Here's Why Wayne Messam Should Quit Running for President Already

Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam
Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam Photo by Marc Nozell / Flickr
Wayne Messam is, for reasons difficult to explain, still running for president. When he announced his run, the mayor of tiny Miramar, Florida, tried to position himself as a Pete Buttigieg-style outsider, the sort of political newcomer who wouldn't be indebted to Washington elites and could spout tough truths on the campaign trail.

Fast forward a few months and Messam's "campaign," if it can be called that, is in shambles. His poll numbers and donor stats are so low that he's missed both Democratic debates thus far. He's basically polling at a flat zero. And in the meantime, there appears to be some evidence that Messam is neglecting folks in his own community while he's got his sights inexplicably set on the White House. And so, since he apparently needs this spelled out for him, here's a list of reasons why he should drop out and go back to being a mildly OK mayor.

1. His own troubled financial history:
In his bid to become the next U.S. president, Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam has been making the rounds on cable TV to rail against Donald Trump. Last month, Messam appeared on CBS News, where he rebuked the president not releasing his tax returns.

"When you hide behind a veil of your financial business, you never know who you're influencing, where your priorities lie," Messam said. "But I think it's important that the American people have some glimpse or some understanding of the financial standing of their commander in chief."

As it turns out, though, Messam has had his own financial troubles. Last month, New Times reported on accusations that several staffers hadn’t been paid for work on his presidential campaign. But his financial woes go back further: Public records show Messam and his wife, Angela, have a lengthy history of money-related problems, from tax liens, to a home foreclosure filing, to a lawsuit from a former employee at Messam’s construction business who says he wasn’t paid for overtime work. Together, the documents paint the clearest picture yet of the candidate's money issues.

In a statement to New Times, Messam acknowledged having "personal and professional challenges between 2008-2011" due to the recession. But he rejected the characterization of his financial history as troubled. "Wayne Messam does not have any financial problems and is a classic American Success Story," Messam wrote in an email.

2. The fact that his campaign missed payroll:
Despite stiff competition, Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam announced last month he was entering the already crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates. So far, his campaign events have been sparsely attended, and he's raised only a sliver of what his competitors have. But for some reason, national media is treating his presidential bid seriously — Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight says it's "keeping an eye" on him, and last week, CBS News invited him to an on-air interview.

According to a recently departed staffer, however, the campaign is in chaos behind the scenes. The staffer, whose credentials were verified by New Times but who declined to be named, says Messam's team didn't receive paychecks Monday. As a result, multiple campaign employees resigned this week, according to the source.

Screenshots of an email detailing the meltdown were sent to New Times Thursday. With the subject line "Notification of hold on paychecks," the message apologizes for the failure to pay, a problem attributed to Messam's wife, Angela. The email, which was forwarded to the entire campaign team Monday night, appears to have come from someone in charge of payroll.

"Regretfully, I think it is only fair to inform you that Angela Messam, wife of Wayne Messam, has consolidated all of the financial and banking assets of the campaign under her exclusive control and is currently refusing to issue paychecks to staff," the email states. "You are all great, hardworking, talented professionals who deserve to be paid for your hard work."

Reached by New Times, Wayne Messam said he was aware of the all-staff email about payroll. But he declined to substantively answer any questions.

"At this point, we've secured counsel to resolve any of this miscommunication, but we look forward to continuing forward as a campaign," he said. Asked for further explanation, he only repeated that he had retained a lawyer.

Messam also would not say how many staffers had left his campaign.

"I'm not in a position to talk about that specifically," he said.

3. That time he supported an accused sexual harasser:
If you don't happen to live in Miramar, it's likely you've never heard of the city's mayor, Wayne Messam. But late last month, Messam — a 44-year-old Democrat — announced his long-shot bid to become president in 2020. Born in Pahokee to Jamaican parents, the first-generation immigrant was a wide receiver for Florida State's 1993 national champion football team who ran his own construction business before entering politics. In 2018, he served as president of the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials.

Over the past month, Messam's campaign has released a number of position statements on a variety of issues, including the New Zealand terror attack, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and student loan debt. On April 2, Messam sent an email to reporters condemning Joe Biden, who has been accused of inappropriately touching women.

"I believe the women who have spoken up and the Vice President will need to address this pattern of behavior," Messam said. "Democrats cannot afford a nominee bogged down by the past."

Perhaps now more than ever, connecting with female voters is of paramount importance for candidates. Already, a record-breaking six women have announced 2020 presidential campaigns. And in the post-#MeToo era, the Democratic Party is incentivized to put forth a nominee with an unblemished history.

But during his tenure as mayor of Miramar, Messam supported two top city administrators who have been accused of harassing women: Assistant City Manager Michael Moore, whose conduct was internally investigated and who was later sued for sexually harassing a female coworker in Miami-Dade County, and City Manager Vernon Hargray, who was sued by an executive assistant in Miramar for workplace discrimination. (Moore was named as a defendant in that lawsuit, too.)

Charly Norton, a spokeswoman for Messam, says the mayor supports women who come forward with harassment allegations.

"The Mayor's office has a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment," Norton told New Times in a written statement. "We stand by our statement on believing the women who have spoken up on their interactions with Vice President Biden, and the Mayor's voice will not be silenced by those who want to attempt bankshot hit jobs."

4. Activists in his own hometown are angry with him:
Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam wanted to be the Democrats' next Pete Buttigieg — a long-shot, small-town mayor who could quote-unquote "tell it like it is" and talk his way into becoming president. But Messam's bid is failing horribly: He's polling at essentially zero percent, and he's been shut out of every televised Democratic debate this year. For some reason, he refuses to just drop out.

But while he's busy trying to raise his national profile, activists in his own town say he's neglecting to do some basic mayoral work in the meantime. Namely, Messam promised a group of Immigration and Customs Enforcement protesters he'd show up to their weekly post outside the ICE office in Miramar, but he's never actually done that, despite the fact that the oft-criticized ICE office sits just four miles from City Hall.

At the end of June, Messam posted on Facebook that he planned to visit protesters at the facility. Two of those protesters who spoke to New Times say they genuinely believed Messam was going to show up that day. Then, he simply didn't.

"He never showed up," Miami immigrant-rights activist Maria Asuncion Bilbao told New Times yesterday. "We are exploring, with lawyers, what things the City of Miramar can really do. But he says he cannot do anything. I think he can do more, but he's never shown up."

5. He'll probably never make it onto a TV debate at this point.

Come on, man.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.