John 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.
With Opa-locka on the verge of bankruptcy, Riley won the support of the city’s most prominent leaders, and was appointed to a vacant commission seat until he could run for the office this fall.
But shortly after he launched his campaign, Riley was informed that he was disqualified from the race. The reason: His check for $316 to the city had bounced — insufficient funds.
“How do you let something like that happen?” said Alvin Burke, who is running for another commission seat. “I didn’t believe it.”
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The 71-year-old candidate’s ouster from the race provides yet another irony for a city that has been struggling to pay its debts — millions of dollars — as it veers toward what could be one of the first municipal bankruptcies in Florida.
Known for reciting the city charter, Riley was seen as a candidate who could guide Opa-locka through a crisis that has been unfolding for nearly a year, with city leaders unable to pay hundreds of vendors, including contractors and suppliers.
In his brief tenure, Riley has been openly critical of the state board appointed by the governor to oversee the city’s finances, saying it was usurping the mayor and commission on critical decisions.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Riley said he regrets he made a mistake in his candidate application by writing a check he couldn’t cover.
“I take responsibility,” said Riley, a former mayor. “It’s my fault. It shouldn’t have happened. I wish the circumstances in the city were different, but they’re not.”
As a result of his ouster, Anna Margarita Alvarado — the other candidate for the seat — will be declared the winner, said City Clerk Joanna Flores. Alvarado, a former receptionist at City Hall, declined to comment because she hasn’t been officially informed she is the winner by default.
Candidates in the November election said the latest development could help 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 the city.
Just this week, 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.
I take responsibility. It’s my fault. It shouldn’t have happened. I wish the circumstances in the city were different, but they’re not.
Commissioner John Riley
Burke criticized the commission for appointing Riley in June to a temporary seat on the commission.
“This is the best they got? How can you balance the city’s budget when you can’t even balance your own bank account,” said Burke, who is running for another city commission seat. “I’m kicking myself for not running against him now.”
After losing his mayor’s seat three decades ago, Riley ran unsuccessfully several times until he was finally appointed by the mayor and commissioners to fill the seat left after the suicide of Terence Pinder in May.
Riley filed the paperwork for the upcoming election to finish Pinder’s four-year term — which ends in 2018. But he was informed in a letter last week by the city that he was disqualified.
By the time the check bounced, the Aug. 12 deadline for qualifying had passed.