It looks like the fix was in after all.
Political observers in Miami Beach have been saying for weeks that Joy Malakoff had the inside track to be appointed interim commissioner, replacing former Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, who was forced to resign mid-term to run for Congress. On Wednesday, Malakoff got it.
At first, it looked like there was going to be a standoff. Commissioners Michael Gongora, Mark Samuelian and Micky Steinberg chose former Commissioner Saul Gross from a final pool of 10 (from an original pool of 37). Mayor Dan Gelber and his two pocket commissioners, John Elizabeth Aleman and Ricky Arriola, voted, as predicted, for Malakoff.
Gelber went to take a second vote, but first he wanted to motivate his colleagues on the other side to switch, so he started talking about the expense of an election in April, which could be more than $600,000 with a runoff.
“So for those six meetings that person serves, it would cost $100,000 a meeting,” he said. Okay, now, “reconsider your choice.”
The message was clear.
After a second vote got the same result, Gelber suggested they could draw a name from a hat. But others did not want to relinquish their responsibility and after a short recess in which one can’t help but wonder if the Sunshine Law was violated, the came back and Steinberg — who was the weak link all along — was the first to cave. After that, they wanted to make it unanimous.
The truth is Malakoff should have been disqualified because of the sneaky way she tried, right after she left office for health reasons, to get a $50,000 city contract to promote passage of the G.O. Bond with voter outreach. What does she bring to the table anyway? Experience? Knowledge? That there’s no learning curve? If that’s the case, there were several other candidates that fit the bill without the baggage, including Gross.
But then again, this wasn’t about replacing Rosen Gonzalez with the best possible interim commissioner until the November election, or even with someone who does not have this cloud of doubt over her head. This wasn’t about choosing someone to represent the will of the voters, because then the commission would have just let Rosen Gonzalez serve out her term, as the voters intended. No. This was about representing a different will. This was about replacing her with someone that will vote the mayor’s way the next 10 months, plenty of months to do damage and spend a bunch of money.
Among the things that may come up is spending of the G.O. Bond that the Beach voters overwhelmingly approved last year even without Malakoff — or anybody else because the job did not exist — selling it. Now she gets her hands on those funds through the temporary commission gig.
A flyer, or “hit piece” on Malakoff that appeared at City Hall and tables at Puerto Sagua — where the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club meeting welcomed candidates for the vacancy Tuesday — urged commissioners to keep her away from those funds. “With Malakoff, corruption wins and the people lose,” it says.
There is no disclaimer as legally required on the piece, so nobody knows who paid for it. But a Miami Herald reporter posted a video of political consultant Randy Hilliard dropping some of them off at City Hall. Hilliard did not return a call or text message from Ladra. But most recently he worked on the 2015 campaign of David Wieder against then Mayor Philip Levine, and lost. Weider was one of the candidates who spoke Wednesday for the job.
But what is most important here is the fact that the way the commission split on this issue is the way it splits on most issues, and naming Malakoff interim is a way to get the Gelber faction a fourth vote on everything else. She will never vote against him. And he knows that.
That’s why Gelber is the biggest disappointment in this whole fiasco. The former prosecutor and state rep ran on a campaign of integrity and ethics. He had the opportunity to show that by taking the leadership step and changing his vote to Gross, who he said was his friend and entirely capable. An ethics stickler would try to avoid even the perception of wrongdoing.
But I guess that fourth vote is just too valuable.
We should watch every vote very closely for the next 10 months, since the mayor basically has carte blanche to do as he pleases now.