Mar 15, 2024 - News

Surfside arrest further divides town ahead of election

Surfside residents protest the arrest of a political activist.

Protesters outside Surfside Town Hall on Tuesday. Photo: Martin Vassolo/Axios

The arrest of a teenage activist has plunged the town of Surfside further into political chaos, while the mayor and three commissioners are up for re-election Tuesday.

Why it matters: The March 1 arrest of 18-year-old Joshua Epstein, accused of shoving Vice Mayor Jeff Rose at a candidate forum, sparked a protest outside Town Hall and calls for an independent investigation.

  • The election season has also been marked by accusations of antisemitism, dark-money attacks and political feuds.

State of play: Rose and his allies on the commission, Mayor Shlomo Danzinger and Commissioner Fred Landsman, are running for re-election against Surfside's old guard.

  • Former two-term Mayor Charles Burkett, who lost to Danzinger in 2022, leads a slate of commission candidates who served in his prior administration: former Vice Mayor Tina Paul and current Commissioner Nelly Velasquez, who is running for re-election.
  • All five seats on the commission are up for grabs, with a total of 12 candidates running.

The intrigue: Opponents of the current administration have used Epstein's arrest to call for Danzinger and his allies to be voted out.

Catch up quick: After Epstein's arrest on felony battery of an elected official, multiple witnesses came forward to say the teenager did not push Rose.

  • Chief of Police Antonio Marciante tells Axios police did not review every witness statement prior to the arrest, but that officers interviewed a "very reliable witness," reviewed footage and consulted the State Attorney's Office.
  • "Just like any other case, we handled this pretty much by the book," Marciante said.

The latest: Epstein, the son of former Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer, was flown out of South Florida by his family due to fear of police harassment, Salzhauer tells Axios.

  • At a meeting Tuesday, Salzhauer said her son had been permanently scarred by his extended stay in jail and vowed to go after Rose and Town Hall.
  • "I don't get sad, I get mad, and after I'm done getting mad, I get even," she said. "When we're done, I will name my boat after you."

The other side: In a statement to Axios, Danzinger said "evident undertones of antisemitism and tribalism" have heightened tensions in town, further inflamed by Epstein's arrest. (Salzhauer has also spoken out against antisemitic attacks on her and Epstein.)

  • "I'm hopeful that we can evolve towards a future where our political discourse prioritizes genuine community concerns over manufactured discord and turmoil," Danzinger said.
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