Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Candidates and city officials gear up for re-do of Miami Gardens election

The three candidates from the Aug. 30 Miami Gardens mayoral election. From L to R: Mayor Oliver Gilbert, Clara Johnson and Ulysses Harvard. Gilbert won with 69 percent of the vote.
The three candidates from the Aug. 30 Miami Gardens mayoral election. From L to R: Mayor Oliver Gilbert, Clara Johnson and Ulysses Harvard. Gilbert won with 69 percent of the vote.

After the state Supreme Court last week threw out the results of the Miami Gardens Aug. 30 mayoral election, the city and the candidates are preparing to rerun the race in December.

The court ruled Thursday that candidate James Wright was wrongfully disqualified from the August election and ordered a new election be held. The election will be held Dec. 6 and a runoff election, if necessary, would be held Dec. 20.

Miami Gardens officials estimate that the new election will cost the city from $100,000 to $150,000 and will require the city to amend its proposed 2017 budget, said City Manager Cameron Benson.

“We are working to identify some funds to bring back to the City Council for consideration,” Benson said.

Additionally, the three candidates who already went through an election will now have to gear up for another round of campaigning. In August, incumbent mayor Oliver Gilbert won reelection with 69 percent of the vote over former councilman Ulysses Harvard and political newcomer Clara Johnson.

Gilbert, who spent more than $90,000 on his reelection campaign, said he and his campaign staff are still working out strategies for how they will raise funds and campaign, given the uniqueness of the situation.

“There’s no real road map for anything like this, so that’s still being formulated,” Gilbert said.

Harvard, who finished second with about 18 percent of the vote, said he was happy for another chance to appeal to voters.

“I look forward to being more effective and to reaching out to more people than I did before,” Harvard said.

Johnson said that she also plans to make a more concerted effort to campaign and seek out campaign donations before December.

“But my approach would be the same in that I’m not a politician, I’m a citizen,” Johnson said.

Wright hopes to continue the campaigning he started before he was disqualified in June.

“The courts have spoken. Let’s see what the people of Miami Gardens have to say about the Supreme Court’s decision,” Wright said after last Thursday’s decision.

Wright, a former Opa-locka police chief, was disqualified June 20 by City Clerk Ronetta Taylor after the bank, acting in error, returned Wright’s check for his qualification fee. State election law says if a check is returned for any reason, the candidate must be notified and given the opportunity to pay with a certified check but must do so before the qualifying period ends. In Wright’s case, the bank didn’t return the check to the city for more than two weeks after qualifying ended.

The court wrote that despite the financial and logistical hardship the ruling might cause, it was necessary to give voters a chance to make a decision.

“In this case, an irrational, as well as unreasonable and unnecessary restriction on the elective process has tainted the entire Miami Gardens election for the office of mayor by keeping the name of a candidate off the ballot, and therefore, beyond the reach of all the voters,” the Supreme Court wrote.

The court’s ruling also struck down a section of state elections law related to candidate qualifying. Gilbert said he wished the court had considered that section of the law earlier.

“If they had made that decision sooner, they would’ve saved the residents of Miami Gardens a lot of money,” Gilbert said.

This story has been updated to reflect the new election date.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3