Miami-Dade politics

Challenger may scramble race for Edmonson’s commission seat


The unexpected entrance of a young lawyer from a powerful political family has thrown a monkey wrench into the county’s District 3 battle, which was widely expected to be a fight between Alison Austin and Audrey Edmonson.

About the candidates

Alison Austin

• Age: 52

• Occupation: Executive director, Belafonte Tacolcy Center

• Selected political/civic experience: Candidate, Miami city commission, District 5, 2010; communications and outreach director, Audubon of Florida, 2001-2006; consultant, Organization of American States, 1992-1997

Audrey Edmonson

• Age: 59

• Occupation: Miami-Dade commissioner; community liaison, Miami-Dade school district

• Selected political/civic experience: Miami-Dade commissioner, 2005-present; El Portal mayor, 1999-2005; El Portal village council member, 1999-2005

Keon Hardemon

• Age: 29

• Occupation: Assistant Miami-Dade public defender

• Political/civic experience: Intern, office of Federal Magistrate Patrick A. White, 2009; intern, office of children’s advocacy for Legal Aid Service of Broward County; president, Florida A&M University student senate, 2006

Michael Jackson Joseph

• Age: 30

• Occupation: Civil rights lawyer

• Political/civic experience: Candidate, Miami city commission, District 5, 2010; general counsel, Hadley Park Homeowners Association; member, Miami-Dade small business advisory board

Eddie Lewis

• Age: 59

• Occupation: Retired Miami-Dade police officer

• Political/civic experience: Candidate, Miami-Dade property appraiser, 2008; candidate, Miami-Dade mayor, 2011; president, Miami Shores Optimist Club; former president, National Black Police Officers Association, 1999-2004

Nadia Pierre

• Age: 55

• Occupation: Miami-Dade police analyst

• Political/civic experience: Vice-president, Florida Democratic Black Caucus; liaison to the black and Haitian communities for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez, 2004-11

Audrey Edmonson’s run for a third term on the Miami-Dade Commission has been complicated by a young lawyer from a powerful political family who unexpectedly entered the race.

Keon Hardemon may lack political experience and likely won’t win the Aug. 14 contest for the District 3 seat, but the street smarts of the family supporting him could well threaten an outright win by Edmonson, forcing her into a winner-take-all November general election runoff against Alison Austin, one of the candidates who is being supported by wealthy car dealer Norman Braman.

District 3 resident Frank Rollason compared Hardemon’s entering the race to a 2006 city of Miami contest in which two late entrants took a lot of votes and forced an unexpected runoff.

“It’s not the first time that’s happened,” said Rollason, one of that candidates in the 2006 Miami race. Hardemon “seems like a nice kid. He doesn’t have much experience, though.”

Hardemon, 29, is a Northwestern Senior High School and University of Miami law school grad who has worked in the Miami-Dade public defender’s office for the past two years. He’s also a member of one of Liberty City’s most powerful political families. His uncle Billy Hardemon and aunt Barbara Hardemon are long-time political operatives who are running his campaign. Uncle Roy Hardemon recently lost a race for a state House seat.

Keon Hardemon shrugs off speculation he’s too young, pointing at former County Mayor Alex Penelas and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who first entered elected office as young men, as “so-called boy wonders.”

In response to emailed questions, Hardemon said he’s running because “Edmonson has failed us.” He pointed to votes the commissioner made to privatize the Head Start program, which threatened the jobs of hundreds of teachers, many of them black. He also says Edmonson disrespected a store owner who was forced to move because a transit hub was being built near his property, and lambasts the commissioner for voting to build the Miami Marlins’ Little Havana ballpark.

“Audrey Edmonson is out of touch with the needs of her constituents, her district, and the county,” Hardemon wrote.

Edmonson points to her experience as a two-term commissioner, and says more affordable housing has been built in District 3 during her seven years in office than in any other district in the county.

During a contentious debate last week at Overtown’s St. Agnes Episcopal Church, Hardemon defended Braman, who is supporting a slate of candidates to run against four incumbents, three of them black.

“He may have undue influence in the city if all his people get elected,” admitted Hardemon. “But the one thing I can say about Norman Braman is that he was right. Our commissioners failed us when it came down to the Marlins stadium.”

