The Aug. 30 Miami Gardens election features 11 candidates vying for mayor and seats 1, 3 and 5 on the City Council. Early voting is under way and continues until Aug. 28. The hopefuls are continuing to canvass neighborhoods and are asking residents to vote, no matter who they’re supporting.
Much of the discussion in the mayoral race has been about a perceived lack of resident involvement and transparency in the government under Mayor Oliver Gilbert’s leadership. His opponents, political newcomer Clara Johnson and former councilman Ulysses Harvard, have continued to question the city’s implementation of the $60 million general obligation bond approved by voters for park improvements in 2014.
“There were so many promises that were made and to this day nothing’s been done and all we’ve been hearing is that it takes time,” Harvard said.
Gilbert’s opponents have also suggested that the mayor has mostly promoted his ideas and has not sought feedback from residents.
“The mayor says Miami Gardens is on the rise, at this point we should have risen and been flying already,” Johnson said.
Gilbert said that the process for bond implementation is time consuming between permitting, environmental work and bidding for demolition and construction work at the city’s various parks.
“It’s trying to change something that was a systematic problem for a decade,” Gilbert said.
Both Councilwoman Lillie Odom and her opponent Nathaniel Miller want to focus on improving services for senior residents and for youth in Miami Gardens. Odom hopes to continue the partnerships she’s established in her four years in office including several HIV/AIDS awareness programs and toy giveaways for kids.
“We have to bring to the citizens the kind of things that serve them,” Odom said.
Miller, president of a homeowners association in the northwest area of the city that seat 1 covers, said while those programs have been helpful he thinks a new perspective could be helpful on the dais.
In the race for seat 3, feedback from residents has centered on crime prevention and developing the Bunche Park neighborhood. Councilman Rodney Harris said the park and the long-standing pool facility will be renovated through the city’s bond funds but, much like Gilbert, said it will take patience from residents.
“We don’t want to rush it and then several years from now we made a mistake and then it starts falling apart,” Harris said.
His opponent, John Zeigler, said he wants to use his experience on the city’s citizen advisory committee and conversations with police officers to help bridge the gap between law enforcement and residents.
“I’m not a politician, I’m not a polished guy. I just want to listen to people in the community and take their ideas to the table,” Zeigler said.
The race for David Williams Jr.’s seat includes political newcomers Kevin Brown and Raymond Carvil and former council member Andre Williams.
Williams Jr. said he hopes to build on the progress he’s made in advocating for health and science education programs in the city.
“We’ve made a lot of progress and we’re just turning that corner in making this a destination city,” Williams Jr. said.
Kevin Brown, the youngest of all the candidates and a coordinator at the North Dade Youth and Family Coalition, said the city needs new blood and consistency from politicians after elections end.
“Folks are tired of the old-school politics, you come around during election time then we don’t see you,” Brown said.
Carvil, a recently retired Miami cop, said he’s heard a similar message from residents who feel left out of government.
“If those in office seriously listened to their concerns, they’d see that the community wants to help solve problems,” Carvil said.
“The residents of Miami Gardens are still struggling and the city needs to be more engaged in the process of improving the lives of its residents,” Williams said.
Miami Gardens City Council candidates
Oliver Gilbert, 43
Education: Law degree, University of Miami. B.A, criminal justice, Florida A&M University
Public service: Miami Gardens mayor since 2012, previously vice mayor and city councilman
Ulysses Harvard, 59
Occupation: Insurance broker
Education: High school diploma. Studied at Miami Dade College
Public service: Former Miami Gardens city councilman
Clara Johnson, 65
Occupation: Retired after 43 years at AT&T in customer service
Education: High school diploma. Studied business management at Miami Dade College and Barry University
Public service: None
Nathaniel Miller, 65
Occupation: Administrator at St. Matthews Missionary Baptist Church
Education: Studied broadcasting at Miami Dade College
Public service: President, Vista Verde Townhome Association
Lillie Odom, 73
Occupation: Retired. Former Miami Gardens outreach specialist and mayor’s assistant
Education: B.A., professional management, Nova Southeastern University
Public service: Miami Gardens council member since 2012
Rodney Harris, 50
Occupation: Juvenile probation officer.
Education: B.A., hospitality and institutional management, Iowa State University
Public service: Miami Gardens council member since 2012
John Zeigler, 59
Occupation: Safety specialist, U.S. Postal Service
Education: High school diploma. Attending Miami Dade College
Public service: Miami Gardens citizens advisory committee member
David Williams Jr., 62
Occupation: Community relations director for Informed Families Inc.
Education: B.A., Florida A&M; master’s, human resource development, Barry University
Public service: Miami Gardens council member since 2011
Andre Williams, 48
Occupation: Real estate attorney
Education: B.A., English and American literature, Harvard University; law degree, Vanderbilt University
Public service: Former Miami Gardens council member
Kevin Brown, 31
Occupation: Coordinator with North Dade Youth and Family Coalition
Education: B.A., St. Thomas; master’s, public management, Thomas University
Public service: Vice chair of the Miami Gardens progressive youth advisory board
Raymond Carvil, 51
Occupation: Retired Miami police officer
Education: B.A., criminal justice, Union Institute
Public service: Pastor of Living Word Baptist Church