Miami Beach Commissioner Democratic Candidates Guide

We were thrilled to host a forum for the Democratic candidates for City of Miami Beach Commission on September 23 at the Betsy Hotel. You can watch the full video of the forum on Facebook here.

Prior to the forum, we invited all the candidates to respond to a questionnaire to help voters get to know them better. Read on for their responses.

Jump to a candidate by clicking on any name below:

Group IV

Mike Barrineau

Question 1: What quantifiable qualification, education, work/life experience, or other attribute do you personally bring to the commission that does not exist today with the current commission?

I was a homebuilder in Texas for many years focused on building homes for working folks. So my experience would be unique on the commission, especially at a time when housing affordability and achieving balance in the market has become so critical. I also bring a true residents perspective as I would be the only commissioner, I believe, to have served as president of Miami Beach United and my neighborhood association, the South of Fifth Neighborhood Association. In these capacities, we often engaged on critical issues the Commission discussed and therefore, I know how important it is to engage with residents directly and take into account the voices of our neighborhood association and community leaders.

Question 2: What is the most pressing issue Miami Beach will face during the first year of your term and the next four years?

After knocking on more than 5,000 doors since we launched our campaign, I can tell you that we don't have a single issue. It truly depends on the area. In North Beach, families want to make sure they are not forgotten by City Hall and the ability to lift up opportunities for the area. This is a pressing issue and one that I plan to take on as we move forward in North Beach. In my community of South Beach, it’s all about safety and ensuring that area resident needs are rightfully balanced and protected during peak tourism and high impact weekends. As a resident of this community, I intend to take on the issue aggressively because the quality of life for South Beach cannot suffer anymore. Finally, traffic is more than a talking point. We must do more so families can more easily commute around Miami Beach. There is no single solution, and I do not have all the answers, but if we do not press on the issue, we will never solve it.

Question 3: The city of Miami Beach has a budget of $680 million. How would you ensure that budget reflects the vision and values of our city?

As your commissioner, I will lead just as I did when I served as president of MBU. Engage the community, bring residents together, host town halls and resident forums on the budget and ensure that our community has a voice in shaping our budget priorities. I would also use technology through digital surveys to encourage residents to rank their priorities.

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Kristen Rosen Gonzalez

Question 1: What quantifiable qualification, education, work/life experience, or other attribute do you personally bring to the commission that does not exist today with the current commission?

I am a PhD in Higher Education Administration, a MA in Communication, three years of legislative experience, trilingual spoken and written Spanish and French, faculty member working in public sector at Miami Dade College, single mother raising children in Miami Beach with children in public high school right now, walked the entire country from Miami Beach to Cutler Bay, and have an in-depth understanding of our community in comparison to other municipalities in Miami Dade County.

Question 2: What is the most pressing issue Miami Beach will face during the first year of your term and the next four years?

The most pressing issue is water quality. Biscayne Bay is in a state of emergency, the ocean has many unswimmable days due to high levels of fecal matter, and the sargassum bloom will return this year. Sea level rise, crime, and overdevelopment are all critical, but water quality is the center of our tourism economy, and we must make sure we take care of the environment, so that people can visit, swim, and enjoy Miami Beach.

Question 3: The city of Miami Beach has a budget of $680 million. How would you ensure that budget reflects the vision and values of our city?

Seventy percent of Miami Beach's budget is dedicated to salaries. I would like to make sure that we pay our workers at the lowest end of the salary ranges just as fair wages as those at the high end. I would hire more "boots on the ground" than department directors and managers, who are expensive, and aren't on the street doing the work that needs to be done.

Our budget should not be dictated by large vendors pressuring elected officials and administrators to recommend large projects that aren't necessary. We should be more fiscally conservative, and make sure that our infrastructure works, before we dedicate hundreds of millions to "bells and whistles".

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Rafael Velazquez

Question 1: What quantifiable qualification, education, work/life experience, or other attribute do you personally bring to the commission that does not exist today with the current commission?

Rafael Antonio Velasquez, J.D. was born on March 16, 1973 in Berlin/Germany (West) as son of Edgard Antonio Velasquez, a Peruvian citizen, and Sonia Velasquez, a German citizen. After living 5 years in Lima, Peru and 15 in Berlin, Rafael decided in 1993 to continue his studies in Florida. In 1996, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, and thereafter began law school at the University of Florida, College of Law in Gainesville. After his graduation in 1999, Rafael moved to Los Angeles, California, where he practiced civil litigation law until 2001, when he decided to move back to Miami Beach. He has been a Miami/Miami Beach resident ever since, and presently is President/Broker of Sunset Realty Group in Miami Beach, FL.

