Less than a year before he finalized his candidacy for a Miami Beach commission seat, former tabloid “It boy” Fabián Basabe was a registered voter in the neighboring town of Bay Harbor Islands, where he voted in November’s general election.
That’s illegal, according to a lawsuit filed this week by a voter supporting Miami Beach Commissioner Mark Samuelian, who is running for re-election against Basabe in the city’s Group 2 race.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, asks that a judge remove Basabe from the Nov. 2 ballot — and automatically hand Samuelian four more years on the city commission.
Miami Beach resident-activist Jo Manning, who is listed as the plaintiff in the lawsuit, alleges that Basabe violated a city law requiring that candidates reside “within the city at least one year prior” to the qualifying deadline for a given election. The qualifying deadline for the upcoming November election was Sept. 10, but Basabe voted in a different municipality 10 months ago.
Basabe, who has since changed his voter registration to a Miami Beach address, declined to answer questions, citing the ongoing lawsuit. He released a pair of statements slamming the lawsuit as “undemocratic” and stating that he “met all legal obligations to run for Miami Beach commissioner.”
“I am an elector in Miami Beach, which has been my primary residence for more than the one-year requirement,” he wrote. “This is my forever home, this is where my family lives, this is where my son is raised.”
He listed his legal address as a Miami Beach condo tower on Belle Isle, which property records show is owned by his wife, Martina Borgomanero Basabe, the Italian heiress to the La Perla lingerie line.
Juan-Carlos Planas, who is representing Manning and also serves as Samuelian’s campaign attorney, said in an interview that the case against Basabe is “clear cut” given he was registered to vote outside Miami Beach within the one-year residency period outlined in the city charter. Basabe’s driver’s license at the time, Planas said, was also registered in Bay Harbor Islands.
“When it comes to residency, there is no ambiguity,” said Planas, who in 2017 tried unsuccessfully along similar grounds to invalidate Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo’s election. “If he’s not aware of what it takes to be a resident, then he’s obviously not a resident.”
The lawsuit claims that Basabe does not currently reside at the Miami Beach condo and “only occasionally visits that apartment as a guest to visit his son.”
“It’s questionable enough whether or not he actually lives in Miami Beach now but he definitely did not live there on Sept. 10, 2020,” Planas said.
Ron Meyer, an elections attorney not involved in the lawsuit, said that by voting in Bay Harbor Islands, Basabe affirmed he was a resident of the town at the time. The evidence, Meyer said, is “pretty compelling.”
“I think it’s hard to overcome the fact that he was an elector in a different district,” he said after reviewing the lawsuit and the city’s charter.
Meyer said the burden is on Basabe to provide utility bills or other supporting paperwork to prove to a judge that he lived in Miami Beach in the past year.
“It does not sound as if the candidate was a resident at least one year prior to qualifying,” Meyer said.
Samuelian campaign not involved in lawsuit, consultant says
Basabe, a former New York socialite and reality-TV star who was called the “male Paris Hilton,” filed to run for Samuelian’s seat just before the qualifying deadline on Friday, Sept. 10.
In a statement, Basabe implied Samuelian’s campaign was behind the lawsuit so Samuelian could run unopposed in the election.
“I urge voters and residents not to be fooled by this ‘smoke and mirrors’ attempt to redirect attention from my opponent’s weak record as a sitting commissioner,” Basabe said.
Planas said he came up with the idea to file the lawsuit after hearing from residents who he said were concerned about Basabe’s residency status. He said Samuelian supporters then connected him with Manning, who agreed to participate. Planas said he informed Samuelian and campaign consultant Christian Ulvert about his intent to file the lawsuit.
The campaign did not object, Ulvert said. But it won’t be paying for the lawsuit.
“Commissioner Samuelian made clear that he and his campaign didn’t want to be a party on this because he feels confident in his path to victory,” Ulvert said in an interview. “J.C. [Planas] let me know that, ‘We’re gonna proceed.’ It’s not like we have control to sign off or not.”
Manning, who donated $100 to Samuelian’s campaign in March, declined to answer questions about how she became involved in the lawsuit but said she was a long-time friend of Samuelian and one of his supporters. She said in a statement that she decided to file the lawsuit to defend the city’s elections system.
“The integrity of our elections matters greatly to me and candidates cannot flaunt the rules,” Manning wrote. “I decided to move forward with a lawsuit because rules matter in a democracy and it’s clear that Mr. Basabe does not meet the legal requirements to be a candidate for city commission.”
In a statement, Samuelian said he was “not a party to any lawsuit” but said it is “crucial that our charter is upheld and that concerned residents are assured that candidates on the ballot are legally qualified.”
“In fact, the city relies on the sworn statements of candidates and does not validate residency information,” he wrote.
His focus, he said, was on connecting with voters about his vision for the city.
“I am confident that through our campaign’s direct voter engagement, we will earn the continued trust and votes of our residents to serve another four-year term on the Commission,” Samuelian said. “That is my focus through November.”
Basabe said he was confident voters would recognize the “cheap litigation tactics” being used against him.
“I will not take this ‘so-called’ legal action seriously because it is not,” he said. “The voters and residents deserve better than this.”