Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Candidates raise big money for runoff in Miami Gardens, a sports, real estate hotspot

Miami Gardens run-off candidates from left to right: Janice Coakley, Katrina Wilson-Davis, Linda Hodges Holloway, Reggie Leon.
Miami Gardens run-off candidates from left to right: Janice Coakley, Katrina Wilson-Davis, Linda Hodges Holloway, Reggie Leon.

Ten candidates fought over three seats on the Miami Gardens City Council in the Aug. 28 election, raising a combined total of more than $212,000 in campaign contributions. Two of three seats went to November runoff, so the price tag keeps climbing.

Miami Gardens is the county’s third largest city by population, home to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium, and future host of the 2020 Super Bowl and the annual Miami Open tennis tournament. Miami Gardens has also been slated by developers for a potential building boom in the near future.

And Miami Gardens is the murder capital of Florida.

Erharbor Ighodaro, the only incumbent on the August ballot, raised more than $65,000, was the biggest spender in any of the races , and the only candidate to win outright — he won Seat Six with 50.57 percent of the votes. In the races for Seats Two and Four, no candidate was able to secure the 50 percent of votes necessary to win outright and prevent a runoff. The top two finishers in each will now face off Nov. 6.

In the Seat Four race, longtime educator Katrina Wilson-Davis— who missed winning outright by just 21 votes— is matched up against Janice Coakley, an administrative assistant for the city of North Miami Beach. Wilson-Davis, 55, took 49.5 percent of the vote, and Coakley, 60, came in second with just under 28 percent.

Linda Hodges Holloway, 67, will face Reginald “Reggie” Leon, 39, in the race for Seat Two. Holloway, a businesswoman, took 43.6 percent of votes, with Leon, operations supervisor for UPS, tailing her with 39.5 percent.

Now, the money is really flowing. According to the most recent campaign finance information, total contributions listed by the four candidates spiked 33 percent between those filed before the election and now, to a combined total of more than $104,000.

In 2016 — the most recent statistics available — Miami Gardens was the murder capital of Florida with more murders per capita than any other large Florida city, according to FBI crime data. Its residents are still reeling from a spate of killings around Father’s Day that suggest the city may maintain the designation. Many of those recent murders remain unsolved.

But Miami Gardens has also been pegged by some real estate developers as one of the county’s most promising up-and-comers.

“We always like to be a little ahead of our time when we do things. We do believe that Miami Gardens will become a great city soon,” said Pascal Cohen, whose company just bought 32 acres of prime real estate near Hard Rock Stadium to develop into a city center featuring apartments, a hotel, and an arts center among other elements. “We’ll switch from the crime city No. 1 to a nice city that has a chance to recover and to have a great future.”

Each candidate has spoken along the campaign trail on their plans to combat violence, with ideas ranging from community police initiatives to using advanced technology to control the crime-ridden streets. But Cohen said he believes it will be community development that really turns the numbers around. The candidates agreed, though all cautioned that development has to be done with Miami Gardens residents in mind. (The Herald profiled candidates and their thoughts on these issues in the lead-up to the August election.)

Some worry about increased traffic around Hard Rock Stadium. Others fear residents will be forced out by higher prices. And Leon said, above all, he wants to make sure the development project brings high-paying jobs to the residents of Miami Gardens.

Now, the candidates are spending big to have the chance to promote their vision from the dais. Holloway leads with $43,732.29 in contributions to date. Leon takes second, with $31,291.67 in contributions, representing a nearly 50 percent increase in the past month.

The race for Seat Four accounts for much less in contributions and expenditures. Coakley raised $15,411.06. Wilson-Davis was the only candidate in the race to log less than five figures in contributions by the Aug. 28 election. Since then, her listed contributions spiked by 89 percent. However, that’s because Wilson-Davis failed to file her campaign finance reports by the deadlines set by state statute, not because she hadn’t raised or spent more money.

Wilson-Davis filed her first report on June 6, 2018, to indicate she had no campaign contributions or expenditures between February and April of 2018. She did not file again until Aug. 7, according to city records, when she documented campaign expenditures in the month of May only. She recorded a personal loan for $7,500, and zero expenditures. She filed nothing else until after the election.. In that period, when she was required to file seven reports, she filed only one.

It turns out, according to documentation Wilson-Davis filed on Sept. 4, the candidate who almost clinched Seat Four on the first try had actually spent $11,327.44 between June and July. She had also raised a lot more money than she had reported by the election: $14,180 — all of it in July, well before the election — including a significant contribution from Miami Realtors PAC. By Wednesday night, she still had not reported contributions for the month before the vote.

On Aug. 20, the Miami Gardens city clerk sent Wilson-Davis a notice of late filing for failing to disclose contributions and expenditures for the month of May, fining her $1,875 (25 percent of the contributions to that date). The notice gave Wilson-Davis 20 days to pay. According to Miami Gardens city clerk, Mario Bataille, the candidate has yet to pay the fine, which she is required to pay from her own pocket. Her case was referred to the Florida Elections Commission.

Wilson-Davis did not respond to the Miami Herald’s request for comment. No other candidate has been reprimanded for any reason, according to Bataille.