Longtime Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle claimed victory Tuesday over her Democratic primary opponent, effectively clinching her sixth elected term because no balloted candidates oppose her in November.
“It’s about your record. It’s about your performance, the things you do every day working with victims in this community,” she told cheering employees Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. during a spirited gathering of supporters at Miami’s Renaissance Restaurant. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
With the majority of the precincts reporting late Tuesday, more than 60 percent of voters chose her over Miami defense attorney Rod Vereen.
Tuesday’s election capped a short but intrigue-filled campaign that featured a host of storylines: two surprise write-in candidates, a federal legal challenge against a decision to exclude 700,000-plus voters from participating and vitriolic attacks by the incumbent’s critics.
Under a 1998 constitutional amendment, all of Miami-Dade’s 1.3 million registered voters could have cast ballots for Fernández Rundle or Vereen because no Republican or independent filed to appear on the ballot.
But lawyers Michele Samaroo and T. Omar Malone filed to run as write-in candidates, which under a controversial secretary of state advisory opinion was enough to close the election to just 525,890 Democratic voters.
Fernández Rundle accused Vereen’s camp of running the candidates to deprive her of support from independents and Republicans, many of whom are Hispanics. Vereen denied that, saying he would run against Malone and Samaroo in November.
Neither write-in candidate appears on the ballot, and neither campaigned, received donations or returned phone calls or e-mails from The Miami Herald. No write-in has ever come close to winning an election in Miami-Dade.
Two prominent voters — one Republican, another independent — in June filed a federal lawsuit seeking to open the election to all voters. A South Florida federal judge, after asking that state officials be included in the lawsuit, dismissed the request and said he wasn’t prepared to deem Samaroo and Malone sham candidates.
First appointed in 1993, this was Fernández Rundle’s fourth contested election, and her first Democratic primary since easily beating retired judge Murray Kleinberg in 1994.
In 2000 and 2004, she defeated defense attorney Al Milian, who ran with the support of her longtime nemesis, the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association.
The police union this year again supported her opponent, Vereen, and the campaign attacks against her again took on the same nasty tone of races past.
The PBA funded a political committee that sent out a series of hysterical mailers that attacked everything from Fernández Rundle’s personal wealth to streets that bear her name and proclaiming that “if Al Capone were alive today, he too could be a Fernández Rundle’s campaign contributor!”
Fernández Rundle had a clear financial advantage, raising $533,005 in campaign contributions, compared to Vereen’s $72,716.
But Vereen, who would have been the state’s first black state attorney, was hoping to win by capturing most of the African American Democratic vote, which in Miami-Dade totals 195,650 of a registered 525,890 party members.
Fernández Rundle has traditionally drawn strong support from black voters. Her challenger saw her as vulnerable with black voters after her office’s failed prosecution of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who represents the city’s predominately black neighborhoods.
Certainly, her decisions on prosecutions riled some black voters.
Social worker Muriel Stanford, 57, of Model City, voted for Vereen because she was bothered that Fernández Rundle’s office charged Spence-Jones and not Cuban-American Congressman David Rivera, who faced allegations of financial misconduct.
“I’m not saying I think Spence-Jones is innocent,” Stanford said. “But if you can find a way to prosecute her, why can’t you find a way to prosecute Rivera?” She added of Vereen: “I’m hoping he’ll go in and have a balanced approach.”
But others who voted at the Carrie P. Meek Art Center were vocal about their support for Fernández Rundle.
Ivory Mitchell, 52, an unemployed carpenter, said he saw the two debate on WFOR-CBS4 and thought Fernández Rundle deserved to stay.
“That guy, the way he talked he sounded a little too lenient,” Mitchell said of Vereen. “I like Rundle. She’s been around.”
Sandra Ingraham, 50, said she voted for Fernández Rundle because of her longtime advocacy of child support enforcement. “She’s really helpful in supporting children. I think she’s done a good job.”