Miami Beach Mayor offers staff to developers for PAC money in recorded quid pro quo (UPDATED)

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said, “I really shouldn’t be here” in a PAC fundraising call including his City Manager and the former Mayor, himself a major developer on the island.

Left: Former Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine gives a national tv cable news interview on Ocean Drive in 2017 while in office (Source: CNN). Right: Current Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber (Source: Twitter).

Updated after publication with Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber’s response.

The Mayor of Miami Beach got caught being recorded soliciting donations to a political committee for a referendum to shut down Ocean Drive, and Miami Beach’s hospitality industry in order to cater to a few of his real estate developer friends.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber is in his fourth year in office, and seeking his final term two-year term this November for the term-limited office.

Former mayor Phillip Levine conducted the call —and is himself a real estate developer in the city—along with the head of a major real estate leasing broker and a member of a civic association representing Ocean Drive real estate interests, and unnamed other developers.

“The idea is that we would put together a PAC, this organization, this group, that would raise money and we would utilize that money to elect folks that would move the city in a positive, safe direction,” said Levine at the start of the call.

On the leaked call, Gelber can be heard pledging official resources, some specific zoning benefits, and his official backing a referendum in exchange for donations to a political committee.

Former Miami Beach Commission candidate Fabian Basabe recorded the Zoom call which had approximately 30 other Miami Beach business owners.

Audio recording of Miami Beach Mayor soliciting PAC funds from real estate developers

In the above recording, the Mayor referred to the city of Miami Beach’s City Manager as being present

Then, he pledged an act of legislation to hold a city referendum and official staff time to donors and that he would provide any zoning changes they wished for “committed folks.”

And I commit to you guys, if you want something on the [ballot] because it needs to be on the ballot. I’ll put it on the ballot. I’ll support ‘clearing’ and I’m prepared to do whatever we need to do and support any idea, even if it’s not particularly popular. I know I’m among friends, but more importantly, among committed folks.

In March, the former mayor posted this seemingly innocuous comment to his Twitter feed about a referendum.

Subsequently, the issue was placed on the ballot.

In November, Miami Beach voters will be asked a Straw Poll question about if they would like to close the city’s bars at 2 a.m. instead of the current 5 a.m. last call time.

Research by opponents of the referendum indicates that the city of Miami Beach could lose nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in business on the island famous for its tourism establishments. In fact, the owner of the landmark nightclub Mango’s Tropical Cafe South Beach on Ocean Drive alleged in a Miami Herald op-ed earlier this year that the current mayor was working with the prior mayor in the drive to harm tourism, which the leaked call conclusively proves correct.

In fact, as the call went on, the Miami Beach mayor expressly said that his participation in the call was improper:

“And we cannot talk about a PAC or things like that. That’s not what Alina [Hudak]’s here to talk about,” said Gelber. “And I really shouldn’t be here, talking about that with city, personnel.”

But he continued lecturing the real estate businesspeople anyway.

Miami Beach’s municipal campaign law explicitly prohibits elected officials from soliciting real estate developer donations from persons having business to do with the city.

Yet, Gelber left no doubt he knows that he was soliciting real estate developers doing business in the city, saying:

“I know the projects you’ve done. I know what you do for a living. Each one of you has a different lens. But you have always thought of our city as a canvas that you want to do something,” said Gelber in the recording. “I always say that a lot of our city or vanity project for really smart people who want to develop in the ways that they’re proud of, who want to do things that they’re going to live in.”

Eventually, the mayor said, “Each of you are in a business that develops properties, that sells them.”

“I think Lyle Stern [president of retail leasing company Koniver Stern Group] can put together with this group,” continued Gelber, “a vision of the carrot of how to redevelop the [Ocean Drive] entertainment district, and we can circulate that and have that vetted and vetted.”

“The question is, and I ask you both this, what do you need?” asked the mayor of Miami Beach to his prospective donors.

“What I would really love you to do is tell us what you need. Tell us what you need to.

Re-imagine the areas we know need to be reimagined. Our staff will be available, I believe that if you come up with an idea that you think might allow [an] adaptive reuse of something, we will want to hear it,” said Gelber.

“I’m really happy. You all have convened and I don’t want to make you formal because then you won’t be able to talk to each other, and Alina will have to send staff members to you all the time. But I do want to tell you this: if we’re going to get through this, it’s going to be because it’s dealing with you and that’s simply because of us, the thing that you all could focus on,” the Mayor told his friends

That statement appears to be a reference to Florida’s Sunshine law and Public Meetings Act which makes advisory boards subject to open government meetings and notice requirements that provide for transparency and public comment on official business.

“It’s one of the best things about Florida,” Dan Gelber told the Only in Miami Show (minute 12–15) about the Florida Sunshine Law in a 2017 in-studio interview on 880 AM the Biz Radio. “The only way government works if it's responsive, and the best way it can be responsive is if it’s transparent. The best anti-septic is Sunshine. That’s both science and government. We ought to be transparent in government, people ought to be able to freely see what happens. It’s up to people in government to make sure that happens. And if that’s embarrassing, that’s ‘ok.’”

“There is nothing new or secretive about my desire to put my solutions on the ballot for voter approval if my colleagues don’t want to support them,” replied Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber shortly after this story was published.

“My 12-point plan literally references putting these items on the ballot if they are not supported by the Commission,” wrote the Mayor’s political advisor on his behalf after an official request for comment was sent to him and his official Chief of Staff. “I have said the time has come to reimagine Ocean Drive into an Arts Deco District and I have communicated that openly with the community for nearly a year.”

Former Mayor Levine could not be reached on his cell phone for comment.

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Grant Stern

Miami based columnist and radio broadcaster, and professional mortgage broker. Executive Editor of OccupyDemocrats.com. This is my personal page.