As Rocket Raccoon from "Guardians of the Galaxy" described himself, "Ain't no thing like me, except me."
There ain't no thing like Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, either. Or so he's out to prove. Democrat Levine -- multimillionaire businessman, mayor since 2013 -- is a man who would be governor of Florida.
But ask yourself this: Is Levine really imbued with public spirit and a drive to grab the helm of state ... or did he realize he'd better find another job PDQ, before the voters of Miami Beach dump him like a head of week-old lettuce?
Trust me, Levine is all about the lettuce.
He might not have attracted my attention had he not so flagrantly betrayed the public trust. And then, of course, there were the phone calls and email from citizens of Miami Beach. They've been coming in for more than a week.
"Levine announced he isn't running for a third term," read one email. "That's too bad. I wanted to see his face when our great city of 88,000 told him to go to hell."
But I'll cut to the point: Philip Levine betrays the public trust by deliberately raising his profile on the taxpayers' dime.
He isn't just showing off for attention. He's getting Miami Beach to expense his campaign -- maybe even create his campaign.
The man nobody except Bill Clinton ever heard of beyond South Florida needs to raise his name recognition a ton if he's going to successfully contest for governor next year. He knows it and he's chosen to use Miami Beach to take on Gov. Rick Scott and the state of Florida. In court.
It all started in May 2016 when Levine announced he would test a 2005 Florida law that bars cities from setting their own minimum wages. He wanted Miami Beach to require a minimum of $10.31 an hour in 2017, with a dollar increase per year until it reaches $13.31 in 2020. Florida's current rate is $8.05 an hour. A few weeks later, the city commission as a whole unanimously agreed to it.
You go testing a law and you automatically raise the ire of the governor and attorney general. That's the reality. Now Scott and Pam Bondi have a posse: The Florida Retail Federation, Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce also filed a lawsuit in December challenging the Miami Beach ordinance. They claim it’s a direct violation of a 2013 law signed by the governor forbidding municipalities from assigning their own minimum wage.
Clever ploy on Levine's part. Convince your constituents you're boldly going where no Florida city has ever been, standing up for the neediest among them, and at the same time setting the bait for a Florida press corps whose favorite sport is sticking it to the governor. Now you're cooking. Or campaigning ... whatever. The point is, your taxpayers wind up footing a bill probably in the hundreds of thousands of dollars just so the state can get to know you.
Too bad the residents of Miami Beach figured it out.
Levine never came back to the commission to revisit the pesky implications of a legal fight against the state of Florida -- i.e. the cost. Is this something the city bargained for when it passed its minimum wage change?
"Our mayor doesn't care," Miami Beach resident Lannie Stein told me. "He's filthy rich. He should be paying for this himself. I read in a story where he said, 'We'll see you in court, Governor.' I mean, how dare he? He's spending my money, I didn't and wouldn't contribute to his campaign, and if I can help it, he will never be governor. Please tell him to quit climbing on our backs to get there."
Sorry, Ms. Stein, I couldn't tell him anything. Levine didn't return my phone calls Tuesday.
Levine first ran for mayor in 2013, having founded a cruise industry duty-free shopping and media company. His considerable personal wealth, and personal friendship with former President Bill Clinton are probably all he needed to feel the love at Florida Democratic Party headquarters. The party does heart its well-connected self-financiers.
Certainly Levine has the party leadership's blessing at least to try for governor. The clearest indication of that is his campaign consultant. It's Christian Ulvert, whose Edge Communications firm has netted more than $650,000 from Democratic candidates and the FDP since resigning as the party's political director.
But honesty compels me to tell you -- with or without the FDP's extended hand, with or without his personal fortune or Miami Beach taxpayers' unwitting financial aid, Levine is going to have a rough road to the Governor's Mansion.
How do you buy your way out of so much bad publicity? The Internet is full of it and it has to haunt him.
Read the Monday story headlined, "Paradise Squandered: Why South Beach's Failure-Prone Government Censors Upset Residents" in the Huffington Post. It pretty much summarizes what I'm talking about. The whole piece is a scathing description of Levine's abusive government on these fronts:
- "fighting the press,
- "censoring citizens,
- "spreading misinformation ...
- "mismanaging public funds,
- "polluting water,
- "denying science, and
- "hoping citizens won't speak out about their massive public works projects."
Miami HuffPost.com contributor Grant Stern says, "Miami Beach's floudering local government has become a textbook example of what not to do from the top down ..." Again, read the story. Stern's frustration with Mayor Levine is palpable.
Probably the most prominent Miami Beach resident to speak out about her unhappiness with Levine's leadership is Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez.
Gonzalez is convinced residents won't vote for the commission's ballot initiatives while Levine is calling the shots as mayor. "He began the $1 billion Miami Beach Convention Center without getting voter approval for the hotel to go with it," she said. "Then, when he tried to get voters to approve it, his referendum failed. Now the residents don't trust us with anything ... (the convention center) might never be as useful as we'd hoped."
Miami Beach earned international attention for its ambitious, $400 million campaign to save the vulnerable oceanfront city from the ravages of rising tides and climate change. It included building dozens of pumping stations, raising roads and sea walls, and upgrading the stormwater system -- oh, yes, and in the process raising residents' stormwater fees by about $7 a month.
"What you may not realize is that about 30 percent of the money spent and work done raising roads and installing stormwater systems was done around the mayor's property," Gonzalez says. "Go look at the the corner of Alton and 10th Street (Levine's business location) and Sunset Harbour (where he owns commercial properties) and you'll see the work is done and the property is safe and dry. It's just so obvious."
But Gonzalez said the real reason she is speaking out is because the mayor wants taxpayers to pay for his lawsuit -- his opportunity to elevate his profile, nothing else. "He told Scott, 'See you in court,'" she said. "Now, I'm for raising the minimum wage, too, but this is about our mayor putting on a show to aid his campaign at the expense of every taxpayer in this city. We just can't have it."
I'm with Kristen Rosen Gonzalez: Pay for the lawsuit yourself, Mayor. Do that first. I know if I lived in your city, I'd be carrying a sign and marching in protest in front of your office.
After you've paid for the lawsuit, you might want to work on repairing an image a couple of Google clicks away that could bury your aspirations before they flower.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith