Suspecting that his own allies may push him out of office in a few days, an angry state Rep. Roy Hardemon is torching his political party, accusing Democratic leaders in Miami of racism and back-stabbing.
Hardemon, in interviews with the Miami Herald, said his party doesn’t like black people — “especially black men” — and claimed the chairman of the Miami-Dade Democrats recruited a Haitian-American candidate to boot him from office. This week, Hardemon went one step further, lobbing a racial accusation during a meeting of Democratic leaders in Doral.
“It’s surprising to be lynched from the Democratic Party,” Hardemon said from a stage, standing next to Chairman Juan Cuba.
The heated rhetoric highlights the bitterness of the primary race in House District 108, where Hardemon, the incumbent, faces two challengers for a seat in the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature, including a former vice chairwoman of the Miami-Dade Democrats.
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The heavily Democratic district covers the east edge of mainland Miami-Dade, an area along Biscayne Bay from I-195 to North Miami that includes the Liberty City and Little Haiti neighborhoods, as well as the villages of El Portal and Biscayne Park. Hardemon, a member of a prominent political family in Miami, is opposed by attorney Dotie Joseph and immigration consultant Joseph Beauvil.
Whoever wins the Aug. 28 primary will emerge as the heavy favorite in the general election against Libertarian Riquet Caballero.
Hardemon said Wednesday that he was speaking with intense emotion. He maintained that his party has moved to oust him by recruiting Joseph, his top opponent.
“That’s how I felt,” he said. “Like I was betrayed by the local party.”
Cuba, chairman of Miami-Dade’s Democratic Party, flatly denied any involvement in the primary race.
Hardemon does have reason to be concerned about Joseph: She has raised more than three times Hardemon’s $40,000 campaign stash. But Joseph, a former municipal attorney and first-time candidate, also says she wasn’t recruited.
“No local Democrats convinced me to run against him, though most are disappointed with his performance and are grateful that someone had the courage to challenge him,” she said. “I’m running against him because I am tired of legislators like him voting against the interests of the communities they’re supposed to be representing.
“I’m tired of begging legislators to do the right things for the communities they’re supposed to be representing,” said Joseph, who is Haitian American. “I’m running to claim a seat at the table and get it right myself.”
Hardemon says he believes his party is retaliating for his vote in favor of a $419 million K-12 public schools bill introduced by Republican state lawmakers in the final days of the 2017 legislative session. He was the only Democrat in the House or Senate to break from his party and vote for the bill, a contentious measure in part because it redirected public education dollars to specialized charter schools called “Schools of Hope” in low-income neighborhoods.
“Representative Hardemon crashed against the gates of hell, against the status quo to ensure that future generations of children in Liberty Square will be afforded a world-class education,” Republican Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran said following that year’s legislative session during an appearance at a ground-breaking for a redevelopment of Liberty City’s signature public housing complex.
Hardemon’s vote was irrelevant to the bill’s passage in the overwhelmingly Republican House. But it rankled Democrats. The freshman representative — who won his seat two years ago despite a tumultuous past — said he’s being vilified for his willingness to make deals, maneuvers that helped find funding for local projects later, such as the $2 million he secured for the planned Poinciana Industrial Park project that surprisingly survived Gov. Rick Scott’s veto pen in this year’s state budget. It’s a small portion of the $25 million Hardemon requested for the economic development project, and he’s pledged to seek the balance if re-elected.
Hardemon’s education vote drew criticism from teachers unions and fellow Democrats, and it’s become a central flashpoint in this campaign. Joseph, his most formidable opponent, has seized on that vote while stating she believes that public education should be fully funded so teachers are paid properly.
Hardemon, a longtime community activist and uncle of Miami City Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon, dismissed Joseph as a candidate put forth by a party that doesn’t want him.
“I am a die-hard Democrat. They don’t like black folks anyway. Especially black men,” he said. “I already suspected they were going to do this s---. Even though I had the skills to bring money back home for education.”
Joseph has a significant fundraising advantage, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. She raised $117,781 through July. Hardemon brought in $39,350. Beauvil raised $26,324.
No matter, Hardemon said in an interview. And he may be right. He’s faced long odds before. In a crowded field two years ago, Hardemon won election despite a lengthy arrest record that included charges for punching a woman in the face — a incident he pleaded guilty to and described to the Herald as a “tit-for-tat, a lover’s quarrel.”
Hardemon said he’s confident his one term as a legislator will win over voters and overcome the fellow Democrats he thinks are conspiring against him.
“I’m pissed, but it is what is,” he said.
Cuba, who sat uncomfortably on stage Tuesday as Hardemon said he was being lynched, said he’s told Hardemon that the party doesn’t get involved in primaries and isn’t trying to remove him from the state House.
“I’ve told him before we don’t get involved in primaries,” Cuba said.
Joseph is a former vice chair of the local Democrats, past president of the Haitian Lawyers Association and a former deputy city attorney for North Miami Beach. She said she supports a $15 minimum wage, equal pay for women and wants effective job-training programs in the district.
Housing is another major issue cited by all three candidates. Joseph recently told the Herald Editorial Board she wants to address absentee landlords in the district who allow their buildings to fall into disrepair before selling the land to developers, leading to the displacement of longtime residents.
“If I were elected, one of the things I would do to address that particular issue is to create a study to evaluate what some of the good solutions might be, and then from there make a decision, as opposed to me just dictating from the top down,” she said.
Beauvil, a first-time political candidate and Miami-Dade resident of more than 21 years, said he’s drawing from experience working on campaigns in North Miami and Miami Shores. He cites school security, affordable healthcare and gun violence as major issues he would tackle in Tallahassee, according to his website, where he writes that he supports gun control and increased social programs for students before and after school.
“I want to represent the interests of all the people in District 108,” Beauvil wrote in an email. “Since the last election, the district has not had caring, ethical, and moral leadership. I am ready to utilize my experience and knowledge to bring all available resources to my constituents.”
He also wants to help ex-offenders better reintegrate with their communities. On his website, he states that he would introduce legislation to help the state’s corrections department do a better job reintegrating ex-offenders into society.