Keon Hardemon Could Carry Liberty City's Most Notorious Political Family Into County Hall

Keon Hardemon, a broad-shouldered 27-year-old, rings the doorbell outside Geraldine Chiverton's three-bedroom house near the border of Allapattah and Liberty City. He wears a crisp white shirt, a bold purple tie, plaid slacks, and polished brown wingtips. When Chiverton opens the wrought-iron gate, the 54-year-old recognizes him right away.

"Don't worry — I got you," she says. "I voted for you in the primary, and I'm voting for you again."

It's the kind of reception Hardemon has been receiving for months as his campaign to unseat county Commissioner Audrey Edmonson has shifted from long shot to the real deal by forcing a runoff in the August primary.

The result was shocking both because Edmonson had raised ten times more money than Hardemon — and because of Keon's last name. The Hardemons are arguably the most influential political family in Liberty City, but they also come with a truckload of baggage: a federal indictment, countless investigations, and ties to scores of scandals.

If this clean-cut young lawyer delivers another surprise and topples Edmonson in November, he could carry the Hardemons out of the shadows and into county hall for the first time in decades — for better or worse.

"I love my family," Keon says. "But they are not the ones running for commissioner. I am."

Edmonson, though, says he is just a figurehead for his powerful relatives who want a commission seat to further their interests. "It would not be my opponent running things," she says, "but his family."

The Hardemon clan has been a force in Liberty City for nearly half a century, ever since matriarch Ethel and her 15 children — including Keon's uncle Billy and mom April — moved into two apartments in the James E. Scott Homes in 1965. "Our family was so big we needed more than one unit," Billy remembers.

Billy's political awakening began during a four-year Army stint in Atlanta, where he passed his free time listening to Martin Luther King Jr. on tape and attending desegregation rallies. In 1980, four years after he returned home, the acquittal of four white Miami cops in the death of black insurance agent Arthur McDuffie set off riots in Overtown and Liberty City. "The tragic incident really crystallized my political activism," Billy says.

Billy and his wife Barbara began organizing rallies against police brutality throughout the '80s. In 1990, the couple helped stage a two-year boycott of Miami's tourism industry after city and county leaders snubbed Nelson Mandela.

Billy parlayed that activism into electioneering. Politicians soon realized that, with a legion of siblings ready to help corral voters to the polls, Billy and Barbara could be a powerful tool in turning out the black vote. The pair helped Miller Dawkins get elected to the city commission in 1981 and Carrie Meek win a state senate seat in 1982.

"We were not trying to be political leaders or anything like that," Billy insists. "We were just trying to deal with life growing up in public housing as a poor family."

For Keon, growing up in the Scott projects was about sheer survival. Born in 1985, he spent most of his childhood with his grandmother Ethel while his mom was in the Army. April returned when he was in his early teens. He has met his biological father only twice. "Once when I was in the fifth grade," Keon recollects. "The other time I was in tenth grade."

Even though his mother would take him to rallies, Keon wasn't really aware that his uncle and aunt were important politicos. "He was focused on his sports and his academics," April says. "He didn't talk about getting into politics. He wanted to be a pharmacist."

Besides, Keon soon saw the darker side of the Hardemons' success.

Keon was 11 when his uncle's troubles began. Billy was swept up in 1996's Operation Greenpalm, the biggest public corruption case in Dade history. He and his then-boss, county Commissioner James Burke, and businessman Calvin Grigsby, were indicted for bribery and money laundering. Billy allegedly accepted $50,000 to steer a $183 million bond-refinancing deal to Grigsby's underwriting firm.

Billy's problems didn't stop there. The next year, state prosecutors accused him of stealing $9,700 in campaign funds. They charged him with four felony counts of grand theft, along with 38 misdemeanors for accepting illegal contributions.

But when Keon was 14 — just starting an all-star football and baseball career at Miami Northwestern Senior High — both his uncle and Grigsby were acquitted. (Burke was found guilty.) The four state felonies were dropped the next year when Billy pleaded guilty to 16 misdemeanors and got community service.

"Keon was aware of what was happening with his uncle and his struggle," April says. "We discussed the importance of standing behind him as a family."

Five years later, when Keon was a sophomore at Florida A&M University, another uncle ran afoul of corruption charges. This time the target was Allen, a county lobbyist. The county's inspector general accused him of stealing $27,000 from ten investors by promising a piece of a sludge-hauling contract. Allen sold investors on getting a Mack truck with no down payment and a $50,000 small-business loan, with a $900,000 profit as the payoff. But investigators said he had no ability to deliver.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.