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Porter pulls ahead as Homestead mayoral candidates go down to the wire

Hours after the polls closed on Tuesday night, Homestead voters were unsure of the identity of their next mayor.

But with all 16 precincts reporting, former Vice Mayor and Councilman Jeff Porter, 54, pulled ahead of his challenger, innkeeper Mark Bell, 57, a political newcomer.

Porter will succeed Steve Bateman, who was jailed in August on corruption charges and suspended by the governor, and then sought redemption by running for reelection. Bateman, who awaits trial on both felony and misdemeanor charges, lost to Bell and Porter in the first round of voting on Oct. 1.

Bell, married to former mayor and current Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell, waited out the results with about 60 supporters in downtown Homestead’s Hotel Redland, which he owns.

The bespectacled Bell, who has never held an elected position in Homestead or served on a government committee, campaigned on promises to lower electric bills for residents and businesses — the city has its own power plant — to revitalize a rundown downtown area, and to lure more businesses to the city.

“If the town is stagnant, it will die,” Bell said as results trickled in.

Porter promised on the campaign trail to reduce taxes and fees, create jobs, tackle traffic congestion and increase public safety.

“We’ve laid out a plan and the message is very clear — public safety and our infrastructure,” Porter said.

Porter, who owns a company that resells technology and agricultural products, awaited the results, along with his supporters, at the White Lion Cafe, also in downtown Homestead.

The Homestead City Council race between incumbent Jimmie Williams III and challenger Norman Hodge Jr. appeared to be breaking Williams’ way, although the tally was still far from complete at 10 p.m. The seat represents southwest Homestead, a depressed part of town.

Councilman Stephen Shelley was well on his way to winning the office of vice mayor, which is up for election every two years. He’ll keep his council seat as well.

Tuesday night marked the end of a heated campaign season in Homestead that started in earnest two months ago. Bell ran an expensive race, raising more than $112,000.

Some of his supporters said the fact that Bell had never sat on the dais is a good thing.

“It’s a new book,” said voter Hernando Hernandez III, 31. “He won’t have any bad habits.”

Porter raised less than half of Bell’s total.

A Porter supporter, Micki McCauley, said she voted for the candidate partly because of his promise to lower taxes and partly because Bell is married to a former mayor whose policies she didn’t like.

The job of Homestead mayor pays $6,000 a year.

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