Appointment or special election for Miami Beach commission vacancy?

Old names resurface as possible fill-ins for the late Mark Samuelian

Publicly, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber says it’s too soon to talk about a replacement process for the seat vacated by the sudden death of Commissioner Mark Samuelian last week. Privately, he and some Beach leaders have already started recruiting possible sit-ins.

Las malas lenguas say that former Commissioners John Aleman and Joy Malakoff have expressed interest. Ladra was told that someone reached out to Aleman. Was it the mayor? Malakoff, always eager to serve, called and offered her services.

Some say that Laura Dominguez, Samuelian’s life partner, should be appointed, if anyone is. Many people say that the city should let voters decide this November, choosing their own representative from the ballot.

“I’ve had conversations with no less than five people who expressed interest in filling the vacant commission seat,” Commissioner David Richardson texted Ladra, adding that he won’t speak about specifics off the dais. He also would not say whether he prefers an appointment or a special election.

Read related: Death of Miami Beach Commissioner Mark Samuelian stuns, saddens

“I do not plan to talk publicly about who called me or the decisions I think are in the best interest of our city,” Richardson said.

City commissioners will likely make the decision at next week’s meeting. Miami-Dade Department of Elections Deputy Supervisor Suzy Trutie told the city clerk (he asked) that the city had until July 29 to put candidates for that seat on the ballot. Candidates would have to qualify by Aug. 26.

A discussion item on next week’s meeting agenda has the city clerk providing the rules of the process. The commission has 30 days, or until July 22, to decide whether to make an appointment or have a special election. They can make that decision at their next meeting, which is July 20. If they decide to appoint someone, the person has to be appointed within another 30 days, or by Aug. 21.

If they decide to go with a special election, it will cost the city about $36,000 to piggyback on the Nov. 8 ballot, said Miami Beach City Clerk Rafael Granado. If there is a runoff, which would be Dec. 6, there would be another $210,000 or so in costs, he added.

“The filling of a vacancy on the City Commission is one of the most  important fundamental duties that the City Charter entrusts to the City Commission, to serve the public’s interest in continuity with respect to the important policy-making, legislative and oversight functions of the City Commission,” Granado wrote in his memo to the commission. The last time the city had to fill a vacancy due to death or illness was almost 50 years ago, when then-Mayor Chuck Hall died in office in 1974 and was succeeded by Harold Rosen. He was appointed and served as mayor until 1977.

There are 50,321 registered voters in Miami Beach — and they overwhelmingly prefer a special election to an appointment.

Voters countywide approved a charter amendment in 2020 to establish that when a mayor or county commissioner resigns to run for another office, the vacancy must be filled during the next primary and general election rather than through appointment or a special election. The referendum was the result of Miami-Dade Commissioner Danielle Cohen Higgins‘ appointment to fill the vacancy created by Daniella Levine Cava‘s mayoral run. But in Miami Beach, almost every precinct preferred special elections by 80% or more. Overwhelmingly.

Read related: Miami-Dade Commissioners to make D8 appointment fearing special election

This is what Commissioners Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Alex Fernandez want. “My preference is always to send it to the voters,” said Fernandez, who had espoused the same philosophy when Richardson flirted, only momentarily, with running for county commission when Eileen Higgins flirted for five minutes with running for Congress.

According to the Miami Beach city charter, any appointment would only be good through next year’s city election, at which point Samuelian’s old seat would be added to those on the 2023 city ballot. But this November’s turnout is expected to be better because of the governor’s race.

Rosen Gonzalez said there should be an election. She might, however, be open to the appointment — if it is for Dominguez.

“We are all still in shock at Mark’s passing, and my heart goes out to his wife, Laura,” Rosen Gonzalez told Ladra, adding that she would like to see Dominguez run for the seat. “They did everything together. They campaigned together, attended community events. Laura would sit at the commission and listen to meetings.

“There is no one better to fill Mark’s seat than Laura, as she is as much of a community activist as he was. Miami Beach deserves a special election, and Laura has my full support,” she said. “We are all going to miss Mark’s voice, but I know that he would be so happy to see Laura serve in his place.”

Dominguez, who has knocked on doors with Samuelian and is said to have a deep understanding of the issues, could not be reached for comment. But she did tell the Miami Herald that she was interested after encouragement.

Samuelian died suddenly June 22. He had been ill for at least a few weeks. The city plans a Celebration of Life for the late commissioner at 4 p.m. July 11 at the New World Center, 500 17th Street. Public parking is available at the city garage at 640 17th Street. It will also be livestreamed on Facebook.