Founding partner, Gelber, Schacter, & Greenberg
B.A., Tufts University; J.D. University of Florida
Former federal prosecutor; former state representative and senator, Democratic leader; former chief counsel and staff director for U.S. Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations
Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. Dan Gelber has no strong opponents, so we opted to do an extended interview for you to get to know him, rather than interview all the candidates briefly.
What is bringing you back to serve locally after so much time in Washington, overseas, and in Tallahassee?
It’s my city, it’s the only home I’ve ever known, and I think it’s going through pretty important challenges right now. I didn’t want to sit by and watch. I love this city and I want to be part of its future.
Sea level rise is obviously on everyone’s mind. Do you think Miami Beach is on the right path?
It’s obviously taking drastic steps because the situation is really easy to see. We’re probably only four or five miles into a 60-mile effort.
Most people running don’t have the technical expertise to substitute their judgement for experts. I can’t second guess them, but we do have to have a process for making sure we’re getting it right. The way you do that is to retain some experts who will challenge the current template. I call it the red team – that’s what it’s called in national security when you hire a group to challenge whatever you’re doing to see if there’s some mistakes or see some new ways or affirm the path. I want to make sure we’re properly challenging what we’re doing. Inertia is a terrible organizing principle in government.
The costs of sea level rise are increasingly falling on property owners as well, as efforts like raising roads make homes more vulnerable. What can the city do to help homeowners combat sea level rise?
The city can’t leave everyone hanging. The current plan [of street raising] creates a new peril… It creates a basin and your home is in the middle of it. We have to make sure people are connected to the stormwater systems.
I think they have to also deal with the repercussions of insurance and make sure we’re not creating a peril that an insurance company will say, “Maybe it’s good for a city, but not for us.” We can’t have uninsurable homes in the city.
I think we have to be a leader among the municipalities and governments that are advocating for affordable insurance products. We have flood insurance, but the program is under serious review in Washington. We have to make sure that how it is situated works for our residents. The Citizens [Insurance] risk pool for windstorm is a public-private entity. Some people don’t like it, but it kept insurance pretty low compared to the private market. We have to be part of that discussion and a leader in it.
There is a lot of tension in Miami Beach right now around the question of who the city should plan for: the long-term, year-round residents, or the lucrative tourism industry. What is your stance on Airbnb and other short-term rentals? (Asked by The New Tropic reader Stephen Michael Fox Jr.)
I am opposed to commercialization of residential neighborhoods. I think the city is correct in stiff arming and enforcing Airbnb usage in residential neighborhoods. Airbnb might work fine [in other cities], but in ours it might be exploited because it’s such a desirable destination. People will buy expensive homes and literally make them party homes while their value appreciates. That may work for them economically but it’s terrible for our neighborhoods. I talked to a couple that had party buses across the street from them coming and going throughout the night.
It’s an end around our zoning rules. That’s why I don’t have a problem enforcing it. You can’t commercialize a residential neighborhood that isn’t zoned for it.
The proposed change to Ocean Drive’s last call?
Ocean Drive has to be fixed. It’s not who the city is or who it should be as it stands. You can’t have open drug dealing and prostitution and robberies and restaurants that rip people off.
[But] I think the commission abdicated [by turning it over to a citywide vote]. I don’t think it should be on the ballot. I think the commission should deal with the liquor sale issue and other issues. These are decisions that should be informed with input from the police and others.
The most important thing to me is that the city preserves its sense of community. We have a lot of different types of communities, but it’s important people are able to have that experience as residents. [Wherever you are] you’ve got to feel that this is your community and the city has to make sure that safety issues, entertainment issues, development issues don’t diminish that sense of community.
How can you develop a more vital tourism industry without diminishing your residential areas and your sense of community? I think that when we develop our arts in this city, we do two things. We attract the kind of tourists we want and we provide very desirable cultural elements for our residents. To me that’s the ultimate win-win.
From New World Symphony down to Collins and the Faena… we’ve become really a legitimate cultural attraction in the world and we need to build on that and support it and grow it. That will attract the kinds of tourists we want on Ocean Drive but also give us things our residents like to do.
How do you plan to bring in a diverse range of voices in your decision making? Miami Beach has a large immigrant population that often goes unheard, plus a large working class population that helps to support the tourism industry. How will they be included? (Asked by The New Tropic reader Sarah Emmons)
We don’t have an affordable housing problem – we don’t have affordable housing. There’s truly very little affordable housing. It’s a hard issue for government to address because we don’t freeze rents anymore. What do you do to keep land values down?
I think that how you reach those voices is, first of all, you look for them. I’ve never had trouble finding the people who feel left behind. I feel like I’ve always been someone who felt that was an important group to stand up for.
North Beach is about to be focused on more than it has in decades. The question is not going to be whether development happens, it’s what kind of development. I’d like it to be development consistent with the scale of the city and the feel and texture of the city.
It’s got some amazing elements, like the Bandshell and Ocean Terrace. You can see the sky when you walk out your front door. I do think it needs some attention, I don’t know that it’s had a coat of paint since I was born. It does have a crime problem, a prostitution problem… but we don’t want it to become Sunny Isles. There’s a sweet spot that will make it more of a community.
If a development will increase a sense of community so that they feel like there’s a neighborhood they’re a part of, then that’s a good development. The best example now is Sunset Harbor. It used to be a place to bring your car to get fixed. Now it’s a place with 15 juice bars and people walk around like it’s everyone’s living room. North Beach should have something like that.
What is one change you want to make that would improve YOUR life in Miami Beach? (Asked by The New Tropic reader Ruth Klestinec)
I’d like to be world renowned for our arts and culture. I think if people thought of Miami Beach the way they think of other world-class cultural destinations, then this city would reach the potential its aspired to. When people relate Miami Beach to a great arts and cultural destination, that will be something.
The city has to elevate our schools in ways that it has not. Our citizens expect our schools to be better. I think we need to do more.
If we did something to really change our schools so that they really are exceptional, truly exceptional, that would mean something amazing to our community. I think the city can get involved more than it has.