While a coronavirus pandemic hit Florida last March, Miami Beach commissioner Ricky Arriola raised a radical topic of conversation with his fellow commissioners: What if the city intentionally infects its first people with a virus so they can develop antibodies?
Proposal – which Arriola said New Times it was purely speculative – was widely spread on social networks, especially by many firefighters and police officers.
It also marked the beginning of a series of controversial Arriola statements on COVID-19. For the past year, the city commissioner has been calling for news of a pandemic “panic pornography” comparing wearing masks to the signaling of virtue, i posted the article on Twitter from the far-right conspiracy website Gateway Pundit calling for “Fauci Prison,” referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the leading members of the White House White Disease Working Group.
In August, after a tweet “from Fauci Prison” provoked public outcry, Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chairman Steve Simeonidis threatened to initiate a recall to take off Arriola.
Now, a few months later, amid another social media scandal, Simeonidis and other members of the local Democratic Party are again calling for the removal of Arriola, a registered Democrat who works at the non-partisan headquarters of the Miami Beach City Commission.
“We are seriously considering progress with the recall,” Simeonidis says New Times. “On a number of different levels, he’s just been absolutely disastrous for Miami Beach residents, and those residents deserve far better representation than he can offer them.”
Tuesday night, Arriola entered the heated Twitter exchange with Miami documentary director Billy Corben. Corben called Arriola a “yutz” and a “complete denier of COVID.” Arriola responded by calling Corben “bitch Billy” and referring to Corben by the legal name Billy Cohen.
Corben speaks New Times that his former agent suggested he adopt the stage name “Billy Corben” when he was a child actor of the 90s. The intention was to give the ambitious actor an equal playing field when he went out to auditions; Corben says he remembers the directors of the actors calling him a “dear Jewish boy,” which didn’t always translate as landing parts.
The director says that the artistic name is stuck and has been using it professionally for years.
“It’s not a secret or anything like that, and it’s certainly not a denial of my legacy,” he says.
Corben says his critics often refer to his legal name in arguments, which he believes are an anti-Semitic dog whistle. “It’s the equivalent of showing and saying ‘Jew.’ That’s it.”
Entering the Twitter exchange, Simeonidis called Arriola “anti-Semitic garbage.” Another senior member of the Democratic Party in Miami-Dade, William Byatt, he said yesterday that he would introduce a resolution reprimanding Arriola “for his widespread racism, dangerous COVID lies, and the savage behavior of an elected official.”
The resolution is basically a statement of opinion of the elected body – in this case the leader of the local Democratic Party. A vote to reprimand Arriola would be largely symbolic, as the party has no grounds for punishing or seeking action against the commissioner. But Byatt, a member of the county party’s executive committee, says it will serve as a warning to Arrioli and serve as an official document showing that the party leadership has serious reservations about his behavior.
Byatt intends to put the resolution to a vote at the party’s next virtual meeting on February 9th. He says he would welcome Arriola’s presence at the meeting and give him a chance to address the voting members if he so decides.
Arriola did not respond to two phone messages or emails from New Times. On Twitter, he responded to Byatt with a link accusing Byatt of anti-Semitic ideology over his views on Israel.
While it is rare for the Democratic Party in Miami-Dade to reprimand one of its elected officials, it is not unprecedented. In 2017, party leaders voted on a statement asking Miami-Dade Attorney General Katherine Fernandez Rundle, a Democrat, resign after her office refused to prosecute prison guards over the death of Darren Rainey, a prisoner with schizophrenia. And 2018. fun sent a letter to Democratic Sen. Daphne Campbell asking her to publish political mail that made her seem like a Republican.
Byatt says New Times that it is important for the Democratic Party to hold its own members accountable, even if it creates negative publicity.
“We welcome people not only of different backgrounds and histories and personal experiences, but also people of different ideological and political views,” he says. “However, we have a basic set of values that we must remain loyal to in order to be an authentic representative of the people.”
In Arriola’s case, Byatt says he encouraged him to do so post on Facebook on January 6th in which the city commissioner compared the robbery during the Black Lives Matter protest to the riots at the American Capitol.
“Commissioner Arriola has left the deep end of the COVID conspiracy,” Byatt says. “It has just escalated in the past few months to a statement comparing the uprising to the civil rights protests. That was a turning point for me.”
Simeonidis shared Arriola’s post on Facebook last week and called on him to resign.
Going a step further, Simeonidis now says the recall is justified.
“I see the party as a mechanism to hold our people accountable, and Ricky Arriola has crossed the line so many times,” he says. New Times. “We have to remove him from office. It has become unsustainable.”
Arriola was first elected in 2015, and re-elected in 2019. His current term ends in 2023.
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