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Tense Miami Beach Mayoral Debate Caught On Tape

MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) - Updated 10/7/13

The latest debate among Miami Beach mayoral candidates became explosive this week—and some of which led to backlash was caught on video.

Residents became rowdy after mayoral candidate Philip Levine made a comment about the city's building department's delayed-response-time to trouble-shooting.

Levine's response, caught on camera, to a resident's question was as follows, "The most important thing we need to change in our government, which I plan to change and I know it's not going to be easy, is changing the culture of this government.  Changing this culture from one of being mañana, lazy, pushing things forward, kicking the can down the road."

Miami Beach resident Carla Probus didn't like Levine using "mañana," the Spanish word for tomorrow, just before the term "lazy," so she called him a racist.

"His comment was like, you know how sometimes it's the tone, it's not just the words," she said.  "His tone came off racist."

At one point someone on the panel threatened to get a resident in the standing-room-only crowd escorted out of the room.  An unidentified woman also took the microphone and firmly told the crowd, "Let's have silence, let these gentlemen say what they have to say.  And enough! Or I will call the police!"

Levine told CBS4 News he knows he's recorded anytime he speaks publicly, and he is not racist. He just happened to use "mañana" to refer to the city's procrastinating.

"I think it's sad, once again a desperate attempt from my opponent to create almost a race war or an ethnic war. What I was simply saying is we need to fix the city's problems today, not tomorrow."

But opponent Michael Gongora doesn't buy it, saying, "What a candidate says in the heat of the moment in a debate is where you really know how they feel in their heart about the people.  For the only Spanish words they used the entire debate to be negative toward Hispanics I think is very telling."

Candidate Steve Berke doesn't buy Levine's explanation either. An MTV film documentary crew is following and filming Berke's second run for Miami Beach mayor. Production crews caught the bickering and action on camera, leaving some to wonder if this is all just posturing for the cameras. But Berke said no.

"If the cameras happen to pick up a racial slur that one of my opponents throws at somebody, it's not grandstanding, it's transparency," said Berke.

The next mayoral debate is Thursday, October 3 at Temple Emanuel on Washington Avenue.  It starts at 6:00 p.m., and will be moderated by CBS4 anchor Elliot Rodriguez.

"Updating our story.  J.C. Planas, counsel for Miami Beach mayoral candidate Philip Levine wrote to us that the crowd was not reacting negatively towards Mr. Levine."

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