Best Politician 2017 | Philip Stoddard | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Monica McGivern

In the grand scheme of Dade County, South Miami doesn't matter. The oversize village of 12,000 souls wedged between Kendall and Coral Gables is known as a quiet place to live if it's known at all. That's why Philip Stoddard's tale is all the more remarkable. As mayor of a place most South Floridians could barely place on the map, Stoddard has taken on one of the state's most powerful institutions — Florida Power & Light — and, in his free time, become one of Florida's loudest voices on climate change. It helps that he isn't just a politician: He's a professor in Florida International University's biology department. So when he stands up to sea-level-rise deniers like Rick Scott and Donald Trump, he has the intellectual goods to win the argument. Similarly, even FPL's millions in lobbying dollars haven't been able to squash his battle against the company's ill-planned new nuclear reactors in South Miami-Dade. Stoddard is living proof never to discount little guys who have science on their side.

courtesy of Oregon Department of Transportation

Last year, Florida Power & Light had a conundrum. More and more Floridians, increasingly worried about climate change and sea-level rise, wanted freedom to invest in solar power. But the electricity monopoly wanted to keep its profits pouring into nuclear and natural gas. What to do? FPL came up with an ingenious solution: Amendment 1, a sneakily worded law that pretended to boost solar while actually giving FPL more power to crush the budding green energy. FPL sank $8 million into trying to trick voters, but a think tank's president working with the monopoly was caught on tape boasting about their transparent plan to fool Floridians. The amendment was quashed at the ballot box, falling far short of the 60 percent it needed to pass. Sad!

If you've ever wondered what sort of weird garbage a human being would be willing to eat in exchange for $68 million, you can finally add "fake passport" to the list. You can thank two now-convicted human traffickers, Bartolo Hernandez and Julio Estrada, for answering that question. In March, the pair was convicted of smuggling scores of Cuban athletes into Mexico or Haiti on speedboats and then into the States, where the players would join Major League Baseball teams for multimillion-dollar contracts. (The smugglers would get a cut of the players' earnings in exchange for the boat trip across international waters.) As for that passport-eating: Jose Abreu, now a star slugger for the Chicago White Sox, admitted in court that in 2013, as part of Hernandez and Estrada's smuggling pipeline, he traveled from Cuba to Haiti and then to Miami using a fake Haitian passport to meet the deadline for his $68 million MLB deal. He ate the passport on his flight before landing at MIA. He washed it down with a Heineken.

Melissa Berthier

Most government PR reps are paid to spew lies to the public in order to keep citizens afraid and confused. (See: Spicer, Sean.) Melissa Berthier, however, is the rare city spokesperson who's always worth listening to, because she's usually actively trying to stop you from drowning. Berthier, as Miami Beach's communications head, works to educate the public about the very real risks associated with climate change and sea-level rise and to wage an ongoing war against the fake-news industrial complex that tries to deny those problems. When the Daily Caller, a website run by reactionary silk bow tie Tucker Carlson, attempted to claim Miami was actually "sinking" into the ground because developers had built too many skyscrapers, Berthier wasn't having it. She contacted the website's editors to force them to correct their garbage reporting, which had completely misquoted her. Berthier helps run multiple city programs to educate people about the fact that, unless we seriously do something about carbon emissions, Miami Beach will start looking a heck of a lot like Venice in the next hundred years.

Tom Schaefer

Downtown Miami's most famous building is a 17-story monument to the idea that being kind to refugees is a good idea. Built in the 1920s as an extremely ornate printing facility for the now-defunct Miami News (rest in peace), the building became a federal processing center for refugees from Fidel Castro's Communist regime in the 1960s until the government sold the building in 1974. In those days, the Freedom Tower basically became the Cuban-American diaspora's Ellis Island. Now the tower — which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2008 — stands as a museum stocked with illuminating exhibits about the Cuban experience and regular free speeches from luminaries such as choreographer Shen Wei and photo legend Cristina Garcia Rodero. But more important, it stands as a monument to the idea that immigrants make the nation a more vibrant, interesting, and wonderful place. Now why would that be relevant today?

