Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and lawyer Rod Vereen are vying in a hotly contested Democratic Party primary that includes two write-in candidates in the general election. The write-ins have essentially closed this primary, an issue that’s being disputed in court.
Regardless of how the federal judge rules in the next few weeks, a closed primary when there is no opponent from the other major political party in a general election is anathema in a democracy. In this important race it will lock out 57 percent of county voters — Republicans and those not affiliated with either major party.
Some background in this race: Mr. Vereen was a prosecutor in Leon County for eight years and also served as a federal assistant public defender in North Florida before moving back to Miami in 1995 and opening up his own law office. He’s personable, and other lawyers who have worked with him on issues describe his legal knowledge as “strong.” Mr. Vereen concedes, however, that he has little experience running such a large office (the fourth largest in the nation), which employs 1,200 and handles half a million cases a year.
Mr. Vereen, 51, says he decided to run against the 19-year veteran because “the office has been ineffective in its work” and has engaged in “selective prosecution” in certain high-profile corruption cases. And there lie the political machinations, as Mr. Vereen is backed by a police union that disagrees with prosecution of rogue cops, and former or current politicians who have faced the legal system, including Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, U.S. Rep. David Rivera and former Miami Mayor Joe Carollo. Mr. Vereen is expected to energize some in the African-American community upset over the prosecution of Ms. Spence-Jones, recently cleared in her corruption case.
Undoubtedly, a 19-year record leaves a lot of room for making enemies, but it’s the tough and often less reported work that Ms. Fernandez Rundle has done year in and year out that should complete the picture for voters. It is that “excellent” record of community service, as one longtime African-American lawyer told the Editorial Board that gives her the edge.
Ms. Fernandez Rundle, 62, helped create Florida’s first domestic crimes prosecution unit in 1986 when she was an assistant state attorney. “This experience clearly showed me that the power of a prosecutor’s office can change a community’s perspective . . . particularly for our most vulnerable,” she says. She helped create the Drug Court system to steer small-time users into productive lives instead of jail and created MOVES (Mobile Operations Victim Emergency Services) and VAN (Victim Access Network). She worked on a task force to help juveniles in trouble turn their lives around — a national model that has resulted in a 66-percent drop in the number of juvenile arrests since 1994.
Her office has been diligently holding workshops to help nonviolent offenders expunge their records so they can vote and get work. That effort has touched more than 2,000 people, many in the black community.
Ms. Fernandez Rundle’s depth of knowledge, experience and results-driven holistic approach to fighting crime has earned her another term. For Miami-Dade County State Attorney, The Miami Herald recommends KATHERINE FERNANDEZ RUNDLE.