He currently is a member of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Executive Committee and Miami-Dade Hispanic Democratic Caucus. Until February 2017 Rafael was on the Board of Trustees of the Florida Democratic Party, and Finance Chair of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Executive Committee. In 2016, Rafael was a member of the Hillary Clinton Latino Finance Council, and National Finance Committee. He is an experienced political analyst, media commentator, and in 2016 was part of the Clinton press surrogate team.

Rafael has been a Democratic activist since 2000. He organized and led progressive marches, protests, political events and press conferences since then. Over the years, Rafael has also served as a Guardian ad Litem for abused and neglected children, a big brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami, a mentor/tutor in the Dade Marine Institute, and a pro-bono attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. Since 1999, Rafael has been an active supporter, volunteer, and fundraiser for the Gore, Kerry, Obama, and Clinton presidential campaigns.

He is fluent in English, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.

ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS. Over the past 20 years I’ve been an activist and have a record for it. Most recently, I helped my neighbor Maria, 75, who was evicted from her apartment for having too many cats, while hurricane Dorian was approaching. Activism can work. As a result of the wide publicity of Maria’s case. Miami-Dade Mayor Gimenez by executive order banned ALL evictions from occurring during emergency declarations. The County Commission followed. And our City expanded those protections. Moreover, our State Rep. Grieco, and State Senator, Pizzo both passed state bills proposing the same. Change happened. And I’m proud of it.

Only last week, I stood up for low income, disabled, and veteran tenants in North Beach who were subjected to steep rent increases and evictions by a ruthless developer. This time, we drew public attention to a situation that is increasingly common in our City. We demand respect for our residents from all real estate investors. Don’t mistreat our neighbors and then expect our City to reward you with any rezoning changes later.

The last time I ran, two years ago, my campaign was destroyed by the vicious lies of an unhinged political candidate who was running for Congress at that time, and who believed that her lies would help her win her primary. They didn’t. We both lost our elections and I filed a defamation lawsuit against her.

However, I lost more than an election: most importantly I lost my family. The greatest victims of her lies were really my children and my marriage.

Today, I am running against that candidate and the decision is yours. This campaign is not only about my desire to serve and make a positive difference for us all, but also about my integrity as a person.

ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS. If you want to see change in our City then vote for me, Rafael Velasquez, for Miami Beach Commissioner in Group 4.

Thank you. God bless our City, and the United States of America!

Question 2: What is the most pressing issue Miami Beach will face during the first year of your term and the next four years?

I’ve been a Miami Beach resident for more than 25 years now and chose to live here because I love Miami Beach!

Besides it’s amazing location and weather, Miami Beach’s greatest asset is without a doubt its people. We are diverse, tolerant, open, inclusive, and fun! We love arts, music, and entertainment. That’s why we live here.

However, living in Miami Beach also comes with its challenges. Yes, we are a world tourist capital, but Miami Beach is not the only happening place any longer! Today, we are competing with Wynwood, the Design District, Midtown, Downtown, and Brickell. Faced with this rising competition, I believe that Miami Beach, needs to reinvent itself. Miami Beach needs to become a center for arts, music, and entertainment. As your commissioner, I’ll make sure this happens!

We also need improved public services for our seniors, families, and single parents. Whether, it’s about building new bus shelters, lowering the cable and internet costs for our seniors, or offering discounts to single-parents, it’s about improving our neighbors’ daily lives.

Our City can offer more classes to our children, and help our single-parents with discounted rates to register for them. Miami Beach wants to be known for its best competitive sport teams, athletes, and talented new artists, and performers. These are small changes that can go a long way.

In 2017 I was the first candidate who proposed the creation of an Office of Inspector General. Although, I was not elected then, my proposal survived and was presented as a referendum to our City. It passed overwhelmingly and today we have that Office of Inspector General. I’m proud of it. Now, I want to make sure that our Inspector General really will go after corrupt politicians, public officials, and contractors. No more back room deals. No more pay for play.

Question 3: The city of Miami Beach has a budget of $680 million. How would you ensure that budget reflects the vision and values of our city?

We need to ensure that we balance our budget every year, while keeping the commitments and promises that our City has made to our community.

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Group V

Ricky Arriola

Question 1: What quantifiable qualification, education, work/life experience, or other attribute do you personally bring to the commission that does not exist today with the current commission?

I am the CEO of Inktel, a successful customer service company with over 2,000 employees. As a sitting Commissioner, I’ve used my business experience and finance background to guide master plans, push City staff to adhere to implementation plans, advocate for cleaner and safer streets, balance a budget for four years, rally a bond program to reinvest in the community, and more. I believe my experience is necessary on the Commission because no other business owner is serving on the City Commission today.

