FLORIDA: Miami Beach’s mayoral election has attracted the kind of star power and money that has come to be expected of the million-dollar sandbar.
Former President Bill Clinton has dropped by, and eclectic Virgin Group CEO Sir Richard Branson has weighed in. More than a million bucks in campaign expenditures have been made in the fight to become mayor of this brand-name city of 90,000.
The gig pays $10,000 a year, and the mayor only gets one vote out of seven on the commission. The job comes with no executive authority.
Hoping to land the post: former comedian Steve Berke, current city Commissioner Michael Góngora and self-made multi-millionaire Philip Levine.
Perennial, fringe candidate Raphael Herman also is running. He claims to have killed Osama Bin Laden, solved the Cuban Missile Crisis and to have come up with President John F. Kennedy’s famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
The election is Nov. 5. Early voting begins Monday. A likely runoff would be held Nov. 19.
This time, Steve Berke is serious.
You may remember him from his first run for Miami Beach mayor, when Berke declared himself a member of “the after party” and interrupted a City Commission meeting with a saxophone player. In a video announcing his candidacy, he downed several shots of alcohol and urged people to vote for him, “if you don’t want your taxes as high as my blood alcohol level right now.”
That was 2011.
This year, the pot leaf and martini glass have been dropped from his logo, but his campaign is still unconventional: He’s traded the jokes for MTV2 cameras. They’re filming him for a documentary — not a reality TV show, Berke says. He insists on the distinction, because reality shows are scripted and staged. MTV2 couldn’t confirm one way or another because the project is “still in the development stages.”
The cameras have been an easy target for Berke’s opponents. Levine has taken simply referring to Berke as “the comedian” and that his digs are just an attempt to make good TV.
“As all of you know, I’m not your traditional political candidate,” Berke said a recent debate. “I’m doing a lot of different things to try to motivate younger, disenfranchised voters to get involved in local elections. Many of people don’t realize that who you vote for, for mayor, who you vote for, for commissioner directly affects your life, more than who you vote for, for president.”
Berke, a 32-year-old Yale grad, says he has retired from comedy and prefers to be called an “entertainer.” He makes his living off of his YouTube channel, where he posts parodies of popular songs. Many of his spoofs support the decriminalization of marijuana. Berke thinks Miami Beach should decriminalize small amounts of pot, which would free up police to target violent crimes. The Beach’s November ballot includes a straw ballot referendum on the issue.
“People know me as a famous marijuana activist, but at the same time, it’s not the most important issue,” Berke said. “I want to keep it in perspective.”
Berke said his focus has shifted this year with a platform he calls his 2020 Vision.