Monica McGivern

Swampspace is not necessarily a relaxing place to be high. This art gallery is brightly lit and sparsely decorated on the inside, with little more than a small stage sitting in front of a basic kitchen. But for all Swampspace lacks in stoner-friendly decor, it makes up for by consistently packing its venue with strange, interesting, and wacked-out characters. The brainchild of art-scene veteran Oliver Sanchez, Swampspace has been offering an alternative venue to Miami's more commercial spaces since 2008, right in the heart of the chichi Design District. And Sanchez — a former art director at High Times, it's worth noting — is a genius at finding the most mind-bending projects possible. At one performance last year, a musician made ambient noise-rock by drilling into a block of ice. That was followed by a long-haired, white rap duo that was endearingly terrible. Swampspace is like hanging out in SpongeBob's Bikini Bottom, in that you're never quite sure if the people gathering around you are extremely hip human beings or deities from another world altogether.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine hasn't been doing all that great in 2017. He's spent considerable hours tweeting sad-face emojis at Airbnb's corporate account while feuding with the company about operating in his town. He keeps blocking his critics on Twitter and Facebook like he's a digital Smaug standing guard over a tiny, web-based cave. And in a roomful of Cuban-American lawyers and businessmen in March, he made what might have been the most poorly conceived joke in Miami history. After the multimillionaire businessman declared himself an "honorary member" of Miami's Cuban-American community, he casually suggested invading the Caribbean nation. "Why aren't we discussing the invasion of the island?" he asked the crowd, to what some in attendance said were audible gasps. He then said a platoon of U.S. troops could likely take over within 24 hours. There's a whole host of reasons why that comment wasn't funny: namely, that Cuba's history involves a series of Spanish and U.S.-backed invasions from roughly the 1500s onward, and at one point, Cuban people were put in concentration camps. Levine's joke didn't land, and the mayor's spokesperson, Christian Ulvert, was then forced into epic damage-control mode. "The mayor, as reported, was not serious about invading Cuba," he told New Times. You sure?

courtesy of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind

Last year, a WalletHub survey ranked Miami one of the least caring cities in the United States. How did the Magic City measure so poorly? According to WalletHub, its researchers found a distinct lack of volunteerism and caring for the vulnerable, suggesting Miamians are perhaps a bit self-centered. But it's never too late to change that perception, and there's no better place to begin than at Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, one of the city's oldest charitable organizations serving the visually impaired. And though not everyone has deep pockets to make a considerable donation, Miami Lighthouse offers other ways for people to help. Simply fill out a volunteer application on its website to help with everything from children's programs to vision screenings and fundraising. Because Miami Lighthouse has a four-star Charity Navigator rating, volunteers and donors can trust that their time and money will be well spent.

Radames Cruz Jr via Flickr

MAST gets everything right about education in Miami. It's a public magnet school, so it's designed (in theory, at least) to pull in the top students, regardless of income level, and nurture their curiosity in science and tech. It's situated on Virginia Key, in one of the lushest parts of the city, so close to the bay that the air smells like salt water most days. It's no secret, then, why MAST students excel at oceanography. The nearby and also excellent Design and Architecture Senior High in the Design District channels many young people into (the very respectable and necessary) artistic fields, but Miami has a dearth of stellar scientists, which means MAST is leading the charge in turning the city into more than just a one-industry tourism town. Oh, and the school is hellaciously good at what it does: MAST was recently ranked the 100th-best high school in the United States. If a Miamian ever figures out how to save this town from sea-level rise, chances are that person will be a MAST alum.

Courtesy of Ball & Chain

Living in any major metropolitan city has its trade-offs. In Miami, head-smashing rush-hour traffic and rent prices that would make a Brooklynite blush are small prices to pay for living in a perma-paradise. Nothing highlights our climatic advantage quite like our ability to enjoy outdoor shows year-round, even while the rest of America is huddled under puffy coats and knit hats. And Pineapple Sundays are a reliably great way to get that outdoor music fix. The Pineapple Stage — painted to look just like a ripe piña as a nod to Ball & Chain's signature Pineapple Celebration cocktail — has been home to local talent for the better part of three years. In 2016, the bar kicked off its monthly Sundays concert series. Ample space between tables in front of the stage allows cozy, candlelit date nights or sweaty dance-offs in the aisles. The series has mostly hosted jazz and Latin acts, though Miami favorites such as DJ Le Spam, Electric Kif, Keith Johns, and Magic City Hippies have all shown up for the monthly minifestival. At night, the stage boasts impressive, concert-quality lighting effects, blending the luxurious feel of Miami nightlife with the homey comfort of a Little Havana backyard family cookout. Plus, the shows are free, and the bar offers happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®