Question 2: What is the most pressing issue Miami Beach will face during the first year of your term and the next four years?

The most pressing issue Miami Beach faces is remaining competitive locally, nationally, and internationally. We will remain competitive by: continuing to invest in resilient public and social infrastructure; dramatically increasing our affordable housing supply to support current residents and invite new ones to our community; helping existing businesses remain successful and attracting new ones by cutting the red tape and rolling out the red carpet; protecting our natural resources like Biscayne Bay, our waterways, and public beaches; pushing the envelope of forward-thinking urban design that prioritizes pedestrians and cyclists; and branding ourselves as an art and cultural capital.

When I first took office I had no idea that our community would face the Zika public health crisis, Hurricane Irma, seaweed invasions, and chaotic Spring Breaks. These are challenges that we can’t account for when running for office. However, we must ensure our City has a strong foundation and the adequate resources necessary to sustain these hits and bounce back stronger than before.

Question 3: The city of Miami Beach has a budget of $680 million. How would you ensure that budget reflects the vision and values of our city?

As the Chair of the Finance and Citywide Projects Committee, I have led the budget process for the past four years — each cycle resulted in a balanced budget. Engaging with all our stakeholders is key to passing a budget that reflects the vision and values of Miami Beach. I have advocated for the City of Miami Beach to move towards zero-based budgeting and move away from current service level budgeting. By doing so, we can guarantee that policy priorities are reexamined year after year and not merely carried over from one administration to the next.

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Stephen Cohen

Question 1: What quantifiable qualification, education, work/life experience, or other attribute do you personally bring to the commission that does not exist today with the current commission?

I have spent 18 years in Real estate in Miami Beach, I even advised Hedge funds in 2006. (I predicted the Financial Crisis) I study the real estate market daily. Over the past 3 years, I have attended city meetings, Neighborhood associations, breakfast clubs, and more to understand the desires of our community.

Question 2: What is the most pressing issue Miami Beach will face during the first year of your term and the next four years?

Budget crisis created by over spending and too much debt to a declining asset

Question 3: The city of Miami Beach has a budget of $680 million. How would you ensure that budget reflects the vision and values of our city?

Rebrand Miami Beach as a safe city for residents and tourists of all ages, races, and nations will love. Focus on crime and Safe neighborhoods. Become more business friendly, while harnessing small business to keep the soul of Miami Beach. Better education, more jobs, and work on diversifying the economy.

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Raquel Pacheco

Question 1: What quantifiable qualification, education, work/life experience, or other attribute do you personally bring to the commission that does not exist today with the current commission?

I have a degree from UCONN in Urban Studies, I've been an entrepreneur for 22 years and I served in the US CT Army National Guard for 6 years. I don't pretend to have all of the answers, in fact I know I don't, I just want to work with the experts not with self-serving developers and commercial interests.

Question 2: What is the most pressing issue Miami Beach will face during the first year of your term and the next four years?

Over-development and sea level rise. We need to strike a balance between development and resident-friendly initiatives and preserve our residential neighborhoods as well as our historic property and charm.

Question 3: The city of Miami Beach has a budget of $680 million. How would you ensure that budget reflects the vision and values of our city?

I would ensure that our money is spent on long-term solutions that address flooding, clean water/beaches initiatives, and crime prevention and control. I also want to re-brand our entertainment district to attract a more appealing market to our high impact weekends.

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Jonathan Welsh

Question 1: What quantifiable qualification, education, work/life experience, or other attribute do you personally bring to the commission that does not exist today with the current commission?

I have served locally and internationally as a community organizer and leader. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Miami in Political Science and Public Relations and was a member of the University’s row club. As Program Leader with the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, a not-for-profit family services organization that offers camping services and community-based clinical and family facilities, I implemented summer programs throughout the state of Florida and worked in collaboration with neighborhood resources including parents, churches and other organizations in order to build trust between them and law enforcement. After receiving my degree, I served with the United States Peace Corps where I strengthened links between government and other volunteer programs and planned and implemented health and wellness community programs in South Africa to address the needs of under-served youth. Upon returning to Miami Beach, I led many initiatives with the Alpha-1 Association, a not-for-profit health advocacy membership organization building a patient advocacy program that mobilized and engaged volunteers in advocacy activities at the state and Federal level. I expanded my community impact with joining the team at Care Resource Community Health Centers, Inc., a Federally Qualified Health Center that provides health and support services to South Florida, where I play an integral communications role and have become a key community ambassador for reviving and expanding the impact of AIDS Walk Miami and The White Party. I currently serve on the City of Miami Beach’s Human Rights Committee and have served on the City of Miami Beach’s Anti-Bullying Task Force. I have been a president of the Miracle Mile Toastmasters Club, a speaker, contributing author and member of Florida Society of Association Executives (FSAE), Production Captain during the Boca Raton Wine and Food Festival, member of the Bass Museum, member of the Environmental Coalition of Miami & the Beaches (ECOMB), member of the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (MDGLCC) and more.

