While it is not the only reason they are the frontrunners in the November election, it helps that former Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Gongora and comeback candidate Mark Samuelian have each raised more than $170,000, leading the pack in their respective commission races, according to the latest campaign reports filed last week.
And leading by quite a distance.
Gongora, who enjoys the most name recognition as a former commissioner and one-time mayoral candidate, has the most of any of this year’s commission hopefuls, with $188,785 raised since March. Or actually $168,785 since $20K is reported as a loan to himself. Also, a quarter of last month’s $40K, or $10,000, comes from Adam Walker of Boardwalk Properties, a real estate investor who owns several small apartment buildings in South Beach and who bundled $40,000 in contributions to Commissioner Michael Grieco, who is running for mayor. Maybe Gongora saw the Political Cortadito story about it in May and hit Mr. Walker up the next month.
Nobody else in the Group 3 race even comes close to Gongora’s bank. Adrian Gonzalez, the owner of David’s Cafe and Gongora’s most serious challenge, has raised just over $55,000 and Zachary Eisner has raised $17,250.
In the Group 2 race, Samuelian has raised $170,747, an impressive amount in two months. Until you read the fine print and realize that more than half of that — or $91,000 — is in loans from the candidate to himself. He loaned himself $56,000 in the first report for May, to make it a total of $105,472, and then made another $35,000 loan to the campaign in June, so he could report a total of $62,275. Without the loans, he would be reporting only $79,472 in the same two months — which is not really “more cash on hand than all our opponents combined,” as he claims in one of his email blasts.
Attorney Joshua Levy has reported raising $76,070, but $24,700 is on loan from himself. Rafael Velazquez has managed to resist loaning himself anything to artificially pump up his numbers, even though he has only raised $31,476 so far.
Is Samuelian trying to scare more challengers away? Already, Eisner switched to the Group 3 race against Gongora and Robert Lansburgh (who had loaned himself $50K) withdrew completely, giving Samuelian his endorsement. One of many.
Samuelian boasts basically everybody’s endorsement. Former Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, former Beach Commissioners Jorge Esposito, Saul Gross, Nancy Liebman, Ed Tobin and Deede Weithorn and former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson have all given him their nod. So have a number of community activists like Daniel Ciraldo, Frank and Marian Del Vecchio, Brad Bonessi, Carla Probus and Michael DeFilippi, to name a few.
And as the former president of Miami Beach United (he resigned last month), Samuelian not only built a track record opposing the “train to nowhere” and fighting Watson Island development, but he also doubled the group’s membership and increased its influence, which means he made a lot of friends and gained a lot of supporters along the way. Add that to the name recognition he built in 2015 with the 4,999 people who voted for him against John Elizabeth Aleman and you have all the makings of a winner winner, chicken dinner.
Name I.D. and wall of endorsements are those other reasons that Samuelian is the one to beat, because money alone doe not always do it. After all, Samuelian spent $416,560 in is first bid against Aleman and he came real close — there was a 77 vote difference — but he spent way more than Aleman, who only spent $274,045. In fact, Samuelian also significantly bankrolled that race, too, loaning himself a whopping $216,247, or more than half his total bank, in installments of $25,000 loans every month, $50K the last month and a little more than $16,000 that he apparently needed at the very end to make ends meet.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that Mayor Philip Levine is not running for re-election and will no longer be there to pull the strings, so he’s not going to back any puppet candidate against anyone — at least so far.
Oh, that and there are still four full months to raise funds for the November election.