Just before he declared his bid for Meek's seat in Congress, Moise said organizers approached him about finishing Savannah's Haitian memorial. A campaign to collect small donations for it had stalled. They asked Moise to fund the rest. "I always want to promote Haitian culture for other people, so I said OK," he says.

Moise says the sculptor, James Mastin, asked him to sit for the piece because of his work as a magazine model. (That doesn't explain why the chubby, un-GQ face of the monument campaign's organizer, Daniel Fils-Aime, graced another soldier.) "I decided it would be an honor," Moise says.

That's not how others viewed it. Phillip Brutus, a former state representative also running for Meek's seat, called it "sacrilege." Mapou worries children will be confused when they see a well-known man on a supposedly historic statue.

Moise has taken more heat for another passion that some detractors see as a vanity project: self-funding B movies and then casting himself in a starring role. His first film, the torrid Wind of Desire, made a mark in Little Haiti. Copies still sit on the shelves of Mapou's bookstore, and Moise is often recognized around NE Second Avenue because of the role.

In 2009, he cast himself alongside Kenya Moore, an actress with credits dating back to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He played Dr. Richard Lazard, a newlywed cursed by a vodou priest in a film called Haitian Nights. The sequel, Trapped: Haitian Nights, is due out in September. In the trailer, Moise writhes in a straitjacket as a detective played by Vivica A. Fox investigates his wife's disappearance. The film is scheduled to premiere in 15 cities, Moise says.

"I loved Elvis Presley and Johnny Holiday growing up in Haiti, and I always said I'd love to be in the movies," he says. "Everyone has an artistic side, and it's a good balance for me to do movies."

Moise's opponents have criticized him for advertising the film, charging that the posters should count as political ads and be reported in his finance reports.

He's also been hammered for living in a $2.3 million mansion in Davie, which he bought in 2007. In federal races, candidates aren't required to live in their district. But some observers question whether Moise is in touch with the largely poor area he hopes to represent.

"I've owned multiple businesses in this district, and I know this area better than anyone," Moise counters while sitting in his North Miami office. "My office has been here for 30 years. I still get my hair cut across the street."

The candidate's latest filings show he has raised $1.4 million, including more than $400,000 from donors — a huge lead over state Rep. Frederica Wilson, who is second in the field with a total of $205,108.

Still, it's difficult to predict how the race will play out. It's undoubtedly the best chance ever for a Haitian-American to get to Congress, because Meek and his mother, Carrie, have held a stranglehold on the seat in the heart of Little Haiti ever since it was created in 1992.

On a recent weekday morning, more than 30 young volunteers stuff envelopes and dial phones inside Moise's headquarters next to his clinic on NW 119th Street near I-95. He sits inside a conference room with notes scrawled across dry-erase boards, ignoring a phone that rings every few minutes. He rubs a huge, strong hand through his thinning hair and flashes a big-screen, slightly gap-toothed smile.

Voters, he says, will flock to him because of his strengths. He has created health-care jobs, treated poor patients, and emphasized education. "My whole career has been about service, as a physician for 25 years, in the Air Force, as a community leader," he says. "I want to put all my life experience to work. I want to serve even more people."


Rudy Moises's Democratic Opponents for the August 28 Primary

District 17 was carved out of a swath of South Florida from Overtown to Hollywood in 1992. When Carrie Meek won the district's inaugural election, she became the first African-American to represent Florida in Washington, D.C., since Reconstruction.

Now the Meek family has given up the seat. Kendrick, who took it from his mom in 2003, is running for U.S. Senate. Eight Democrats are waging a fierce battle to win the August 24 primary. Running as an independent, attorney Roderick Vereen has raised more than $80,000 and will face in November whomever emerges from the Democratic primary.

Those candidates include:

Dr. Rudy Moise ($1.45 million raised): A doctor, lawyer, entrepreneur, and would-be movie star, he has poured more than $1 million of his own money to lead the race in fundraising.

State Sen. Frederica Wilson ($205,108): A former principal and school board member famous in Tallahassee for wearing blinged-out cowboy hats, she is the best-known name in the race.

Shirley Gibson ($140,139): Gibson is running on her record as six-year mayor of Miami Gardens, the largest majority black city in Miami-Dade with 110,000 people.

André Lewis Williams ($134,110): This member of the Miami Gardens City Council is a lawyer known for his work helping foreclosure victims during the real estate bust.

Marleine Bastien ($121,586): She is perhaps Little Haiti's best-known community activist from her work as executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami, a Haitian women's organization. After the January earthquake, she served as vice chair of the Haiti Relief Task Force.

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