The contentious race to replace Homestead’s former mayor, who was arrested and suspended from office, ended with voters choosing a former councilman and vice mayor to become their new mayor.
Jeff Porter, 54, defeated his opponent, Mark Bell, 57, with 55 percent of the vote. That works out to a 308-vote difference, not counting provisional ballots.
“Nasty politics has no place in Homestead, and that was proven tonight,” Porter told more than 150 of his supporters who had gathered Tuesday night at the White Lion Café in Homestead to watch election results as they were being reported. “I am going to work my butt off, and we are going to turn this thing around.”
Porter, who served as vice mayor from 1997-99 and as councilman 1999 to 2007, replaced Homestead’s former Mayor Steve Bateman.
Bateman was arrested in late August for holding an undisclosed $125-an-hour consulting job with a healthcare nonprofit that had business in front of the city council. Florida Gov. Rick Scott promptly suspended him from office.
The 58-year-old tried to reclaim his old post but placed third in a four-way race for the mayor’s seat in the Oct. 1 primary.
About a week ago, he was arrested again, this time on misdemeanor charges of election-law violations stemming from his 2011 mayoral re-election. Bateman has said he is innocent on both accounts.
Porter, who owns Worldwide Supply Solutions, a utility industry products resale company in Homestead, has said his decision to once again sit on Homestead’s dais, this time as mayor, was partly motivated because he has seen the current council struggle with its mayoral leadership up until now.
“It has been less about building consensus and more about doing what I want to do,” he told the Miami Herald. “I just want to get back to the rules, and if the rules don’t fit, then change them. Don’t just ignore them.”
When it comes to his agenda for Homestead, the short answer is that he wants to improve the city’s infrastructure.
Some of Homestead’s problems include a building moratorium caused by water and sewer systems functioning at maximum capacity. In addition, city staff is working from offices housed in a shopping plaza after its old City Hall was shuttered because of contamination. Homestead owns land on Washington Avenue in downtown that has been slated for a new City Hall. Porter has said he wants to move forward with the project.
“Some things that we’ve done to beautify the city are great,” he said. “We need to keep those. I also think that we need to invest in the things that aren’t as pretty but allow the city to actually function. Additional capacity for the water and sewer, it’s about more self-reliance.”
On the campaign trail, he listed a four-point plan he will work on as mayor: 1. Create jobs. 2. Reduce taxes and fees. 3. Tackle traffic congestion. 4. Look into public safety.
When it comes to job creation, he has said he wants make it easier for small businesses to open in Homestead.
“There’s people that talk about Homestead being a premium city, meaning it costs you a premium to come in here and open a business,” he said. “Why? I want to look at that and make sure we are not charging a premium and if we are, to address policy so our policies don’t interfere with the ease of businesses coming here. “
As for taxes and fees, Porter said both are too high.
“Why are we charging considerably more?” he said. “I want to delve into that issue.”
An issue that Homestead residents have recently raised is public safety. For this budget cycle, the council voted to add six more police officers.
Porter said that he would look into whether the problem is morale issues or a low number of police officers on staff.
End of a heated race
Tuesday night’s election results marked the end of a heated race for the mayor’s seat.
Part of the race was fought in witty mailers through which Bell and Porter took jabs at each other.
One mailer funded by Porter’s campaign, prompted Bell to file a complaint with the county ethics commission. The mailer depicts a mock $25,000 check and says the money was a “gift” to Bell and his wife, County Commissioner Lynda Bell, from Homestead taxpayers.
The money was a grant from the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency for the renovation of The Hotel Redland, which Bell owns.
The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust is investigating for possible violations of a county fair campaign practices law.
Porter has said that the ad is correct and recently appealed a probable cause finding by the ethics commission.
Council, Vice Mayor
Voters also chose to keep incumbent Councilman Jimmie Williams III to his seat representing Homestead’s Southwest district. Williams won 52 percent of the vote, beating his challenger, Norman Hodge Jr.
Councilman Stephen Shelley, who ran unopposed in the primary election to keep his seat representing the Northwest district, was also elected vice mayor with 49.5 percent of the vote for that seat.
Councilman Elvis Maldonado was also re-elected to keep his seat representing Homestead’s Waterstone district. He won more than 50 percent of the vote at the Oct. 1 primary, which automatically re-elected him to the seat.
In Homestead, the mayor’s term is two years and a council member’s term is four years. The new mayor, and the re-elected vice mayor and council members assumed office immediately after the election.
Miami Herald writer Elizabeth de Armas contributed to this report.