Beach’s homeless population by “implementing more stringent rules on sleeping or camping on public property.”

He also wants to improve the quality of neighborhoods by accelerating upgrades to sewer and stormwater systems, cracking down on noise complaints and passing legislation to discourage developments that convert residential properties for “transient use.”

Novick’s campaign account amassed $300,000 between July and Oct. 20, all of it his money. He carries endorsement from SAVE Action PAC and the Miami Herald.

Suarez raised $651,000 since filing in March. All but $30,000 came from his bank account. Among that sum was $3,000 from Mango’s Tropical Café, a related business and the café’s owner, David Wallack, who opposed the 2 a.m. last call.

Groups endorsing Suarez included the Fraternal Order of Police, Miami Beach Firefighters, Communications Workers of America, South Florida AFL-CIO and SOBE Safe, a volunteer community watch group.

Both candidates have had past run-ins with the law. Novick was arrested in 2017 for allegedly stealing towels from Mango’s. He said Wallack had given him permission, and the charges were later dropped.

Suarez was arrested in 2003 for burglary during what he described to the Herald as a “high school prank.” Prosecutors did not pursue charges.

In 2020, a judge ordered Suarez to temporarily turn over at least 12 guns and his concealed carry permit after photographs showed his young son “in close proximity to a variety of different weapons” while at his home. Suarez said the guns all had locks on them, but that he’s since purchased safes in which to store them.

The Herald also reported that Suarez, who switched from Republican to having no party affiliation in 2021, has made numerous donations to members of the national conservatism movement. Recipients included DeSantis, former President Donald Trump, Laura Loomer and Blake Masters, a former candidate for the U.S. Senate who promoted a theory that Democrats were encouraging immigrants to “change the demographics of this country.”

(L-R) Finance professional Joe Magazine and art consultant Marcella Novela are running for outgoing Commissioner David Richardson’s seat. Images via the candidates.

Group 6

The Group 6 race features two former Republicans contending for the seat Commissioner David Richardson, a former Democratic state Representative, is vacating to run for Miami-Dade Tax Collector.

Both candidates filed in May. Both oppose the 2 a.m. last call.

Joe Magazine, 40, is the Vice President of global investment services firm Loop Capital. He’s lived in Miami Beach for about a decade and sits on the Miami Beach Planning Board.

Marcella Novela, 45, owns Art Conductor, an art consultancy and curation firm. She grew up in Miami-Dade, has lived in Miami Beach for 22 years and chairs the city’s Art in Public Places board.

She’s also a board member of the city’s 41st Street Committee and the Perez Art Museum Miami.

If elected, Magazine wants to provide police with additional resources, engage in “smart PR efforts” to discourage out-of-town partiers from visiting, reduce short-term rentals in the city and limit commercial uses in residential areas.

His website also mentions clean energy and infrastructure projects as priorities. To further prevent crime during high-volume periods like spring break, he wants to “prevent performers with a history of violence from holding shows near us.”

Novela’s priorities include improving the safety of residents, reducing traffic with new light synchronization, street cleaning and city beautification, stepping up historic preservation efforts, funding micro-transit options like Freebee and stopping “runaway overdevelopment.”

Heading into the election’s home stretch, Novela held the advantage in funding due to a $100,000 loan her husband, real estate developer Richardo Dunin, gave her political committee, Elevate Miami Beach.

The political committee took $42,500 more from other sources in addition to $101,000 Novela raised through her campaign account, $20,000 of which was a self-loan.

Magazine raised $125,000 through his campaign, a fifth of which was self-given. Residents for Safe Neighborhoods, a political committee supporting him that Ulvert runs, took in $1,000.

Most of Magazine’s gains came through personal checks.

Like Suarez, Magazine scored endorsements from the Fraternal Order of Police, Miami Beach Firefighters, Communications Workers of America, South Florida AFL-CIO and SOBE Safe.

Novela won an endorsement from the Herald despite its reporting that she failed to disclose three now-dismissed foreclosures for unpaid utility bills. The outlet took greater issue with online outbursts Magazine had more than half a decade ago.

In 2016, one day after a man killed five Dallas police officers during a protest over the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile, Magazine wrote in a Facebook post that he was “sick of hearing a bunch of f***king morons talk about whose lives matter.”

“To me, my family’s lives matter. My life matters,” he wrote. “And if anybody decides to try and jeopardize that, they’ll see how little their life matters to me.”

He lamented the post as “worded poorly,” but explained he was reacting emotionally to “two extremes coming together, bestowing violence upon our county.”

In another post, he shared a picture of himself wearing a “Trump 2016” hat and asserting he “supported Trump for over a year and a half.”

Magazine said he supports abortion rights, is an LGBTQ ally and voted for Biden in 2020. He canceled his Republican membership last year and now, like Novela, has no party affiliation.

No MAGA Takeover Miami Beach also flagged $1,000 donations Novela made last year to the campaigns of DeSantis and embattled Republican Rep. Fabián Basabe, who ran as a progressive before supporting many of the Governor’s policy proposals, including further restrictions on LGBTQ inclusion in public schools and bills loosening firearm regulations.

Basabe is also the subject of an investigation and lawsuit for accusations that he sexually harassed two of his government employees.

Novela, who officially left the GOP in 2017, has given $1,000 this year to former Rep. Joe Saunders, Basabe’s Democratic 2024 opponent, and declared on Instagram that DeSantis and Basabe “turned out to be horrible liars and traitors.”

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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