The picture of a young gay man laying badly beaten in a hospital bed is not the image city leaders in Miami Beach would like to see circulated in the media.
Sadly, it is a reality this international tourist destination is grappling with as crime continues to shake the city.
“I’m a big believer that police presence can deter crime and we can de-escalate violent situations by having more police visibility,” said Alex Fernandez, a candidate for Miami Beach City Commission. “I’m a big proponent of having well-trained police be visible in our community, including in our entertainment district where we have many LGBTQ establishments like Twist, Palace, and Nathan’s Bar. We have to make sure that the area stays safe.”
Last month, Luis Carlos Herrera Quiroz, 26, was attacked and beaten on Collins Avenue in South Beach. Herrera said his attacker was homophobic and repeatedly punched him after the two men brushed against each other on the sidewalk. The attack left Herrera with a broken nose and fractured face.
As a gay man, the attack hits close to home for Fernandez.
“I did not personally know him, but it still hurts,” Fernandez said. “The physical attacks don’t happen as often in our community as much as the emotional attacks that a lot of people still continue getting. The scars of the physical attack are horrible but we have so many people who carry emotional scars that we don’t see and who are suffering it just reminds us how much more we have to do to achieve a truly inclusive, loving community where we really do away with the intolerance of tolerance and replace it with the true equality. Those physical scars remind us of so many people carrying emotional scars.”
Fernandez has been a public servant for 20 years, serving as an aide to former Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera-Butler and former Miami Beach Commissioner Deede Weithorn. He met his husband, Robert Wolfarth, a real estate agent, 15 years ago. They were married in Washington, D.C. with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz officiating the ceremony.
“It was just a few weeks before the historic Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality,” Fernandez recalled. “It was almost fortuitous timing. I’m very fortunate to have a partner who loves Miami Beach. He’s a Miami native and a big part of this campaign. He’s like the glue and the boss of the campaign. He makes sure everything goes well.”
In the first round of voting, Fernandez topped the four-candidate field, receiving 4,457 votes for 36%. He now faces Stephen Cohen in the run-off election on Nov. 16. Cohen, a realtor, got 3,192 votes for 26% in the first round. The two men are vying to replace Michael Góngora on the city dias for Group III.
Góngora, who is term-limited, endorsed Fernandez, a fellow gay Hispanic activist.
“I have known Alex for over 15 years and he has been a constant presence in our community working to make it better,” Góngora said. “I had the pleasure of nominating Alex previously as my representative on the City of Miami Beach Police Citizen Relations Committee where he was elected by the board members to serve as the Chair of the Committee. Alex shows leadership and understands that public safety is the No. 1 priority of elected office. He is an effective leader who cares about people and wants to make a positive difference in their lives. While reviewing the qualifications of other candidates looking to be elected to my seat, it was clear that Alex is the most qualified to move our city forward and make it safer for everyone.”
In April of 2020 the U.S. Census Bureau reported Miami Beach had a population of 82,890. Its government is composed of a mayor and six commissioners. Group VI Commissioner David Richardson was the first gay man elected to the Florida House of Representatives. The city has 414 sworn police officers, said Melissa Berthier, the communications director.
“I am so proud of the Miami Beach Police Department because we do have a great diversity in our MBPD,” Fernandez said. “A good number of police officers are open members of the LGBTQ community and also of the broad strokes of our diverse community. We have a large number of Black police officers, Hispanic police officers, of LGBTQ police officers. It’s not just well-trained police officers, but it's also officers that represent the diversity of the community and a department that has good checks and balances in place to ensure that when situations happen that they are handled properly. It’s one of the things that our department works on very well.”