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Save the Day: May 14 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
April 2019

Five out of six North Miami elected offices in play

Big money and big stakes dominate North Miami’s wide-open May 14 municipal election, with all but one of six seats in play.

Four candidates are running for mayor; two for four-year council seats in northeast District 1; four in central District 3; three in west District 4; and three for city clerk. That’s 16 candidates for five positions.

Since members are elected by district rather than at-large, residents will choose at most just three slots: mayor, their own district council member, and the city clerk.

Only Carol Keys, in southeast District 2, faces no contest.

Whatever happens, North Miami will get a new mayor to replace term-limited Smith Joseph. District 3’s new councilmember will fill the two unexpired years held by incumbent Philippe Bien-Aime, who is resigning to run for mayor against Mac-Kinley Lauriston, Hector Medina, and Danielle Beauvais.

Incumbents Scott Galvin in District 1 and Alix Desulme in District 4 will defend their seats.

NorthMiamiCouncilDistrictsmap

If the winning candidate in any of the five races fails to get more than 50 percent of the vote, the election will go into a June 4 runoff. Filing closes April 9, registration ends April 15, and early voting starts April 29.

This is a big election. Leadership is grappling with a crisis of trust after a resounding 3-1 defeat of a bungled $120 million bond issue in May 2018. Climate change and flooding throughout the city now dominate as issues, alongside crumbling water and sewer pipes, pressure for affordable housing, and the need to grow the tax base while preserving residential neighborhood integrity.

This is year one of SoLeMia, the $4 billion development of the Soffer and LeFrak real estate dynasties, slated to add nearly 4400 apartments or condos, 10,000 people, a 184-acre city within a city, a University of Miami medical center, and a healthier tax base in the years just ahead.

Four homeowner association-sponsored candidate forums are scheduled so far:

• Thursday, April 11: 6:30 p.m., mayor and District 1 positions, Gwen Margolis Center, 1590 NE 123rd St.

• Tuesday, April 16: 6:30 p.m., District 3 forum, Griffing Center, 12220 Griffing Blvd.

• Thursday, April 18: 7:00 p.m., District 4 forum, Joe Celestin Center, 1525 NW 135th St.

• Wednesday, April 24: 6:30 p.m., mayor and city clerk, Griffing Center, 12220 Griffing Blvd.

 

MayoralCandidates

Bien-Aime, age 53, who was first elected in 2013, launched his mayoral campaign March 1, 2018. He served as a steady acting mayor for a year amid the 2014 arrest, mortgage fraud conviction, and imprisonment of Mayor Lucie Tondreau.

He faces a stiff challenge from Mac-Kinley Lauriston, on unpaid leave as $125,000-a-year chief of staff for Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jean Monestime. Lauriston, who announced in September, has called for change in leadership; an end to “the friends-and-family plan” with roughly 200 contract employees, sometimes with nebulous duties; and efficient staffing and equitable, productive workloads in city departments where some are overworked and others underworked and overpaid. (See “Game On!” November 2018.)

Bien-Aime had accumulated more than $118,316 in contributions as of February 28 from small donors and from incumbent-favoring developers, lobbyists (such as Ron Book), vendors, contractors, and law firms that come before the city. His campaign has spent just $25,954. The mayor’s base salary is $59,880, and council members get $47,910, plus $17,640 in taxable fringes, such as car and phone -- generous packages for such part-time positions.

Says Bien-Aime: “My decisions will not be based on people who donated, but what is good for the city, what moves the city forward.”

Bien-Aime tops his priorities with the development of Cagni Park with a new Olympic swimming pool and an expanded Griffing Center.

He also faces a sexual assault suit filed in state and federal court by city contract employee Janice Antoine. Bien-Aime has repeatedly called the accusations fabrications.

Lauriston, 52 years old, has raised more than $63,464 and spent $36,761, from a diverse pool of donors, many in law, healthcare, and education. Unsurprisingly, a sprinkling of donors are named Lauriston or Monestime.

While most mayoral candidates aim to lower the city’s millage from 7.5 to 6.5, in line with North Miami Beach, Lauriston is positioning himself as the strongest financial hawk, and calls Bien-Aime, who cast a tie-breaking 2014 vote approving a state audit, a latecomer to the party for fiscal responsibility after six years in office.

Lauriston stresses fiscal transparency, eliminating waste, upgrading the infrastructure, and encouraging sensible housing. With a master’s degree in public administration and long experience in the private sector for Ryder System Inc., as well as in local and county government, he says he’s best qualified to clean up city hall, bridge divides, and mediate with county and state governments.

“The big issue is the fiscal condition of our city,” he says. “We cannot sweep these issues under the rug and may have to declare a fiscal emergency. I truly believe what’s going on has to do not with the administration of the city, but its leadership. Residents of North Miami feel they don’t have a voice and the level of service is unacceptable.”

Hector Medina, age 60, is a retired physician and well-known neighborhood activist who ran second to Smith Joseph in 2017 and made solid showings on the city’s east side. He’s running for a second time. So is Danielle Beauvais, age 59, a wellness instructor and previous mayoral candidate.

