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Written by Mark Sell -- BT Contributor   
May 2013

Fifteen candidates battle for three slots in city elections

INM_Council_Districts_mapt’s a dogfight. Fifteen candidates are ripping into each other for three slots on Election Day (May 14): two seats on the city council and the mayor’s job. Already there are reports of stolen signs, dodgy residential claims, and potential conflicts of interest.

Once elected, the lucky winners likely will face mobs questioning their residential water bills, the mammoth development of Biscayne Landing, and tricky budget hearings in the fall, considering that most of last year’s $17.5-million deposit from Biscayne Landing has already been earmarked.

Four candidates are scrambling to represent District 3, where Jean Marcellus is giving up his seat to run for mayor. In the four-way race for District 2, three are battling to upend incumbent Michael Blynn, who is fighting to keep his 14-year seat.

Seven candidates are jostling for mayor, to replace term-limited Andre Pierre. They will meet at Johnson and Wales University on May 6 (7:00-9:00 p.m.) for a forum.

Any bets on a runoff? If no candidate in a race gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two get to slug it out in a June 4 runoff. (Early voting started April 29, so this election is already on.)

In this city of parallel universes, non-Hispanic whites have shrunk from a majority population to just under 13 percent in the 2010 census. Meanwhile, most of North Miami’s Haitian-American plurality is more likely to take cues from Kreyol radio and the street than from the Miami Herald, let alone the Biscayne Times (see “A City of Two Tales,” October 2011).

The campaign makes terrific theater. The raucous, packed April 16 joint appearance of 14 of the 15 candidates at the Griffing Community Center included shouting matches, finger-pointing, cheers, and jeers.

If you’ve missed the action thus far, here’s the election lineup:

Mayor: This, the only at-large position, is considered the likeliest runoff. Kevin Burns, mayor from 2005 to 2009, is coming back for an encore, with strong support from the business community and the “white” eastern precincts. He’s promoting himself as a reform-minded ex-mayor who doesn’t need on-the-job training.

The only “Anglo” in this race, he is challenged by Lucie Tondreau, a public relations and immigration consultant (Biscayne Landing developer Oleta Partners is a client) who has formed a solid campaign organization with “I Love Lucie” signs and tacit but unmistakable support from Mayor Pierre. She is a well-known Haitian-American radio personality, former journalist, and longtime activist whose priorities include launching after-school programs and fighting delinquency.

While a Burns-Tondreau June 4 runoff is plausible, this race could go anywhere. Gwendolyn Boyd, the former police chief, has nibbled into some of Burns’s support on the east side and is running on an anti-crime ticket, with support from law enforcement officers, firefighters, and teachers.

At the April 16 meeting, Jean Marcellus was warmly received as he talked economic development, public safety, code enforcement, and civic education. He also portrays himself as “the Man Who Was Right on Biscayne Landing,” having last year promoted a separate but failed $14-million land purchase by a car dealership on the southeast corner of 151st Street and Biscayne Boulevard that would have netted the financially strapped city extra money.

Dr. Smith Joseph, who runs an internal medicine practice, has raised by far the most money and proclaims his wish for an end to domination by “special interest groups.” Anna Pierre (no relation to the mayor), a registered nurse, entertainer, and motivational speaker, promises an emphasis on better education, crime prevention, and job opportunities. Modira Escarment, head of the Escarment Foundation for the Needy, champions the interests of poorer residents and advocates for lower water bills, an end to those pesky red-light tickets, and economic development.

City Council District 2: Attorney and 35-year resident Michael Blynn could face the political fight of his life with challenges from attorney, lifelong resident, and 2011 mayoral candidate Carol Keys, IT consultant Joseph Haber (son of former Miami Beach Mayor Leonard Haber), and Mary Irvin, CEO of a recruitment and staffing agency.

All four have been involved on city boards and declare themselves in favor of transparent governance and reform. Blynn portrays himself as a financial watchdog who knows how to bring home the bacon from Tallahassee. Keys, in particular, and Haber have attacked Blynn for being “out of touch” with his district and too pliant with Biscayne Landing’s developers. Blynn, for his part, emphatically says, “Unless they [Oleta Partners] have a decent plan, I can’t vote for it to go forward.” He indeed voted with the rest of the council April 23 to continue Biscayne Landing until May 28.

This race could be the fight of Blynn’s political life. Keys, until recently chair of the Board of Adjustment and a regular at council meetings, has a strong base in Keystone Point, Sans Souci Estates, and in much of the business community. She promises more energetic attention to services in the district and sharp fiscal scrutiny. Haber, a veteran of city boards who calls himself “Haber Your Neighbor,” is positioning himself as a friendlier alternative to Blynn and Keys, both of whom can be blunt.

City Council District 3: This race for Marcellus’s old seat is wide open. Philippe Bien-Aime, who owns a car dealership on NW 7th Avenue, has put together a strong campaign organization and says he wants to improve the 7th Avenue business corridor and neighborhoods to the west (although they are actually in Councilwoman Marie Steril’s District 4, which is not up for grabs this time; the other district not being contested is Councilman Scott Galvin’s District 1).

At the April 16 joint appearance, candidates Jacques Despinosse, a 27-year resident who served on the council from 2001 to 2009, and business professor and political newcomer Hans Mardy tore right into Bien-Aime, who claims as his official residence a dumpy-looking house on 133rd Street, but who reportedly lives in a swank condo in Plantation. Katiusquie Pierre (again, no relation to the mayor), is the youngest candidate at 33 and has promoted school-dropout prevention and addressing gang violence.

So what’s in it for the winner? It’s not just the opportunity to serve; there’s also money. Council members get four-year terms and a little better than $3000 per month, plus allowances (such as a car). The mayor gets about $4000 per month. (And, some would add, this being North Miami, that’s just legally.)

We cannot divine anything, but we can come up with a few basic questions voters can ask: Who is best at following the money? Who has been paying the closest attention? Who is the least beholden to anybody?

Oh, one more: Who can best bring peace?

 

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