Hardemon, Edmonson running hard as Miami-Dade Commission District 3 runoff nears

The easy part for political novice Keon Hardemon was parlaying his family name into a runoff against twice-elected incumbent Audrey Edmonson in Miami-Dade County’s District 3 commission race.

Stockpiling votes in his Liberty City stronghold where his family has politicked for three decades gave Hardemon enough of an edge in the six-candidate primary field to advance to the Nov. 6 runoff.

But now, with the field narrowed to two for the general election, Hardemon has been forced to stretch for votes outside his base, into neighborhoods like Wynwood, Buena Vista, Miami Shores and the Upper East Side. The lack of name recognition, and a huge fundraising edge enjoyed by Edmonson, leaves Hardemon facing an uphill battle heading into the final week of the election, some political observers say.

“He had enough juice to get into the runoff,’’ said pollster and Florida International University political science professor Dario Moreno, who has been tracking the race. But Edmonson “has too much money, too much organization. As we know, it’s very difficult to beat an incumbent.’’

Moreno said his findings have Edmonson, 59, with a comfortable lead in perhaps the county’s most diverse district of about 200,000, which runs from Overtown, up through Little Haiti, Allapattah, Wynwood, Brownsville and Liberty City, then hugs the coast from Miami Shores down through the Upper East Side and Edgewater.

Unlike the primary, which was filled with verbal volleys and often intense debate, the three-month runoff has been relatively quiet. There hasn’t been a single face-to-face encounter between the candidates, limiting the young challenger, 29, the opportunity to showcase the energy and debating prowess he exhibited in the earlier campaign.

It’s been more like a game of cat and mouse, according to Hardemon, with Edmonson ducking from at least one planned forum at a Liberty City church. Edmonson called it a “mix-up,” saying the forum was never on her schedule. The two are set to square off on WPLG Channel 10 political reporter Michael Putney’s news show Sunday morning.

Since they’ve kept their distance, little has changed since the primary campaign.

Hardemon has plastered the community with fliers highlighting an endorsement from family-friend and popular, if not controversial, Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones. He says Edmonson failed the community in voting to build the Miami Marlins a new stadium, as well as supporting privatizing the federally-funded childcare program Head Start, which threatened the jobs of hundreds of mostly black teachers.

He touts a business acumen that would help reduce unemployment in the district, though he’s done little in the private sector since graduating from the University of Miami law school. Hardemon doesn’t believe Edmonson’s fundraising edge gives her an advantage.

“Absolutely not,” Hardemon responded by email. “Audrey Edmonson has poorly managed her campaign funds much like she did when she was handling our tax dollars. I have managed to create an effective campaign with much less resources than she has and I believe that people respect me for that.”

At a Thursday event in Wynwood, Hardemon said he chose not to spend money on polling, instead using the $25,230 he has raised during the general election on the campaign trail and on television ads coming out next week.

A day earlier, Edmonson sat atop a giant excavator, carefully — and with help — using the fork to lift a three-ton wrecking ball that tore through the back wall of what was Dom’s Cadillac in Liberty City. The commissioner was highlighting her seven-year battle to begin construction on a $75 million transit hub.

She also used the occasion to point out that more affordable housing has been built in her district than any other over the past decade. She addressed Hardemon almost as an afterthought.

“His campaign really hasn’t been as effective as people think. In Liberty City we all know they’re effective on the ground. But I’m just looking forward to getting back into office where I can make it better for the community. Right now I see this [the campaign] as a major distraction.”

Both candidates were born and raised in Liberty City. Neither wants to extend the Urban Development Boundary, the imaginary line limiting development in west Miami-Dade, and both believe in single-member districts. Both also supported county Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s move to reduce the size of county government by consolidating departments.

Where they differ is in term limits. Though Edmonson went along with letting the public decide the issue by referendum on the upcoming ballot, she is against term limits. Hardemon says two terms are enough.

Hardemon attended Northwestern High, Florida A&M University and UM law school, before spending the past two years working for the Miami-Dade public defender’s office. He is a member of one of Liberty City’s most colorful and powerful political families. His uncle and aunt, power couple Billy and Barbara Hardemon, are running his campaign. Uncle Roy Hardemon lost a race for a seat in the Florida House last year.

The family has been a practical Liberty City institution since moving to Miami in the mid-’60s.

Billy Hardemon’s history has been well documented. He and Barbara parlayed years of social activism after the 1980 McDuffie riots in Miami’s inner-city into a life of politics. He helped late city Commissioner Miller Dawkins and former U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek launch their careers. But political victories turned to trouble by 1996, when Billy Hardemon, County Commissioner Jimmy Burke and businessman Calvin Grigsby were indicted for money laundering and bribery in the infamous Operation Greenpalm case.

Hardemon was acquitted of the felony charges, pleading guilty to some misdemeanors and agreeing to community service work. More recently, Billy Hardemon helped Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones raise money for her defense and successfully fight a pair of felony charges lodged by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

As the controversies swirled, Keon Hardemon plowed ahead with his education before returning home, getting a job and deciding to run for office.

Edmonson graduated from Miami Jackson Senior High before attending Miami Dade College and Florida International University. She eventually got a post-graduate degree at Barry University. She worked for Eastern Airlines as a flight attendant for a few years, and served as El Portal mayor from 1999 to 2004. In 2005 she replaced Barbara Carey-Shuler on the county commission. She’s fighting for a third term.

Edmonson has a large fundraising lead, collecting $81,936 for the general election, and $310,585 overall, county records show. Since the August primary Hardemon has raised $25,320. Overall he’s collected $60,202.

Among Edmonson’s donors are Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, his wife and team president David Samson, who all together have contributed at least $2,000. Auto magnate Norman Braman, who supported Alison Austin in the primary, is now backing Hardemon. Braman has donated $5,500 through entities he owns.