Keon Hardemon Saves a Civil Rights Icon

Three months ago, a long-delayed plan to add a youth center and make other much-needed improvements to Charles Hadley Park in Liberty City was on life support. The Miami City Commission had set aside $40 million in 2005 to fix up Hadley as well as Overtown's Gibson Park, which was finished last year. This past November, the city was finally ready to choose a company for the Hadley Park project, when the lowest bid came in $2 million over the allocated budget.

One day, we'll call this young man Congressman or Senator.

It was a major setback for a piece of public land that played a significant role during Miami's segregation era. In 1947, the city evicted 35 black families so it could create a public park for whites. When Anglos fled Liberty City for whiter pastures, the 28-acre park was renamed for one of Miami's first black political power brokers.

Since the 1980s, Hadley Park has been home to the Liberty City Optimist Club, which has churned out more than 50 former and current professional football players. However, the city never took care of the park and allowed it to fall into disrepair. Heck, the irrigation system has not been replaced in 50 years.

Then Keon Hardemon took office. Barely four months on the job, the neophyte city commissioner got his colleagues to vote unanimously for the $6.5 million Hadley Park construction contract at the January 23 commission meeting. He worked with the city's capital improvement office to find the money needed to cover the $2 million shortfall.

At the meeting, the young commish spoke eloquently about Hadley Park's historical relevance, persuading Frank Carollo, Willy Gort, Francis Suarez, and even Marc Sarnoff — who butted heads with Hardemon's predecessor, Michelle Spence-Jones, over funding for projects in inner-city neighborhoods — to approve the contract.

Maybe Hardemon is still in the honeymoon phase, but I'm hoping the unanimous vote for Hadley Park is a sign the city commission will work toward a Miami where political backstabbing doesn't get in the way of doing right by the residents.

Watching Hardemon work the room, I knew I picked a winner when I endorsed him before the election. One day, we'll call this young man Congressman or Senator.

Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.

 
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