Miami-Dade County

A fourth county commissioner jumps into the 2020 race for Miami-Dade mayor

Miami-Dade Commissioner Jean Monestime is running for county mayor in 2020.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Jean Monestime is running for county mayor in 2020. Miami Herald.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Jean Monestime on Wednesday filed to run for county mayor in 2020, the fourth member of the board to seek the open seat created by the departure of a term-limited Carlos Gimenez.

The first Haitian-American to serve as commission chairman, Monestime comes to the increasingly crowded race with a legislative record centered around fighting poverty and narrowing the prosperity gap while representing one of the poorest districts in the county. In a statement issued hours after filing his candidacy papers, Monestime said he was running to tackle the divide between housing prices in Miami-Dade and incomes.

“There is a grave affordability crisis in Miami-Dade County,” Monestime said. “Year after year, we are seeing a growing majority of our residents struggle because of the high costs of housing in our community. It is unacceptable that so many hard-working families are literally being ‘priced-out’ and ‘forced-out’ of their homes, their communities, and their County.”

Three of his fellow commissioners are already running: Esteban “Steve” Bovo Jr., Daniella Levine Cava and Xavier Suarez, who’s also a former mayor of Miami. Former county Mayor Alex Penelas is also running, along with former county Commissioner Juan Zapata and two candidates who have not held office before: Monique Nicole Barley and Robert Ingram Burke.

If elected, Monestime would be the county’s first black mayor and the first Haitian-American to hold the office. He was born in Haiti, and came to the United States as a teenager on a “rickety” boat from the Bahamas. Monestime, 56 and a married father of two, got hired as a teacher in Miami-Dade schools, earned a master’s in business administration and now works as a real estate broker.

While term limits require Bovo and Suarez to leave office in 2020, Monestime and Levine Cava would have to give up their commission seats at the end of the year to run for mayor. Monestime’s entry sets up an extraordinary potential for turnover on the 13-seat commission, which will see its first wave of departures in 2020 from term-limit rules approved by voters in 2012.

Instead of just five open seats in 2020 to replace Bovo, Suarez and fellow term-limited commissioners Audrey Edmonson, Barbara Jordan and Dennis Moss, the Levine Cava and Monestime candidacies would create two more open seats to be filled.

But that’s not for sure. All candidates for mayor have until June 2020 to drop out of the race before triggering Florida’s resign-to-run law.

A Democrat, Monestime briefly considered challenging Gimenez, a Republican, in the 2016 mayoral race after a recruitment push by the state party. This time, Monestime joins the nonpartisan race with two other established Democrats: Penelas, who served as a mayor between 1996 and 2004, and Levine Cava, a commissioner since 2014.

Monestime was reelected by a nearly 30-point margin in his 2018 race in District 2, an area that includes the northern part of Miami and its suburbs, including parts of Opa-locka, Hialeah, North Miami Beach and North Miami, where Monestime served as a city commissioner.

A 2016 report showed Monestime’s district is the second poorest of the 13. After securing the commission votes needed to be chairman in 2014, he created a committee on “prosperity initiatives,” expanded county assistance for first-time home buyers, and won passage of changes to the county’s hiring process making it easier for people with criminal convictions to apply for Miami-Dade jobs.

“I have the concerns of the community at heart,” Monestime said during his releection campaign last year. “I’ve made a strong push to have those concerns heard.”