January 26, 2022

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Miami Beach finance chair calls mayor ‘dictator’ for not reopening economy

The mayor of Miami Beach is being labeled a “dictator” by the chair of the city’s finance committee over criticism that he has not yet rolled out a plan to reopen the city’s beaches and tourism-dependent economy.

Mayor Dan Gelber, who said he refuses to “gamble” with the lives of residents by reopening too soon, said the city has held daily calls with business leaders to come up with a strategy to restart the economy.

That came in response to comments made on Facebook Monday by Commissioner Ricky Arriola, a pro-business Democrat who heads the city’s Finance and Economic Resiliency Committee. He and Gelber regard one another as friends and political allies, but they have spoken less frequently in recent weeks as Arriola has lashed out against him on social media.

People died as a result of spring break parties that didn’t shut down as the coronavirus pandemic emerged, Gelber said. Even if Miami-Dade County opened up its beaches tomorrow, the city would likely keep its sandy shores closed until early June.

“We know that people died because of those gatherings,” said Gelber, who admitted the city did not act quickly enough to shut down spring break. “It makes no sense to gamble that we’ll be fine. This isn’t the time to hope you’re lucky.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has signaled that he will soon reopen parks, marinas and golf courses — but not beaches — with strict regulations to prevent the spread of the virus. Gelber said the city would adopt some of the county’s reopening orders but with tighter rules, like a ban on basketball.

Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola is angry that Mayor Dan Gelber is not moving to reopen beaches and businesses.
Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola is angry that Mayor Dan Gelber is not moving to reopen beaches and businesses.

Arriola said Gelber and City Manager Jimmy Morales have not taken seriously enough the damage that closures are doing to businesses and workers. Morales has the emergency powers to shut down the city, but he is in close communication with Gelber. Arriola criticized Gelber for making executive decisions without consulting the rest of the commission.

The city, which relies heavily on resort taxes and parking fees, predicts that it will lose $87 million in revenue due to the coronavirus.

If Arriola were in charge, he said, the city would reopen beaches and some businesses — like hotels, hair salons and restaurants — in the next 30 days.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber tours the Miami Beach Convention Center as the Army Corps’ builds a coronavirus field hospital inside the facility on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber tours the Miami Beach Convention Center as the Army Corps’ builds a coronavirus field hospital inside the facility on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.

“Every day and every month that goes by, the economic damage becomes permanent,” Arriola said. “It’s going to add up to tens of thousands of families on Miami Beach that don’t have work.”

Miami-Dade County announced 216 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 Tuesday evening, raising the county total to 10,056 confirmed cases. The county has had 1,029 hospitalizations and 233 deaths, the state’s highest death toll. But the “curve” is flattening, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday, pointing to decreasing hospitalizations.

Frustration boiled over

After criticizing the city for weeks, Arriola took to Facebook Monday to label Gelber a “dictator” ruling the city by “fiat.”

“7 of us are elected to represent the public, but clearly one of us thinks he is in charge and by fiat says we will not own the beaches until June,” Arriola wrote on Facebook. “We are 6 days beyond Peak and while the rest of the state is opening its beaches and economy, our self appointed Dictator has decided he knows best.”

Only three counties — Duval, St. Johns and Brevard — had reopened their beaches as of Tuesday, after Gov. Ron DeSantis last week gave cities and counties the green light to do so.

Arriola told the Miami Herald on Tuesday that his frustration “boiled over.”

“I am terrified of the economic repercussions and the associated health consequences that will certainly go along with it,” he later told the Miami Herald. “Until we develop a plan to mitigate its impacts, we are seriously jeopardizing the health and well being of our residents.”

Arriola said Gelber considers his ideas to be on the “fringe,” but it’s not the first time during the pandemic that Arriola has proposed a controversial idea. In March, he apologized after saying first responders could be infected with the disease to build up immunity and prevent police and fire departments from emptying out due to mass infections.

Miami Beach Manager Jimmy Morales, is flanked by Jennifer Moon, deputy mayor of Miami-Dade County and Mayor Dan Gelber, as he announces a countywide closure of dine-in restaurants, bars and clubs, gyms and entertainment venues in March. Commissioner Ricky Arriola is now protesting the lack of a plan to reopen some of those venues.
Miami Beach Manager Jimmy Morales, is flanked by Jennifer Moon, deputy mayor of Miami-Dade County and Mayor Dan Gelber, as he announces a countywide closure of dine-in restaurants, bars and clubs, gyms and entertainment venues in March. Commissioner Ricky Arriola is now protesting the lack of a plan to reopen some of those venues.

Commissioner Michael Góngora said Gelber has become the face of the city’s response to coronavirus despite holding just one of seven votes on the commission. Morales holds unilateral decision-making powers during a time of emergency.

“For whatever reason, political or otherwise, they have Dan as the face when Jimmy is the one with the power,” Góngora said. “I’m not sure if that is frustrating some of my colleagues.”

Góngora said the city staff should present the commission with a phased plan to reopen the economy and, eventually, the beaches. Discussions on the matter are scheduled for Wednesday’s commission meeting, which will be conducted virtually and broadcast live.

“Nobody knows exactly when is going to be the right decision to open the city,” Góngora said. “You can’t flip it on and off like a light switch.”

Arriola said the victims of the pandemic are not limited to those who have been infected with the virus. He said the human toll of the government-induced shutdown may include suicides and medically vulnerable patients who delay treatment amid the virus’ spread.

“Is [Gelber] willing to accept the first suicide that occurs or the first person that passes from cancer?” Arriola said. “For people who love to use the comeback, ‘What if somebody dies?’ are they prepared to accept a heart attack because somebody did not go see their cardiologist or a woman whose breast cancer became aggressive and spread because they couldn’t have a screening?”

About one in four cancer patients reported delays in their care because of the coronavirus, according to a survey by the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.

Philip Goldfarb, the president and CEO of the Hospitality Division of Fontainebleau Development, which operates Fountainebleau Miami Beach, said he thinks it is time to “slowly reopen the world.”

Goldfarb, who sits on the panel DeSantis formed to discuss reopening the economy, said beaches should be reopened at the same time as hotels. He said he has not been contacted by the city.

“We need a strategic plan so that when we press go, everybody is on the same page,” he said.

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