District 2 Candidates Meet Residents

Photo courtesy Ken Russell
On Wednesday night, there was a debate at Grove Isle between the District 2 commission candidates. It wasn't really a debate, as it was a cordial evening consisting of the candidates answering brief questions posed by the moderator. There really was not much disagreement and they were all very polite to each other. All the candidates showed up except for Teresa Sarnoff.

William Armbrister, Javier Gonzalez, Seth Sklarey, Rosa Palomino, Mike Simpson, Grace Solares, Ken Russell and Lorry Woods were present. They made it quite clear about Teresa's absense by having a paper nameplate on the table in front of an empty chair the whole time. It spoke volumes.

Teresa gave the excuse of a scheduling conflict, for not being there, but Ken Russell said, "I spoke to the Developer and he said he didn't feel appropriate coming today. He has donated twice the maximum limit to Commissioner Sarnoff's wife, who is also running, which may explain a little bit about why she's not here." 

Most, if not all major developers in Miami have donated to Teresa's campaign, while ignoring the other candidates when it comes to donations. The Grove Isle residents are not fans of the Sarnoffs and in this case, it doesn't appear as if Teresa will be getting their votes, despite Grove Isle Associates, the Grove Isle developers, donating the money to Teresa.

The residents are at odds with the developers over the new plans for the developers to add more major construction to the island.

There is a large anti-development anti-construction sentiment in the city and the developers who have donated to certain campaigns and not others may regret it in the end. I feel they should donate to all or none in order to remain neutral, which most are not.

The majority of the candidates feel that voters and residents are left out of the political process and that the city commission does what they want regardless of whatever rules and laws they break to get their way. Grace Solares was very clear on this. Rosa Palomino said, "They [the current commissioners] are protecting clients and special interests."

Ken Russell was good at playing to his audience, as he spoke with the Grove Isle developer earlier in the day and he reported his conversation to the audience, who liked what they heard. It personally pertained to them. I loved what Grace said about developers coming into a neighborhood and destroying the quality of life for the residents who have lived in that neighborhood for 30 years. This is the crux of all development issues. They come in, destroy the quality of life, take their millions and leave, heading to their next project and neighborhood. This happens all over the country, not just Miami and Coconut Grove.

None of the candidates are in favor of Grove Isle Associates' plans to add more structures to the island. Mike Simpson brought up an excellent point about over-population. South Bayshore Drive is the same size it has always been he said, yet development is overtaking the area but not accommodating the extra traffic.

Grove Isle resident Alan Goldfarb brought up the subject of too many candidates splitting the vote. The consensus is that no one wants Teresa Sarnoff to carry on Marc Sarnoff's legacy or lack of it, as basically giving him a third term, except for the developers who support him and who he supports. So many feel that Sarnoff is instrumental in the city's over-development and the downfall of Coconut Grove. Goldfarb was told that the process will sort itself out. The winner needs 51% of the vote, so unless Teresa gets this, everyone has a chance.

"By having more candidates we keep out big money and we bring out more voters," said Javier Gonzelez. "This is a good thing, this will not split the vote. If we expand the voter base, there is no way big money can win. We've done the numbers," he continued.

"This election is not about money," said Rosa Palomino. Ken Russell, disagreed and felt that money was essential to the election. "When you choose money, you choose to be compromised," said William Armbrister.

Apathy is the problem and it starts at the voting booth. People need to show up and vote. That is the first step. Only 6% of registered voters turned up to vote last time.

Activist Al Crespo took a video of Wednesday night's Grove Isle event. You can watch it here.