Take a look at Miami Beach Commission candidate Mark Samuelian's campaign platform and you might assume he's a longtime progressive. The board director of Miami Beach United and former business consultant emphasizes his support for increasing the minimum wage, fighting climate change, and advocating for the city's LGBT population.
But records show that until a few years ago, Samuelian donated solely to conservative candidates and groups, including Maverick PAC, which was founded by the hard-right GOP Sen. Ted Cruz. In fact, after moving to Florida in 2013, Samuelian registered as a Republican and donated to the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County. He switched to no party affiliation October 14, 2014 — about four months before filing an intent to run for a previous commission seat on the heavily Democratic island.
With $410,000 in his campaign coffers, Samuelian — who lost his 2015 bid to John Elizabeth Alemán by only 77 votes — is by far the best-funded candidate in the race now that embattled Commissioner Michael Grieco has dropped out. In a written statement to New Times, Samuelian notes the race is nonpartisan and says he "made a personal choice to change parties."
"The party no longer shared my views and values on key issues like respect for LGBTQ rights and women’s rights," he says. "I do believe in and aggressively support progressive issues like addressing climate change and fully embracing equality. I also believe we need to address the growing traffic gridlock and public safety concerns that consume Miami Beach, which is why I am running for the City Commission. I offer the best opportunity to bring people together from all sides, with a focus on getting things accomplished."
The other candidate, anti-Trump activist and longtime Democrat Rafael A. Velasquez, who has raised about $42,000, is sharply critical of Samuelian's past donations, accusing him of trying to fool voters and selling out his own values.
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"He's trying to deceive the entire city by telling everybody what everybody wants to hear and not telling anybody about his values or his past," Velasquez says. "And I believe that the Miami Beach voters are too sophisticated and too educated to let anybody play them for fools like that, especially considering that we are the most progressive part of Miami-Dade County."
Federal records show Samuelian donated $500 to Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign in 2007. In 2012, he gave $750 to Christopher Wight, a Republican who ran to represent New York's 12th congressional district. The next year, Samuelian donated $200 to U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, $300 to the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County, and $1,800 to Maverick PAC.
The PAC was founded in 2004 by Cruz and other Texas conservatives with the goal of recruiting young leaders and encouraging conservative values. Last year, it supported Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), and Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), among other conservative candidates.
In fact, Samuelian made his first donation to a Democratic candidate — $500 to Miami Beach commissioner and congressional hopeful Kristen Rosen Gonzalez — only in April.