Last Friday, Miami Beach City Attorney Raul Aguila schooled the town's mayor and commissioners in how to avoid getting in trouble during election season. He sent all the officials a three-page memo, written by the county's Commission on Ethics & Public Trust, spelling out some clear ground rules: Don't use a city email address to stump for a candidate, don't campaign while on the job, and don't host any fundraising events on city property.
On page 2, the letter included another, lesser-known rule: Don't use the city seal on any campaign literature.
Yet only three days after receiving the guidance, Miami Beach Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán sent an email blast that did just that. At the top of a newsletter the commissioner sent Monday afternoon endorsing gubernatorial candidate and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, she included the city seal in a header alongside her photo.
Reached by New Times, the commissioner said she didn't mean to use the city seal.
"I inadvertently used that banner graphic as it is a common element that I use in my normal monthly eNewsletters for the past several years," Alemán wrote in an email.
In Florida, breaking the little-known law constitutes a second-degree misdemeanor. State Statute 165.043 says municipal employees can use their city or county seal only when conducting official business. A violation is punishable by 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.
Rhonda Victor Sibilia, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust, said Tuesday she could not comment specifically on the case because no complaint had been made. But when it comes to the use of a city seal, she said each case would have to be reviewed based on its circumstances.
"It’s kind of a fuzzy area," she said. "It’s a tricky area for us in the ethics commission."
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Alemán and Levine have been allies since they ran on an unofficial slate during Levine's mayoral reelection campaign in 2015. Alemán, a former IT consultant and corporate CIO, has served on the city commission since that time.
Though her endorsement of Levine wasn't surprising, Alemán's argument was oddly pragmatic. With the subject line "It's All About Access," her email Monday basically suggested Levine would give Miami Beach preferential treatment if he were elected to Tallahassee.
"Having our former mayor as governor will prove invaluable to help our city rise to meet its challenges," she wrote in the newsletter. "On issues such as state funding for stormwater infrastructure, prioritization of transportation dollars, or supporting municipal home-rule, Philip Levine will have our backs."
According to Levine's campaign website, he's been endorsed by his successor — Mayor Dan Gelber — and four of the six sitting city commissioners. As of now, polls show Levine trailing Gwen Graham but ahead of Jeff Greene, Andrew Gillum, and Chris King in the August 28 Democratic primary.