A Miami-Dade Circuit Judge appeared to hand Miami Beach Commissioner Mark Samuelian four more years in office Friday when he ordered that Samuelian’s lone opponent be disqualified from the upcoming Nov. 2 election.
Ruling in a case brought by a Miami Beach voter and Samuelian supporter, Judge Reemberto Diaz ruled that commission candidate Fabian Basabe did not meet the city’s one-year residency requirement to run for office.
Diaz focused on Basabe’s vote cast last November in neighboring Bay Harbor Islands. Basabe did not change his voter registration information and driver’s license to reflect a Miami Beach address until April, when he announced his campaign.
Diaz said those were clear violations of a Miami Beach law requiring that candidates reside in the city at least a year prior to the Sept. 10 qualifying deadline if they want to run for a seat on the city commission.
“Therefore I have no choice but to disqualify you,” Diaz said.
Basabe will still appear on the ballot because the ballots have already been sent to print, but votes for him will not count.
Diaz ordered that notices of Basabe’s disqualification be posted at polling locations and voting booths in the city, which is standard practice in Miami-Dade County. The notices will also be mailed to Miami Beach voters who requested vote-by-mail ballots, a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Elections Department said.
Basabe, who was Samuelian’s lone opponent in the Group 2 race, said he would not appeal the decision, automatically giving Samuelian another four-year term on the commission. The lawsuit was filed by resident-activist Jo Manning, who is supporting Samuelian’s campaign. Her attorney, Juan-Carlos Planas, is also Samuelian’s campaign attorney.
Basabe maintains that he has lived in Miami Beach since 2008 with his family at a condo building on Belle Isle. He submitted utility bills for the unit and a letter from an administrative assistant employed since 2013 at the building who confirmed his current residency — although the president of the condo association told the judge he thought of Basabe as a “temporary resident” in the unit, which is legally owned by his wife.
“I believe in the court system and I was absolutely not aware my voting or billing address would result in disqualification, as I have been a Miami Beach resident for the longest time,” Basabe said in a statement.
Basabe, who had no attorney representing him and appeared in the video hearing using his cellphone, said he has been a registered voter in Bay Harbor Islands since he was 18 years old, using his parents’ home address. He said he thought Florida voters could pick wherever they wanted to vote.
“I didn’t realize it had anything to do with residency,” he said. “I guess that was just a mistake.”
Basabe said he and his family own a few homes across Miami-Dade, and they spend time at different properties throughout the year, whether it be for weekends away or to entertain guests. But his primary residence, he said, is in Miami Beach.
His driver’s license, up until he changed it, was registered to his downtown condo, which he said he used as his mailing address and as an extra protection so reporters and snoopers couldn’t find out where he lived. Basabe appeared in tabloids in New York and on reality TV shows before moving to South Florida.
“This was never meant to misrepresent my address to voters,” he said. “This was an extra layer of protection from people who target public figures.”
Planas said Basabe may have violated election law by voting from an address where he did not reside or committed perjury by signing an oath of office saying he lived in Miami Beach for a year before qualifying.
Basabe said he did not intend to violate any elections law and does not believe he committed perjury because he maintains he lived in Miami Beach for the required time.
“I hope me putting myself out there in the pure spirit of community spirit doesn’t open a window for [people] to come and make a name for themselves at my expense,” he said.
Samuelian, who was not a party to the lawsuit, issued a statement calling the ruling “a victory for democracy, as it reaffirms that rules must be followed.”
“My commitment to meet with voters and listen to their ideas about the future of our community will continue,” he said.
Basabe said he plans to run again in 2023.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said.