Alison Austin Challenges Richard Dunn for District 5 Commission Seat

The first challenger has stepped up to take on Rev. Richard Dunn, the city commissioner who, in order to get an appointment to replace the ousted Michelle Spence-Jones, promised to relinquish his seat in November.

That pledge lasted all of a hot minute before Dunn changed his mind, but Alison Austin, CEO of the Belafonte Tacolcy Center, hopes to make him a short-term commissioner anyway. She has taken a leave from the community center and begun trying to build up enough cash to tear down the establishment-approved reverend.

"There's such a large, grassroots group of leaders in District 5 that have propelled me into running for this race," Austin says. "Richard Dunn represents what we've always had in this district. We need someone who will think outside the box and take a different road."

Austin brings a fascinating resumé into the race.

She was born and raised in Liberty City, graduated from Miami Edision and Miami-Dade College, but quickly turned her focus to international eco-tourism. She spent almost 15 years living on St. Vincent, developing eco-tourism programs with the Organization of American States. Back in Miami, she worked for the Audubon Society and FIU before taking the head job at the Tacolcy Center in Liberty City.

City commissioners this past January considered Austin to replace Spence-Jones -- whom Gov. Charlie Crist removed from office over corruption charges -- but ultimately chose Dunn in part because he promised not to seek the seat again. He reneged on that pledge in May.

The flip-flop hasn't hurt Dunn's fundraising. He has a big early lead over Austin with $31,110 in the bank and donations from all the big players, including $1,500 from Ron Book and his wife, $500 from Marc Sarnoff, and maximum donations from the Marlins, Greenberg Traurig, and Club Space.

Austin has $6,425 so far, all from individual donors.

She says grassroots support can carry her past Dunn and would guide her as a commissioner.

"I'll be a community advocate more than just a commissioner," she says.

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