Miami’s District 5 has long been the city’s most perplexing and troubled band of neighborhoods.
From Overtown through Little Haiti and up into Liberty City, no neighborhood offers a better view of the glitzy new condos that tower over downtown Miami. Look east from almost any part of Overtown, and the skyline is only a stone’s throw away — though seemingly out of reach.
Many areas of the city’s poorest district are wracked with crime and sky-high unemployment. It’s a problem that has grown over the past 50 years, since Interstate 95 construction tore through the community’s core and split what was once a vast cultural destination. Riots only added to the district’s woes, scaring away possible development and forcing residents to flee.
Now, because of redistricting, candidates vying to represent District 5 on Nov. 5 must learn to straddle between the inner city and at least a portion of a quickly developing waterfront neighborhood. The district, which has historically run from Overtown to Liberty City, suddenly absorbed the neighborhoods of Buena Vista, Oakland and Palm Grove, Shorecrest and Belle Meade.
In addition to dealing with crime and public-works woes, the candidates are suddenly facing constituent concerns over controversial height restrictions and complaints from shopkeepers about parking meters driving away customers. The change in boundaries last summer increased the district’s population by about 5 percent to 80,193. Though registered black voters still constitute the vast majority of voters at 65 percent, the number of Hispanic and white non-Hispanic registered voters both made significant gains, jumping to 26.5 and 6.5 percent, respectively.
Early voting begins Monday. Absentee-ballot voting is already under way. If no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the top two vote-getters would take place Nov. 19.
“Before this, [the issues were] mostly crime,” said Robert Malone Jr., a substitute teacher at Miami Jackson Senior High who is taking his second shot at the district seat.
Malone, a long shot to fill the seat that will be vacated by two-term commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, faces a strong field that includes former District 5 Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II, Miami-Dade assistant public defender Keon Hardemon, and Miami-Dade Children’s Trust Executive Jacqui Colyer.
Two weeks ago, during a debate on the Upper Eastside, the candidates were very careful to include their new constituents early on in the discussion.
“We’re better as one district together. I’m making you a commitment today that I will work with every community in District 5,” Colyer said.
Hardemon ticked off the names Buena Vista, Belle Meade and Shorecrest before explaining how he “fights for the people’s rights every day in a courtroom.”
And Dunn apologized to Buena Vista residents for voting on a 35-foot height restriction during a commission stint two years ago when he occupied Spence-Jones’ seat while she was suspended from office.
“I’m going to publicly apologize,” Dunn said. “I will come to you, the residents, to determine what you want.”
Florida International University political science professor Dario Moreno said the black vote will still determine who wins the election.