Two years ago, he serenaded his entrenched opponent, Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, by having Sexy Sax Man play "Careless Whisper" for her during a city commission meeting. He cut a campaign video enumerating his pledges while slamming shots of booze and declared himself de facto leader of an emerging political group, "The After Party." His tongue-in-cheek tactics helped native son Steve Berke amass widespread national media attention and pick up 23 percent of the vote in the 2011 Miami Beach mayoral election.
Not bad for a first-time candidate. Now Berke is back, a little more sober and a lot wiser as he seeks the highest office in Miami Beach against another entrenched city politician and a local real estate and media company mogul who is largely self-funding his campaign.
However, Berke still has some of the edginess that made him a star in 2011 -- such as backing the decriminalization of marijuana and staffing his campaign with beautiful models.
Yesterday, during a glitzy new conference at Haven Lounge in South Beach, Berke unveiled an ambitious platform he's calling "2020 Vision."
"You see, leadership is not about identifying problems; it's about finding solutions," Berke told the throng of reporters and supporters. "It isn't about sitting around in meetings and talking endlessly about the issues; it's about standing up, walking to the front, and saying, 'I have a plan -- follow me.'"
Teddy Roosevelt would be proud.
Berke is promising Miami Beach voters he will focus on fixing the city's budget, the chronic flooding that plagues residents, the battered image of the police department, and Miami Beach's biggest scourges: the lack of parking and towing of vehicles.
He is promising to create an independent police watchdog group like Miami's Citizen Investigative Panel, to monitor Miami Beach cops, and to test officers for use of performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids and human growth hormone.
"In the last two years, our police department has developed one of the worst reputations in the country," Berke said. "Incident after incident, scandal after scandal -- it has to stop. It must stop."
Showing he's become a true politician, Berke even revealed a big pie-in-the-sky idea to alleviate Miami Beach's dreadful parking situation. He unleashed renderings of two public transportation systems that would put Miami-Dade County's unfulfilled Metrorail expansion to shame.
The first one, Skylink, would connect South Beach to the mainland via a $500 million cable-car system. Skylink would run along Dodge Island, where the Port of Miami is located, and terminate at South Pointe Park, where riders could then hop on DecoTram, a light-rail train that would follow a route similar to that of the South Beach local bus.
"Skylink will be the world's longest urban cable-car system, offering spectacular views of the Miami skyline," Berke boasted. "What's more, it will be an iconic tourist bucket-list item -- up there with the Eiffel Tower and the London Eye."
Give Berke credit for presenting a grand vision, but his platform was short on details, such as how taxpayers would foot the bill for the two ambitious public transit systems. Nevertheless, the Miami Beach native has offered the boldest plans for the city.
His main opponents, Commissioner Michael Gongora and millionaire Phillip Levine, are pretty much serving up the status quo.
"This is the clear, focused, and bright future I see for Miami Beach," Berke said. "This is my 2020 vision."
Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.
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