The four candidates vying to represent Miami’s District 5 gathered at a Legion Park auditorium in the city’s Upper Eastside Tuesday night to allay the concerns of residents whose neighborhoods recently became part of the district and to share their vision of what Miami should strive for in the next four years.
The candidates are social services worker Jacqui Colyer; the Rev. Richard P. Dunn II; assistant public defender Keon Hardemon, and a public school instructor, Richard Malone Jr. And though each had different thoughts on several issues, they all spoke of the need for the community to come together, fight crime and entice development.
“I’m making you a commitment today that I will work with every community in District 5,” said Colyer, who directs neighborhood and community services for the Children’s Trust.
The statement struck a chord with the 100 or so people attending the Tuesday debate, because most of the Upper Eastside, from Belle Meade to Shorecrest to Palm Grove, became the newest part of the district over the summer as commissioners wrestled with redistricting. The four are vying to replace two-term commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who remains popular in the community but is banned by term limits from running again.
Historically, District 5 ran from Overtown through Little Haiti and up into Liberty City. Constituent fears Tuesday ranged from being ignored as a community, to a movement to change several of the legacy community names in the district — like Little River and Palm Grove — to Little Haiti.
Though the name-change issue was never directly addressed, at different points of the evening each candidate made a concerted effort to name all the communities they could recall within the district.
The night’s most common theme: crime and how to deal with it. When asked about the 100 or so new cops that will protect Miami’s streets in the next year, all the candidates said the officers should be deployed evenly across the city. All shared the belief that the state needs to spend more money helping the chronically homeless with mental issues, and all believed 79th Street needs to be cleaned up and be made more inviting to new business.
Dunn, senior pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church, has twice been chosen to fill vacated seats on the commission and emphasized that experience.
“This is not my first time at bat. I’ve served before. There’s no substitute for experience,” said Dunn, who served for 21 months in Spence-Jones’ seat as she successfully battled criminal charges.
Hardemon, a Miami-Dade assistant public defender who lost a tough county commission race last year to Audrey Edmonson, stressed his roots in the community. A graduate of Northwestern High and the University of Miami law school, he asked his mother a Miami police officer, to stand up at one point.
“I fight for our rights every day in a courtroom,” he said.
Malone, a crowd favorite who has the support of Miami Neighborhoods United — a broad coalition of homeowner associations that holds particular sway on the Upper Eastside — questioned slow response times to unclog city drains or pick up garbage. As Dunn hammered away at his own experience, Malone said it was experienced politicians who helped the Miami Marlins build their controversial ballpark, and who got the city into a mess with federal authorities over allegedly misleading bond investors.
“You need a commissioner who is going to tell you the truth and be honest with you,” he said.
The two-hour debate, mostly cordial, was sponsored by the Belle Meade Homeowners Association. Biscayne Times Publisher Jim Mullin asked the questions, giving the candidates a minute or two to respond.
There was some levity during a series of rapid-fire, yes-or-no questions near the end.
First, Colyer correctly answered that the city’s operating budget for this year was $524 million. Then Dunn correctly said Northeast 87th Street was the city’s northern border.
After all the candidates agreed they would attend all commission meetings and report any government-in-the-sunshine violations, Hardemon was asked the toughest question of all: Name the borders of the city’s historic Mimo District.
As Hardemon appeared momentarily confused, Malone stood up smiling and whispered to him, showing Hardemon something in his notes. The crowd laughed and the assistant public defender answered the question — correctly, for the most part. Mullin then erred in trying to name the exact borders, eliciting even more laughter.
The election is Nov. 5. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held two weeks later.