Surfside commissioners reject censure of city's mayor over 'hurtful comments'

Mayor Shlomo Danzinger had made questionable remarks directed at Commissioner Nelly Velasquez during a public meeting held last month.

Surfside commissioners hosted a tense meeting on Sept. 12, 2023.

Surfside commissioners hosted a tense meeting on Sept. 12, 2023. Photo by Verónica Zaragovia/WLRN

Surfside commissioners voted not to censure Mayor Shlomo Danzinger for making racial insults and sexist remarks directed at Commissioner Nelly Velasquez during a public meeting held last month at City Hall.

In a close 3-2 vote in the wee hours of Wednesday morning’s commission meeting, the board rejected the resolution condemning Danzinger.

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Before the vote, Velasquez told her commission colleagues that she had been offended by the mayor's outburst at the public meeting on Aug. 2.

“I am introducing my resolution related to the mayor's hurtful comments directed at me over a month ago,” said Velasquez. “No person deserves to be humiliated like I was at a public meeting by a mayor. Everyone understands my English perfectly well, as does the mayor."

Danzinger, who previously has defended his remarks, declined to further talk about the resolution. He's running for re-election in 2024.

Wednesday's vote was in response to the exchange between Danzinger and Velasquez during the August 2 town commission meeting. The mayor was talking about a proposal to extend the length of elected officials’ terms when Velasquez, who is Hispanic, tried to voice her disagreement with the proposal.

After asking her to cease interrupting him, Danzinger demanded, “Commissioner, please stop interrupting.”

He then said “OK, does anybody know how to speak Spanish to tell her this? Because I said it like four times.”

Commissioner Fred Landsman, an ally of the mayor, voted against censure, calling it "politically motivated."

“Everyone has the right to their opinion,” Landsman said. “They can choose to like or dislike someone's comments and thoughts. That's everyone's prerogative. I stand by my comment from a month ago that this is politically motivated."

Commissioner Marianne Meischeid voted in favor of censure.

“It is a serious issue,” she said. “To vote against it would be to condone the remarks. So I have to side with my colleague and vote yes to the censure.”

Former Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer said the mayor's "behavior is unacceptable."

Surfside resident Gerardo Vildostegui told the commission that "what the mayor said to Commissioner Velasquez that night has not been forgotten and it is worthy of censure."

Following last month's meeting, Danzinger told a WSVN-7 news crew that he was angered at Velasquez for interrupting and suggested there was “a language barrier.”

“What I had was a commissioner that was disrupting the meeting and the process of government,” he told the local TV station. “I repeated myself and the rules over and over again, repeatedly, and she kept disrupting the meeting.”

“Let’s be very clear: I didn’t say it to others. I had a commissioner who was not adhering to clear direction, so perhaps it was a language barrier.”

Asked about the remarks being viewed as offensive, Danzinger said.

“You’re going to have to ask that commissioner who speaks ‘perfect English’ in that case to explain why she can’t follow clear direction, then.”

This story is published as part of a collaboration between City & State Florida and WLRN NewsVerónica Zaragovia covers health care as well as Surfside and Miami Beach politics for the station. Contact Verónica at vzaragovia@wlrnnews.org

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