|Dan Gelber and Michael Grieco for Mayor of the City of Miami Beach|
by David Arthur Walters
Dan Gelber stooped to conquer his opponent, Commissioner Michael Grieco, in the race for City of Miami Beach mayor by casting the first stone, or at least Grieco says so, out of sheer desperation, using an unethical “push poll” to push voters into believing that Grieco is a political prostitute.
Up to that point in the campaign, Grieco had been saying that “Gelber is a good man.” He might have remained silent now rather than lower himself to the traditional political mudslinging that Gelber is an old hand at in his professed career of fighting corruption, yet he took the bait and strenuously denied the charge.
He called Gelber “Dishonest Dan” for using a fake poll to advance himself to the coveted position of mayor by suggesting that he, Grieco, was using a friend’s political action committee to raise money from people doing business with the city. Hypocrisy was apparently afoot, for he countercharged Gelber with using an unregistered PAC to his own ends. He admitted to having “many friends who chair or participate in political committees, campaigns, and other forms of political free speech,” but denied that he had any control over or raised money for a PAC by the time he made the statement to the Miami Herald, which did not name the PACs alluded to.
We recall that Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon pioneered push polling, an unethical practice condemned by the American Association of Political Consultants and the American Association for Public Opinion Research and ethics activists who like to see it outlawed. Democratic voters received telephone calls during Nixon’s 1946 run for the U.S. House against Democrat incumbent Jerry Voorhis: “This is a friend of yours, but I can’t tell you who I am. Did you know that Jerry Voorhis is a communist?”
The negative aspersion does not have to be stated as a fact with push polling. When George W. Bush ran for governor of Texas in 1994, voters were asked whether they would be more or less likely to vote for Governor Richards if they knew that lesbians dominated her staff. During Barrack Obama’s presidential candidacy in 2008, callers insinuated that he was a Muslim or hostile to Israel.
So would you be likely to vote for Grieco if you knew he benefited from a dirty political action committee and then lied about it? If Grieco were a Machiavellian politician, he might ask, “Would you vote for Gelber if you knew he was a bigot and hypocrite?” Or he might have just said, “Gelber is a good man, and certainly is a better than thou bigot and hypocrite,” knowing that people tend to forget the “not” and would then associated Gelber with bigotry and hypocrisy when his name came to mind.
The greatest sin around Miami Beach, a city already infamous for its corruption over the decades, is the use of soft-money political action committees, whether technically illegal or not. The sordid reputation of such PACs was pioneered on the beach by Mayor Philip Levine when he got on the horn to hustle money for Relentless For Progress, a “dirty” PAC headed by sitting Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, a clever lawyer with a sense of humor—the initials of the committee, RFP, were also the initials of Request For Proposal, the name of the process used for obtaining bids on government contracts.
Levine is loaded, but the self-made businessman in him apparently did not want to lay out more hard-earned money out of pocket to be reelected to a position paying a pittance. He had already spent over a million dollars out of pocket for the mayor’s seat and seats for the bevy of commissioners that purchased him a “reformist” majority on the commission and rendered him a strong mayor in a city with a weak mayor charter.
Relentless For Progress raised hundreds of thousands of dollars right off the bat. Its success was obviously due to the fact that many of the contributors were somehow doing business with the city. Wolfson is not an incompetent lawyer: There was no definite quid pro quo, or promise made to earmark the contributions for the benefit of a certain candidate, therefore no apparent violation of ethics laws. Taxpayers were howling blood murder, as if politicians are charged with working for the whole community therefore are not supposed to do anything to favor particular contributors. The high regarded city attorney, Raul Aguila, opined the PAC was legal, but Wolfson folded the PAC, anyway, and refunded the unspent portion. The city commission slightly amended its political contribution ordinance.
So it seems that Gelber is playing on the public fear that Grieco is a miniature Levine. Both candidates are using their families and careers as prosecutors and politicians to bolster their credibility. Gelber emphasizes fighting corruption as usual. Grieco has the edge, however, in the minutia of city politics, and is well known lately for his battles against massive crowds that would float or hip hop and trash or shoot up Miami Beach.
