Do voters in Miami's District 5 really want to elect Rev. Richard P. Dunn II, a candidate with a lot of questions swirling about his personal and campaign finances? I don't think so. He will only continue the cycle of criminal investigations in the district that is home to almost all of Miami's predominantly African-American communities.
Dunn, the presumed frontrunner, will be a disaster if he's elected. He's proven he can't keep his house in order. In the early '90s, he resigned as assistant pastor at Drake Memorial Baptist Church after confessing to the board of trustees that he had used church funds for personal expenses. He eventually repaid the money, but his financial woes have continued.
His wife Daphne's mortgage lender, HSBC Bank, won a final judgment for foreclosure September 27, 2011. She owed $219,000 according to HSBC Bank's complaint. A sale had been scheduled for November 1 that year. County records also show the couple owes $1,214.88 in property taxes from 2012. Daphne has filed for personal bankruptcy three times since January 2012.
Richard Dunn Is an Embarrassment
To avoid losing their house in Liberty City, Daphne filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which allows her to reorganize her debts to pay them off. Dunn has also been abusing funds from his campaign coffers. The Miami Herald recently reported he's spent more than $2,500 on 60 visits to restaurants between July and September. In one day alone, he racked up $275.80 dining at Café Prima Pasta, Blue Collar, and a place called Margaret Restaurant.
Dunn is an embarrassment to the African-American community. That's why District 5 voters need to stand behind Keon Hardemon, the 29-year-old public defender endorsed by Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.
As she counts down her last days in office, I spoke with Spence-Jones about her tumultuous tenure, her support of Hardemon, and what's next. Rest assured, we are not seeing the last of Michelle Spence-Jones.
"I'm definitely going to miss being a city commissioner," she says. "But that's not going to stop me from being an activist. I'm going to have a platform to do more and say more that I couldn't do on the city commission."
Elected in 2005, Spence-Jones was the first African-American woman elected to the Miami City Commission since the great Athalie Range. She's fought hard to make sure places such as Overtown, Liberty City, Little Haiti, and Brownsville received much-needed funding for economic development, job creation, and neighborhood improvements. Under her watch, Overtown has received an infusion of $500 million in taxpayer funds. She's the reason the Little Haiti Cultural Center exists. It's a place where city residents and visitors can learn the history of Miami's Afro-Caribbean community and come together through art. Just last week, the center hosted a great show by the hipster band Arcade Fire.
Unfortunately, Spence-Jones' accomplishments have been overshadowed by scandal. In 2007, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office initiated a criminal probe into her based on allegations by then-City Manager Joe Arriola and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff that she was selling her vote in exchange for developers hiring her campaign manager. After interviewing more than 30 witnesses, prosecutors closed out the case without charging her with a crime. It was a short-lived victory.
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In 2009, a day after she was re-elected, Spence-Jones was criminally charged with grand theft. She was suspended but eventually won the case and returned to office.
She won't get to finish the job she started thanks to her longtime nemesis Dunn, who won a lawsuit against the city to stop her from seeking a third term. Despite all the hurdles placed in front of her, she's leaving office with her head held high. "I have no resentment and no bitterness," Spence-Jones says. "I'm ready to start a new life with my family. I'm looking forward to spending more time with my two sons."
Asked her opinion about Hardemon, she says, "He's a young, intelligent man who is going to finish what we started. Young brothers on the corner see Keon as an inspiration."
Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.