Longtime pols out in Beach runoffs

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By Christina Veiga, Philippe Buteau, Madison Fantozzi and Margaux Herrera

cveiga@MiamiHerald.com

This story published Wednesday, November 20, 2013 on the front page of the Miami Herald. You can also read online: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/11/19/3765762/longtime-pols-booted-in-miami.html

A sitting mayor was booted, a political newbie defeated an incumbent and a former state representative’s wife won her first run for office on Tuesday, when Miami Beach voters decided three city commission runoff races.

In her first run for political office, retired community banker Joy Malakoff defeated Matti Herrera Bower for the Commission Group III seat. Bower, mayor for the past six years, was term limited from her current post and ran for commissioner.

Criminal defense lawyer Michael Grieco won his first bid for elected office against Group II incumbent Jorge Exposito. And Realtor Micky Steinberg beat retiree Elsa Urquiza for the Group I post.

The race for mayor was decided during the general election two weeks ago. Multimillionaire Philip Levine won the post against incumbent commissioner Michael Góngora by capturing more than 50 percent of the vote, thus requiring no runoff.

In all, four political newbies will join the seven-member commission at a transformative moment in the Beach’s history. The city is under new administrative leadership, and repairing its image after a string of embarrassing public corruption arrests. A billion-dollar project to redevelop 52 acres of city land in the convention center district also hangs in the balance.

A veteran Beach pol, Bower, 74 , won’t be there to usher the city through it all. She was trounced at the polls, with only 40 percent of the vote, compared with Malakoff’s 60 percent.

Bower has been a staple of Beach politics since she was first elected in 1999. Her career on the commission was launched by her volunteer work with local schools and within the historic preservation community.

She called her opponent Tuesday night to concede, and spoke to a crowd of supporters.

“The voters have spoken,” Bower said. “We need to move the city forward.’’

A comparably little-known retiree knocked Bower off her perch. Malakoff’s campaign message centered around term limits. Bower has been term limited as both a commissioner and now as mayor. However, the city’s rules prohibit only the number of consecutive terms an elected official can serve. Anyone can jump between the two posts without being term limited.

At her election night party, Malakoff was jubilant.

“I’m really happy the voters wanted change,’’ said Malakoff, 77. “They also wanted a new direction. I don’t want a lifetime politician.’’

Jorge Exposito, 58, a soft-spoken commissioner since 2009, was attacked on the campaign trail as ineffective. Grieco, 38, ran on a “back to basics” platform of fixing potholes and cleaning up litter. He was also endorsed by Levine. Grieco got 54 percent of the vote, while Exposito garnered 46 percent.

Steinberg, 37, led the Group I candidates in the first round of voting. She held onto her lead Tuesday night, garnering 53 percent of the vote to Urquiza’s 47 percent.

The race between the two women was filled with negative advertisements. Urquiza, 67, who owns several rental properties across the Beach, was painted as a slum lord. Attacks on Steinberg dug up her husband’s past problems. She is married to Richard Steinberg, the former state representative who resigned after sending anonymous, stalker-like texts to a federal prosecutor.

With results now in, alliances forged during the campaign could affect the outcomes of the Beach’s most pressing issues. Many candidates have been accused of running in “slates.’’ A slate generally refers to a group of candidates who support each other and coordinate their campaigns. Slates can complicate the democratic process if voting blocs arise.

Levine counted on the support of sitting commissioners, including Jonah Wolfson and Ed Tobin. Levine, in turn, backed Malakoff and Grieco.

Exposito, meanwhile, was said to have been running in tandem with other elected officials who were also running for office this cycle — including Bower.

The new commission will be sworn in on Nov. 25. Among the first items likely to be addressed: historic preservation and the convention center project. A battle has been brewing over whether the city should provide more or less protections for historic, single-family homes, and whether to downscale the size, scope and price tag for the convention center project.

Miami Beach commissioner Jonah Wolfson, left, helps Joy Malakoff celebrate winning a seat on the Miami Beach Commission on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013. PATRICK FARRELL / MIAMI HERALD STAFF

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