Who will be the next mayor of Miami Beach? Four hopefuls square off at first forum

Two months before Election Day in Miami Beach, four candidates to become the city’s next mayor kicked off their debate circuit Tuesday and sought to distinguish themselves, leaning on personal backgrounds and experience as they touted similar priorities.

The forum at O Cinema in South Beach by SAVE, a nonprofit LGBTQ advocacy group, focused largely on LGBTQ issues and featured candidates Michael Gongora, Mike Grieco, Steven Meiner and Bill Roedy, one of whom will succeed term-limited Mayor Dan Gelber after a Nov. 7 election.

All four said public safety is their top priority, echoing residents’ concerns about crime even as data show it has decreased in recent years.

On LGBTQ issues, which are critical in a gay-friendly city that hosts an annual Pride parade, all four candidates also boasted of their support.

Gongora, a former Miami Beach commissioner who is gay, spoke about commission items he sponsored to promote LGBTQ rights in the city, such as a 2013 ballot measure that banned discrimination in employment and resolutions opposing conversion therapy.

Grieco, another ex-city commissioner who also served in the state Legislature, touted his sponsorship of an anti-conversion therapy bill in Tallahassee and creation of a “safe place” initiative for businesses to register as safe spaces for LGBTQ community members who are harassed.

Roedy, the former CEO of MTV Networks International, focused on his work in fighting the AIDS epidemic, including as an ambassador for the United Nations’ anti-AIDS program.

Meiner, a city commissioner since 2019, noted that he has voted in favor of appropriations for SAVE and other LGBTQ groups, and that he supported mobile HIV testing in the city.

The commissioner defended votes he has cast against resolutions related to LGBTQ issues such as support for gender-affirming care and renaming a street after the late California politician Harvey Milk, saying he has a blanket policy against supporting items that don’t directly relate to Miami Beach legislation or regulation.

“They’re important issues, but they’re not for Miami Beach,” Meiner said. “I’m just saying, ‘This is not for Miami Beach to be voting on.’ ”

A question about Pride flag and the future

On a question about whether they would fly the LGBTQ Pride flag at city hall if the Legislature were to ban it in the future, Gongora, Grieco and Roedy each answered emphatically that they would. Meiner didn’t answer directly, saying he wasn’t familiar with any proposed legislation to that effect.

“I guess I hope it doesn’t pass,” Meiner said.

The candidates also faced questions about combating sea-level rise, creating affordable housing and rollbacks of last call for alcohol sales from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m., which residents supported in a non-binding referendum in 2021.

Grieco said he supports 2 a.m. alcohol curfews for new businesses in residential neighborhoods, a process that is already underway, but doesn’t support any moves that would force existing businesses to close.

Roedy said he opposes the rollbacks except during spring break and other high-impact weekends, saying there is limited evidence to support their efficacy.

Meiner said he supports 2 a.m. last call and has cast votes to that effect, though it’s not the “catch-all” solution.

Gongora wasn’t afforded an opportunity to respond to the 2 a.m. question on Tuesday. He voted against the rollback in 2021.

Candidates spar

Gongora, a condo board attorney, has long been eyeing the mayor’s role, filing to run in September 2021 after an attempt to serve a third commission term was blocked by a judge due to term limits.

He sparred during Tuesday’s forum with Grieco, a defense attorney and former prosecutor who became Gongora’s first challenger in February.

“There is a candidate spreading lies around the Beach,” Gongora said, referring to Grieco. “There’s been a lot of talk and weird attacks throughout our community about developers ... I really believe a lot of that is stemming from one of the candidates sitting over there that, I have to say, has been untruthful.”

In February, the Herald reported that Grieco had secretly recorded a December meeting with Gongora at a restaurant on Lincoln Road, capturing audio of Gongora touting financial support from developer Russell Galbut.

Grieco said the statements, along with contributions by an entity tied to Galbut to a committee supporting Gongora’s campaign, were evidence of campaign finance violations under a Miami Beach law prohibiting campaign contributions from developers in certain instances.

Gongora said he hadn’t done anything wrong and accused Grieco of illegally recording him, a claim Grieco denied because the meeting was in a public place where recording a conversation is not a crime. He also alluded to false statements Grieco made in the past about his own fundraising for a secretive PAC, which torpedoed his first run for Miami Beach mayor in 2017.

“I can tell you I have not supported developers,” Gongora said Tuesday. “I stand up against bad things and I stand up for good things.”

Grieco vs. Gongora

Grieco appeared to take several swipes at Gongora on Tuesday, calling himself “the only candidate in this race who has actually stood on the front lines of the fight” for LGBTQ rights and saying he “didn’t hide back here in Miami Beach filing meaningless resolutions.”

“I was up in Tallahassee and I was fighting the real fight,” he said.

Grieco also appeared to go after Meiner, adding: “I didn’t vote against those resolutions.”

And Grieco alluded to Roedy, saying that he “was actually living here, as opposed to other opponents of mine.” Roedy, a graduate of North Miami High School, spent substantial time living in the United Kingdom during his career at MTV but says he is now a full-time Miami Beach resident.

Meanwhile, Meiner stuck to his pledge upon entering the race not to attack his opponents, instead defending his record as a champion of tough-on-crime policies. Despite data showing decreasing crime rates, “perception of crime is just as important, actually I would say even more important than the actual crime,” he said.

Roedy focused on his position as a political outsider with a unique background, and noted that he would be a full-time mayor. Most elected officials in Miami Beach, including Gelber, work full-time jobs.

“I’ll be a 24/7 mayor,” Roedy said. “It’s not a stepping stone to some other political office.”

Qualifying period ends Friday

Roedy shook up the mayor’s race when he filed in June, vowing to largely self-fund his campaign and saying he would not take money from developers. He loaned the campaign $580,000 in June, the most recent month for which candidates were required to file campaign finance disclosures.

Meiner filed to run the next day. He has also vowed not to take developers’ cash.

The city’s qualifying period began Monday and ends Friday, giving any other candidates just a few more days to enter the fold. As of Wednesday afternoon, Grieco and Meiner had been deemed qualified candidates by the city clerk’s office, according to online records.

Three city commission seats that will be vacated by incumbents are also up for grabs. A total of six candidates have filed for those seats.