Three Miami Beach candidates line up to fill vacant Mark Samuelian seat

Last week, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and Commissioners Ricky Arriola and David Richardson came to their senses (read: were shamed into it) and switched sides, voting to actually have a special election within the November ballot to fill the vacancy left by the sudden death of late Commissioner Mark Samuelian, instead of appointing a lackey.

This week, we already have three well-known hopefuls who want to take Samuelian’s place.

That includes his partner, Laura Dominguez, who many activists and a few electeds have said would be a good choice. Dominguez was Samuelian’s partner for the last 10 years and stood by him during every moment of his campaigns and public service. She often attended meetings and is very up on the issues. Her supporters believe she would be the best surrogate for their beloved late commissioner.

The other two candidates aren’t anything to sneeze at.

Sabrina Cohen, a C5 quadriplegic as the result of a spinal cord injury from a car accident when she was a teenager, has been a health advocate for research and rehabilitation since 2004. Thanks to her and the Sabrina Cohen Foundation, many wheelchair-bound people have enjoyed the beach.

Longtime activist and hotelier Mitch Novick, a regular at the city commission meetings and big fan of the 2 a.m. last call on Ocean Drive, has been involved in South Beach politics for at least the last 10 years, if not longer. But he’s also shot at least three pornos at his gorgeous Art Deco Sherbrooke Hotel.

Read related: Appointment or special election for Miami Beach commission vacancy?

Qualifying doesn’t even start until Aug. 22 (ends Aug. 25) and already this is an exciting race. Longtime observers are expecting another candidate or two to jump in, but, politically correct or not, people are already calling this the battle between “the widow and the wheelchair.”

Those same people say Cohen was allegedly recruited for this race by Gelber and Richardson, who don’t want Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez to get another ally on the dais. They have lent Cohen their campaign consultant, Christian Ulvert, who also worked with Samuelian. Las malas lenguas say that all the other usual political consultants — from Eric Johnson to David Custin — will be paid to not join Team Dominguez.

“My understanding is that they are using an ECO to lock up the consultant pool,” Dominguez told Ladra, referring to an electioneering communications organization, which is another kind of political action committee. It’s exactly the kind of political machinations she was afraid of.

Dominguez told Ladra that Samuelian was the one who suggested she succeed him, even before he got unexpectedly ill and died suddenly last month.

“Last year, when Mark won reelection, he said, ‘I’m about to start my final term in office and soon I’ll be looking to find a candidate that I can support that is aligned with my priorities.’ And then he said, ‘What are the chances you would run in my seat?’”

Her answer: 1%.

It wasn’t the issues or the work that kept her at bay. “It’s the political stuff. It’s the political back and forth that didn’t call me.” Dominguez said.

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

Fast forward to nine months later, those words seem prophetic to her now. “I think back to that conversation when I was the first person he thought of,” she told Ladra.

“I personally feel I need to do this. I’m not going to be exactly like Mark on every single issue, but I feel I can continue his legacy and keep serving and helping the community.”

Cohen told Ladra she was not goaded to run but had thought about the idea a few times. “I always felt it was right up my alley at different points in my life but I had different things going on,” she said Wednesday. “I’m ready for this. I’ve lived here my whole life and have served in different ways.

“This is taking it to the next level.”

The Sabrina Cohen Foundation is working in partnership with the City of Miami Beach, to creatre a first of its kind, state-of-the-art recreation and wellness facility alongside a fully accessible beach. lt will be be probably built on city property with a mix of public and private funding. Meanwhile, and since 2016, the Foundation has offered “adaptive beach days” — once a month — that allowed wheelchair-bound beachgoers to get on the sand and into the surf with special equipment.

Developers like Terra’s David Martin and Sandor Scher and lobbyists like Alex Heckler and Mike Llorente serve on her foundation’s capital campaign committee.

This may result in a conflict of interests.

There are issues that are important to her, other than the obvious inclusion and diversity. “The cost of maintaining a property and the quality of life we’re used to. That’s what’s allowed me to live my life and I want to protect it,” Cohen said in a short telephone interview.

Novick also spoke with Ladra over the telephone as he watched the city’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Quality of Life committee meeting online. He said the timing also just clicked for him, on the heels of his defeating a move by Richardson to increase heights on Ocean Drive.

“I’m tired of being wronged and having to defend against bad ideas,” he said. One example he cited was “the pedestrianization of Ocean Drive, which was a complete disaster, and bad for business.

Read related: Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber is blocked again by courts on alcohol ban

“I don’t feel my voice is being heard,” Novick told Ladra. “We have no representation in my district, the Ocean Drive entertainment district.”

He calls the South Beach nightlife “a carnival-like circus” and had supported the 2 a.m. last call but without exceptions, which he said everyone knew would lead to lawsuits. “So now nothing has been done. The voters have been expecting a rollback and nothing.”

Novick, who has posted a number of videos showing street mayhem on South Beach during holiday weekends, said he gave the mayor the idea to turn the entertainment district into an Art Deco culture district.

“But before any of that can be considered, they need to end the party,” Novick said. “I’m not saying to close the party down. I’m saying to bring the party inside. They need to take the party off the streets.”

The guy who runs Mango’s, Novick’s nemesis, is going to blow a gasket.