Starting Anew in D2

Hurricane-force change hit Miami’s local political scene this week. Last week’s City of Miami District 2 election exceeded dismal voter turnout expectations, thanks in large part to the efforts of Engage Miami and other organizations who brought out many first-time local voters. We believe the outcome of this race was no fluke or “curious phenomenon,” but rather a clear indication that the under-40 vote in this community is taking over Miami’s political landscape.

By all accounts, last week’s election was a huge upset. The expected frontrunners and most well-funded candidates--Teresa Sarnoff and Grace Solares--trailed in votes behind political newcomer Ken Russell, who captured 41% of all votes cast. He did not, however, win more than the 50% of votes required to avoid a runoff election, required under the City Charter, against second-place finisher Teresa Sarnoff. 

But this is Miami, and predictable is not our style. In a surprising letter to the Miami Herald’s editorial board, Teresa Sarnoff announced that she would be ending her campaign and throwing her support behind Ken Russell’s candidacy for office. At the end of her editorial, however, Sarnoff also indicated that she would “remain in this election as it remains unclear what the law is if the runner-up concedes.” 

Cue: mass confusion. Media outlets and exuberant supporters began to declare Ken Russell the winner of the race. Congratulatory emails from other candidates jammed up inboxes. Meanwhile, Teresa Sarnoff’s campaign mailers continue to trickle into District 2 residents’ mailboxes promoting a runoff election, though her campaign claims that they were in the mail prior to her public concession. 

Under immense pressure to clarify the chaos, the City Attorney’s office released a legal opinion on November 9th, explaining that under Florida election law, a runoff must take place, since no candidate received a majority of votes. Although Teresa Sarnoff announced that she would officially withdraw from the election, the City Attorney’s office then stated to reporters that the City Clerk might not have the power to accept the withdrawal at this stage in the election. 

Yet in a second legal opinion, the City Attorney’s Office declared that Teresa Sarnoff’s notice of withdrawal was valid, but that she must nevertheless remain on the ballot. Under current Florida Supreme Court precedent, votes cast for a candidate who has formally withdrawn are invalid, should not be reported or published, and cannot be counted toward the vote. At the end of the opinion, the City Attorney admits that this election is, essentially, a waste of time and money, but can only be avoided by future amendments to the City Charter.

The bottom line: this upcoming Tuesday, November 17th, a runoff election will take place between Ken Russell and Teresa Sarnoff for the District 2 seat! We believe it is crucial for District 2 residents to participate in this election, as the legal status of the votes still remains unclear. Although prior court decisions guided the City Attorney’s legal opinion, the fact remains that this particular situation has not been tested in court. If you haven’t sent in an absentee ballot, take a few minutes and show up to your polling place on Tuesday. The mere the act of showing up announces our generation’s commitment to paying attention and participating in our city’s future. Democracy is counting on you. (No pressure).

Written by: Leah Weston