‘Money plays a big part’: Audio reveals Miami Beach mayor, developers planning re-do of Ocean Drive

‘I’m prepared to do whatever we need to do,’ Mayor Dan Gelber is heard saying in recorded meeting

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber has pushed rolling back last call for alcohol from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. in the city's entertainment district and there's apparently a lot of money behind the effort, as leaked audio shows.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Miami Beach voters are being asked to stop alcohol sales at 2 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. Proponents of the measure backed by Mayor Dan Gelber link the three-hour rollback with stopping crime and chaos on South Beach.

But, in a private Zoom call last month, Gelber met with developers to court their support for a wholesale re-do of Ocean Drive and the entertainment district.

Spearheading the meeting and solicitations for money was former Miami Beach mayor and businessman Philip Levine.

“In politics, money plays a big part, and there are folks that agree with us and there are folks that don’t agree with us,” Levine told developers. The audio clips were given to Local 10 News by a participant in the Zoom call.

“There are six commissioners,” Levine said. “Two of them are going to be new coming on. We need to utilize whatever influence we have to push those six commissioners to follow the vision and the agenda of the mayor and manager to make the city safer.”

The audio is a rare public firsthand account of how developers use money to sway the votes of your elected officials.

It may not be surprising — and it can be perfectly legal — but it raises questions about the real reason behind the effort to move up last call for at South Beach entertainment businesses.

“Our staff will be available,” Gelber was heard saying. “If you come up with an adaptive reuse of something, we will want to hear it. And I commit to you this: If you want something on the ballot because it needs to be on the ballot, I’ll support it and I’m prepared to do whatever we need to do and support any idea even if it’s not particularly popular.”

In a public campaign for the question on the Miami Beach November ballot, the mayor links rolling back last call with curbing crime, and the beginning of changing Miami Beach’s reputation.

Those with livelihoods in the entertainment district blame crime and chaos on city mismanagement, not three hours of drink sales.

“This is the city of Miami Beach passing the buck,” said Mario Trejo, a bartender at Twist.

The straw question on the ballot says locations for the rollback are to be determined by city commissioners — the very same commissioners developers at the meeting said they would pay to sway.

“We have to take the initiative to put the influence on those commissioners to get them to follow the mayor in his vision and agenda,” Levine said, “or they are handicapped in their agenda.”

About the Author:

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."