Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez apologized Sunday after comparing Mayor Dan Gelber to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a social media post about upcoming November ballot referendums.
"What do these two leaders have in common? Sham Referenda!" a Facebook story from Rosen Gonzalez read Saturday, showing Gelber's face next to Putin's and urging voters to reject two ballot questions on controversial land leases to redevelop city-owned property near Lincoln Road.
Gelber shot back in an email to residents Sunday, criticizing Rosen Gonzalez for making "ad hominem personal attacks."
"While I have my faults, murderous dictating isn't among them," he wrote. "I understand that engaging in a policy discussion is simply not as interesting as watching our elections resemble an episode of Jersey Shore."
In an email Sunday night with the subject, "Doing the billionaires' bidding," Rosen Gonzalez again called the referendums a "sham" and said the proposed 99-year leases are "land grabs of the public trust," but apologized for comparing Gelber to Putin.
"Mayor Gelber and his fancy friends shouldn't be able to get away with this, and maybe saying that he and Putin had something in common was going too far, so I apologize, but when I was reading about the Ukraine yesterday, it just hit me," she wrote. "They are two leaders pushing sham referenda to facilitate land grabs against the people. It just hit home."
She continued: "My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine who are suffering from this horrid oppression, but my heart also bleeds for this obvious raping of Miami Beach."
The exchange in Miami Beach reflects an increasingly nasty election cycle, as voters prepare to select a new commissioner to replace the late Mark Samuelian and weigh in on eight ballot questions, including three related to land leases near Lincoln Road and another on redevelopment of the historic Deauville Hotel site.
Gelber and Rosen Gonzalez, longtime political rivals, have lined up on opposite sides of the issues.
Gelber is backing Sabrina Cohen, a disability-rights advocate, for the vacant commission seat. Rosen Gonzalez is endorsing Samuelian's life partner, Laura Dominguez, and has raised questions about financial support Cohen's foundation has received from the city and local developers.
Last week, the Miami Herald reported that the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office was investigating whether Rosen Gonzalez improperly used her position to try to interfere with the election - a topic the commissioner addressed in her email Sunday.
"Am I under investigation? Possibly? For what? For requesting a public record, which, by the way, was for a disclosure ordinance I was working on, and that any of you could have requested from me," she wrote. "Anyone can request a public record!"
Rosen Gonzalez has also been the most vocal critic of the land leases near Lincoln Road, which would allow for redevelopment of 3.4 acres of surface parking lots for three mixed-use buildings between six and eight stories high. The projects would include substantial office space, something Gelber says would help diversify Miami Beach's hospitality-based economy, and would replace the parking lots with garages.
One of three Nov. 8 ballot questions related to the leases asks whether the city should allocate guaranteed rent payments of up to $355 million from the projects in equal portions toward workforce housing, public safety, and "resiliency and sustainability infrastructure initiatives."
"We won't lose any of the parking spots, we will simply add high-end office space and receive hundreds of millions in rent," Gelber wrote in his email Sunday.
But Rosen Gonzalez has argued the city is offering below market-value rent to several high-powered developers, one of whom is former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and that the public was not given a chance to weigh in on other potential uses of the land. She has also said $4.5 million in proposed up-front rent payments for the projects are insufficient.
"Miami Beach is getting a pittance," a voiceover says in a recent video funded by Rosen Gonzalez. "Dan Gelber needs your vote to carry out his scheme. Don't help Gelber!"
A political committee, Yes for a Strong Miami Beach, has begun advertising in favor of the referendums. A recent mailer from the committee reads: "Miami Beach can have flood and crime prevention, plus more affordable housing, without raising taxes!"
The committee's chair is Victor Ballestas, a developer at Integra Investments, which is part of the team behind the Gardens at Lincoln Lane, which includes proposed buildings at 1080 Lincoln Lane North and 1688 Lennox Ave. The committee has not yet filed financial reports.
The project is a joint venture between Starwood Capital Group, Integra Investments and The Comras Company. The other proposed project near Lincoln Road at 1664 Meridian Ave., is a partnership between Levine and developers Don Peebles and Scott Robins, according to The Real Deal.