Real estate industry bankrolls Miami commissioner Sabina Covo’s reelection bid

She raised nearly $375K from developers, marina operators and land use attorneys, including some of her public relations clients

Sabina Covo Nabs $375K In Real Estate Contributions

From left: The Melo Group’s Carlos Melo, Crescent Height’s Russell Galbut, Miami Commissioner Sabina Covo, CMC Group’s Ugo Colombo, Newgard Development’s Harvey Hernandez (top), The Melo Group’s Martin Melo (bottom) (Getty, CMC Group, Newgard Development, The Melo Group)

To keep her District 2 seat, Miami city commissioner Sabina Covo is relying on major players in South Florida’s real estate industry, including a couple of her developer clients.

A public relations consultant who’s touting her Democratic Party affiliation in a non-partisan race, Covo has raised a combined $573,372 through her individual campaign committee and a political action committee called Dream Miami, according to campaign finance reports. 

Roughly 65 percent of Covo’s haul, or $374,250, came from land use attorneys, marina operators, architects, and developers, including entities tied to the Melo Group and Newgard Development Group, two Miami-based firms building projects in the city that have also hired Covo to do public relations work. 

Covo’s campaign put up a billboard touting her as a corruption fighter, and she has suggested she will sponsor campaign finance reform legislation if she is re-elected. Covo is facing seven challengers in next Tuesday’s city election. The winner gets to serve a full four-year term. 

In February, Covo won a special election to serve the final nine months of her predecessor’s term. The previous District 2 office holder, Ken Russell, was forced to resign under a state law that requires local elected officials to resign from their seat if they seek higher office. Russell made an unsuccessful bid for a Democratic Party nomination for a congressional seat last year. 

Her company, Sabina Covo Communications, produces ads, social media and other communication for Melo, which is led by brothers Martin and Carlos Melo, and Newgard, led by CEO Harvey Hernandez, according to the Miami Herald. She told the newspaper that her firm primarily works on projects the two firms are developing in Latin American countries. In May, Covo recused herself from a vote on a land use item that benefited Melo. 

Dream Miami, which can receive single donor contributions in excess of $1,000, received two contributions in April and August totaling $10,000 from an entity that has the same address as the Melo Group, campaign finance records show. Newgard donated $5,000 to Dream Miami on Sept. 26. 

Dream Miami’s largest donor was Miami-based developer CMC Group, led by Ugo Colombo. Through an entity that is developing the luxury condominium project Vita at Grove Isle in Coconut Grove, CMC contributed $25,000 to the PAC on Sept. 20, reports show. Colombo, CMC’s CEO, and the firm’s COO Arthur Murphy, each gave $1,000 to Covo’s individual campaign committee. 

Another major donor to Dream Miami was Mastec, clocking in with a $12,500 contribution on May 19. Mastec is led by Chairman Jorge Mas, a Miami businessman who, along with retired international soccer star David Beckham, is majority owner of Inter Miami CF. The Major League Soccer franchise, which is now a star-powered team led by futbol legend Lionel Messi, is developing Miami Freedom Park, a proposed $1 billion mixed-use project anchored by a soccer stadium near Miami International Airport.

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Crescent Heights, the Miami-based development firm led by managing principal Russell Galbut, and nine affiliates each gave $1,000 to Dream Miami on Aug. 23 and Aug. 30. The following day, an entity managed by Coconut Grove-based developer Michael Swerdlow cut the PAC a $10,000 check. Crescent Heights and Swerdlow are currently building two mixed-use projects in Miami’s Edgewater and Overtown, respectively. 

Gencom and 13th Floor Investments, two development firms based in Coconut Grove that have active projects in the city, also each gave $10,000 to Dream Miami. Other Miami-based development firms such as Adler Group, Treo Group and Royal Palm Cos. each gave $5,000.

Marina operators locked in an eight-year battle to redevelop a city-owned waterfront property gave big to the Covo reelection effort. 

Dream Miami’s second largest contribution was a $15,000 check on Aug. 3 from Dallas-based Suntex Marinas. In February, Suntex and its partner RCI won a Miami-Dade Circuit Court ruling ordering the city of Miami to hold a referendum asking voters to approve or deny a lease with the joint venture to build a new mixed-use boat dock facility on city-owned waterfront land in Virginia Key. 

Then-Judge Alan Fine ruled Miami elected officials showed “favoritism” and a “personal preference” in bypassing a competitive bidding process and selecting the current tenant, Rickenbacker Marina, for a new lease that was rejected by voters in 2021. The city has appealed the ruling favoring Suntex and RCI. 

Rickenbacker Marina President Aabad Melwani is also a big Covo backer. A Melwani entity donated $5,000 to Dream Miami on June 22. Three months earlier, Melwani, personally and through three entities, made four contributions of $1,000 to Covo’s committee. 

Candidates can only receive a maximum of $1,000 per individual or company to their individual campaign committees. But it is legal for donors to bundle contributions through various entities they own. 

Developers also bundled contributions to Covo’s committee. For instance, the Hollo family’s Florida East Coast Realty and three affiliates gave a combined $4,000 in June. Entities controlled by Upper East Side developer Avra Jain also gave a combined $4,000 in July.

Sergio Rok, president of Aventura-based Rok Enterprises, and 10 entities he controls, gave a combined $11,000. And Coral Gables-based architecture firm Behar Font and Partners and two affiliates bundled $3,000 to Covo’s committee.