Medina’s priorities: balanced budgets and fiscal accountability, reining in real estate development that doesn’t benefit surrounding neighborhoods, and preparing the city for accelerated climate change.

Medina argues that the city’s professionals at all levels are getting too much interference from elected officials, and should be left to do their jobs.

“We need to cut expenditures and eliminate 20 percent of the staff,” says Medina, who promotes his scientific training. “We need to cut out the special events. The sewer system of this city is a disaster.”

Beauvais lists her top priorities as fiscal responsibility, addressing drainage in the city, and providing security to constituents.

A strong enough showing by either or both could easily tip the mayor’s race into an expensive runoff -- one reason for Bien-Aime to conserve his money.

 

District1_Candidates

In District 1, 20-year council member Scott Galvin is defending his term-limited seat one final time with one challenger, Vanessa Pierre.

Galvin, who is 50 years old, has raised $9630; he lists his top priorities as access to affordable housing; grappling with sea level rise, “not just on the east side, but everywhere”; and constituent service. One major priority is to ensure that the SoLeMia development includes a state-of the-art community center and park on its site, in keeping with its original plans.

Pierre, age 30, an educator who serves on the North Miami Parks and Recreation Commission, stresses financial transparency, affordable housing, and infrastructure upgrades. Her first actions would include identifying and upgrading abandoned residential properties to affordable housing, and locating areas at risk from sea level rise. She has raised $5902.

 

District3_Candidates

District 3 hosts an open race for the two remaining years of Bien-Aime’s four-year term. The four candidates: current city clerk Michael Etienne, an attorney; Wancito Francius, owner of a security company; Mary Estime-Irvin, businesswoman and chair of the city’s personnel board; and former councilman Jean Marcellus. Treasurer reports are spotty, as the election was just called after Bien-Aime filed for resignation around March 20.

Etienne, who recently sent a message laced with f-bombs to city manager Larry Spring on delayed reimbursements, says he intends to ask for Spring’s resignation and will urge an immediate hiring and nonessential spending freeze until the city passes a responsible city budget.

Estime-Irvin, who has raised $8852, stresses green initiatives, W. Dixie Highway corridor development, a more robust parks system, and spending controls. Francius calls for reducing water and sewer rate hikes, working to address flooding in central North Miami, and fighting violent crime. Marcellus wants to bolster the city’s finances, encourage transit-oriented development, and revitalize the district, particularly West Dixie.

 

District4_candidates

In District 4, west of NE 2nd Avenue, Councilman Alix Desulme, an educator and marketer, faces educator Claude Rivette and Nacivre Charles, who managed the campaigns of Tondreau, former state Sen. Daphne Campbell, and, more recently, helped Campbell’s successful opponent, state Sen. Jason Pizzo.

Desulme, 41 years old, has been the leading advocate for a Chinatown District on NW 7th Avenue. Those plans are in abeyance, though commercial rentals on that street have risen substantially. Among his priorities: lowering water bills (a chronic complaint in North Miami); attracting jobs and initiating job-training programs; and improving the roadways.

Charles lists his priorities as: tackling wasteful spending, particularly junkets; reducing crime; and improving opportunities for the young. Rivette pushes for safer streets, more after-school options, and cleaner and better-maintained streets.

With an incumbent’s advantage, Desulme had raised $49,225 as of February 28, much of it from developers, lobbyists, real estate companies, and vendors who do business with the city, together with a sizable number of small donations.

Rivette has reported more than $15,000, including a $10,000 loan to himself. Charles reports contributions of $175.

 

 

Finally, three candidates are running for city clerk: Elizabeth Jeanty, a business administrator and nurse; Vanessa Joseph, a senior attorney for a nonprofit with a master’s in public administration; and Jessica Tracy Wolland, a real estate agent, dance teacher, and daughter of former mayor Frank Wolland. This will likely be the city’s last election for this position. Elected city clerks have no vote, and the city’s Charter Review Commission is inclined to scrap the elective component, as nearly all Florida city clerks are appointed.

Elected city clerks in North Miami, such as Etienne, have tried to parlay their visibility and constituent service to run for other elected offices.

Jeanty has raised $1684; Joseph $24,800 (with a steady array of small- to midsize donations dating back to September); and Wolland $4090.

This city of just under 64,000 is not noted for high voter turnout. Of the city’s 31,197 voters, less than 10 percent voted in last May’s bond-issue referendum, and less than 16 percent voted in the last municipal election in May 2017.

The city also has a record of skewed absentee ballots, efforts to sway voters via food drives and shopping trips, and improperly filled-out ballots tossed out by the elections department.

In barely a generation, North Miami has become a city of immigrants, with a Haitian-American plurality of roughly 40 percent and growing Hispanic and Caribbean population. According to U.S. Census data, nearly 75 percent of North Miamians speak a language other than English at home.

In an effort to inform and enlighten citizens, activist-residents like Phyllis Lehman and Cassandra Theramene Arnold, a 36-year-old entrepreneur with political ambitions of her own, are leading a nonpartisan, trilingual voter education and get-out-the-vote drive.

To learn more or to volunteer, contact Lehman at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or Theramene Arnold at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

Early voting runs April 29-May 12 at North Miami Public Library, 835 NE 132nd St., 7:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

 

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