Florida mayor accused of racism during exchange with Hispanic commissioner, later apologizes

The mayor of Surfside, Florida, apologized during a commission meeting Tuesday, nearly a week after making controversial comments toward one of the commissioners.

Mayor Shlomo Danzinger opened Tuesday’s meeting with remarks about last week’s special commission, saying he found himself grappling with a challenging situation involving one of the commissioners, who was not following the established rules and directions.

‘Maintaining order in our discussion became an arduous task, and in my frustration, I admit, I made a comment which came off as offensive to some people,’ Danzinger said. ‘I deeply regret losing my composure and not choosing my words more carefully.’

During the meeting on Aug. 2, 2023, the commission was discussing changes to the charter, specifically about term limits.

As the discussion took place, Town Commissioner Nelly Velasquez continued to chime in while people were speaking, causing the mayor to snap.

‘Commissioner, please stop interrupting,’ Danzinger told Velasquez, before pausing briefly. ‘OK, does anybody know how to speak Spanish to tell her this? Because I said it like four times.’

The attendees let out an audible gasp as soon as the mayor made his remark. He then picked up the gavel and began banging it.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, I need you to please not interrupt the process here,’ Danzinger said.

Later in the meeting, another item in the charter was discussed, this time about residency.

The mayor sought to enforce the residency requirement of the charter because one of the commissioners was living outside the township.

Velasquez told the mayor the resolution was directed toward her because she sold her house ‘for a very nice amount of money,’ and lived in an apartment.

After selling her house, she said, she entered a lease, so she could finish her term as a commissioner, which expires in 2024.

Velasquez said putting her status as a commissioner up for a vote was ‘discrimination,’ calling the mayor’s actions disgraceful and distasteful.

After going on a rant, Danzinger asked Velasquez to stick to the item on the agenda.

‘Please don’t interrupt me,’ she said.

‘It’s actually my job to maintain…to ensure the discussion up here stays focused,’ the mayor responded. ‘Commissioner, you’ve been talking for six minutes straight. Please get to the point.’

As far as Tuesday’s apology, Danzinger said he never meant for his words to hurt anyone.

‘It is crucial for everyone to understand that my words were never intended to hurt or target any individuals, nationalities or groups,’ he said. ‘Our beloved Florida is a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds, and it’s what makes us truly unique and special.’

Velasquez had a chance to address the mayor’s comments Tuesday, as well.

‘The mayor hasn’t really apologized directly toward me,’ she said, explaining the comment was made to everyone, not her specifically. ‘Thank you for recognizing you made a mistake. I did feel very upset and hurt by his comments, as I am Hispanic and speak perfectly good Spanish and English.’

She said the comments were hurtful and demeaning, adding that she hopes it never happens again.

‘There should be a level of decorum, especially coming from the mayor himself,’ Velasquez said. ‘We need to be able to think before we speak and not have those kinds of outbursts.’

She later walked on a resolution to censure the mayor because of his comments, which was shot down, 3-2.

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