Question 2: What is the most pressing issue Miami Beach will face during the first year of your term and the next four years?

Miami Beach needs to strengthen its brand so that sophisticated travelers continue to spend time and money in Miami Beach. It has taken a hit. That comes with saying yes and no to events that bring sustainable tourism. My approach moving forward is to have candid conversations with event producers from around the globe that can strengthen our sophisticated brand. Starting with asking the question, “Does this event achieve a short term goal while strengthening our long term cultural legacy?” Our hospitality industry needs “heads in beds,” but there is often an untold price that comes if we do not culturally curate our events to create smart tourism. I want to expand upon our legacy events to build our city as a destination via international innovation, technology, and cultural exchange.

Smart Tourism also means utilizing efforts aimed at using technologies innovatively to achieve resource optimization, sustainability, and quality of life. It is imperative to bring hospitality 2.0 to the table. In the context of tourism, smart technologies are changing consumer experiences and are generating creative tourism business models. Cloud computing, big data, mobile apps, location-based services, geo-tag services, beacon technology, virtual reality, augmented reality, and social networking services are all cutting-edge examples of smart technologies enhancing the tourism experiences and services. On the back-end, smart tourism allows for new ways of managing tourist flows, better tourist services, new advertising models, and new collaborative ventures that build on cloud services and open data to innovate beyond the traditional industry boundaries.

Question 3: The city of Miami Beach has a budget of $680 million. How would you ensure that budget reflects the vision and values of our city?

The budget will reflect the vision and values of our city by:

  • Continuous innovation and sustainability. I will actively seek out good ideas that have a lasting, positive impact on our community, work, and environment.
  • Constant encouragement of inclusion and diversity. I recognize and respect a variety of perspectives, experiences and approaches that will help me achieve the City's goals.
  • Continuous public service and engagement. I will partner with our community to provide the best service possible.
  • Continuous accountability. I will take responsibility for achieving results and holding myself accountable.

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Group VI

Mohammed R. Islam

Question 1: What quantifiable qualification, education, work/life experience, or other attribute do you personally bring to the commission that does not exist today with the current commission?

Bechaler science and engineering ( civl)

Question 2: What is the most pressing issue Miami Beach will face during the first year of your term and the next four years?

Flooding and drainage system update as much as possible , sea walls , reform city system.

Question 3: The city of Miami Beach has a budget of $680 million. How would you ensure that budget reflects the vision and values of our city?

Think about that priority basis.

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David Richardson

Question 1: What quantifiable qualification, education, work/life experience, or other attribute do you personally bring to the commission that does not exist today with the current commission?

My life’s work has been a forensic auditor and certified public accountant, and likely the only commissioner who has this level of work experience. This gives me a wealth of knowledge and experience on what it means to be a true steward of the people’s money. I believe in accountability and integrity- and with City Hall overseeing the implementation of over $450 million in GO Bond projects, I can serve as a strong voice of accountability over these funds and ensure the commitment made to our residents is carried through. Additionally, serving in Tallahassee for six years allows me to better position Miami Beach as we continue to seek state dollars for our infrastructure and city projects.

Question 2: What is the most pressing issue Miami Beach will face during the first year of your term and the next four years?

I believe that our most pressing issue will be managing quality of life for our resident, which varies by area. For South Beach, we must do better to alleviate the impacts of high impact tourist weekends to minimize disruptions for our residents. We also need to break the traffic gridlock by encouraging more use of our transit system like the trolly. This means doing a better job of working with hotels to encourage their hotel guests to utilize them and provide ways to incentivize use of non-car transportation.

Question 3: The city of Miami Beach has a budget of $680 million. How would you ensure that budget reflects the vision and values of our city?

As a CPA and former forensic auditor, I want to be known as the “budget guy” because for me, having a budget that reflects the vision and values of our city is critical. In fact, with the voter-approved GO Bond projects getting underway, the best way we can ensure that the resident-approved bond gets done right is by having strong voices on the commission who will carry the residents' voices throughout the process.

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  • Matthew Land
    published this page in Announcements 2019-10-07 21:04:24 -0400

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