2017 Miami Beach mayoral candidate Michael Grieco is an interesting man. Outspoken yet humble, feisty but passionate, this native New Yorker, father, husband, hard-working lawyer and current City Commissioner isn’t afraid to speak his mind or wear his heart on his sleeve.
One thing you can say definitively is that he loves Miami Beach.
We sat down with Mr. Grieco Fourth of July weekend at the Abbey off Lincoln Road for a candid conversation over craft beer. He was fresh off of knocking on doors and a little wistful – his wife and son were up in New York for the weekend –he revealed a picture of his boy at the Statue of Liberty and you could see the glistening joy in Micheal’s eyes –he wanted to be up there with them.
We began a long conversation that begins here on issues and will continue in a subsequent post that reveals a more personal portrait of the Miami Beach Commissioner.
To meet Miami Beach residents you hop fences to knock on doors. You once chased a drug dealer through an ally to help police catch a suspect. You pretty much single-handedly closed down Floatopia with a viral video. And now the Memorial Day kerfuffle around Urban Beach week. Would you classify yourself as a maverick politically?
Not quite a maverick. More times than not I wind up being a populist. I do speak my mind. I am the people of Miami Beach. I understand what we need and want and instinctively I side with the folks that live here, but there are times when I have to go rogue because I have strong opinions. For example, how the County handles mosquito control. I take issue with how they do that. I have concerns with public transportation, we have to square peg round hole it here in Miami Beach. I have concerns with my colleagues traveling to and speaking about Cuba and sort of trying to force a Cuban Consulate in Miami Beach. I have strong concerns about that. And even this issue with Memorial Day. I’m going to stand up for the residents regardless of any controversy it brings because it’s my job to protect the people that live here. I don’t know if that makes me a maverick or just a good commissioner and possibly a good future mayor.
Do you feel Miami Beach is being taken advantage of by the State?
It’s obvious. We don’t get much back and we write huge checks. We support and fund projects that are hundreds of miles away from us and it’s frustrating. I want to be part of the collective, that’s part of what we do, but at the same time, we suffer. For example, I had to get the city to self-fund to ensure that every four-year-old in the city was entitled to a robust pre-kindergarten.
Do you identify as a Democrat or a Republican??
I’m a registered Democrat but there’s no democratic or republican way to pick up the garbage. Most of the issues in Miami Beach don’t adhere to partisan politics, but, they do become partisan up in Tallahassee. And the problem we have here is that a lot of my colleagues and potential future elected officials are very heavily entrenched in partisan politics, especially on the Democratic side. We need help from Tallahassee and they are heavily Republican.
How do you change that?
I spent the last five years making great strides with other elected officials, not just in Miami Dade, but also State elected officials, on both sides of the aisle, making sure that our non-partisan issues can get funded on a state level and we don’t get the door slammed in our face.
As mayor, in terms of having the eyes of the world on you, for sure, as a figurehead, you’re going to be representing basically ground zero for the issue of climate change.
Here’s the thing. Climate change. We have flooding in places. That flooding has existed for decades, we need to correct that. I think the louder we scream about climate change beyond our city borders, I think that is foolish.
Because I don’t think we need to give people outside of Miami Beach another reason not to invest in Miami Beach.
So is screaming climate change in Miami Beach grandstanding or sensational a little?
It’s not grandstanding. But there’s a difference between resolving our flooding issues, planning for the future, just fixing it, and making it an international issue just to get your name in the paper. I don’t care about getting my name in the paper. I prefer to be in the paper less actually lately.
It’s about the city. Not my name or face. It’s about making sure we are mortgageable, insurable and resilient for my lifetime and my son’s lifetime. That is my job. It is not my job potentially as the mayor to make sure the NY Times is talking about it all the time so people don’t move here because they think the city is sinking.
We need to do less on the national stage and focus on what we are doing. The only time we should go beyond our area is when we need money.
But you’re not denying that right now the perception of Miami Beach is that it is ground zero for the issue of climate change and the platform of mayor could be the spokesman for that issue?
I’m sick of that. I want less of that. We need to turn the volume down.
Do you have any passion projects that are dear to your heart?
I have hundreds of passion projects. One is the Park Ranger program. I’ve pretty much eliminated crime in our parks in the last couple years. Another one is the Air and Sea show and eliminating the 17 year cycle of Beach residents fleeing the Beach every year.
Name a few more.
The Safe Place program for our LGBT community. The anti-litter campaign. Eliminating Styrofoam. We accomplished it but the State interfered, it was a big deal. Completing revamping the way we handle commercial loading so traffic can actually flow in the city. So trucks don’t block the lanes anymore. Big issue for me. And getting the cops out of their cars and turning it into a community policing model. I have a 100 more.
Are you for Amendment 2?
Oh yeah. I raised money for that. 80% of Miami Beach residents voted yes. It’s almost here too. Dispensaries will be on the Beach within sixty days.
What’s your position on Airbnb?
Never in a single family home. For me it’s a quality of life issue. It’s not that I’m for the hotels. Or that I am lobbying for the hotels. The issue is renting out party houses in residential neighborhoods. I’ve sat down with Airbnb to try and see how their model works here. It’s tricky. You need to do it with certain rules.
Do you feel like Miami Beach residents are intertwined with the rest of Miami-Dade?
Do you think they want to be more?
No, not really. There are a lot of people who go their whole week without leaving the beach. We are very self-sustained here.
What about the other side. A lot of Miami Dade County residents feel disconnected from Miami Beach. We don’t come here that much lately. It’s too expensive, too touristy, nowhere to park, we get ticketed or towed. What exactly is Miami Beach’s relationship to the rest of Miami-Dade County? For locals off the beach?
