He was out, but now he’s back in.
John Riley, the Opa-locka commissioner who got himself booted out of the November city election for bouncing a $316 check to qualify, has been reinstated as a candidate — thanks to the Florida Supreme Court.
Riley benefited from a recent ruling by the state high court in an election case out of Miami Gardens, where James Wright was disqualified from the mayoral race last month because a bank had made a mistake in processing his check by the qualifying deadline.
The justices ruled the state law disqualifying Wright was unconstitutional and that he should have been allowed 48 hours upon the return of his check from the bank to qualify for the mayoral race in Miami Gardens. As a result, a window was opened for Riley to submit a cashier’s check for $316 by Monday to qualify for the commission race in Opa-locka, according to City Attorney Vincent Brown.
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Riley, who admitted he had made the initial mistake for lack of funds in his bank account, submitted the new check on Friday to qualify as a candidate in the Nov. 8 local election, according to the city clerk’s office.
“The Supreme Court said it all,” Riley, 72, told the Miami Herald, “and that is why I am qualified.”
Riley will face political newcomer Anna Margarita Alvarado, a former receptionist at City Hall.
Riley, a once-powerful political figure who pledged to help steer Opa-locka through its worst economic crisis in generations, was poised to capture a seat on the city commission.
After losing his mayor’s seat three decades ago, Riley ran unsuccessfully several times until he was finally appointed in June by the mayor and commissioners to fill the seat left vacant after the suicide of Terence Pinder in May.
Riley had filed the paperwork on time for the upcoming election to finish Pinder’s four-year term, which ends in 2018. But he was informed by City Clerk Joanna Flores earlier this month that he was disqualified.
The reason: By the time his check bounced, the Aug. 12 deadline for qualifying had passed and Riley had no time to correct the mistake under state law.
The Supreme Court said it all and that is why I am qualified.
Commissioner John Riley
That barrier was lifted on Thursday, when the state Supreme Court ruled in the Miami Gardens case that such a deadline was an “unreasonable and unnecessary restriction on the elective process.” The court’s far-reaching decision now means that any candidate who misses a qualifying deadline because of bank error or bounced check will have 48 hours to fix the problem.
Riley’s temporary ouster from the race had provided yet another irony for a city struggling to pay its debts — millions of dollars — as it veers toward what could be the first municipal bankruptcies in Florida.
In his brief tenure, Riley has been openly critical of a state board appointed by the governor to oversee the city's finances, saying it was usurping the mayor and commission on critical decisions.
Candidates in the November election said they are hoping to break up a power structure on the city commission that has been under severe criticism for its budget failures amid allegations of corruption that have dominated Opa-locka’s government.
Just last week, former City Manager David Chiverton pleaded guilty in federal court to bribery charges in an ongoing FBI investigation that is targeting a host of city officials, including Commissioner Luis Santiago and Mayor Myra Taylor.