Opa-locka, a minority community of only 16,000 people, has big-city problems.
Chronic budget shortfalls. Decrepit water and sewer systems. And public corruption — lots of it.
The FBI’s long-running bribery probe at city hall has yielded seven convictions so far, including prison sentences for a city commissioner and a city manager. And for more than two years, a state oversight board has been watching every dollar the city spends because of its ongoing financial crisis.
So, who would want to be this crumbling city’s new mayor? Four candidates: political old-timers John Riley, Dorothy Johnson and Rose Tydus and relative newcomer Matthew Pigatt. Pigatt is leaving his commission seat halfway through his four-year term to run for the largely ceremonial mayor’s position.
“I surveyed the landscape of the candidates running for mayor and realized our citizens needed a new face,” said Pigatt, who was first elected to the commission in 2016.
The Nov. 6 election in Opa-locka is indeed wide open, and not only because Mayor Myra Taylor, a domineering political figure, cannot seek office again because of term limits. The new mayor will lead a five-member City Commission expected to have at least three new faces because of term limits and Pigatt’s pursuit of the mayor’s position.
Meanwhile, 10 people — none of whom has served on the commission previously — are running for a commission seat.
The mayoral candidates are:
▪ Matthew Pigatt, 32, member of the Opa-locka Commission and educational consultant, speaker and writer.
▪ Dorothy “Dottie” Johnson, 67, former member of the Opa-locka Commission and retired U.S. Postal manager.
▪ Rose Tydus, 71, a former member of the Opa-locka commission, a former city clerk and winner of the 2016 Ms. Senior Florida Pageant.
▪ John Riley, 74, member of the Opa-locka commission, a former mayor and retired business consultant.
All four mayoral candidates are claiming to be leaders who can help lift the commission and city out of its rut.
“We have to run this city as a business,” said Johnson, 67, who served as a city commissioner between 2006 and 2014. “We need an overhaul. We need a rebranding. Nobody with the [Miami-Dade] county or the state is ever going to trust us again if we don’t change the way we do business.”
“We’ve got to change the city’s image, but it won’t happen overnight,” said Tydus, who held a commission seat from 2004 to 2012. “We need to regain the trust of the county and the state, then they will be more willing to help us out.”
“The city is in trouble — we have to, as a government, get things in order,” said Riley, who is completing a two-year commission term. “What we need is a team of professionals in city management, in finance, in public works, in the police department. We need training for commissioners on how government works.“
“We have to make sure we can show to the state that Opa-locka’s government can be trusted, so we can qualify again for millions of dollars [in state loans and grants] to improve our city’s infrastructure,” Pigatt said.
Pigatt said over the past two years, he joined other commissioners to obtain a $2 million loan from the county to buy new water meters so that households could finally receive accurate utility bills. He also said hiring the county to provide residential trash pickup was another smart consumer move.
In his biggest political clash, Pigatt confronted Taylor and Riley over an Opa-locka strip club that had improperly obtained the city’s permission to open earlier this year. Pigatt joined two other commissioners in a successful effort to shut down Klub 24.
The most dramatic political story during the mayoral campaign season unfolded in late August when two of the candidates tried to remove the other two from the ballot, citing the city’s adoption of term limits in 2014.
City Attorney Vincent Brown, backed by Commissioners Pigatt and Riley along with Mayor Taylor, legally challenged whether Tydus and Johnson could run again because they had completed two four-year terms in 2012 and 2014, respectively.
A Miami-Dade circuit judge overwhelmingly sided with Tydus and Johnson in September, saying the city’s term-limit policy did not affect them because they had served for eight consecutive years and then taken a break from elective office. In other words, the judge ruled, the two candidates could stay on the ballot.
Politically, the push to keep both off the ballot was aimed at Johnson, who has been a vocal critic of Taylor and Riley.
“They saw me as the biggest threat,” Johnson said. “They thought I was going to walk away. Well, shame on them.”