Opa-locka voters sent a strong message to the city’s legacy political figures: No more.
This mostly minority community, whose government has been tainted by an FBI corruption investigation for years, may finally get a reform-minded politician as mayor. Matthew Pigatt, who left his City Commission seat so he could run for mayor, led a field of four candidates for the city’s top political position in Tuesday’s election.
Pigatt, 32, who formerly worked at Florida Memorial College and is now an education consultant, dominated three older opponents who have been fixtures in Opa-locka politics: Commissioner John Riley, 74, and former commissioners, Dorothy Johnson, 67, and Rose Tydus, 71.
In topping the field, Pigatt will replace outgoing Mayor Myra Taylor, who under term limits could not run again after serving two four-year terms. Taylor was known as a domineering politician who was aligned with Riley and term-limited Commissioner Timothy Holmes on the five-member panel.
“I knew our residents were desperate for a change,” Pigatt told the Miami Herald Wednesday, referring to his victory along with wins by three newcomers to the City Commission. “There will not be any corruption associated with my administration. And if there is, we will attack it head-on.”
Alvin Burke, 64, who was elected as one of three new city commissioners, said: ““The people of Opa-locka came out on Election Day and said they wanted change, and that’s what they got. ... We all know what the city needs, and we all know where the city needs to go.”
As the new mayor, Pigatt will be able to steer a newly formed City Commission in Opa-locka through tumultuous times. The city, comprising mostly blacks and Hispanics, has seen seven people linked to its government convicted of bribery charges, including a former city manager and commissioner. Its financially troubled government has been monitored by a state oversight board appointed by Gov. Rick Scott for more than two years.
In the City Commission races, Chris Davis and Burke each won a four-year seat. As the top vote-getter in the commission race, Davis will be named vice-mayor, a largely ceremonial position.
“Last night’s election results are a signal that it’s a new day in the city, for sure,” Davis said. “I’m just excited to be a part of it.”
And in a rebuke of the outgoing mayor, voters handed Pigatt’s vacated commission seat to newcomer Sherelean Bass over the mayor’s son, John Henry Taylor Jr., whose surname is intertwined with the financial and political shenanigans that have plagued the city for years. His father, Bishop John Taylor, and two other relatives were arrested in 2010 on criminal campaign charges, and his brother, Demetrius Corleon Taylor, was arrested by the FBI in 2016 and sentenced to 10 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiring to extort illicit cash payments from business owners.
Bass beat Taylor Jr. by a margin of less than 300 votes. Taylor Jr. was one of the commission race’s top fundraisers, with nearly $8,000 in campaign contributions.
Burke, a local activist, worked as a county corrections officer for nearly two decades, then served as a code enforcement officer in Opa-locka. He has been at odds with commission members for years, and said he saw the election as an opportunity to change the public’s perception of Opa-locka as a “city of corruption.”
“I even think we can get some help for the city [from Miami-Dade and Florida officials] now that we have a new mayor and commission,” Burke said Wednesday.
At 31, Davis will be the youngest member of Opa-locka’s incoming commission. He works as a community organizer for the Opa-locka Community Development Corp. A life-long resident of the city, he serves on Opa-locka’s zoning board and community relations and parks and recreation activities advisory board. He received a master’s degree in public administration from Florida A&M.
“We’re fired up and ready to go,” he said. “Let’s take the city on a new path.”
Bass, a minister, ran on a platform of increasing transparency and trust in city government. She works as a community liaison at Dr. Robert B. Ingram Elementary School.
In an interview with the Herald in October, Bass called herself “the voice of Opa-locka.”
“It’s going to take a miracle for us to get out of this, but it can happen,” she said. “It will happen.”