Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber acted within the law when he proposed an expansion of early voting ahead of last year’s City Commission runoff elections, an Inspector General’s report found.

The June 16 report dismisses allegations that the commission-approved extra day of voting created the appearance of corruption because it gave Orthodox Jewish voters an extra day to vote, and the new date fell on the same day as an annual city-affiliated Thanksgiving food drive held near a polling site.

Gelber has labeled the “Turkey Gate” scandal a conspiracy theory meant to suppress Orthodox Jewish voters, who otherwise would be limited by the city’s previously approved early Saturday-to-Sunday voting schedule.

“Nothing in the record proves Mayor Gelber illegally used his emergency powers to add an additional day of voting,” the report states. “The Mayor and Commission should be commended for expanding rather than restricting this opportunity.”

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Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber. David Santiago Miami Herald archives 2018

The eight-page report, released by Inspector General Joseph Centorino, also states that former Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, who ran in the election against an observant Jew, was seen passing out campaign fliers, snacks and water to elderly residents at the Farm Share event, violating the nonprofit’s rules.

Rosen Gonzalez led the charge opposing the “suspicious” change in voting dates and accused Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola, who was an incumbent in the election, of using the food giveaway to sway voters.

Rosen Gonzalez, who ultimately lost to now-Commissioner Steven Meiner, accused Gelber of offering an extra day of voting to help rally Jewish voters behind the candidates he endorsed, Arriola, Meiner and now-Commissioner David Richardson.

Rosen Gonzalez is the only candidate listed in the report as having attended the food drive, and her presence brought about “confusion” and “disorderly conduct,” according to the director of South Florida Seniors in Action, which helped plan the event.

Miami Beach City Commission candidate in Group IV Kristen Rosen Gonzalez talks with one of her supporters, Susana Lombardo, during her Election Day party at el Palacio de los Jugos in Miami Beach on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. DAVID SANTIAGO [email protected]

An employee working the event told an investigator Rosen Gonzalez misled the elderly residents, telling them “if they showed the flier they could bypass the waiting line,” according to the report.

“In one instance, an older woman tried to cut in front of others and gain early access to the food by showing the flier, creating a disturbance,” the report states.

When police approached to defuse the situation, Rosen Gonzalez told the employee, “I am Kristen Rosen Gonzalez. I am your next commissioner. You work for me,” according to the report. She was then asked to leave.

Rosen Gonzalez’s ally on the dais, Commissioner Michael Góngora, sparked the investigation when he referred allegations against Gelber to Centorino’s office.

Rosen Gonzalez, who did not respond to a request for comment from the Miami Herald, told an investigator that she attended the food drive at the North Beach Bandshell for about half an hour. Wearing a campaign shirt, she passed out potato chips and fliers advertising an Election Night watch party.

“She walked into the bandshell to make sure nobody was campaigning and that the event was running smoothly,” she said, according to the report.

She did not dispute the allegations made by the Seniors in Action employee, but claimed the employee is in a relationship with someone in the mayor’s office.

On May 13, the City Commission passed a resolution prohibiting commission candidates from hosting or campaigning at charitable food distributions anywhere in Miami Beach if the event takes place between the last day of the qualifying period of the election and the end of the election. It also bars charities from hosting food drives within 200 feet of a polling place during active voting periods.

Martin Vassolo covers the politics and government of Miami Beach for the Miami Herald. He began working for the Herald in January 2018 after attending the University of Florida, where he served as the editor-in-chief of The Independent Florida Alligator. Previously, he was a general assignment reporter on the Herald’s metro desk and a political reporting intern.

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