But the weaving of Haitians into North Miami’s fabric has not been seamless.
Pierre’s two terms in office fueled tensions when some residents questioned if the mayor, between official trips to Haiti, represented the entire community or just Haitians.
Some residents were so incensed of Pierre’s leadership that they started a secession movement for the neighborhoods east of Biscayne Boulevard: Keystone Point and Sans Souci. The movement fizzled.
The East side is comprised of more affluent neighborhoods east of Biscayne Boulevard with a sizable white population. The West side — the neighborhoods west of Northwest Seventh Avenue — has a large concentration of Haitian residents.
“Anyone who says there is no racism in North Miami is fooling themselves, ” said Councilman Scott Galvin. “But it’s not the entire community. We’re not doing enough to bring everyone together to have this conversation to see how much we have in common.”
The city’s African-American and Hispanic residents can sway the election, but they are mostly silent.
Both Haitian-Americans and whites say the other side is to blame.
When Burns made the Barbancourt rum comment at the candidate forum, the audience of mostly Haitian residents laughed.
To turn it into a racial issue, Burns said, “was self serving on that candidate’s part.”
“Would it have made a difference if I said Jack Daniels? I was referring to something the audience could relate to.”
Carol Keys, a candidate for the District 2 Council Seat, said talks of harmony and becoming one city are hopeless during the election season.
“The unity, it’s not going to happen during these elections. You have candidates out there saying you can’t vote for a white person. Why shouldn’t I be able to represent all segments of our city? Because I’m white?
Non-Haitian candidates have publicly and privately complained that on Creole-language radio, on-air personalities fan racial flames by referring to candidates as the “white candidate and “black candidate.”
Keys experienced attacks on Creole-language radio two years ago when she unsuccessfully tried to unseat Pierre in the mayor’s race.
Then, a candidate for mayor, she sent out a mailer depicting pigs wearing business suits. The pigs, she said, were a metaphor for special interest groups stuffing their pockets with taxpayers’ dollars.
Days before election, Pierre’s supporters took to the airwaves on Haitian radio. The pigs, they insisted, symbolized the mayor and the Haitian community at large.
“Everything in our city turns into race because the politicians that are sitting up there use the race card to incite the people and that gives them power,” Keys said. “They turned an innocent piece of campaign literature into a total lie to incite hatred.”
On the other side, members of the Haitian community take exception to the insults hurled at Pierre by white residents.
“They call him dictator, Papa Doc, Duvalier,” said Tondreau, one of the Haitian candidates running for mayor and a Pierre supporter.
Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, a ruthless dictator in Haiti, was accused of orchestrating the murders of thousands of Haitians.
“For Haitians, Papa Doc and tonton macoutes are not something we want to necessarily be associated with. When they bring up Papa Doc, that is something many Haitians are sensitive about,” said Tondreau, who likens it to calling a local Cuban leader Fidel Castro.