Beach Brawl

Money and ethnicity narrow the race for Miami Beach City Commission to two men

Annunziato is inclined toward either Jimmy Stewart-esque pronouncements -- "I've always been drawn to the public arena, to be my brother's keeper" -- or a lapse into blunt cop-talk. Asked whether he supports funding the Cirque du Soleil takeover of the Jackie Gleason Theater, he immediately shoots back: "Negative!"

Not that Libbin disagrees with him: "There is no land acquisition, there is no building acquisition ... they're asking the city to put up $100 million, and for what?"

It would be easy to see this race as nothing more than a generational contest then, with a healthy dollop of class conflict added for color. On one side is Libbin, the Normandy Shores Homeowner Association head with a $1.7 million waterfront abode, a family man comfortable working with the current power structure. Facing him is Annunziato, who lives with his fiancée in a modest South Pointe condo that he rents from a fellow police officer (who might want to update his homestead exemption claim before the county property assessor reads this column).

That comparison would not only be glib, but it would also be profoundly misleading. Many power brokers are quietly orbiting Annunziato -- for starters, Mayor Dermer, whom Annunziato freely acknowledges as a mentor. Annunziato also admits that commissioner Matti Bower "is out there and working as hard as she can to get people on board to help me. But she has to be careful how she positions herself. If she picks me [publicly], and I'm not in a runoff, that puts her in a bad spot." For her part, Bower told Kulchur, "I do have my preference," but she declined to elaborate. "You don't want to hurt anybody, so I'm staying quiet. You have to work with whoever wins." Most telling is the identity of Annunziato's campaign treasurer: José Riesco. An influential figure in the local Republican Party (as well as a delegate to its 2004 national convention in Boston to renominate President George W. Bush), Riesco was the campaign treasurer for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez's victorious run last year. He remains a close advisor to Alvarez, chairing his "strong mayor" PAC, Citizens for Reform, and has personally raised $537,000 for that effort in only a few months. The precise role that Riesco -- and his circle across the bay -- would play on Miami Beach if Annunziato were elected remains unclear.Though if Riesco simply hit a few buttons on his phone's speed dial, Annunziato's fundraising woes would surely be over.

"I talk to him only about once a quarter, right before my finance reports are due," Annunziato demurs when he is first asked about Riesco. "He's very busy."

It's a little too coy for Kulchur. Come on, Alex. José Riesco doesn't become the campaign manager for just any candidate. And you've already told me you can't afford to pay expensive consultants, so Riesco must have another motivation besides simply earning his accountant's fee.

"We've had some discussions," Annunziato answers carefully. "We've discussed some projects."

Of course they have: It's election season in Miami Beach.

Kulchur will cohost a Miami Beach Latin Chamber of Commerce-sponsored "Meet the Candidates" forum Wednesday, September 28, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the South Beach Marriott, 161 Ocean Dr. All five candidates for the contested Miami Beach commission seat are slated to be in attendance. Admission is free for Chamber members and ten dollars for the general public. For more information, call 305-674-1414 or visit www.miamibeach.org.

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