When Philip Levine announced last year that he wanted to become mayor of Miami Beach, many people wondered why a multimillionaire would spend a chunk of his fortune in pursuit of a $10,000-per-year position.
That question was answered yesterday as Levine held court for more than a half-hour to boast about the changes he's made in his year in charge. Delivering his "State of the City" address at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Levine touted his tenure as one of progress.
He also announced two plans for Miami Beach: an "international university" campus and a bike path stretching from South Pointe Park to Fort Lauderdale.
"Another top priority moving forward will be to make Miami Beach one of America's most bicycle-friendly cities," Levine said. "Today I'm announcing an initiative to create a continuous bike path from South Pointe to Fort Lauderdale, and I call upon my fellow coastal mayors to join me in this worthwhile initiative."
Obviously, that plan would require a lot of help from all the other cities along the route -- but it certainly would be a boon for local cyclists.
Levine also said his administration is in talks with "certain international universities" to bring a campus to North Beach, although he refused to say more about the project.
"An internationally branded university here would create jobs to boost our economy and classrooms to boost our minds," he announced.
It's no secret that Levine sees himself differently from most Miami Beach mayors. His predecessor, Matti Bower, was a grandmotherly figure who mostly moved within well-worn circuits of city politics.
Levine, with celebrity friends like Bill Clinton, is cut from a different cloth. Rather than hold his first "State of the City" speech at city hall, for instance, he chose to speak to a cavernous room at the convention center.
It was no coincidence that the convention center figured heavily in his 40-minute speech.
Levine took the stage by telling City Manager Jimmy Morales: "Gimme a hug. You're awesome." He began by flashing back to his outsider campaign for office, describing how he though the city had settled into complacency -- basketball rims were broken, other projects were delayed.
"I would introduce a new attitude, a new rallying cry in city hall," he said. "In three words: 'Why not now?'"
Levine then launched into what he considered his administration's many achievements: an "aggressive plan of action" on climate change, two new parks, new tennis courts, the reopening of South Pointe pier, and the installation of 60 water pumps in South Beach.
"Those same streets in historically flooded areas this year were dry," he boasted. "Score one for Miami Beach!"
At times, Levine's triumphalism turned tough on his predecessors. He slammed Bower and previous Beach commissioners for their decision -- ultimately rejected by voters -- to build a starchitect-designed convention center complete with a luxury hotel.
"It is crucial that Miami Beach maintain its position as a global tourism destination and center for creative collaboration, yet for too long our city neglected to renovate the convention center, sitting on some of Miami Beach's most valuable land," he said. "Then the situation grew worse, and city residents were taken hostage by a situation that had to do more with others' interests than their own.
"Following years of analysis and paralysis, the previous administration decided that they knew best, moving forward with a colossal convention center that was insensitive to residents, oblivious to concerns of traffic congestion, and was financially suspect, transferring over 40 valuable public acres to a private third-party developer," he said. "Then they acted surprised when residents rose up to stop it. Our administration rejected their plan and immediately put a more reasonable plan on the table: a state-of-the-art convention center renovation."
The mayor then mentioned Miami Beach Police's implementation of body cameras -- "to protect our officers, protect our residents, and protect our tourists" -- and efforts to revitalize North Beach.
Perhaps the loudest cheers of the night came when Levine spoke about O Cinema opening a theater in the neighborhood (tonight!).
"We anticipate that this hip, cool theater will be a catalyst in North Beach for independent and foreign film lovers and will put North Beach back on the cultural map of the world," he said.
All in all, it was a chest-thumping speech from the first-time politician.
"I ran for mayor to make this city work again for its residents and its businesses, and I will do whatever I can to make that a reality," he said. "You and I have come a long way to doing just that in year one. And we want the world to know we're just warming up."