Miami Herald: American Dream mega-mall is trying to oust the only commissioner who voted against it

Daniella Levine Cava was the only Miami-Dade commissioner to vote against the American Dream Miami mega-mall and theme park in May, and now the Canadian-based developer is the top donor to one of her opponent’s campaign.

Gus Barreiro, a former state representative challenging the South Dade commissioner for Miami-Dade’s District 8 commission seat, has received nearly $7,500 in campaign contributions from donors tied to American Dream developer Triple Five, including a $1,000 check from CEO Syd Ghermezian. The known donations tied to Triple Five account for about 60 percent of Barreiro’s nearly $12,000 in campaign donations.

Another $100,000 went to a state political committee Barreiro said is supporting him, Citizens Alliance for Florida’s Economy. Solomon Saraway, who is related to the Ghermezian family through marriage and was identified as a Triple Five executive in a 2009 campaign donation in Minnesota, gave $25,000 to the committee on July 12. Three firms connected to him each gave $25,000 to the committee on the same day as well.

Barreiro said he met with Triple Five to talk about financial support before he joined the commission race in June, about four weeks after the County Commission voted 9-1 to give final approval to the $4 billion retail theme park in Northwest Miami-Dade. He talked about his support of the project, and he said the Ghermezians agreed to support his campaign.

“I met with the family,” Barreiro said of the Ghermezians, whose family-owned company is best known as the developer of Minnesota’s Mall of America. “I’m happy to receive their support.”

The two are running for the nonpartisan District 8 primary on Aug. 28. A third candidate, Johnathan Burke, has raised about $2,000 for his campaign.

Barreiro said he was “taken aback” to hear Levine Cava object to the fact that American Dream planned to create mostly low-wage jobs, a figure based on the company’s economic-development forecast showing 60 percent of the 14,000 jobs would pay less than $25,000 a year.

“Everybody wants high-paying jobs,” Barreiro said. “But you have to start somewhere.”

Levine Cava, running for a second four-year term on the 13-member commission before term limits kick in, has a significant financial advantage over Barreiro, whose brother, Bruno, resigned his District 5 commission seat earlier this year to run for Congress.

Her campaign alone has raised nearly $500,000, not counting money directed to an allied political committee, Changing Florida’s Future, which has nearly $400,000 in the bank. Donors to Levine Cava include top developers and companies with county contracts, including Landmark and Transportation America.

Ghermezian representatives did not respond to requests for comment, including one Barreiro said he delivered to his contact with the family.

The mall factor may be helping Barreiro raise other dollars. Meryl Fixler Berdugo, a Broward real estate agent, spoke to the Miami-Dade commission on January in favor of the project, which sits just south of the county line. She also gave $1,000 to Barreiro’s campaign. After a brief phone conversation Wednesday, Berdugo was not available for an interview about the donation.

Levine Cava, who also raised environmental concerns about the 175-acre project at the edge of Miami-Dade’s urban development zone, said she had a pleasant conversation after the vote with a representative of a foundation tied to Triple Five. “I was really surprised,” by the Barreiro donations, she said.

By Douglas Hanks

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