Something is rotten in Miami Beach. Construction is soaring in Sunset Harbour. Lincoln Road is log-jammed with tourists. And Art Basel once again approaches like a billion-dollar beast ready to take a platinum piss all over SoBe. But underneath all of this commerce is the cloying odor of corruption and incompetence.
It's not difficult to figure out from where the smell originates: city hall. In 2008, cops nabbed three city employees for taking bribes. Just last year, the FBI arrested five code inspectors and two firefighters for the same thing. Six months later, police caught Miami Beach procurement director Gus Lopez on camera accepting envelopes of cash.
Meanwhile, island cops are unsupervised. Careening around the city, they drunkenly slam their ATVs into civilians, open fire on crowds of tourists, and Taser teenagers for tagging. Traffic is tighter than ever and flood waters rise ever higher, ruining residents' homes and cars. Like an aging supermodel, Miami Beach might look good at a distance, but the city is splitting at the seams.
The good news is that on November 5, the animatronic koala of a mayor, Matti Bower, will finally step down. After 14 years, she is leaving her quilted, grandmotherly throne. The bad news is that she's running for city commission.
But the Miami Beach city circus will go on with or without Bower. That's because the four candidates competing to replace her are a drunk-driving party boy, a power-hungry millionaire, a tennis pro turned comedian, and a man who truly believes he's in telepathic communication with JFK.
Too bad these clowns are our only options.
Góngora is the Beach's first and only openly gay commissioner, but he's otherwise the establishment candidate. He overcame a 2002 DUI -- and a teenage appearance in a Subway commercial -- to take a seat on the commission in 2006. But he was voted out a year later after insisting his law firm be allowed to continue lobbying the city. Since his return in 2009, Góngora has backed the island's oft-ridiculed free Wi-Fi service and voted to increase the already extortionary rates that towing companies can charge. He also voted to award a developer $600 million to renovate the Miami Beach Convention Center instead of putting the plans to a public vote. Worst of all, as Riptide revealed earlier this month, Góngora's mother, father, and chief political operative are all linked to an anonymous smear campaign against other candidates. One recent flyer showed main rival Philip Levine sandwiched between Fidel and Raúl Castro.
It was a coup last week when Bill Clinton endorsed Levine, but it was no surprise. From the looks of him -- biting his lower lip and doing that creepy thumb thing -- Levine has been studying Slick Willy for some time. Unfortunately, he has the charisma of one of Clinton's used condoms. In fact, Levine is much more Mitt Romney: a self-made millionaire with salt-and-pepper hair but little else going for him. How else to explain the commercials in which Levine's dog and 102-year-old grandma come across as more likable than he? Or his blatant attempt to buy votes by busing elderly voters to the convention center for punch, pie, and Charanga Tropical? He is so vapid, in fact, that he doesn't even vote in local elections.
It's a sign of how laughable this election is that the most serious candidate is a comedian -- well, an ex-comedian. Since his loss to Bower three years ago, Berke has tried to reinvent himself as the straight man telling truth to power. Some of his ideas are on point, such as decriminalizing marijuana and establishing a review board to punish bad police officers. Then there are his outlandish designs for a $500 million gondola system (Berke says that amount includes a light-rail system called DecoTram, and could be paid for by sponsors such as Richard Branson's Virgin Group). The real problem with Berke, however, is that he has begun to sound like Bower. He recently teamed up with her to picket one of Levine's lavish events. And during a debate, he uttered this classic Matti-ism: "I don't need to know wonkish detail. That's what staffers are for."
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Herman has no chance of winning the election, unless it's for mayor of Crazy Town. He claims to have been buddies with John F. Kennedy and says he once battled Osama bin Laden in a knife fight. "Ladies and gentlemen," Herman said during a debate at Temple Emanu-El, "I am a product of the Israel Mossad. I can find anything about anyone -- better than the CIA." But like one of Shakespeare's fools, Herman spews rants that also hint at the ridiculousness of the election. This isn't his first time running, after all. His ever-presence is a reminder that whoever gets elected, the joke is still on us.