The lone Miami Gardens race on the Nov. 8 ballot is a runoff that pits one current and one former elected official against each other for an at-large City Council seat. In recent weeks the race has centered on money, through candidates focusing on economic opportunities for residents and a challenger calling out the incumbent for his spending practices.
Incumbent councilman David Williams Jr., 62, who finished second in a field of four candidates in the August election, will face the frontrunner, former councilman Andre Williams, 48, in the Nov. 8 runoff. (The two men are not related.)
Andre Williams, a real estate attorney who served on the council from 2006 to 2012, finds himself in a runoff election for the second straight election cycle. In 2014, he unsuccessfully competed for seat 6 against Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro.
Williams has pushed plans to reduce the city’s high unemployment numbers through job training and to address the lingering effects of the recession on homeowners through foreclosure prevention workshops.
“Residents want a council person who will focus on quality of life issues and helping them improve their way of life,” Williams said.
His campaign has also called attention to spending habits by members of the City Council, and particularly his opponent, through city-issued debit cards known as purchasing or “P” cards.
The city’s policy is that elected officials and other personnel use the cards for official city business and that misuse of the card could result in revocation of the card, discipline, termination or criminal charges. The policy states that personal use of the card is not allowed.
Williams’ argument, which appears in campaign mailers to residents, is that the incumbent councilman has made a habit of using his card for non-city related expenses like personal dinners and shopping.
“David Williams has been misusing his city-issued debit card as his own personal piggy bank for daily living expenses and his own social life,” Williams said. “Dinners at high-end restaurants is not the best use of city dollars.”
According to city records, over a four-year span the council members have spent tens of thousands of dollars. Williams Jr. has the largest number of transactions with more than 1,200 charges in that period including multiple charges at Miami Gardens restaurants like Arline’s Seafood and Yarumba Restaurant — sometimes on multiple occasions within the same week. The next highest amount in that time frame is 437 transactions by Mayor Oliver Gilbert.
Williams Jr., community relations director for Informed Families Inc., said that everything he spent was vetted by the city and the finance director and said that his opponent was attempting to fool the public. He said that the lunches and other things he purchased were for volunteers or campaign workers over the years or for meetings with potential investors in his science-related initiatives.
“I’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the community for science,” Williams Jr said. “Did I sometimes pay for lunch? Sure, but it helped the city.”
Williams Jr. is known for promoting his annual science fair, community flower gardens and for helping the city partner with organizations like the Jessie Trice Community Health Center.
“I talk a lot about science but people need to understand that science is just one part of our issues,” Williams Jr. said. “I am never going to lose focus on economic development and creating jobs.”
Early voting begins Oct. 24 and continues through Nov. 6. Election day is Nov. 8.
Miami Gardens will also vote in December — for the second time — for a new mayor. A do-over of the Aug. 30 mayoral race was scheduled after the state Supreme Court ruled that a candidate was wrongly excluded from the ballot.
Four candidates will be on the Dec. 6 ballot: the incumbent mayor Gilbert, who won in August with 69 percent of the vote; James Wright, a former Opa-locka police chief, whose name was not put on the ballot after his bank wrongly returned his check for his filing fee; former councilman Ulysses Harvard and political newcomer Clara Johnson.