Grieco says he has “evolved” from serving Mayor Levine, a wealthy developer and public relations mogul, as his right-hand protégé, and has often bitten the hand that once fed him on the dais, yet he wholeheartedly backs the continuation of the mayor’s epic struggle against the Great Flood, which is expected to wash away the Sins of South Beach anytime within the next fifty years, perhaps before the end of this year.
There may or may not be PACS, and any existing PACS alluded to may or may not be in compliance with the elections laws, but dishonesty in all its forms including outright lying is definitely corrupt. Gelber seems to have reasserted his claim in an email blast, so I asked Grieco if Gelber is a liar. Grieco responded with an “?” He did not respond when the charge was more fully described to refresh his memory. Joey Flechas has been asked for his fact-checking documentation of the PACS referenced by both sides. Gelber’s campaign has not yet responded to requests for documentary proof.
June 7, 2017
RAUL AGUILA, CITY ATTORNEY
I hope you are enjoying business as usual.
Below is a link to a recent Miami Herald article in reference to allegedly “dirty” PAC activity on the part of Commissioner Grieco that supports Candidate Dan Gelber’s notion that it is prohibited by city ordinance.
Curiously, the behavior alleged seems almost identical to that of Mayor Levine/Jonah Wolfson that you deemed legal. A minor change was made in the ordinance later that did not make sense to me at the time.
Attached is a pdf of an article about the first incident.
I happen to be quite fond of Michael, but since I have covered the PAC issue in a recent article, with a title asking if lawyers and politicians are dishonest, I am duty bound to find the truth in this instance the best I can
A pdf of my query about honesty is also attached.</
I am hoping that you will look in to the subject, and render your opinion on it
David Arthur Walters
UPDATE June 6, 2017
Dear Fellow Miami Beach Resident,
Today The Miami Herald chose to publish an article about a political committee that has raised money to engage in political speech. In a clearly coordinated effort, Dan Gelber’s campaign immediately sent an Eblast attacking me over it. However, thus far, the only documented communication attributed to that particular committee was an Eblast the day after the Memorial Weekend Holiday attacking me and my effort to make the Air and Sea Show a new attraction for our city. Many of you received it and called it out for the smut it is. That was a part of Dan Gelber’s coordinated effort
I want to thank in advance so many of you, Miami Beach’s residents, who have contacted me with support and encouragement. I appreciate you seeing the truth and opting to ignore what is a clearly my opponent’s attempt to distort my record, attack my character and avoid talking about substantive issues of the city
Since last year, political consultant Christian Ulvert, and those who pay him, have embarked on a smear campaign to attack my character and falsely attribute The Herald story’s political committee fundraising to me. As I’ve stated for the record and full transparency:
“I know the chairmen of many political committees, such as John Morgan, Ben Pollara, Brian Abraham, Stephen Bittel, Adonis Garcia and others through my political, personal and professional relationships over the years, so the premise of your question and this article itself merely makes this publication an accomplice to a dishonest attack on me by my political opponent, his consultant, and developer backers. As I have demonstrated, this is a textbook case of character assassination, and in any other arena this would constitute an act of slander/libel.
Unfortunately, rather than report my quote within its original story, The Herald opted to place it at the end with the preface, “Michael Grieco statement, After this article appeared online, Michael Grieco contacted the Herald and asked that the following statement be published:” Yesterday, in person, I made it clear to The Herald reporters that this anticipated written quote should have been my on-the-record response to begin with. In short, and in truth, Dan Gelber’s attack on me is founded on a false accusation based on one person who I’ve never solicited money from, a Chair of a political committee raising money independent of me (which is anyone’s right to do), and the attack by an disgruntled developer who wants Gelber to be Mayor. The truth – Dan Gelber has devolved into either a bad lawyer or an outright corrupt liar, or both.
The Herald article quotes the developer Bradley Colmer, affiliated with Deco Capital. This developer tried to strong-arm me to support a height increase and spot zoning application in Sunset Harbor. I stood up to the developer in defense of The Lofts residents and in opposition to the illegal act of spot zoning. This height increase was mired in scandal, as Mayor Levine himself had to recuse himself because he stood to directly profit from this height increase due to his ownership of neighboring property.
