By Mitch Perry
Miami Beach Commission candidate Michael Gongora now has “serious doubts” about the financial viability of the World OutGames.
“The reason that I left the board of directors when I did was that I had serious doubts about their ability to pull off the games,” Gongora told members of the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club at a June 6 meeting at Puerto Sagua restaurant in Miami Beach.
That comment would seem to contradict a comment Gongora made last month when he told the Miami Herald that during the time he served on the board it had only met a few times and that “no financials were provided whatsoever.”
World OutGames organizers in Miami raised more than $1 million for the scheduled 10-day event. But just hours before the competition was set to start May 26, organizers informed the thousands of registered athletes (who had flown into Miami from around the globe) that they didn’t have the money to put on the games.
Since then, government agencies have opened investigations into the event, one of the world’s largest high-profile competitions for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes.
Miami Beach had waived municipal fees and provided $200,000 in cash to sponsor the event, and is now demanding an audit of OutGames’ books.
Gongora served on the Miami Beach City Commission between 2006 to 2013, before losing a mayoral bid to Philip Levine. He came up short in the Democratic primary for state Senate District 38 in Miami Beach last August. He’s now running to return to the Commission against attorney Zachary Eisner and restaurant owner Adrian Gonzalez, who has seized on the controversy surrounding the World OutGames.
“It’s all about accountability and transparency,” Gonzalez said Monday. “The bottom line is he knew they were in trouble, he knew they were sinking, yet he did nothing to advise the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community or more importantly, the city of Miami Beach, which, at the end of the day, is the one that took the biggest financial hit in this thing.”
When first questioned about his involvement with the World OutGames, Gongora had said that he left its board in 2015. The Miami Herald reported last week that it was actually in 2016 after the Gonzalez campaign unearthed a video of Gongora identifying himself as a member of the OutGames board.
Now feeling the political heat over his involvement, Gongora wrote last week to Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales to inquire when funds from Miami Beach began to be allocated for the World OutGames.
“Since I am now being dragged into World OutGames politically, I have an easy public records request,” Gongora wrote Thursday. “Can you please advise when the monies were paid from the City of MB to World OutGames? It’s my understanding that the first portion was given in October 2016 which would be after I resigned from the board.”
Morales wrote back that the first $100,000 check for the games was dated May 1, 2014, “and deposited intact by the nonprofit organization.”
Gongora now says his time on the board was limited to between eight and a half months between 2015 and 2016.
The first openly elected gay politician in Miami Beach, Gongora traveled to Antwerp, Belgium with more than a dozen other local officials in 2013 to recruit organizers of the World OutGames to come to Miami Beach in 2017.
In his comments to the Breakfast Club, Gongora speculated that the reason that the Miami City Commission and Mayor Levine funded the event was that they didn’t want to be perceived as being anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
“Why did the Commissioner give them the money?” he asked. “I’ll say it since I’m gay and they’re not. I think that the commissioners don’t want to vote against anything that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. I think it came up and they were like, ‘Oh we don’t want to be perceived as being anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.’ So, they gave them money.”
When contacted by FloridaPolitics.com, Gongora initially responded that he didn’t have much to say since he briefly served as a volunteer on the OutGames board “which seldom met.”
“I left the board 8.5 months prior to the games,” he wrote in an email Sunday. “During the short time of my tenure, OutGames received no public money nor was I privy to their finances. There is really nothing else to say. Unfortunately, a political opponent is trying to tie me into a story where there is none.”
“I haven’t accused him of anything,” Gonzalez responds. “I’m a taxpayer. I’m a resident on the Beach. He wants to blame me for putting the spot on the obvious? So be it.”