Here Are the Five Big Questions on Miami's Primary Election Day

Disem and Andrew Gillum
Disem and Andrew Gillum Photo by Meg O'Connor
Go vote today in Miami if you can. Please. It's primary day, and there are many, many awful people in Florida whose goal in life is to set up roadblocks between you and your constitutional right to cast a ballot. Crooks and fools often win elections in South Florida by small handfuls of votes, and old, reactionary nutjobs have been voting early for weeks already. While some politicians are running on their platforms, others (cough) are hoping they can just hold free Jimmy Buffett concerts in South Florida and win the gubernatorial election.

Florida is a closed primary state, which means you have to be a registered party member to vote in that party's primary. But there are many nonpartisan races as well, which means you should still show up to the polls even if you're not affiliated with one party. If you're able, please go vote, and if you don't know why that's important, here's a rundown of the big questions ahead of Miami's primary day:

1. Is the Blue Wave real, and if so, can it hold until November? Pundits across the nation have been guessing that 2018 is shaping up to be a "wave" election, in which Democratic voters will flood polling booths and send a huge swath of Democrats to Congress and state Houses around America. But pundits are often wrong. Before 2016, Miami was known among locals as a place where would-be civil rights protesters either avoided standing outside in the heat or escaped to the beach instead of grabbing picket signs.

But post-Trump Miami has seen so many protests that even the national media took notice. Demonstrators blocked the highway right after Trump's victory. The Miami Women's March was massive. Activists went on hunger strike when Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez bowed to Trump's threats and took away Miami's status as a sanctuary city. Just this year, hundreds of people marched in the rain outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children, a detention camp housing more than 1,300 kids. The activist group Dream Defenders has led repeated protests against GEO Group, the Boca Raton-based private-prison company that is ICE's top contractor.

People are mad. But are lots of people mad? Enough people to overcome Florida's ludicrously gerrymandered voting districts and obvious attempts at voter suppression? We'll find out.

2. Can Florida progressives overcome the state's entrenched Democratic machine? Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the progressive, Bernie Sanders-endorsed pick for governor, just scored a big New Yorker profile and appears to be mounting a last-minute surge in the polls. David Richardson, the Miami Beach state senator running for Congress, wants to abolish ICE and has been out-raising his competitors in the District 27 race. Another candidate in that race, Michael Hepburn, recently snagged an endorsement from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Many candidates in local, state, and federal races want to scale back America's deportation machine and institute Medicare for all.

But in the governor's race, Gillum is running against ex-congresswoman Gwen Graham, a vaguely center-right Democrat who has barely ignited excitement among grassroots activists. Most members of Florida's dry-rotted, inept Democratic Party have thrown their weight behind Graham — it's not hard to imagine her winning today's primary but losing a general election against whatever racist homunculus wins the Republican primary. (There's also centrist Democratic rich guy Philip Levine, who has run a mostly scandal-free campaign but was often a total clown as Miami Beach mayor.)

The same goes for the District 27 race: Richardson was pulled to the left only because former Clinton-administration cabinet member Donna Shalala rode into the race expecting to be crowned because she's pretty famous. Shalala's star has waned a bit since she was hammered for having 20-plus-years of political baggage, including her repeated screeds against marijuana legalization, that time she sold a bunch of endangered Miami land to a Walmart developer, that time she made a gazillion dollars selling for-profit health-insurance-company stock, and that time she sat on the board of a company that sold subprime loans in the leadup to the housing crisis. She also ran the Clinton Foundation, which will hamstring her if she wins the Democratic nomination and has to face a well-funded Republican opponent.

So will Florida Democrats be dumb enough to repeat all of the exact failures of the 2016 race in 2018?

3. Does anything matter to Republicans besides Fox News? Even just five years ago, a candidate like Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam would have seemed like a harbinger of the apocalypse: Putnam has run a transparently anti-immigrant campaign, has railed against the "fake news" media, and boasts an unlimited amount of campaign funding from some of the most morally bankrupt, pollution-heavy, and transparently corrupt industries in America, from Big Sugar polluters to the NRA to the private-prison industry.

But this is 2018, and not a goddam thing matters to Republicans except supporting Trump, appearing on Fox News, fighting Deep State saboteurs in Washington, and generally deporting as many brown folks as possible. Ron DeSantis has scored Trump's endorsement, released an ad backing Trump's border wall despite the fact that Florida does not share a land border with Mexico, and has the general personality of someone who would consider white rice an "ethnic food." Republican voters do not care at all about Putnam's plans to, say, revive the state's dying citrus industry or whatever he says he wants to do. The angry TV people say vote for DeSantis — he'll build the wall somewhere.

4. Can anything unseat Miami's most outwardly shady politician? As New Times recounted in its list of anti-endorsements yesterday, Democratic state Sen. Daphne Campbell continues winning races despite being the biggest liar and scam artist in Miami among any political persuasion. Her only real platform seems to be voting against abortion rights, disliking LGBTQ people, and getting caught in an ever-escalating series of scandals, from mismanaging her nursing homes, to having a son go to prison for Medicare fraud, to lying about her dead mother being alive to gain public sympathy, to pretending her name was Rose in order to avoid talking about her numerous foreclosures, to maybe not living in her district, to possibly filing incomplete financial statements, to calling the police on at least two reporters for asking her questions, to being accused of being a secret Republican in disguise, to being videotaped passing around a Kate Spade purse as a lobbyist stuffed cash inside.

New Times begged voters to give Campbell the boot in 2016. She somehow won thanks to an overly crowded primary field that split the vote among too many candidates and let her squeak by. This time, it's just her against Jason Pizzo, a former prosecutor who is generally competent and has motivated tons of local voters by virtue of his name not being Daphne Campbell.

5. Will Miami Beach's dogged vigilantes help convicted criminal Michael Grieco return to office? Politicians in Miami never go away — they just return in more hardened, transparently desperate forms. Former Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco was accused of running an illegal political action committee just last year. He told the Miami Herald to look into "his soul" to find out if he was guilty of campaign-finance crimes. And in October 2017, he pleaded no contest to receiving donations from a "straw donor" on behalf of a foreign national who was barred from donating in American elections. Grieco probably would have won the Miami Beach mayoral race had he not shot his own campaign in the foot.

Grieco — a former prosecutor who in true Miami fashion also performed as "DJ ESQ" and had to resign from the high-profile Sean Taylor murder case because he was using the publicity to promote his side DJ gig — is already running for office again. Unfortunately, Grieco might win his state House District 113 race because he's up against another ex-Beach commissioner, Deede Weithorn, who is milquetoast enough to lose, as well as Kubs Lachlandani, a seemingly competent lawyer who doesn't have the name recognition of Weithorn and Grieco.

Bizarrely, Grieco still has fervent support from the vigilante group Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness, a bunch of mostly rich residents doggedly trying to kick homeless people out of town. The group shows up at bond hearings and begs judges to keep mentally ill homeless people locked in jail, and critics say some of its members patrol the city and call the cops on random, mostly black people. Those supposed anticrime folks still love them some Grieco despite the fact that he is an actual convicted criminal.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.