Voters handed Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and City Commissioner Frank Carollo second terms Tuesday in resounding fashion, but split the vote in the contentious battle to represent the city’s only predominantly black district, which will now go to a runoff in two weeks.
In what was expected to be a close contest between the Rev. Richard P. Dunn II and Miami-Dade assistant public defender Keon Hardemon, voters actually gave Hardemon about twice as many votes as Dunn in the race representing District 5, the city’s only predominantly black district.
Despite intense last-minute pitches by both sides to grab the Little Haiti vote, Hardemon failed to secure the majority vote needed to avoid a Nov. 19 runoff against Dunn. With all precincts reporting by early morning Wednesday, Dunn had squeaked past Miami-Dade Children's Trust executive Jacqui Colyer just enough to avoid a recount.
Dunn, a political veteran and the early frontrunner, had suffered a series of setbacks over questionable financial reports.
Trailing the trio was Jackson High School teacher Robert Malone Jr.
The city’s District 5 is the most diverse district in Miami, cutting a large swath from Overtown through Little Haiti, into Liberty City, and east to Shorecrest and Belle Meade.
At a festive gathering at Overtown’s Jackson Soul Food where a hearty crowd watched results stream in on three large screen televisions, Hardemon was surrounded by family and friends that included rapper Luther Campbell, Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez and Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who is term-limited and whose seat Hardemon is looking to fill.
Pink flowers and balloons filled tables. Hardemon teared up when his 85-year-old grandmother, Ethel Hardemon, showed up unexpectedly. He reflected on last year’s tough runoff loss to Audrey Edmonson for a county commission seat.
“I’ve got an awesome team. They always stay above the fray and above the bickering,” said Hardemon. “We’ve already started planning tonight. I know more than anyone this is only one step.”
The scene couldn’t have been any more different a few miles north at the American Legion Hall, where a subdued crowd seemed stunned while waiting for Dunn to make a statement. It was quiet as supporters watched the results churn in. Dunn arrived shortly before 9:30 p.m.
“This is not what we expected. But sometimes in life you have to deal with the unexpected. We have an uphill battle, but we will win,” Dunn said.
Dunn’s campaign manager, Greg King, said the campaign was surprised at Hardemon’s lead, calling it “unexpected.”
Colyer said she was thrilled with the showing, despite only raising about half the money Dunn did.
Dunn has spent weeks hammering away at Hardemon’s inexperience. Hardemon has countered that electing Dunn is just more of the same, and has questioned the senior pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church’s ability to handle the city’s budget after years of mismanaging his own finances.
Trying to secure the wild card Little Haiti vote over recent weeks — a district with a historic large Election Day turnout — Dunn recruited activist Nacivre Charles. Tuesday, the campaign filled Little Haiti’s streets with supporters, hoping for a significant last-minute turnout.
Hardemon gained the help of Lavarice Gaudin, a long-time confidant of former Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Gaudin flew in from Haiti last week to help the campaign after Haitian radio host and political consultant Carline Paul left the campaign trail for the Dominican Republic. Gaudin did radio pieces with Hardemon and accompanied him throughout the neighborhood Tuesday.
In the race for mayor, Regalado easily secured a second term, brushing aside three relatively unknown challengers, Jeffrey Anthony Benjamin, Williams Armbrister and Tom Baumann. The mayor spent the day visiting polling places, thanking poll workers and talking with voters. Friends and family gathered at Coral Way’s Our Lady of Lebanon Church for the vote count and to celebrate the start of the mayor’s second term.
In the city’s other commission race for the District 3 seat that stretches from Little Havana into The Roads and part of Shenandoah, Carollo easily fended off his only challenger, pharmaceutical rep Alex Dominguez. The commissioner, a certified public accountant, campaigned on his attention to detail over budget spending, and a first-term move to install baby-changing stations in most men’s bathrooms in city buildings.
But it was the District 5 race and Hardemon’s surprisingly comfortable lead that drew the most attention for Miami voters in an off-year election.
Though Hardemon couldn’t keep up with Dunn’s fundraising, his debating ability and the financial management issues that weighed down Dunn, helped Hardemon in his first run at a city seat.
Dunn had the bigger bank account and the most name recognition. Twice since the late 1990s he’s occupied the District 5 seat through appointment. Another time he won a special election for the seat as Spence-Jones successfully fought state felony charges.
But money woes have followed him. In the early 1990s he resigned from a church run by his grandfather after admitting he used church funds for personal expenses. He paid the church back. His wife recently filed for bankruptcy, and the couple are in arrears on their 2012 property taxes.
Also, his recent campaign reports have come under fire for an unusual number of trips to area restaurants, and other expenses, including more than $18,000 in payments to seven women who the campaign claims were paid 43 times over a three-month period. Two of the women denied earning that much or being paid that often.
The report also arrived almost three weeks late, though the city clerk ruled it timely because the postmark date coincided with the due date.