Surfside election features rematch for Mayor, 10 candidates for 4 Town Commission seats

Surfside Town Hall
Of Surfside’s approximately 5,531 residents, 67% are registered to vote.

Surfside voters will decide whether to change or preserve most of their elected leaders this Tuesday in a General Election featuring a rematch for Mayor and 10 candidates vying for four Town Commission seats.

Atop the ballot, freshman Mayor Shlomo Danzinger defends against former Mayor Charles Burkett, who lost by just 35 votes two years ago.

Danzinger, a business owner, is running on a platform that prioritizes community safety and policing, enhances residents’ quality of life, and allows safe but responsible development. He’s also vowed to protect homeowners’ rights, promote fiscally responsible governance, and uphold the “civility and dignity of office.”

More on that last priority later.

Burkett, a real estate investment and management executive who served as Mayor from 2006-2010 and 2020-2022, agrees with Danzinger that the town needs to improve its policing. He wants to lower taxes, make the town government more transparent, complete the city’s parks and expand flooding and undergrounding projects.

He also wants to reverse zoning changes implemented under Danzinger that he says provide “giveaways” to developers.

The two squared off in a Mayor’s candidate forum on Jan. 30.

Danzinger, who cited advancing the town’s stormwater master plan, street improvements, and a new “smart” surveillance system as first-term accomplishments, outraised Burkett more than twofold.

Through March 7, he stacked about $52,500 through donations from real estate professionals and businesses, local business owners, Surfside residents and residents of nearby communities. A Jensen Beach-based political committee called People for Coastal Common Sense chipped in $1,000.

He also spent $37,500 on advertising, signs, campaign events, supplies, campaign staff, travel, postage and donation processing fees.

Meanwhile, Burkett raised about $20,000, half of which came from his bank account. The remainder came from residents, local businesses and residents. Former Vice Mayor Tina Paul, who is running to win back her seat, gave him $200.

Burkett also spent about $7,700 on flyers, mail, a website, signs and donation processing fees.

After winning in 2022, Danzinger said a contributing factor was how tired residents had grown of the bickering on the town dais between Burkett and former Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer, who also lost her seat.

Burkett told The New York Times then that he was glad Danzinger won and described his opponent as someone with “a very similar worldview compared to me.”

That estimation, evidently, has changed.

Shlomo Danzinger’s topped all other Surfside candidates in fundraising this cycle. Image via AP.

This past August, it was Danzinger who drew headlines and criticism for questioning whether Commissioner Nelly Velasquez speaks English after she repeatedly interrupted him during a meeting.

Velasquez, who speaks fluent English, said it was “clear” that Danzinger said what he did because she is “a Latin woman, and he is a misogynist that tries to embarrass us.” When asked later to acknowledge that he knew Velasquez spoke English, Danzinger replied, “Apparently not.”

The Commission narrowly voted against censuring him over the incident.

Later that month, a self-proclaimed Nazi threatened to kill Danzinger, an Orthodox Jew, prompting a police protection order.

Questions have also been raised about Danzinger’s relationship with a Dubai-based development company that purchased the site of the former Champlain Towers South condo, which collapsed in June 2021, killing 98 people.

Vice Mayor Jeff Rose and incumbent Commissioners Fred Landsman and Nelly Velasquez are also running to stay in office.

Paul, former Commissioner Ruben Coto, math teacher Jerold Blumstein, real estate investor Jared Brunnabend, real estate developer David Forbes, retiree Victor May and law professor Gerardo Vildostegui are running to unseat them.

The Mayor’s race is separate from the Commission race. In the Commission race, the four top vote-earners are elected, with the biggest vote-getter taking the vice mayoralty. All serve two-year terms.

Charles Burkett’s opinion of his mayoral successor seems to have soured over the past two years. Image via AP.

Incumbent Commissioner Marianne Meischeid originally filed to run for re-election but has since withdrawn from the race. Danziger accused her of her antisemitic conduct at a Town Commission meeting in December, when he read from emails she sent to the Town Manager about removing posters of Israeli hostages from the Oct. 7 attack.

In one such email, Meischeid said the posters were “offensive to many residents and not in our code.” She wrote in another email that a banner portraying hostages on private property across from Town Hall was “too political,” adding, “Residents are upset!”

Business developer Ruben Bravo also ran briefly but has since withdrawn.

Rose and Vildostegui — who blasted Danzinger in December over the blowup with Meischeid, calling the incident “McCarthyism, pure and simple” — tied for collecting the most funds through March 7 ($7,500). Paul raised $4,600, while Landsman, a prior Vice Chair of the town’s Planning and Zoning Board, raised $3,200.

May, a past mayoral candidate, raised the least ($100), followed by Brunnabend ($200) and Blumstein, a former Chief of Staff to former Miami-Dade School Board members Martin Karp and Marta Perez who raised $800.

Early this month, Rose made local headlines after he accused an 18-year-old activist of pushing him at a candidate event. Police later arrested the teen and held him for 27 hours on felony battery charges. Rose confronted the young man on video about the alleged incident.

Documentarian Billy Corben published a video online Thursday mocking Rose about the incident and bashing Danzinger as a “wannabe communist dictator.”

Questions have also arisen about a Broward-based political committee, One Surfside, that has amassed nearly $25,000 and spent more than $22,000 to sway voters to support Danzinger, Rose, Landsman, Brunnabend and Forbes.

The PC is run by Aaron Nevins, a Republican Florida political operative who attracted national attention in 2016 when he published and distributed to journalists a trove of data stolen from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that he said came from a Russian hacker called Guccifer 2.0.

Most of its funding came from another PC, Floridians Together for Change, whose financial sources won’t be revealed until next month, after the Surfside election ends. That’s due to relatively new campaign finance rules Republican state lawmakers approved last year requiring quarterly campaign finance reports rather than the previously mandated monthly reporting.

Chelsea Road Consulting, a firm Nevins owns, also gave One Surfside a four-figure sum.

The Chair of Floridians Together for Change is Ethan Bazak, a high schooler and past intern under former Democratic Rep. Mike Grieco who now works as an intern to Republican Rep. Fabián Basabe.

The Miami New Times published a deep dive into the PC, its funding and important players Thursday.

Of Surfside’s approximately 5,531 residents, 67% are registered to vote, according to the Miami-Dade Elections Department. Less than 39% of them — 1,453 — cast ballots in 2022.

Many of this year’s candidates answered a survey from the League of Women Voters. Read their answers here.


Editor’s note: This report has been updated to correctly state Bazak’s employment status.

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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