For months, lame-duck Commissioner Jonah Wolfson's new Political Action Committee has been the talk of Miami Beach. The PAC has raised more than $1 million in just three months amid accusations of high-pressure tactics aimed at city vendors by Wolfson and Mayor Philip Levine. Miami-Dade's ethics commission has even opened a probe over the complaints.
But when Michael Putney joined the chorus with a Miami Herald op-ed, Wolfson hit back hard. This morning, the commissioner's PAC bought a full-page Miami Herald ad attacking Putney and his This Week in South Florida co-host Glenna Milberg, accusing them of undisclosed conflicts of interest.
Wolfson's complaint: That Putney went after Wolfson's opposition to a $15 million grant to Mt. Sinai because Milberg is married to Michael Milberg, executive director of the Mount Sinai Medical Center Foundation.
"Mr. Putney has reduced himself to a political hack for Mt. Sinai and its operatives," Wolfson writes in the ad. "Now that's truly sleazy."
Both Milberg and Putney declined to comment for this story.
The roots of today's full-page offensive date to earlier this year, when Wolfson started the PAC, which is called Relentless For Progress. For a group with no obvious agenda — its founder, Wolfson, was term-limited from office — Relentless For Progress was hauling in extraordinary amounts of cash. And critics on the Beach — and Putney — raised an alarm.
They contend Wolfson and Levine have leaned on companies that do business with Miami Beach, demanding donations. Although a vote on whether to initiate an investigation failed in the city commission, ethics commission executive director Joe Centerino said a probe had begun anyway.
“We are aware of it and aware of the concerns around it,” Centorino told the Herald. “It’s something we’re looking into.”
That's where Putney enters the picture. The grand dean of South Florida journalists had Levine on his show and took him to task over the PAC:
Putney followed that up with an op-ed in the Herald on August 4. Titled "Sleazy politics on Miami Beach," Putney slammed Wolfson and Levine over the fundraising, taking particular issue with a $15 million city grant to Mount Sinai that he claimed Wolfson was opposing because the hospital had refused to give cash to the PAC:
But some on the receiving end have told me they agreed to give only because they feared payback from the mayor, commission and city administration if they didn’t. Mount Sinai Medical Center, for example, may lose a $15 million city grant because it refused to cough up a big contribution to RFP. At a city commission meeting last week, Wolfson called the $15 million grant to Mount Sinai “corporate welfare” and tried to get it cut from the budget. You have to wonder if he’d feel differently if Mount Sinai had written a check to RFP for, say, $100,000.
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In today's ad, Wolfson says Putney was wrong on that point — and wrong to make it without disclosing Milberg's connections to the hospital. Wolfson says Putney never called him before writing the column, adding that "had he done so, he would have learned that I have always been against Mt. Sinai's corporate welfare ways."
In fact, Wolfson claims, Mount Sinai board members actually tried to donate to Relentless For Progress and Wolfson refused their cash.
His strongest criticism, though, is aimed at Milberg's ties to the hospital. Putney should have disclosed them in his op-ed, the commissioner argues. "Michael Putney's failure to disclose these facts to his viewers and readers is a critical fact that cuts to the heart of his credibility on this issue," Wolfson writes. "Journalistic ethics and integrity mandates this type of relationship be disclosed to the public."
Full-page ads don't come cheap, of course. And Wolfson's broadside was funded by Relentless For Progress.