15 candidates qualify for Miami District 2 race to fill Ken Russell vacancy

There are also at least 3 new political action committees to hide funding

And they’re off.

Fifteen candidates have qualified to run in Miami’s special election to fill the vacancy on the City Commission created by the resignation of Ken Russell, who ran for Congress and lost in the primary last year.

The commission was split on whether to appoint someone for the next 11 months or have a special election, with Commissioners Joe Carollo and Alex Diaz de la Portilla wanting to appoint a third vote so they could control the board. Commissioner Manolo Reyes and Chairwoman Christine King really fought against some intense pressure and secured an election for Feb. 27.

Read related: Miami will have a special Feb election to fill Ken Russell vacancy in District 2

The high number of candidates and the fact that there is no runoff means that any one of them could technically win with, say, 10% of the vote. That provides a huge opportunity. No wonder there are so many wannabes. They are:

  • Sabina Covo, a former TV, radio and print journalist who has a communications and marketing company and does communications for Melo Group, a local developer. She lives in Coconut Grove.
  • Michael Goggins, a wealth manager and compliance officer. He lives in the Brickell area.
  • Javier González, a Realtor, former bakeshop owner and four-year president of the Cocoanut Grove Village Council. He ran for city commission in 2015. He lives in Coconut Grove.
  • Lior Halabi, a digital marketing director and former political strategist for the Israeli Knesset. He lives in Edgewater.
  • Alicia Susan Kossick, the owner of Polished Coconut, a unique store of handmade and interesting furnishings and accessories, who is also an interior designer who worked on the new Ransom Everglades School. She lives in Coconut Grove.
  • Eddy Leal has taken leave from his job as a city of Miami attorney who works in the office of Mayor Francis Suarez. He lives in the Brickell area, where he also owns two investment properties.
  • Maxwell Manuel “Max” Martinez has a marketing agency and ran against Mayor Baby X last year and is proud of his 11% against “the most famous mayor in America.” He lives in the Brickell area.
  • Lorenzo Palomares, a tax attorney and onetime congressional candidate (lost the primary to Carlos Curbelo) who later became a Donald Trump surrogate in 2016. He is the father-in-law of Omar Blanco, a Miami-Dade County firefighter who also ran for congress unsuccessfully 2020 (lost the primary to Carlos Gimenez). He lives in Coconut Grove.
  • Kathy Jane Parks Suarez, a Tampa transplant and automobile dealer. She lives in Coconut Grove.
  • Renita Ross Samuels-Dixon is a Coconut Grove native and member of the Cocoanut Grove Village Council since 2019. She has worked as a mortgage loan officer. She lives in Coconut Grove.
  • June Ellen Savage, a real estate salesperson who also works part time at a Home Depot, according to her financial disclosure. She lives in Coconut Grove. But she ran for mayor of Miami Beach in 2017.
  • Christi Tasker, a home decor and fashion jewelry designer who is big on social media and volunteers for the Alzheimer’s Association, among other groups. She lives in the Brickell area.
  • James Torres, the popular president of the Downtown Neighbors Alliance has also served as president of the board of directors at Viscayne Condominiums. He is also director of business development at Hotwire Communications. He lives in the downtown.
  • Mario Francis Vuksanovic, is a city of Miami information and referral specialist for seniors. He lives in the Brickell area.
  • Martin Zilber, is a former and disgraced circuit court judge who resigned when he was accused of ethical lapses. He was allegedly not at work when he was supposed to be and had his staff run errands for him — which makes him perfect for Miami, actually. He has been ADLP’s handpicked choice from Day 1. We don’t know where he lives because, as a judge, his address is exempt from public records. But Deputy Elections Supervisor Suzy Trutie assured Ladra he lives in District 2.

Savage and Halabi, who were running for the seat in the November election, are the only ones reporting any fundraising, with $11,000 and $1,180, respectively.

Read related: Coconut Grove residents are ignored as Miami carves up D2 in redistricting

District 2 covers the coastal area of Miami from Coconut Grove, through Brickell and the downtown, Edgewater and Morningside. But at least half of the candidates live in the Grove, which was cut into three different districts last year during redistricting in a move that most D2 voters rallied against.

There’s a general ABZ attitude in District 2 — “Anyone But Zilber.” One might think it’s because of the ethics investigation, but the fact that Diaz de la Portilla is pushing him doesn’t help with D2 voters. Still, the ethics investigation will be what the voters hear most about.

Already, a negative hit text message was sent to voters Friday, even before qualifying ended:

How can it be legal for it not to have a disclaimer? Don’t voters need to know who is paying for this message?

The biggest disappointment is that Anthony Balzebre, a former Omni Community Redevelopment Agency staffer, isn’t on the list. He’d been widely rumored and recruited, but he’s got a 7-month-old at home and didn’t want to end up in a divorce or the doghouse.

The big last minute surprise before the 6 p.m. Friday deadline, was Leal, who told Ladra he was not encouraged at all by Mayor Postalita.

“We need someone in District 2 who will stand up and represent their interests and will not be afraid to defend District 2. Simple,” he told Ladra when asked why he was running. He also thinks he can bring some decorum to the dais.

“I am bothered by the level of discourse the commission has. I want to help move things forward,” he said Friday after qualifying.

Read related: Ken Russell leaves Miami early; commission gets ready to replace him

There are also at least three new political action committees that are likely to get involved in this election. Political Cortadito already reported on two of them: Beautify Grove Miami, which Ladra was told is Zilber’s PAC, has $95,000 already — including $25K from Jorge Mas, developer of Miami Freedom Park — and Moving Miami Forward, which filed its paperwork Dec. 13.

Forward’s stated purpose is “candidate and ballot issues for all Miami-Dade County and Miami-Dade municipal elections.” The chairman is Gary Reshefsky, the city of Miami’s former director of risk management (July 2010 to June 2011), who oversaw the third largest city department and a $60 million budget. Carlos Trueba is the treasurer, but there are no transactions to report yet.

A new PAC called Miami Prosperous came online Jan. 6 and is chaired by Jose Sanchez-Gronlier, one of the people who rallied against the incorporation of Westchester last year. It also has had zero transactions.

But that won’t be the case for long. This is a short election cycle.