UPDATED, Jan. 5 2022, 10:50 a.m.: Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber’s reelection campaign hauled in $324,642 in contributions, including $3,000 from a developer on the city’s list of banned donors.
Gelber faces four opponents in Tuesday’s election: Jean Marie Echemendia, Ronnie Eith, Carlos Enrique Gutierrez and Gus Manesis.
The incumbent has been under fire in recent weeks following the leak of audio from a private meeting with developers in which his predecessor, Philip Levine, suggested they form a political action committee that would raise funds for city commissioners. Eith filed an ethics complaint against Gelber with the Miami-Dade ethics commission earlier this week.
Three entities tied to developer Rishi Kapoor, founder of Coral Gables-based Location Ventures, gave Gelber’s campaign $3,000 on April 30, according to campaign finance records. But Kapoor is not allowed to make donations.
Under city law, developers that have a pending application or are negotiating for a development agreement with the city are barred from making contributions to mayoral and city commission candidates. Developers seeking a zoning change or land-use map change are also prohibited from donating to campaigns for elected office in Miami Beach.
Every election cycle, the city releases and updates a list of the companies and individuals that cannot give to candidates’ campaigns. Kapoor is on the list for the upcoming election.
After The Real Deal requested a comment from the mayor on Friday, Gelber’s campaign manager Christian Ulvert said the funds from Kapoor will be refunded.
“Issuing checks on Monday morning,” Ulvert said.
Last year, Kapoor scored city approvals to redevelop a one-story retail building at 1260 Washington Avenue into a six-story mixed-use project with hotel, co-living and retail components.
Ulvert said Kapoor was not on the list when the campaign received his donations. “We’re seeking clarity from the city clerk about what to do when that happens,” Ulvert said.
Gelber’s re-election campaign relied heavily on real estate players that don’t have business pending before the city for donations. A TRD analysis of contributions shows that 28 percent of Gelber’s total donations, or roughly $92,650 from 113 donors, came from the real estate industry.
Among the mayor’s top bundlers are entities tied to Codina Partners; Groupe Heafey, developer of the Hilton Bentley Miami/South Beach Hotel; and OKO Group, developer of the Aman Hotel & Residences in the Faena District.
The banned list also included Atlantic Pacific Communities, a commercial real estate and property management firm headed by CEO Howard Cohen. Six entities controlled by Atlantic Pacific each gave Gelber’s campaign the $1,000 maximum on March 24.
In 2019, the company was working on a deal with Miami Beach to lease and develop the city-owned site of the Barclay Plaza Hotel near the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Ulvert said Atlantic Pacific withdrew its proposal and was inadvertently placed on the banned contributors list. He added that one of Atlantic Pacific’s principals is a longtime friend of Gelber’s.
Kapoor and Atlantic Pacific’s Cohen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Even if the contributions were made inadvertently, Kapoor could be barred from doing business with the city for a one-year period, unless granted a waiver by the Miami Beach City Commission, according to the city’s campaign finance law. Candidates and their committees are also required to check with the city’s planning and zoning department before accepting donations from developers.
“We’re pretty diligent about this,” Ulvert said.
Other developers on the city’s banned donor list that have not made any contributions include Terra CEO David Martin, Turnberry Associates CEO Jackie Soffer, Crescent Heights co-founder Russell Galbut, New York builder Michael Shvo and Ocean Terrace developers Sandor Scher and Alex Blavatnik.
Martin and Soffer are leading the development of the planned Miami Beach Convention Center hotel. Galbut has several ongoing projects in Miami Beach, including the Five Park condo tower in a partnership with Terra. Shvo plans to renovate the Raleigh Hotel and build a 175-foot luxury tower behind the historic property.
Audio leaked to media outlets that included The Real Deal revealed a portion of a private Sept. 13 meeting where Gelber, alongside City Manager Alina Hudak and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, courted a group that included at least 12 developers to submit proposals to redevelop Ocean Drive, offering them carte blanche access to city staffers to help them craft their ideas.
In the audio, Levine is heard telling the participants to form a political action committee and raise money to support commissioners who back Gelber’s agenda for Ocean Drive, which includes a non-binding referendum on Tuesday’s ballot to institute a 2 a.m. last call for bars and nightclubs in the Art Deco Entertainment District.
Eith’s ethics complaint against the mayor alleges he violated the city’s campaign finance law by being present during Levine’s PAC pitch.
Editor’s note: After publication, Miami Beach officials told TRD that Kapoor was erroneously included in the list of prohibited campaign contributors. His name has been removed.