Completing the job they began in the October primary, Homestead voters on Nov. 3 will elect a new vice mayor and councilman.
More than 1,500 voters participated in the Oct. 6 primary, reelecting incumbent Mayor Jeffrey Porter and electing newcomer Lawrence Roth as councilman for Seat 3. Councilwoman Patricia Fairclough ran unopposed and was automatically reelected to Seat 6.
In the runoff for a four-year term representing Keys Gate District (Council Seat 2) are current councilman Jon Burgess and newcomer Lawrence Meno Jr.
Fairclough, along with Meno, are also running for vice mayor. According to the city charter, anyone who is on the ballot can run for vice mayor, in addition to a council seat. Meno is running for both seats.
Throughout election season, all three candidates were very vocal about Homestead’s infrastructure, its developing downtown and crime prevention.
They also shared their views on a controversial vote taken Oct. 13 on the city’s forlorn bowling alley, which will transform into a retro car dealership.
The project has generated controversy since the Miami Herald revealed last month that the deal’s most vocal proponent, Councilman Jimmy Williams, had carried on a series of undisclosed contacts with the car dealer, Jay Rivchin, over Williams’ city-issued cellphone in the time leading up to a vote. Williams and Rivchin had more than 400 interactions, none of them made public until the Herald reported about them.
Less than two weeks after the council initially voted in favor of the project, Williams’ goddaughter bought a car from Rivchin’s dealership after the three engaged in a late-evening conference call. Both Rivchin and Williams said there were no special considerations, although neither would produce a sales invoice. The story also cited evidence that Williams doesn’t live in Homestead, which would make him ineligible to serve on the council. Williams said he does live in the city.
Burgess was first elected in 2007 to a two-year term as vice mayor and a four-year term to represent Council Seat 2. He was reelected to serve as vice mayor again from 2011 to 2013 and another four-year term representing Council Seat 2.
Burgess tells the Herald he believes he has “a lot of unfinished work here in the city.”
“We have made a tremendous amount of progress,” he said. “ The hard work will continue on until the end until they are done.”
Burgess takes pride in being a solid vote in revitalizing the city’s downtown area, which will be the home to two government buildings and a new arts center.
“I believe I make good decisions up there for the entire city,” he said.
“Homestead, years and years ago, history shows that it was a special stop. We want to become the jewel of South Dade and enjoy the downtown. We want to be something special again.”
“I believe that I have proved myself to be somebody that can look at both sides and make what I feel to be the best decision for the city. First I take my personal feelings and leave it out and do the best work, which is for the people.”
Most recently, Burgess ultimately voted on the OK for the car dealership to start building. Burgess, a vocal councilman who pressed the dealer to place protections into the contract, said he made the best decision at the end.
“I needed to make sure we are going to get what we were promised: a first class new car dealership,” he said. “It will bring in jobs and revenue into the city.”
Burgess believes the city needs to continue advocating for the expansion of mass transit in South Dade.
He said he plans to take a “brilliant idea” that a constituent shared with him recently.
“Can you imagine a ferry going from downtown Miami to Homestead’s Bayfront Park Marina or Blackpoint Marina? You’ll turn a 2 ½ hour commute into a 30-minute ride. These are immediate solutions instead of a 10-year railroad for a fraction of a cost.”
“It’s something outside of the box that no one has ever even suggested. I definitely plan on bringing it to the council. It’s something that we need to look at.”
Records show Burgess was charged with a nonviolent domestic dispute in 1998. It was later dismissed.
Fairclough, 39, was elected to the council in 2011 to serve a four-year term. She told the Herald that although she was automatically reelected during the primary, she is still adamant about running for vice mayor.
“You always have to have someone who is capable to step up in the event that the mayor cannot,” she said. “I want to be that one to step up and serve the community.”
If she loses, she will still serve as the seat that she was reelected to. “I believe that finishing things that I start is important.”
Fairclough, assistant vice principal of Pine Lake Elementary School, said her primary ambition is to better the quality of schools in Homestead.
“A lot of our schools are stepping up to the plate. They are changing the academic climate and culture here, changing the trajectory and the negative hovering over education in this city,” Fairclough said, noting that she aspires to one day have students not just graduate from schools in Homestead but come back in reinvest in their communities as adults.
“We are investing millions of dollars for them to go off to college, but why aren’t they coming back? Because the jobs aren’t here. We need to create high-quality jobs in the community.”
She said she also strives for more student participation and involvement at Homestead Senior High School and Homestead Middle School, where she said are the county’s highest number of absentees and tardies. She said she is working on incentive and mentorship programs to better those statistics.
Fairclough said she is also passionate about bringing life to the downtown area. In the coming years, a new police station, a new City Hall and a new theater will be built.
Expanding transportation in South Dade is also something she wants. Fairclough ultimately supported turning the bowling alley into the car dealership. She said the amount of jobs it will bring to the city, and the $2.3 million the city would reap, is what swayed her.
“Was it the perfect decision? No,” she said, adding that she would have rather seen a family-oriented venue rise up. “But given the circumstances, I believe I did what’s best for the city.”
LAWRENCE MENO JR.
Meno, 45, said his top priority for the city of Homestead would be to hire more police officers.
“We have to look at safety first,” Meno said. “If we don’t have a safe city, we don’t have anything. We won’t have any growth until we hire more police officers.”
He contends that he doesn’t agree with the city in investing so many millions of dollars into the new station, City Hall and theater.
“If they are willing to spend many millions in projects and none on the police department, then I think we’re doing things backwards,” he said. “They think it’s going to be Coconut Grove. It’s taken 30 years to get Coconut Grove to be situated.”
“You have to have someone that is willing to sit up there and say ‘no.’ I’m not against growth, but to invest this amount of money without reoccurring revenue is not smart,” he said, citing the amount of maintenance it will take to keep the new buildings up to par.”
Meno, who ran the Keys Gate golf course for five years, and managed a shoe store for more than a decade, said the city should be focusing on bringing more and more businesses in.
“Where do people go to get away, to have fun? They’re going up north. They’re going to The Falls and to Dolphin Mall. There is currently nothing family-oriented in Homestead that you can do.”
Meno said he disagreed with the council’s decision to bring in the car dealership.
“We had an opportunity to have a bowling alley,” he said. “That went away.”
Meno said there are several things he would seek to change in Homestead, one being having an in-house building department. Homestead currently outsources the department.
“It’s very difficult to do business in Homestead,” Meno said. “The permit process isn’t very friendly; it’s not very conducive to the business person. Not very friendly.”
Records show Meno has had financial trouble in the past.
He filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and 2013 but didn’t follow through with the cases. Records also show that he has been sued by several banks and his homeowners association, which he had owed $34,000. He had two lawsuits filed on two of his prior properties. The suits were later dismissed. Records show that in 2006 he was charged with cannabis possession. The charge was later dropped after he agreed to to participate in a diversion program.
Meno told the Herald he didn’t recall being sued by banks or the homeowners association. He said although he had filed for bankruptcy, he “never went through with it.”
“I’m one of thousands of people that came into a financial situation and a divorce, and I had to get through it as best I could,” he said. “I have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Regarding the drug charge, Meno said he was in the VIP section of a martini bar when a nearby police officer found some weed on the floor, walked up to him and asked him to get up.
“I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. “I did absolutely nothing wrong.”
Election Day is Nov. 3
For a list of polling places, visit www.cityofhomestead.com. For more information, call Homestead City Hall at 305-224-4400.