Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine at long last announced his run for Florida's governor today at a Wynwood news conference. With a campaign based on raising the state minimum wage, expanding access to green energy, and fighting sea-level rise — plus a sizable personal fortune to spend — he has a real shot at snagging the Democratic nomination against three less-than-imposing competitors.
Of course, most Beach residents could tell you Levine is also a self-obsessed rich guy who loves yelling at the media, censoring his critics, and getting face time on cable television. For those who haven't been following him over the years, here's a recap of his long history of gaffes, fumbles, and boneheaded moves since he became mayor only four years ago:
1. Getting involved with a debatably illegal political action committee, Relentless for Progress, that was eventually shut down. In Miami Beach, it's illegal for city vendors, developers, and lobbyists to donate to political campaigns. But according to the Miami Herald, Levine and city Commissioner Jonah Wolfson found a loophole, in that a separate political action committee, Relentless for Progress, was collecting money on behalf of the candidates, sparking an ethics investigation. Levine even appeared in an ad for the PAC but still claimed the TV spot wasn't campaign-related and was somehow still legal. The PAC was eventually shut down.
2. Screaming at environmental scientists and the Miami Herald for accurately reporting the city was spewing human waste into local waterways. After the Herald reported that Levine's prized pumping system to mitigate sea-level rise was also flushing fecal waste into Biscayne Bay, the mayor howled that the article was a "hit piece" fraudulently written to "sell ads." The city even sent the newspaper a letter demanding the story be retracted. The Herald had quoted scientists from Florida International University, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Miami, and Nova Southeastern University, so the paper naturally didn't back down — because it was right.
3. Harassing a FedEx driver. Levine is a millionaire who is buddies with Mick Jagger and the Clintons. FedEx delivery drivers make anywhere from $10 to $17 per hour. That disparity didn't stop the mayor from filming himself yelling at a delivery man who had parked illegally on the street, uploading the clip to Facebook, having the city issue the guy multiple fines, and possibly getting him fired.
4. Taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Vladimir Putin-linked businessman after attacking Donald Trump for his Russia ties. Activists have repeatedly complained that Levine is really close to the Blavatnik family, a clan of ultrawealthy Miami Beach developers that has donated heavily to his campaigns. In 2015, political insiders complained Levine was taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Blavatniks just as one brother, Alex, was buying up property to develop a controversial project on Ocean Terrace. Leonard Blavatnik, Alex's richer, more famous brother, also forked over a few hundred grand. Some of Leonard's wealth reportedly stems from his stake in Rusal, a massive Russian aluminum company with close ties to Putin confidant Oleg Deripaska. Fast forward two
5. Being generally unhinged on Twitter (including sparking an emoji-filled Twitter fight with the official Airbnb account). After New Times reported on a voting conflict of interest involving Levine's properties in Sunset Harbour, the mayor blasted this very publication as Miami's "version of the National Enquirer." New Times is far from the only one he's sparred with online: Earlier this year, he launched an emoji-laden attack on the main Airbnb Twitter account, leading some journalists to genuinely wonder if Levine was having a mental breakdown or turning into Miami's Donald Trump:
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6. Supposedly joking about invading Cuba. Levine's political adviser, Christian Ulvert, maintains everyone in the room "laughed" when Levine turned to a gathering of Cuban-American business leaders at Barry University in March and asked, "Why aren't we discussing the invasion of the island?" The mayor added that a military takeover would likely take only "24 hours at best." Whether it was a seriously stupid comment or a joke that didn't land, one attendee told New Times the comment stunned him and sparked gasps in the crowd. The response led Ulvert to issue one of the better quotes in Miami political history when he clarified to New Times that Levine "was not serious about invading Cuba."
7. Running a huge online censorship operation (and quietly unblocking everyone on Twitter right before his run for governor). Levine is embroiled in a public-records lawsuit after local activist and gadfly Grant Stern noticed the mayor blocked him and possibly hundreds of other people on social media. Scores of Miami Beach residents who have criticized Levine found their comments deleted or their access to his official mayoral pages revoked. That included New Times. (Multiple courts have ruled that politicians are not allowed to block anyone from viewing vital public information online.) Stern sued, Levine complained in writing that the battle was "embarrassing" him, and earlier this year he sneakily unblocked everyone on Twitter, including the main New Times account. (The Facebook blockade still seems to be in place for some.)
8. Lying on TV about whether the Zika virus had become endemic to Miami Beach and getting caught 14 hours later. Early on August 18, the Miami Herald, New York Times, Stat News, and New Times all confirmed that Zika cases had been found in Miami Beach. But in a move reminiscent of the hapless mayor from the film Jaws, Levine called a late-night news conference, effectively deemed all of those reports fake news, and said flatly there was "no Zika virus on Miami Beach." Gov. Rick Scott proved Levine wrong the next morning.