Evidence reveals that Gelber, developer Colmer, and developer/absentee-Mayor Levine share the same political consultant, Christian Ulvert, and the evidence reveals they are illegally coordinating to attack my character and falsely accuse me of raising money for the political committee addressed in today’s article.
I remind everyone that it was Mayor Levine who spearheaded the fundraising controversy in 2015 for the Relentless for Progress PAC, which I had nothing to do with. Perhaps this is Gelber’s way of deflecting or playing defense because he, in fact, is Levine’s puppet and hand-picked candidate. Powerful people truly do have powerful connections, and will stoop to the lowest levels just to win the Mayor’s office.
I am trying to run my campaign to be your next Mayor mainly on a platform of independent leadership, experience, achievements as a Commissioner, and vision for our city’s future. But Gelber (who only this year surfaced in our city politics) and his henchmen have taken this election season down a path that leaves me no other choice than to fully reveal Gelber’s dishonesty, hypocrisy, and bad positions on issues that adversely affect our local quality of life.
Very soon, I’ll begin my campaign communications to the public. Because of Gelber, it will contain a lot more comparison messaging about us than the predominantly purely positive advertisements I had intended. But we’ll have to thank Dan and his henchmen for that.
Please visit my campaign website and join our effort by hosting a Friend Raiser, signing my candidate petition, placing a yard sign, or volunteering.
Your City Commissioner for Mayor of Miami Beach
JUNE 8 From Dan Gelber
For months, Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco insisted he was not involved in a mysterious political group raising money from developers, lobbyists and city vendors, just as he launched a surging campaign for mayor.
“It is absolutely untrue,” Grieco told the Miami Herald on Tuesday. “You can look right into my soul.”
But new evidence suggests otherwise: Handwriting on a public document filed by the group — People for Better Leaders — is identical to handwriting on paperwork the commissioner filled out for city elections, according to two well-regarded forensic document experts.
Their findings directly link Grieco to the political action committee he has repudiated.
YOU CAN LOOK RIGHT INTO MY SOUL.
So far, People for Better Leaders has raised $200,000 from Beach residents and special interests. The political action committee, or PAC, is run by Grieco’s friend, Brian Abraham, the former manager at King of Diamonds, a Miami-Dade strip club.
Abraham’s signature appears on a document filed to state election authorities by People for Better Leaders. But the rest of the form was filled out by the same person who completed Grieco’s city campaign paperwork, according to Thomas Vastrick, a forensic document examiner based in Central Florida.
Vastrick conducted a side-by-side examination of letters from Grieco’s handwriting and the PAC document, as is standard industry practice. Differences in handwriting make each person’s script unique.
“The evidence brought me a very high level of confidence that they were written by the same person,” said Vastrick, who has 40 years of experience in the field and worked for the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service for more than a decade.
He has testified as an expert witness in federal and state courts around the nation, written books and held a research position at the University of Central Florida. He also sits on the board of directors of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
On Tuesday, the Herald published a story outlining Grieco’s connections to the PAC. The article included an interview with a Miami Beach real estate investor who said Grieco recommended donating to the PAC. Another donor said he contributed to the PAC at a Grieco fundraiser in South Beach.
Grieco said earlier this week he had nothing to do with the PAC, and that people who claim otherwise are lying.
Last year, the city passed a law to prevent campaigns from soliciting special interests for PACS. People for Better Leaders has become controversial because it accepted donations from a Miami Beach vendor and a lobbyist, as well as others with business before the city.
Emailed a copy of both handwriting reports Thursday, Grieco said he needed 48 hours to respond.
“Note that my calendar doesn’t and won’t revolve around yours,” he wrote.
Writing on the wall
Grieco’s fingerprints may not be all over the PAC, but his handwriting appears to be.
The Herald hired Vastrick to perform the analysis after it was given a previous expert examination also linking Grieco to the PAC document. That analysis was paid for by a longtime ally of Grieco’s opponent in the mayoral race, Daniel Gelber, and performed by handwriting analyst Dianne Flores of Miami. Like Vastrick, Flores is considered an expert in the field of forensic handwriting analysis.
