Miami New Times.This week, Luke makes one final push before the Miami City election on Nov. 5.
Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones did one helluva of job representing the African-American community. As she counts down the last days in office, I sat down with Spence-Jones to talk about her tumultous tenure, her support of Keon Hardemon as the candidate to replace her, and what's next for the Liberty City native. Rest assured, we are not seeing the last of 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 comission."
Elected in 2005, Spence-Jones was the first African-American woman elected to the Miami City Commission in 40 years, following the great Athalie Range. She's fought hard to make sure places like Overtown, Liberty, Little Haiti, Brownsville got much needed funding for economic development, job creation, and neighborhood improvements.
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."
Unfortunately, Spence-Jones' tenure was cut short by scandals and endless investigations. Even though she ultimately beat all the charges thrown at her, she didn't get to accomplish everything she wanted to.
And she won't get to finish the job she started thanks to her longtime nemesis, Richard P. Dunn II, who a lawsuit against the city to stop Spence-Jones from seeking a third term. I had a recent conversation with Dunn, who confessed he's had a bone to pick with her since the first time they went head to head in an election in 2005. He claims Spence-Jones threw so much dirt on him, he had to spend a long time clearing his name.
Still, do voters in Miami's District 5 really want to elect Dunn, a candidate with a lot of questions swirling about his personal and campaign finances? I don't think so. He comes with too much baggage, from resigning as an assistant pastor of his church in the early 90s after confessing he used church funds for personal expenses to his wife's recent bankruptcy in order to save their home.
Recently, Dunn's come under fire for racking up $2,500 in meals between July and September using his campaign funds. He's also being accused by campaign workers of violating election laws by paying him in cash instead of checks.
If he becomes commissioner, Dunn will have a target on his back. He will have a hard time focusing on improving District 5's poorest neighborhoods.
That's why voters need to stand behind Keon Hardemon, the 29-year-old public defender endorsed by Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones. An assistant public defender with a master's business administration, Hardemon is head and shoulders above the other candidates.
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Hardemon, however, is part of a new generation of black leaders with no baggage. "He's a young, intelligent man who is going to finish what we started," Spence-Jones says. "Young brothers on the corner see Keon as an inspiration."
He's the one Miami's African American community needs right now.
Follow Uncle Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.