|The Show That Never Ends|
|Written by Mark Sell -- BT Contributor|
One election was never going to be enough in a town like this
It has been said that Miami-Dade County is not a melting pot, but rather a paella. In the case of North Miami, call it goat stew, and it’s getting mighty spicy.
The May 14 North Miami election was frontier democracy at its rawest, with elements of the Keystone Kops thrown in. After four turbulent years under Mayor Andre Pierre, there is no sign things are calming down.
Where to begin? Mayoral candidate (and former councilman) Jean Marcellus got punched in the mouth. Mayoral candidate Anna Pierre, who early on accused opponents of practicing voodoo on her, proclaimed in her campaign literature that she was endorsed by Jesus Christ, then blamed Lucifer for her defeat. On Haitian radio, commentators called on listeners to not vote for the “whites.” (Read: ex-Mayor Kevin Burns and District 2 candidate Carol Keys.)
Lucie Tondreau -- a longtime activist for Haitian and Haitian-American causes, a radio and TV host, and the favorite of Mayor Pierre and city manager Steve Johnson -- was accidentally caught on a Radio Mega 1700-AM microphone explaining her children by different men by saying, “It’s not given to women to have many men because, you know what? My coco [vagina] is douce [sweet].” (Stephanie Kienzle posted the recording on her blog, Votersopinion.com.)
After the election, defeated mayoral candidates Dr. Smith Joseph and Marcellus staged a news conference challenging the vote, claiming that 732 absentee ballots were missing. The county’s elections department admitted a clerical error, but said that all ballots were accounted for. (The election was finally certified May 20.)
And that was just the opening act. Now comes the run-off on June 4.
Ex-Mayor Burns will face Tondreau. In District 2, where Councilman Michael Blynn was unseated after 14 years, Keys, a lawyer, will run against Mary Irvin, who heads a recruitment and staffing agency. And in District 3, car dealer Philippe Bien-Aime is squaring off against former councilman Jacques Despinosse.
For all its strangeness and black comedy, this is an election of great consequence for North Miami and, to a lesser but notable extent, for neighboring North Miami Beach, which adjoins the western boundary of Biscayne Landing, along Biscayne Boulevard.
The vast Biscayne Landing development, already under construction, looms over nearly everything. And in the background, Florida International University is clearly not giving up its efforts to open another road for access to its 151st Street campus.
In early May, FIU almost succeeded in getting state Sen. Gwen Margolis to push through a bill in the legislature’s final days restricting a municipality from blocking road access to a state university. Translation: FIU would have the power to open the Arch Creek East nature trail to traffic, from 135th Street to FIU’s Biscayne Bay campus. The bill failed at the last minute, bringing out the people from the 135th Street residential corridor to vote for Burns, who presided over the nature trail’s opening in 2007.
Oleta Partners, developers of Biscayne Landing, had planned to push through its Biscayne Landing site plan proposal, stalled in the planning and zoning commission, at the May 28 city council meeting, which included three lame ducks: Mayor Pierre, Blynn, and Marcellus. But Oleta Partners thought better of it and will try its luck with the next council.
Tondreau has been on the payroll of Oleta Partners, getting more than $5000 per month for public-relations services, so it’s difficult to see how she can vote on Biscayne Landing issues without a conflict of interest. If Tondreau becomes mayor and must recuse herself, Biscayne Landing matters could face a 2-2 stalemate. If Burns becomes mayor and Keys wins District 2, Oleta Partners will likely face a more hostile council.
In the mayoral contest, no one comes off completely clean. While Burns ran an administration from 2005 to 2009 unmarred by the accusations of corruption and cronyism that have dogged Andre Pierre, his personal finances have been dodgy, with bounced checks, foreclosures, and bankruptcy. (Some may recall that when Pierre’s house was hit with foreclosure, he conducted workshops -- on how to avoid foreclosure.)
Tondreau appears to move frequently, so much so that her residency has been called into question. In her campaign finance report, she lists a business address of 550 NE 125th St., and says she is renting a bedroom in the western part of North Miami. Small wonder that, in the May 14 election, 89 percent voted to require all future candidates for city office to prove they have resided in North Miami for at least one year.
It would be an oversimplification to paint this election as “Haitian” versus “white,” as there is plenty of political division within the Haitian-American community. The non-Hispanic white population in North Miami is in decline (down 13 percent between 2000 and 2010), but the Hispanic population is on the rise (up 15 percent in the same period), with the “black” population, heavily West Indian, up 5 percent. In her final campaign push, Tondreau is targeting Hispanics as the swing vote.
Whoever becomes mayor, North Miami is in for turbulence.
Burns says it is “highly likely” he would vote to fire Johnson as city manager for reasons “too numerous to list,” and promised transparency in government and an end to “rampant corruption” at city hall.
Biscayne Landing’s preliminary site plan remains in play. The last planning commission meeting April 2 almost ended in fisticuffs when commission members Kenny Each and Bill Prevatel walked out following a heated exchange with Oleta Partners attorney John Dellagloria.
On May 20, Prevatel, an architect and urban planner, announced he would resign from the commission. Within a week, he had completed an alternate plan for Biscayne Landing, in which more than 4000 upscale apartment and condo units, all on the property’s eastern edge, would overlook wetlands and the bay, giving the plan a more classy feel. Prevatel also says that, contrary to rumor, he has no intention of going on Oleta Partners’ payroll.
“My interest is to make this beneficial for the city, not just from an architectural point of view, but from an urban-design aspect, with schools, a central square, soccer fields, and an enclosed mall,” he says.
One issue yet to be discussed is the political impact of the Biscayne Landing development. Oleta Partners envisions rentals for families, while others, like Each and Prevatel, see the location as ideal for affluent people with disposable income.
The direction of Biscayne Landing could alter the political balance of North Miami, particularly in mayoral elections, and the argument over what form it takes will resonate in the months and years to come.
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
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