“It is my professional opinion within scientific probability and in accordance with industry standards, that Michael Grieco is identified as the author of all the extended writing appearing on [the PAC document],” Flores wrote in a sworn affidavit. She declined further comment.
Vastrick’s report represents an independent confirmation of her findings.
In order to ensure Vastrick came to an unbiased conclusion, the Herald did not tell him any details about the controversy surrounding Grieco and the PAC, nor did it inform him of Flores’ earlier conclusion. His examination was based on the same documents used by Flores.
Flores was commissioned by Miami attorney Samuel Rabin, who has donated $1,000 to Gelber’s mayoral campaign, the maximum allowable, according to campaign finance records. Rabin donated an additional $1,000 through his law firm, records show. He did not respond to a phone call Thursday.
The PAC document examined by Vastrick and Flores is a request to the Florida Division of Elections for credentials to use its website, dated Nov. 6, 2015. The form names Abraham and accountant Brian George as the PAC’s officers. Neither man has any political experience. They have not responded to messages. Abraham was not at his family’s Coral Gables office Thursday morning.
The Grieco campaign documents include candidate statements, financial disclosures and campaign-finance filings. All bear his writing.
The accuracy of handwriting comparison is sometimes contested, as are some other forensic sciences. But courts around the nation allow expert testimony from handwriting analysts, and judges and juries use their findings in reaching verdicts. In Florida, state courts allow witnesses to testify to the authorship of disputed handwriting.
Rumors about People for Better Leader’s connection to Grieco started circulating in January. Outside political fund-raising groups are unpopular on the Beach because of former Commissioner Jonah Wolfson’s Relentless for Progress PAC. Wolfson and Mayor Philip Levine raised money from city vendors and lobbyists for the group before the last Beach election.
In response, commissioners passed a new campaign-finance law in January 2016. The law’s intent was to prevent elected officials and candidates — and people working with them — from shaking down special interests for political access. The commission, including Grieco, voted unanimously in its favor.
Two of the donations to People for Better Leaders came from city vendors and lobbyists. If Grieco or someone acting on his behalf solicited those donations, he could have broken the new law.
An additional Miami-Dade County ordinance, implemented in 2017, would have required Grieco to register to undertake any fund-raising activities for the PAC.
In an interview before the Herald’s original story was published, Grieco doubled down on his denial, emphatically stating that he had nothing to do with the PAC. He and his political consultant, David Custin, said his political enemies, including Gelber, are conspiring to discredit him.
The commissioner then responded angrily to the story once it appeared online, asking if a reporter was on Gelber’s payroll. He later sent out an e-mail blast to supporters thanking them for “opting to ignore what is clearly my opponent’s attempt to distort my record, attack my character and avoid talking about substantive issues of the city.”
The PAC is already causing fallout on the Beach. Its activities were raised at a city meeting on Wednesday when Marc Lawrence, one of the owners of the Angler’s Resort hotel, appeared before the commission.
The hotel is seeking a zoning variance at its Washington Avenue location. It contributed $15,000 to People for Better Leaders last year. Grieco sponsored the zoning item on the agenda.
At the meeting, Commissioner Ricky Arriola asked the purpose of the donation. Lawrence replied that he did not know anything about the donation or how it happened.
A corporate affiliate of the hotel’s management company, San Francisco-based Kimpton Group, made the donation. Kimpton did not respond to a request for comment.
IT SMELLS LIKE QUID PRO QUO.
Arriola said he would not support the project of any donor to the PAC until it was clear who was behind it and why it was raising money. While Mayor Philip Levine and Commissioner Joy Malakoff expressed similar concerns, Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez questioned their stance.
“Why are we being mean like this?” she asked. The hotel doesn’t “need to suffer because of any interpersonal conflict you guys are having with Grieco. … Why don’t you guys just put on some gloves and go at it outside?”
Several of the PAC’s other donors also have business before the city.
“It smells like quid pro quo,” Arriola later told the Herald. “That’s why we ban these kinds of donations.”
Grieco left the meeting shortly before its final vote of the