Keon Hardemon, who rose from poverty to practice law, was sworn in on Wednesday as Miami’s newest commissioner.
In a large ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Miami, Hardemon told a standing-room only crowd of more than 300 people how he will move forward trying to tackle the district’s needs, from hunger and poverty to gentrification and a unemployment.
Hardemon takes over a seat that had been occupied by Michelle Spence-Jones for the past two terms. He now represents the city’s largest mosaic, a district of about 80,000 that runs from Overtown through Little Haiti and up into Liberty City, before heading east to Shorecrest and Belle Meade.
The challenges facing the hard scrabble district were not lost on Hardemon, who himself is a product of public housing and the son of a single mom.
“You elected me to champion the issues that plague our community,” said Hardemon. “I could have easily been one of those who lost his way.”
Though redistricting over the summer added the eastern shoreline communities to District 5, it remains the poorest and most crime-ridden district in the city, with the highest unemployment rate.
It’s also a district often represented by political giants, several of whom were the targets of law enforcement public corruption probes. Former representatives run the gamut from Miami royalty like Athalie Range and Theodore Gibson to Miller Dawkins and Arthur Teele Jr.
Dawkins was imprisoned after accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes. Teele killed himself in the lobby of the former Miami Herald building amid a federal probe into kickbacks on government land deals.
Still, Hardemon praised his predecessors, saying he now “stands on the shoulders of giants,” before ticking off their names.
Hardemon, 30, is the youngest Miami commissioner since Joe Carollo won his first seat in the mid 1980s. He’s an assistant Miami-Dade public defender whose family has a colorful history involving Miami politics.
His District 5 victory was his second foray into politics, having lost a runoff in a heated election last year to County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson. This go-round, Hardemon won a runoff election, benefitting from a series of campaign gaffes by the Rev. Richard P. Dunn II, the early favorite for the seat and a man who has occupied it several times over the past two decades.
Dunn and Edmonson were in attendance Wednesday, seated at tables in the front of the ballroom near the stage Hardemon spoke from.
Hardemon was sworn in by Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Orlando A. Prescott, a former state prosecutor who is Hardemon’s mentor. Wednesday, before hundreds of Hardemon well-wishers, Prescott said he expects the new commissioner to use their sentiments as a blueprint in his governing.
“The conversations we’ve had will come to fruition,” the judge said, “because I will hold you to it.”