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North Miami elects doctor as new mayor

Dr. Smith Joseph, candidate for mayor of North Miami, greets supporters at his campaign headquarters in North Miami, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014.
Dr. Smith Joseph, candidate for mayor of North Miami, greets supporters at his campaign headquarters in North Miami, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

After a runoff election and weeks of contentious campaigning, North Miami voters have selected a political newcomer, Dr. Smith Joseph, to complete the mayoral term of suspended mayor Lucie Tondreau, according to unofficial results.

With results from all 21 precincts, Joseph was the winner over former mayor Kevin Burns late Tuesday night by a slight margin.

“I think the people of North Miami see a man of integrity, they see a man who wants to do good for the city of North Miami, and I think they used that as the mandate for their decision,” Joseph said.

In the August primary, the rowdy crowd of campaign supporters at various polling places reached a breaking point at the Sunkist Grove Community Center, and Tuesday was no different as volunteers shouted into megaphones well after sunset. Both candidates made the rounds through the crowd and North Miami police showed up, but the verbal jabs never turned physical.

Residents such as Maxo Jasmin, a 10-year resident who voted at Sunkist Grove, said they supported Joseph because they wanted a new voice leading the City Council.

“With Dr. Smith we feel like something better can happen, we know his story, we know where he’s coming from,” Jasmin said. “Kevin was elected already, and we know his work, but the situation of the city is changing.”

Tondreau awaits trial on federal mortgage-fraud charges and was suspended from office by Gov. Rick Scott.

Joseph will serve the remainder of Tondreau’s term — about six months.

Mayors in North Miami serve two-year terms. The Miami-Dade County elections calendar calls for another city election next May.

The campaign between Burns and Joseph had some conflict, with Burns raising accusations that his campaign signs were damaged by Joseph’s volunteers. Joseph denied any involvement in the damage and said Burns was creating a distraction for voters.

Voter Jocelyne Jean-Phillip, 56, said she hopes to see the council work together on improvements throughout North Miami.

“I hope they make the area more beautiful and there will be more activities for kids and older people,” Jean-Phillip said.

During their campaigns, the two men agreed that the city needed to work on its image, tighten the budget and work out big-name projects such as the development of the Biscayne Landing site. The city recently approved the sale of about 50 acres at 151st Street and Biscayne Boulevard, the site of a former landfill, to developer Oleta Partners. The agreement also requires the developer to remove about 194,000 cubic feet of fill from the site.

“We have to make projections as to how it’s going to better the city,” Joseph said.

Other projects that Joseph and the council will have to focus on include North Miami’s downtown redevelopment plan and how the Museum of Contemporary Art will factor in to those developments.

Joseph said he will sit down with City Manager Aleem Ghany and work through the details of each project and create an action plan.

“We have to straighten out the city’s finances and I want to make sure that we have a balanced budget,” Joseph said.

In the August primary, Burns had a slight lead over Joseph, but did not receive the necessary 50 percent plus one to win outright. The two men also campaigned against each other in 2013.

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