For our If I Were Mayor project, we asked what you would do if you were in charge of your town. Now, after the elections, we’re taking your ideas to the mayors. I spoke to Philip Levine, who was sworn in as the new mayor of Miami Beach Monday, Nov. 25.
This is Levine's first time in elected office; he is the CEO of a multi-million dollar cruise ship media business.
Here are highlights from that interview:
Q: The position of Miami Beach mayor pays $10,000 a year. You have no veto power, no executive power. Why did you want to be mayor? Couldn’t you have accomplished things, arguably better, as just a millionaire in Miami Beach?
Levine: We have a great opportunity with the government of Miami Beach. We have a new city manager. His name is Jimmy Morales. Jimmy I think he’s the CEO. When I look at the commission, the commission is the board of directors and the mayor is the chairman of the board.
And what the mayor is supposed to be doing provide vision and leadership and gain consensus with my fellow commissioners so the city manager is compelled and feels excited and motivated to make changes. You don’t have to be in charge to get things done.
Q: A resident John Ermeer proposed that we:
take police officers out of their cars, and put their boots on the ground to patrol the neighborhoods of Miami Beach [so they can] see what we see, hear what we hear and quite frankly, to smell what we smell.
What do you say to that idea?
Levine: Clearly the residents are very concerned about the police. The internal issue we have is a cultural one within the police department. We’ve had too many incidents and of course the New York Times and CNN have reported on them, and frankly that’s not good for business and it’s not good for residents. What I plan to do is work with the city manager and get an external firm to get in and do research, an audit, on our police force and find where do our problems lie.
Q: Another internal issue is how long it’s taken for investigations into the 2011 shootings during Urban Beach Weekend, and we’re still waiting to hear about the death of Israel Hernandez, the teen who died last summer after being tasered by Miami Beach police. What do you plan on doing about that?
Levine: Those outstanding issues of those investigations – we need to finalize them. This government is going to be all about transparency. As soon as I’m briefed [by the city manager] and understand the status of those investigations, I’ll be able to come back to you with timetables [for their release.]
Q: We also got this idea from a resident named Dimitri: “If I were mayor of Miami, I would set boats to go from South Beach to downtown Brickell.”
Levine: I'm open to all ideas, but we need to be very realistic. For traffic coming over to Miami Beach, I think we need to look at some ideas, maybe a rapid bus transit system with a dedicated lane like what they have in various cities in South America. We have issues with traffic on Miami Beach. What we need to do is create more local bus services to connect North Beach with South Beach and mid-beach. We also should look at some of these regular trolleys like they have Coral Gables and Key West.
Q; And what about the county light rail plan?
Levine: We need to make sure to take the temperature of the residents of Miami Beach to see if this is something they really want. There’s a feeling that it might change the neighborhoods of Miami Beach. People get concerned about the massive construction on the MacArthur causeway, whereas possibly a rapid bus transit system with a dedicated lane could be a lot of more cost-effective, a lot quicker and potentially do the same thing.
Q; Another area we heard a lot about was litter:
Levine: I’ve met Dave. He’s done some great work. One of the things I would propose is to begin having our hotels educate our tourists about the fact that we will not permit littering on beaches. And of course making it more of the hotels' responsibility for their guests, that if there’s litter on the beach with the hotel logo on it, they’re going to be responsible for that litter.
Q: So is that going to require a change in the laws so you could fine the hotels?
Levine: I’m not sure that punitive is the way to go. Remember their beach is our beach, that’s how they sell their rooms with a clean beautiful beach. But I think that encouraging them to educate their guests will make the beaches a lot cleaner. And we in turn need to be responsible to educate our residents that we cannot tolerate trash. Dave’s suggestion, a can on every corner, is a great suggestion.
Q: Anne Posschelle had an idea for reducing the amount of waste Miami Beach produces:
If I were mayor of Miami Beach, I would impose a no-plastic-bags policy in shops, restaurants and bars.
Levine: I love the idea, and I think we should look into it further. I think it’s a great idea. We need Miami Beach to be the leader in sustainability and environmental issues. I think we need to known as being the most eco-friendly city in the country.
The Convention Center, Flooding and Permits
Q: We’ve just touched on several issues. What's on your list of priorities?
Levine: I think it goes into three baskets. Number one we have a convention center that needs renovation. One of the first things I plan to do is to get that renovation back on track.
Q: That’s going to be a little bit harder now with the passage of that ballot measure that any lease with a private developer has to go up for a referendum.
Levine: Right, but I’m not sure that we do need to lease it. We could get the same thing done, maybe down-scaled quite a bit, that’s more in line with the neighborhood.
The second area that’s very important was flooding. This to me is one of the most important issues facing Miami Beach. We need to be all over it.
Number three is the building department. The challenge that people have whether they’re trying to renovate their bathroom, or paint their house or open up a small business in Miami Beach. It’s very difficult to get a permit. We need to change that.
Q: Is there anything new that you learned about Miami Beach while campaigning?
Levine: I thought I knew everybody in Miami Beach until I ran for mayor. And then I realized I didn’t know anybody. And what I’ve found is the last 8 to 10 months have been the most rewarding experience meeting the diverse communities that make up Miami Beach.
Tell us what you would do if you were in charge of your town. Click here or tweet us @WLRN with #IfIWereMayor.
This project is supported by The Miami Foundation as part of their ongoing work to build a more civically engaged Miami.