Edmonson said the stadium created jobs, though fewer than expected. “If I had known then what I know today, maybe I would have voted differently,” she said.

Braman is following through on a vow to try to remove politicians who voted for a property tax hike two years ago and who supported the Miami Marlins’ plan to build a ballpark in Little Havana. He is supporting challengers against county commissioners Edmonson, Barbara Jordan, Dennis Moss and Bruno Barreiro.

In this race Braman is supporting Austin, the executive director of the Belafonte Tacolcy Center, who caught the public’s attention two years ago when she campaigned for suspended Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones’ seat.

Austin’s campaign charge now: It’s time for change.

Unlike her failed attempt at Spence-Jones’ seat, this time she has a staff, though a small one. Husband Khary Bruyning calls it “the honey-do club.” Austin’s 24-year-ol daughter, Imani Greene, who works in public relations in Los Angeles, is overseeing the campaign’s social media.

Austin believes in term limits, says incorporation of new municipalities should be left up to voters, and criticizes as too small a proposed $48,000 salary that the public will vote on for county commissioners. About a quarter of the money she has raised for the campaign have has come from Braman.

Edmonson says Austin is carrying Braman’s water.

Austin calls that “bull----,” saying her conversations with Braman have all been about leveling the playing field on a commission in which defeating incumbents has historically been nearly impossible. She admits it’s unlikely she would have run had Braman not offered to support her.

“I had a hard time making that decision [to run for office], because it’s difficult raising money because it’s such an ugly climate,” Austin said.

Austin was born in Liberty City and still lives in the home her parents bought there. She attended Charles Drew Elementary, Edison Middle and Edison Senior High. She spent two years at Miami-Dade College and completed an undergraduate degree in communications at the University of South Florida. She later received a master’s degree in hospitality and eco-tourism at Florida International University, and she spent time working in the Caribbean for the United Nations.

For the past six years she has directed the Tacolcy Center, a Liberty City mainstay that provides services and activities for lower-income families throughout the county. She brushes aside attacks by Edmonson that if she wins the commission seat she will be little more than a mouthpiece for Braman.

Edmonson has “10 or 15 interest groups flooding her [campaign] chest. Why is she upset about one man?”Austin asked.

Still, two-term Commissioner Edmonson, the former mayor of El Portal, maintains a healthy following and strong campaign bank account.

She has easily outraised the competition, collecting $205,755 to Hardemon’s $27,202, and Austin’s $20,413. Also in the race but not expected to present a strong challenge are civil rights attorney Michael Jackson Joseph, who has banked $7,325; retired county police officer Eddie Lewis, with $5,100, and Nadia Pierre, a former community liaison for ousted County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who has collected $2,300.

Edmonson, too, was born and raised in Liberty City. She attended Miami Jackson Senior High School and went to Miami-Dade College and Florida International University before getting a post-graduate degree at Barry University. A flight attendant with Eastern Airlines until 1987, she served as the mayor of El Portal from 1999 to 2004. In 2005 she won the District 3 seat, replacing Barbara Carey-Shuler.

Edmonson is campaigning on her experience, and touts accomplishments like the long-awaited retail/residential transit village that is expected to soon break ground at Northwest 62nd Street and Seventh Avenue.

The district is perhaps the county’s most diverse, with its 200,000 residents living in Miami Shores, El Portal, Brownsville, Little Haiti, Liberty City, Overtown, Allapattah, Wynwood, Edgewater and the Upper East Side.Edmonson is not a fan of term limits or the proposed $48,000 yearly salaries for commissioners, though she still voted to put term limits on the November ballot. She also gave an impassioned speech on the commission dais two weeks ago, saying how lowering the tax rate in unincorporated areas wasn’t fair to the poorer sections of the county, which could see services erode even further.

Ultimately, however, she voted for Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s proposed budget, which will lower the property-tax rate but still count as a “tax increase” under state law because more money will be going into the county’s coffers due to a slight uptick in property values.

“I’m not going to vote against anything the people want unless there’s a clear conflict of interest,” said Edmonson. “We’d still have a majority of constituents saying don’t raise the taxes. Regardless of what I think needs to be done, if constituents think otherwise, I’m going to have to go along with my constituents.”

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