With early voting well underway in Homestead, mayoral and council candidates have been omnipresent on the campaign trail, spending days at voting precincts to distribute their campaign literature. But they have also raised tens of thousands of dollars in their race to claim a spot on the dais.
After the primary election weeded out seven candidates, the remaining five hopefuls are: Mayoral candidates Mark Bell and Jeff Porter; Council Seat Four candidates Jimmie Williams III and Norman Hodge Jr.; and vice mayoral candidates Stephen Shelley and Hodge.
In total, the five have raised nearly $154,000 from farmers, developers, businesses, Realtors, attorneys, politicians and former Homestead staffers.
Most notable in the campaign contribution reports: Embattled developers who have a political history with the city, especially with its former Mayor Steve Bateman who was arrested on conflict-of-interest charges, have contributed to some candidates.
Contributions from developers tend to have significant weight in a city like Homestead, where vacant buildings, like the Seminole Theatre in downtown and the vacant shotgun houses in the Southwest district, have awaited redevelopment for years, and where in the past city-owned land has been sold to developers for prices lower than its appraised value.
Mark Bell has raised about $93,300, not only outpacing his opponent, Jeff Porter, but locking in the highest number of campaign contributions out of all five candidates running for the three open seats.
Charter-school developer Wayne Rosen, who in previous years contributed to former Mayor Steve Bateman’s campaign, and his Coral Gables-based companies have contributed $4,000 to Bell’s campaign.
Another highlight in Bell’s reports is a $1,000 contribution from Homestead’s former City Manager Mike Shehadeh, who was fired from his job in 2010 after an independent investigation revealed he visited risqué websites and an online-dating service on his city computer and also sent amorous text messages to his former female deputy city manager.
Palmetto Bay Vice Mayor John DuBois has also supported Bell with a $500 contribution.
For his part, Porter has raised about $31,400, including $500 from the Dade County Police Benevolent Association and $200 from former Mayor Roscoe Warren.
When it comes to campaign contributions, incumbent Jimmie Williams III has taken a lead against his challenger, former Councilman Norman Hodge Jr.
Williams has raised nearly $24,000, most notable of which is a $4,500 contribution from embattled former for-profit school CEO Ernesto Perez; the school Perez founded, Dade Medical College; Perez’s wife, Sylvia; and several eateries that Perez presides over, including Lucky’s Pub and Grub in Homestead.
“We’ve had a good working relationship since I’ve been on the council,” said Williams about Perez. “What I mean by that is opening any new development and him bringing his college to downtown. To me that’s a good partnership with the city, not me personally. Dade Medical has been a staple in the community and has been a community partner.”
Perez recently resigned from his CEO position for Dade Medical College as he faces criminal charges for failing to disclose a previous arrest where he was convicted for a sex crime with a minor. Perez did not disclose the 1990 arrest on paperwork he filled out to be appointed to Florida’s Commission on Independent Education, which monitors for-profit schools.
Perez has been purchasing properties around Homestead with hopes of redeveloping them, and has also raised eyebrows because of his close ties to former Mayor Bateman. While Perez had business before Homestead officials, Bateman’s wife, Donna, was working as his Realtor.
Williams also has a $100 contribution from Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson.
Hodge has raised $4,090, partially funding his own campaign and the rest coming from farmers, architects, former Mayor Roscoe Warren, and other community organizations.
Hodge is also facing Councilman Stephen Shelley for the race for the vice mayor’s seat.
Shelley ran unopposed to keep his seat representing the Northwest district of Homestead during the primary election in October. He had originally raised more than $17,000 when he campaigned to keep his council seat before he was aware he had no opponent. While he spent a good chunk of that money, city laws do not permit for him to use the remainder for his vice mayor’s bid.
"I am at an uphill battle trying to raise some funds," said Shelley. "I don’t have anybody at the polls because I don’t have any money to pay for anybody."
As for Hodge, city law says that even if he gets enough votes to win the vice mayor’s seat, in order to become the vice mayor he must also win his bid for council Seat Four.
Election Day is Tuesday.