Miami Beach candidate asks voters to donate to her campaign. And eat at her restaurant

·2 min read

It’s standard practice for political candidates to ask for votes or money in campaign emails. But Miami Beach Commission candidate Kristen Rosen Gonzalez raised a few eyebrows this week when she asked voters to donate to her campaign — and visit her new restaurant, too.

Rosen Gonzalez, a former commissioner who filed Monday to run for office in the city’s Nov. 2 elections, sent a fundraising email on Friday announcing her campaign and plugging Café Bernie, a restaurant she recently opened with her fiancée, Chef Bernie Matz of Bodega.

“P.S. Have you been to Café Bernie yet?” she wrote near the bottom of her email. “That is my fiancée Bernie Matz’ and my restaurant, and we have the best ribeye ‘picadillo’ and short rib in town — not to mention a killer view of Indian Creek. Maybe I’ll see you there one day? Stop on by and share your political views on the issues that matter most to you.”

The postscript is the latest instance of Rosen Gonzalez skirting conventions in what has at times been a controversial political career.

Rosen Gonzalez, who served on the commission from 2015 to 2018 before resigning to run unsuccessfully for Congress, said she simply wanted to let voters know that she is now a business owner creating jobs and revenue for the city.

“That email list is mine,” she said in a statement. “I could send out an email for Café Bernie every day of the week if I so choose, but we don’t need to, because people on Miami Beach love Café Bernie...”

Still, two elections attorneys who reviewed the email said it was unusual and perhaps “unethical” to solicit votes and business side-by-side, even if it didn’t appear to violate campaign finance laws.

“I think it’s unethical,” said Miami elections attorney Juan-Carlos Planas, who is representing Miami Beach Commissioner Mark Samuelian in a separate race. “You have money that’s given to you by donors. That money is to further your campaign. When you mix in messages asking folks to go to a private business, I find it unacceptable and unethical.”

Another veteran elections attorney, Ron Meyer, disagreed, saying while the reference to Café Bernie was unusual, it did not strike him as improper.

“I don’t see a legal problem with her including the reference to the restaurant in the advertisement,” he said.

But if he were advising Rosen Gonzalez’s campaign, Meyer said, he would have told her not to plug the restaurant in the email to avoid questions about possible impropriety.

Rosen Gonzalez brushed off the criticism as “petty, peripheral nonsense.”

“These lawyers have obviously never tried Bernie’s Prime Burger,” she said.

Rosen Gonzalez is running for term-limited Micky Steinberg’s Group 1 seat on the commission, along with candidates Fabian Basabe, Adrian Gonzalez, Raquel Pacheco and Blake Young.

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