The Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce-sponsored mayoral debate at Miami Beach Senior High School (Oct. 9) was by far the best, most comprehensive debate yet. Unlike most of the other question- and-answer “candidate forums” the structure of this particular debate allowed each candidate to respond to the other in much more of a “point-counterpoint” manner. Moreover, the moderator, CBS4 Investigative Reporter Jim DeFede, was excellent in demonstrating his ability to get right down to the heart of the matter. Mr. DeFede had an obvious understanding of most of the issues which he presented to the candidates and was clearly unafraid to give some pushback to each of the candidates. While each of the candidates would likely claim victory, it did not appear that a clear-cut winner had emerged following the 90-minute debate.
Two-time mayoral candidate and funnyman, Steve Berke, was once again onpoint with his “2020 Vision” featuring the dreamy “Skylink” cable car system; theoretically linking Miami Beach to mainland Miami. As Mr. DeFede astutely demonstrated, Mr. Burke did not have much of a handle on the many layers of government bureaucracy (local, state & federal) that a gargantuan project such as Skylink would be required to navigate, much less the massive political hurdles it would undoubtedly face. The Skylink project, like many of the other items on Mr. Berke’s platform, seemingly fell on deaf ears during this debate as was evidenced by the scant applause from the charged-up crowd.
As for the other two candidates, the debate was lively and certainly not without a bit of prickly hostility between them. Both candidates aptly stuck to their campaign messages – Commissioner Michael Góngora’s years of experience in government and his understanding of the political system in Miami Beach versus Mr. Levine’s message of demonstrating leadership, a proven track record of achievement in business and cleaning up City Hall. The two exchanged a few barbs, without too much we have not already heard, and even exchanged pleasantries when asked by the moderator to say something nice about each of the other candidates. Mr. Levine took the opportunity to clarify a lawsuit which was filed against his company in Alaska and provided a reasonable explanation for the paying of a $45,000 fine (the crowd was handed copies of the lawsuit filed by the State Attorney’s Office of Alaska as they entered the auditorium). The über-controversial Convention Center item was again discussed and debated at length. Mr. Levine, keeping true to his campaign message, made it abundantly clear that he is in support of the renovation of the Convention Center, creating a world-class facility but much scaled-back from the plan Commissioner Góngora and his colleagues previously approved. Commissioner Góngora, who recently received endorsements from the Miami Herald, AFL-CIO, Save Dade and billionaire Miamian Norman Braman, said he believes the (South Beach ACE / Tishman) plan which he motioned to approve should move forward as the residents of Miami Beach have suggested.
In the end, this debate further crystalized the divide between the two main candidates, Commissioner Michael Góngora and Philip Levine. One that will be won at the polls, this is a race between years of experience in government versus proven success in business and corporate leadership. On Tuesday, November 5th, the voters of Miami Beach will decide.
Jeff Feldman is a Real Estate industry professional and very involved Miami Beach resident / homeowner.