Just a couple weeks ago, Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson was on the all-out offensive to back his controversial fundraising efforts. Wolfson even took out three full-page Miami Herald ads to attack journalists Michael Putney and Glenna Milberg over Putney's criticisms of how the politician and his ally, Mayor Philip Levine, had raised more than a million bucks from politically connected lobbyists and developers.
Now, Wolfson has changed his mind. The commissioner abruptly announced last night that he's killing the fundraising PAC, called Relentless For Progress, and returning all the cash to donors. But Wolfson doesn't regret taking out those Herald ads.
"The two things are consistent. Me moving forward and closing this PAC is consistent with my continued disappointment in how Putney reported on me," Wolfson tells New Times. "I always understood the other side of the debate about this PAC, and having had a chance to reflect on it, I've come to believe they're right. But I still have an issue with Putney distorting the facts."
At the heart of the debate has been how Wolfson and Levine raised more than a million dollars in just a few months. Critics like Putney said they'd leaned on vendors who do business with the city, strong-arming the money in a virtual quid pro quo to keep access to city contracts. The Miami-Dade Ethics Commission even opened a probe into the activity.
Levine and Wolfson strongly deny any wrongdoing and say the PAC followed the letter of the law. But Wolfson now says that after months of listening to the debate, he's come to agree that it's not healthy for a smaller city like Miami Beach to play such big-money political games. He says he was particularly swayed by arguments from leaders he respects like former Mayor David Dermer.
"It comes down to the notion that, as a smaller municipality we have the ability to be different," Wolfson says. "We've always held ourself out to be leaders in this county."
In fact, Wolfson isn't just closing the PAC. He's also sponsoring new legislation that would make it illegal in the future to target lobbyists, developers and city vendors for mass political fundraising.
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"Miami Beach must be a better place, so this is the right thing to do," he says.
Has Mayor Levine had a similar change of heart after vehemently arguing with Putney on air that Relentless For Progress was good for Miami Beach? It's not clear.
Wolfson says he can't speak for Levine. The mayor's spokesperson tells New Times that Levine isn't planning to comment.