Miami Gardens will have several choices on the ballot in August as the mayor and three city council members all face opponents for their seats.
In the mayor’s race, incumbent Oliver Gilbert faces Ulysses Harvard, a former city councilman and an insurance broker and Clara Johnson, a retired AT&T employee. Candidate James Wright was disqualified because, according to city clerk Ronetta Taylor, the check Wright used to pay his candidate qualifying fee was returned by his bank after they could not find his account number. He plans to fight the city’s decision.
Councilwoman Lillie Odom has one opponent for Seat 1, Nathaniel Miller, president of a Miami Gardens homeowners association and retired administrator at St. Matthews Missionary Baptist Church. In the Seat 3 race, Councilman Rodney Harris also has only one opponent, John Zeigler, who works security for the U.S. Postal Service.
And in the Seat 5 contest, Councilman David Williams is up against Kevin Brown, vice chairman of the city’s progressive youth advisory board and a coordinator with the North Dade Youth and Family Coalition; Raymond Carvil, a former city of Miami police officer; and Andre Williams, a former Miami Gardens council member and attorney.
Additionally, voters will decide on a proposed city charter change that would give the city and the Miami-Dade County Commission joint building and zoning control of the Miami Dolphins’ stadium and the surrounding land.
Mayor Oliver Gilbert, 43, is up against a mix of new and familiar opponents for his mayoral seat, which he has held since 2012. Harvard has competed for elected positions before but this will be the first time for Clara Johnson. Johnson, 65, said she wanted to get involved rather than just complain. She wants to see more small businesses and greater resident involvement in city government.
“I am a concerned constituent myself, and I’m looking for change. I’m looking for us to work together,” Johnson said.
Harvard and Wright have both attended various community events in recent months, and both have focused their messages on resident involvement and combating crime, one of the major issues in the city.
Harvard, 59, was appointed to the council’s Seat 3 in 2005, replacing the late Audrey King, but lost re-election in 2006. He has since competed in three elections, most recently against Councilman Rodney Harris in 2012, but lost in a runoff. He said he wants to bring transparency to the mayor’s seat and also create more opportunities for veterans.
“I’m running to bring government closer to the people, and I feel that that hasn’t been done because there’s not enough people close enough to be truly involved,” Harvard said.
Back in 1997, Harvard was arrested for battery on his then-wife. The charges were later dropped. Harvard said that there was no domestic violence but that the two had an argument.
“There was nothing that happened, there was nothing that occurred. That’s why the case was dropped,” Harvard said.
Wright, 49, who was Opa-locka police chief for about three years before he was fired in 2008, ran unsuccessfully in 2014 for the county commission seat currently held by Barbara Jordan. He hopes to use his law-enforcement background to devise new ways to reduce crime.
“People want to invest in the city, but they don’t want to invest in the city to their detriment because of the crime issues and because of the perception of crime,” Wright said.
Gilbert, who has led the city in the midst of development and growth over the last four years, has also had to deal with frequent high-profile violent incidents and criticism of the city’s policing.
“I look forward to having a conversation with the residents about what we’ve accomplished over the last four years and what we hope to accomplish in the next four years,” Gilbert said.
Councilwoman Lillie Odom, 73, was one of the city’s first employees after it incorporated in 2003, serving as an assistant to the mayor. She has spent much of her four years on the dais advocating for seniors and health services for the elderly. Odom wants to continue that work and also prioritize fixing blighted areas in her district.
“I’m working with management to make sure that we continue to improve the roads in those areas and do some cleanups,” Odom said.
Nathaniel Miller, 65, her opponent, is a first-time candidate. Miller hopes his leadership of the Vista Verde Townhome Association has prepared him to advocate for residents in the surrounding neighborhoods. In addition to activities for seniors, he wants to see the city provide more job training for ex-offenders and young residents.
“Serving as a homeowners association president, I saw a lot of different problems and I think the whole area is facing a lot of the same problems,” Miller said.
As with the other council seats, a political newcomer is up against an incumbent as Councilman Rodney Harris is being challenged by John Zeigler.
Zeigler, 59, said he respects what Harris and the city council have accomplished but wants to bring a common-sense approach to the council chambers. He also wants to see the community be more active in responding to violent crime.
“If you commit a crime in Miami Gardens or anywhere in Miami, we’re not going to just pray about it or talk about it — we’re going to come after you,” Zeigler said.
Harris, 50, has been on the council since 2012 and said that if re-elected he wants to continue to do community events like his monthly food truck invasions and plans to remain accessible to residents.
“If there’s some issue they have or a concern they’d like to address, you can always reach me. I’ll always try to come up with solutions and not just talk,” Harris said.
The race for Seat 5 includes David Williams, the incumbent; Raymond Carvil, a former law-enforcement officer; Andre Williams a former councilman, no relation to David; and Kevin Brown, an advisory board member who has never held elected office.
Brown, 31, and a member of the city’s progressive young adults advisory committee, wants to address the development of businesses and advocate for seniors. He sees the council seat as a logical progression from his work with the advisory board, the purpose of which is to encourage more civic engagement by young adults.
“I think I’ve gotten to a point now where I see the need to take the next step and be a voice for our community,” Brown said.
Andre Williams, 48, who served on the council from 2006 to 2012, is focused on keeping the city accountable for its spending. He competed unsuccessfully for mayor in 2012 and council Seat 6 in 2014. He wants to promote programs that teach residents more modern, technology-based job skills.
“I want to control our spending and spend our money more wisely so we invest in our residents,” Williams said, adding that the city’s tax rates have gone up in his time away from the dais. From 2012, when he last served, to now, the tax rate increased from about $6.30 per $1,000 of assessed property value to about $6.93. When Williams first joined the council in 2006 the rate was about $5.15.
Carvil, 51, is running for Seat 5 after a 30-year law-enforcement career. He retired from the Miami police department in February and faced criticism from the Miami police union over a promotion he received just before leaving.
He said that his time with Miami PD and as security detail for Miami’s mayor and commissioners has allowed him to see how politicians operate. He believes that experience has prepared him for elected office.
“I’ve been privileged to witness and see how to make changes in the community, and I’d like to replicate that in Miami Gardens,” Carvil said.
David Williams, the incumbent councilman, said the work he’s done to promote science education and environmental awareness in the city has helped him stand out. David Williams, 62, has been on the dais since 2011 and said he wants to continue pushing his individual efforts while working with the entire council to combat issues like crime. He also hopes to provide more amenities for the elderly.
“I’m not trying to duplicate what my colleagues are doing because I think the city’s big enough and there’s room for other ideas,” David Williams said.
The Miami Gardens general election will take place Aug. 30. Residents have until Aug. 1 to register to vote. If a runoff election is needed, it will take place Nov. 8.
This story has been updated to show that mayoral candidate James Wright was disqualified.