Well it’s changed. When I came here in the Nineties, there was no Wynwood. There was no place to go in Brickell. As the County grows and evolves, as the world evolves, Miami Beach needs to grow into a new identity and we are going to see that coming now. You’re going to see some of that redevelopment coming on Ocean Drive and Washington Avenue too. North Beach too.
Can you be specific in terms of what is coming to Miami Beach?
Washington Avenue, for example.
We went from a situation where it was bar after bar after bar in the 90s and early 2000s, and now we are seeing properties being redeveloped. You will see an individual developer able to curate an entire block, a little like what you see on Lincoln Road. And you will see Washington Avenue become a destination morning, noon and night. We have quality people coming in who are landlords and developers who want to see growth in the long term.
The Fillmore. Should it stay or go?
Here’s my take on the Fillmore. I like it just the way it. It’s not like the Fillmore is an obsolete facility. It’s awesome. I’ve been on that stage. My son has been on that stage as part of their camp program. That facility means something to me. I don’t care if there is not one historic brick in that building, it means a lot to a lot of people.
Do you think it will stay then?
If I have something to say about it.
You didn’t go to that mayoral conference last week? (The 85th U.S. Conference of Mayors took place June 23-26, 2017 on Miami Beach –it was a big deal and hosted by current mayor Phillip Levine).
I had no interest in it.
At least for networking?
Networking with whom?
All of the mayors of the United States of America.
What does that have to do with me?
You’re going to be one of them maybe soon.
Well then maybe I’ll call them on November 8th.
Do you see yourself as having allies with other mayors in other cities?
If anyone, I would love to stand beside my dear friend and future Miami Mayor Francis Suarez in a few months so we can blur the lines between us and come up with collaborative and comprehensive inter-city traffic solutions.
Because it seems like you’re isolated. And it’s not that you don’t care, but you seem to be dug in this Miami Beach first trench to a point where not much else matters.
I’m just concerned with my little Mayberry here with palm trees. Not photo ops.
What about Mayor Gimenez? He’s the big boss of the County, no?
I don’t think I’m on his Christmas list. I really took him to task last year over Zika. I’m over it. Not sure he is. But I think he means well and is a very effective County mayor.
If Zika occurs again, how can it be handled differently?
I will sue if they try to spray Miami Beach again with those chemicals from planes.
Is the Zika scare over?
If we get through this summer, it’s in the rear-view mirror.
Miami-Dade County has nineteen cities, six towns, 44 municipalities in all. Miami Beach is the 4th biggest city behind Miami, Hialeah and Miami Gardens. But Miami Beach is one or two in terms of income. And Miami Beach is definitely number one in terms of notoriety, nationally, internationally.
We’re number one but in a strange way. The average person outside of Miami doesn’t understand that Miami Beach is its own thing. They think Miami Beach is Miami. They don’t know that the tall buildings over there (Downtown) are different than the slithers over here. They don’t know that we are the Brooklyn to their Manhattan.
What’s your take on the Panama Papers and outside investors using our high end real estate market as a legitimate or in some cases illegitimate source to bury their assets? This is a huge issue for us in Downtown and Brickell and Wynwood and Little Haiti.
We don’t see it that much here. Maybe a little bit South of Fifth you’ll see some people sitting on properties, some that were cash buyers, and they’re not living there. But we don’t have the glut of new condo inventory like you see in Downtown or Sunny Isles because we don’t have the space. We’re not building high rises in Miami Beach. People think we are but think about it. You don’t see a lot of cranes in Miami Beach’s skyline.
I tell people all the time that the city bird of Miami is the crane because when you drive west on 195 the entire skyline is filled with cranes—
I counted 22 the other day—
But when you drive east on 195 there are none, except maybe the Convention Center, which is a redevelopment project, so we’ve done a very good job of controlling the development.
What’s your take on campaign finance and money in politics?
People try to utilize issues like campaign finance to distract from quality of life issues, especially when they try and make it seem like money in politics is the be all, end all. I get concerned when people get distracted from the real issues of the city and they talk about issues that have nothing to do with the people’s lives in Miami Beach. I think the candidates need to be judged on their integrity, voting records, and what they’ve done for the city.
Would you listen to lobbyists if and when they whisper in your ear?
I can tell you there is no amount of money that would get me to vote beyond my conscience. I’ve had developers offer to fund my campaign and I told them to kiss my ass. The concept of money in politics is a reality, but it boils down to trusting the integrity of the candidate you vote for.
Regarding your opponent. How are you two different?
There is not one person in City Hall who has done more for the residents of Miami Beach during the last five years. I have a track record. My opponent has a zero track record in the city of Miami Beach. He had his time in State politics ten years ago. He chose to skip over local politics after watching his dad be mayor twenty-five years ago. So it’s the local guy doing the local work for the local people versus the state guy who is pretty much a stranger to local politics who is treating the position of Mayor of Miami Beach as a consolation prize because he reached his political peak seven years ago when he ran for Florida State Attorney and lost to Pam Bondi.
Hey. I have no interest other than being the local mayor of Mayberry with palm trees. I can assure you that my opponent is treating this as a stepping stone to become relevant beyond this city. We see this now with the current absentee mayor. And we would see it again. The residents of Miami Beach know me. And they know I have a fire in my belly for the local yokel stuff. And they should know that I lose sleep over this. The other guy came out of left field after being recruited by the current mayor just for the reason that I won’t become the next mayor.
But on the issues between you two.
I literally don’t know. My opponent hasn’t taken a position on any issue relevant to Miami Beach, ever. He has done everything he’s can to avoid taking positions. And that’s the truth.
This year’s Miami Beach mayoral election will be November 7th
Stay tuned for Part II of our extended interview with candidate Micheal Grieco