Chairman of the Board

Folks don't know much about school board chairman Solomon Stinson, but they do know this: Don't cross him

Stinson has also built a reputation for equanimity among many employees. "He doesn't deal with any foolishness. You'd better have your ducks in a row when you go talk to him," offers Sherman Henry, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union local that represents the school district's custodians, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers. "He's a firm but fair main; Doc's a guy who let's you know his door is always open, but he knows if you're B.S.-ing him," Henry remarks.

After his third superintendency snub in 1995, Stinson decided not to wait anymore for the appointment. A new nine-member school board, elected by district rather than countywide, would be chosen in 1996. He decided to campaign for a spot on that body.

"For a number of years his hat was in the ring for superintendent, and he should have been superintendent," says Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Carey, a friend and political ally of Stinson. "Of all the candidates, he was the most knowledgeable, the most experienced, the most capable."

Carey posits that it was Stinson's very competence that dissuaded previous school boards from choosing him. "He's a no-nonsense man who doesn't take any B.S. off of anybody. There were some people on that board who wanted to be in control and didn't want an African American up there outshining them. Any African American, not just Dr. Stinson," she says.

Michael Gonzalez, a onetime aide to former board member Robert Renick, is similarly blunt: "I felt the board blew it by not letting him be superintendent," he declares.

Stinson has twice been elected to represent District 2, which covers Overtown, Liberty City, and Little Haiti. Although it's unclear whether he lives there, his constituents don't seem to care, despite the fact that one aim of the 1996 changeover to district elections was to increase local representation.

Stinson does co-own property in the district: a house at 6900 NW Fifth Ave., where his ex-wife Jessie lives. The terms of ownership were made clear in their divorce settlement. At the time he first ran for the school board, he did not declare his interest in that property. Among the assets shown on his 1995 financial disclosure form, which candidates and officeholders file annually with the state, were four pieces of real estate, including what he termed his "home" at 921 South Biscayne River Dr. in the North Miami-Dade neighborhood of Biscayne Gardens.

On the copies of this form filed with the Miami-Dade Elections Department, he listed the 6900 NW Fifth Ave. house as his mailing address. He did not, however, note it as an asset.

On his 1996 disclosure, the 6900 NW Fifth Ave. house appears listed among his assets. All four of his properties are described simply as "house."

His 1997 form suggests that he has grown more attached to the 6900 NW Fifth Ave. place; he described this site as his "home" and the Biscayne Gardens address as a mere "house."

Numerous press accounts in both New Times and the Miami Herald have pointed out that Stinson does not reside in his district. Board members Renier Diaz de la Portilla and Demetrio Perez have also been the subject of questions regarding their residence. After investigating the issue, the State Attorney's Office this past August ruled that the law governing single-member districts did not define "residency" in a way that would preclude Stinson, Diaz de la Portilla, or Perez from qualifying as "residents" of their respective districts.

Questions of his habitation in District 2 notwithstanding, Stinson has proven close to unbeatable with those boundaries. One reason: money. For the 1996 election, he raised $202,915 and proceeded to thrash his opponents in the Democratic primary (Ellen Bethel, an educational liaison with the Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation Department) and in the general election (Ronald Cantwell, a retired pediatrician).

Neither opponent raised anywhere near that amount. In fact no other candidate in any of that year's school-board races raised even half as much. "The guy's got a well-oiled machine," Cantwell says now, matter-of-factly.

That's pretty much all Cantwell will say about his doomed run against Stinson. He will not comment on a pamphlet that one of his campaign workers, J.A. Alex, distributed during the 1996 election. That document offered unsubstantiated allegations that Stinson was an alcoholic and a womanizer. Neither charge carried much weight, perhaps because drinking is legal and Stinson has been unmarried since 1973. (Drinking and driving is not legal. A 1995 DUI charge is the only criminal blot on Stinson's record. He pleaded guilty, paid a $250 fine, lost his license for six months, and was sentenced to six month's probation.)

Bethel would not comment on the campaign except to say, "He's a difficult man if he feels he's been crossed, so I have to decline [to comment]."

No one dared to oppose the Stinson juggernaut in 1998, when the chairman again set the standard for school-board election fundraising with a war chest of $218,156.

Could anyone beat Stinson in his district? "Oh, no," declares T. Willard Fair. "He's set there for as long as he would like to be there."

Lacking opposition, Stinson spent relatively little on campaigning in 1998. He held events including a kickoff at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, a Casino Miami cruise, an airport Hilton fashion show, a Westin Resort gala, and a Wyndham Biscayne Bay thank-you celebration. The total cost for these came to $19,477. His campaign also shelled out money to print up some posters, pay the phone and electric bills for his campaign office, and provide a $24,000 campaign salary for Fred Young, his school board aide.

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