On a warm summer day, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine set out to walk 87 blocks along his town’s famous sand. Taking the place of his regular morning jog, the five-hour feat was a personal thank you to Ocean Rescue lifeguards, whom he greeted in their pastel-painted stands along his way.
“I told them, ‘You’re the front line, the ambassadors to the beach, our greatest asset,’” says Levine.
The thoughtful gesture received hundreds of likes and comments on his Facebook page. Here was a mayor getting out into a community often considered too cool to care. It’s a sign that Miami Beach politics, allegedly mired in corruption and ineptitude for years, have turned around.
“My motto is ‘Just get it done,’” Levine, 52, says from his office, where an entire wall is papered with a photograph of President John F. Kennedy delivering his 1961 inaugural address and emblazoned with that president’s famous quote about what one can do for one’s country. “We hit the ground sprinting and want to accomplish so much,” Levine says of his time so far in office. “They call me the impatient mayor.”
If the Boston native is indeed impatient, it’s a quality that has served him well. In 1989, he founded a media company that catered to the cruise industry. After luxury-goods titan LVMH purchased it, Levine became CEO of Royal Media Partners for Royal Caribbean Cruises. Additionally, he has the ear of both President Obama, as a U.S. tourism adviser, and President Clinton, as a participant in the Clinton Global Initiative. Levine received Clinton’s endorsement during his election race in 2013, which he won with just 50.48 percent of the vote.
“I’m a big proponent of politicians showing solid leadership skills in another field, whether it’s medicine or business, before serving in the public sector,” he says, citing America’s founding fathers as his role models.
So far, Levine’s campaign initiatives are on track. A new water drainage system along Alton Road will mitigate “sunny day” flooding said to be caused by climate change, and plans for Miami Beach Convention Center’s redesign include a seven-acre park, the city’s largest new green space. Instead of becoming another Las Vegas or Orlando, Levine’s Miami aims for quality over quantity and hopes to play host to more events like the tony Art Basel art fair.
Another focus is North Beach, an overlooked section of town that hasn’t yet prospered through gentrification like South Beach. Recent additions are a dog beach that draws residents from all walks of life, a new satellite art fair during Art Basel and an annex for a regional university yet to be selected.
The reinvention of North Beach follows Levine’s overall vision of what the city signifies. While many people come to Miami to let loose, the mayor thinks the city has a higher calling.
“It’s a magical place where people can reinvent themselves,” says Levine, who lauds Miami Beach for its mix of lifestyle, diversity and culture—with tax advantages to boot.
“It’s Manhattan,” he says, “meets Monaco.”