Local election season in Miami-Dade is now officially over, with voters heading to the polls today in two commission runoffs in Miami and Miami Beach. In Miami, Ken Russell has now officially been declared victor in the "election that didn't matter." Meanwhile, in Miami Beach, two weeks after voters overwhelming decided to keep Mayor Phillip Levine in office, they chose his foe over a friend to sit on the city commission.
Russell, the son of the man who founded the famed Miami-based yo-yo company Russell, was just a year ago simply a citizen concerned about toxic soil in his local park and was new to community activism. But by running a shrewd grassroots campaign, he upset conventional wisdom and took over 41 percent of the vote in a crowded general election. Teresa Sarnoff, the wife of the term-limited incumbent commissioner Marc Sarnoff, raised more than $700,000 and was the presumed frontrunner. She placed a distant second. With the writing on the wall, Sarnoff dropped out of the runoff, causing something of an election-law crisis. The City Attorney's Office concluded that Sarnoff's name would appear on the ballot but that signs posted at polling places would clarify that any votes for her would not be counted.
The Miami-Dade Elections Department indeed did not count any votes for Sarnoff.
Russell, meanwhile, seemed somewhat surprised to find that his campaign received $77,000 worth of unsolicited donations in the days after the general election. Most of it came from developers and law firms. Russell told New Times that he planned to return all of the money.
Miami Beach voters, meanwhile, decided to keep things interesting. The storyline through the general election was not whether Mayor Levine — or as Vanity Fair dubbed him this week, "Bloomberg South" — would win reelection. He was widely expected to prevail and easily did. The real races to watch were for the three open commission seats. A trio of Levine allies, widely perceived to be running with Levine as an unofficial slate, took on a group of competitors who weren't quite as cozy with the mayor.
Levine allies Ricky Arriola and John Elizabeth Aleman won their races, but third "slate" member Betsy Perez got stuck in a runoff with Kristen Rosen Gonzalez.
Rosen Gonzalez prevailed with nearly 60 percent of the vote. A onetime friend of Levine's, the Miami Dade College professor made no qualms about expressing her newfound distrust for the mayor.
“He’s committed millions of dollars. I was bullied, and I was very afraid to run. And the reason I am running is I can’t sit back and let it happen,” Rosen Gonzalez told local political watchdog blog Political Cortadito upon entering the race. "If he controls the whole commission, we’re in trouble.”
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Yesterday Rosen Gonzalez also accused Perez's campaign of calling the police on her.
"Yesterday, when I was standing and waving on a street corner, Betsy's Campaign called in the firefighters and three police cars — ten of them to one of me, and the firefighters began to do hurtful things like stand in front of me and mock me. And when my eyes welled up with tears, they mocked me further and said to me, 'This is not personal,'" she wrote in a Facebook post. "Of course it was personal! They needed ten grown men to counter one of me. Say no to bullies please. Ten of our fiercest to one woman waving in a yellow shirt. Say no to nasty rumors. Say no to Betsy supporters who condone this behavior. Is this what politics in Miami Beach is all about these days? Men in uniform heckling a woman standing alone? Why didn't Betsy herself come out and stand next to me? Vote for me, Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, and you can rest assured that there will be one kind and strong voice on that commission. There will be one voice who is unafraid. Given what I have endured from them already, I am strong enough to keep standing, but I need your vote. I need your vote tomorrow. Please vote, it is your most precious right."
Both candidates will serve in political office for the first time and will undoubtedly bring a fresh perspective to their respective commissions.