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Best Local Politician Miami 2009 - Michelle Spence-Jones

Readers' Choice: Manny Diaz

She was elected in 2005 and not a moment has passed without controversy for Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones. Her former political opponent, Richard Dunn, sued her in Miami-Dade Circuit Court the second she took office, claiming she bought votes, and two years later, commission colleague Marc Sarnoff accused her of public corruption. Yet in spite of the troubles dogging her short political career, Spence-Jones has not only survived Miami's cutthroat politics but also successfully leveraged her position to help the people who matter to her — the predominantly black residents living in Overtown, Liberty City, Allapattah, and other low-income neighborhoods in her district. Under her watch, the Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency has finally begun to make inroads in revitalizing the long-neglected historically black community. She made sure the agency spent millions of dollars fixing up storefronts and streets along NW Third Avenue in Overtown, including a $752,903 renovation of Jackson Soul Food Restaurant. Yet Spence-Jones didn't really flex her political muscle until it came time for her to vote for the controversial Marlins stadium deal. Fresh from maternity leave, Spence-Jones channeled great late black leaders M. Athalie Range and Arthur Teele Jr., leveraging her vote to make sure her constituents were taken care of. If the Overtown CRA didn't get $500 million it was promised from the city and county, she would vote against the stadium. An avalanche of criticism descended on Spence-Jones. But she held her ground. Her gambit paid off. She got the $500 million for Overtown. Florida International University political science professor Marvin Dunn sums up the commissioner: "I have nothing but praise for the stand that Spence-Jones has taken: Show us the money. Nothing wrong with that. Bringing home the proverbial bacon is what we expect our politicians to do."

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