Dan Gelber and Ocean Drive 2 a.m. last call cruise to victory in Miami Beach

In a campaign that revealed his efforts to court developers to revamp Ocean Drive, Miami Beach mayor and his controversial ballot measure win overwhelmingly

Dan Gelber, mayor of Miami Beach (Getty Images, iStock)
Dan Gelber, mayor of Miami Beach (Getty Images, iStock)

UPDATED, Jan. 6 2022, 11:15 a.m.: Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber easily won reelection Tuesday night, and a significant majority of voters supported the 2 a.m. last call for alcohol on Ocean Drive, despite last minute criticism over real estate campaign contributions influencing the city election.

Gelber handily beat his four opponents by capturing 62 percent of the vote. Nearly 57 percent of Miami Beach residents also said yes to a non-binding question asking them to move up last call in the city’s Art Deco Entertainment District by three hours from 5 a.m. The overwhelming victory margins gave Gelber and his fellow city commissioners a mandate to plow ahead with the 2 a.m. proposal after a previous rollback was overturned by the courts in June.

Gelber is the 2 a.m. last call’s biggest political advocate, claiming it will help Miami Beach reign in lawlessness along the city’s most iconic oceanfront street.

Citizens for a Safe Miami Beach, a group that opposed the 2 a.m. cutoff, responded to the referendum results, saying in a statement that the move will not solve the crime problem, and will cost 4,100 local workers their jobs, increase property taxes and cut city revenue.

The mayor’s easy win caps weeks of political drama in Miami Beach. Last month, a leaked audio recording of Gelber wooing local developers to submit proposals for redeveloping Ocean Drive became a focal point of his reelection and the Ocean Drive referendum. In a nearly 10-minute clip, Gelber and former Mayor Philip Levine are heard addressing the group about supporting ballot measures for height and density increases and forming a political action committee that would raise money for city commissioners who fall in line.

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The fallout resulted in mayoral opponent Ronnie Eith lodging a complaint against Gelber with the Miami-Dade ethics commission, alleging the mayor participated in the illegal solicitation of real estate developers for city commission campaign contributions.

Meanwhile, passage of the 2 a.m. last call could have serious ramifications for longtime Ocean Drive venues such as The Clevelander South Beach Hotel and Mango’s Cafe, whose owners claimed bars and restaurants will suffer from the rollback of alcohol sales.

In recent weeks, at a press conference and at city hall, Ocean Drive workers and their supporters mounted large protests against Gelber. The political action committee against the 2 a.m. last call also raised $675,000, mostly from the owners of The Clevelander and Mango’s, dwarfing the $96,500 collected by the PAC that was in favor of the measure. The pro-2 a.m. last call PAC’s biggest donors included Starwood Capital Group’s Barry Sternlicht, Host Hotels & Resorts and J. Christopher Burch, founder of Burch Creative Capital.

To retain his seat, Gelber raised $324,642 in contributions, including $3,000 from entities tied to Rishi Kapoor, founder of Coral Gables-based Location Ventures, even though he is on a list of developers banned from contributing this election cycle. Miami Beach has a law that prohibits campaign contributions from developers who have pending zoning applications or development agreements before the city. The mayor’s reelection campaign said it would return Kapoor’s donations after The Real Deal requested comment about the contributions.

Meanwhile, two city commission races are headed for a runoff: Kristen Rosen Gonzalez versus Raquel Pacheco in one race; and Alex Fernandez against Stephen Cohen in another. Voters also approved expanding the Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial and renewing Smith & Wollensky’s lease at South Pointe Park.

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.