Miami Beach Mayor and Miami Commissioner Races Head to Runoffs

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The results are in from Tuesday’s municipal elections in Miami and Miami Beach, but some of the key races have yet to be decided. 

Miami Beach residents elected three new commissioners, while the mayoral race will head to a runoff later this month. Runoffs are also in order for two Miami commission seats, including that of Alex Díaz de la Portilla, the commissioner indicted on state corruption charges earlier this year. 

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Steven Meiner and Michael Gongora, who have both served as Miami Beach commissioners, will face each other Nov. 21 in a runoff election to decide the city’s new mayor. The runoff follows a four-way contest, in which none of the candidates earned more than 50 percent of votes needed to win outright. The current mayor, Dan Gelber, is term-limited after six years.

If Gongora were to win, he would become Miami Beach’s first openly gay mayor. Gongora, a condo board attorney at Becker & Poliakoff, garnered the most donations from the real estate and hospitality industries, raising over $300,000, according to a tally by The Real Deal

Donors included members of the Kanavos family, which co-own the Ritz-Carlton hotel on Lincoln Road and just got approval to add a 15-story condo tower onto the oceanfront property after a contention battle; Witkoff Group, which is developing the oceanfront Shore Club condo project; and David Grutman, who’s nightclub Story closed down earlier this year after the city banned liquor sales after 2 a.m. in the South-of-Fifth neighborhood. Gongora said he would repeal the liquor sale restriction. 

His opponent, Meiner, an attorney with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, campaigned as a “law and order” candidate, vowed to retain the 2 a.m. liquor ban, and pledged not to take donations from developers. 

On one controversial topic, both candidates agreed: Jesta Group should not be allowed to build a 30-story residential tower onto Ocean Drive’s historic Clevelander Hotel. The Canadian-based developer used a provision from Florida’s newly enacted Live Local Act that allows builders to usurp local zoning laws in return for constructing affordable housing.

Following a backlash, Jesta reduced its plan to 18 stories. Representatives for both campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Jesta’s revised proposal. A spokesperson for Jesta declined to comment on the race. 

Miami Beach residents elected three new commissioners: Tanya Bhatt, who owns the marketing firm LaunchBrand; Joe Magazine, a vice president of global financial firm Loop Capital and a member of Miami Beach’s planning board; and David Suarez, a skincare executive who has spearheaded efforts to ban short-term rentals.

Across Biscayne Bay in Miami, the political career of Republican commissioner Díaz de la Portilla lives another day. Despite facing corruption charges, Díaz de la Portilla earned the most votes from the five-way contest, though not enough to outright win. He will face Miguel Angel Gabela, an auto parts salesman, to represent District 1, which covers a working-class area of the city. 

In September, Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrested the sitting commissioner on a slew of charges connected to bribes Díaz de la Portilla allegedly took in connection to a sports complex that owners of the controversial Centner Academy wanted to build. Díaz de la Portilla has pleaded not guilty and vowed to fight the charges, though the District 1 Commission seat has remained vacant since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Díaz de la Portilla in September.

Another Miami commissioner, Sabina Covo, who represents District 2, which covers parts of Edgewater and Buena Vista, will also face a runoff against Damian Pardo, the regional director of First Horizon Bank

Incumbent Manolo Reyes cruised to re-election, earning 86 percent to continue representing District 4, which covers the southwest portions of the city. The 79-year-old commissioner revealed this month that he was undergoing treatment for leukemia.

Julia Echikson can be reached at jechikson@commercialobserver.com