Last night, sometime after 6 p.m., Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones and more than three dozen of her supporters engaged in a spiritual cleansing inside the New Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Liberty City. In case you are not up to speed, Spence-Jones is facing possible criminal charges based on allegations she’s abused her official position for personal gain.
So for almost two hours, a parade of speakers, including former U.S. Congresswoman Carrie Meek, took turns denouncing City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who’s recently publicized memo-to-himself claimed Spence-Jones was on the take. The orators also sprayed venom on the local media, particularly the Miami Herald, for reporting about Spence-Jones’s troubles. Not that I’m jealous. They took shots at New Times too.
The encounter was a revealing look at how things remain the same in the Magic City, especially when it comes to playing the race card. It never ceases to appall me how our local Hispanic and Black political leaders prey on their constituents’ fears and suspicions of other ethnic groups to deflect blame from their unethical behavior.
Things kicked off with Spence-Jones, wearing a blue-and-white striped seersucker style suit, and her husband, in matching duds, holding their toddler son, entering the church behind a booming gospel soundtrack and a thunderous standing ovation. After the Spence-Jones clan took their seats in the front pew, the church pastor, a tall Black man with a booming voice, petitioned the Lord: “Let no weapon laid against her prosper…We are not going to wait until the battle is over. We are going to shout now.”
His sermon was followed by a soul shaking performance by three young women who sang a special song for Spence-Jones, including this harmonious chorus: “I just can’t give up now. I’ve come to far from where I started from. Nobody told me it would be easy and I don’t believe He has brought me this far to leave me.”
Then the finger-pointing started with local architect Daniel “Neil” Hall, who got in trouble in 2002 with the state ethics commission for failing to report rental income on his financial disclosure statement when he was a member of the defunct Miami-Dade Fire Board. “These daggers, these knives being thrown at [Spence-Jones] are very disturbing to me,” Hall pontificated. “Once something is written in the newspapers you can’t retract it. When they Google your name it will always come up. It is a shame.”
Local activist Haddie Willis, a stout woman with auburn hair and hazel eyes, informed the crowd that she didn’t believe the allegations against Spence-Jones. “They beat up on Arthur Teele,” she intoned. “They beat up on Victor Curry…Every time someone like Michelle Spence-Jones asks for our piece of the pie, they want to beat us up.”
Of course the night wasn’t complete without a few words from the godmother of Black Miami politics. During her turn at the podium, a fresh-faced Carrie Meek, who accepted a free leased Cadillac Escalade from an indicted developer, announced that the Miami Herald was a “second-rate National Enquirer as far as I’m concerned.”
The last speaker was Billy Hardemon, a former county commission aide who was indicted and acquitted of bribery and money laundering charges in the late Nineties. He accused Sarnoff of framing Spence-Jones. “Marc Sarnoff is a liar,” Hardemon railed. “He should be prosecuted for wasting the state attorney’s time. This letter is being used to assassinate the character of Michelle Spence-Jones. And let’s not forget what the media did to Art Teele.” He implored the audience to let Sarnoff know how mad they are at him. “We gotta keep the pressure on this fool,” Hardemon remarked.
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The rally ended with Spence-Jones sharing her own pearls of wisdom with her acolytes. “I’ve been a target of allegations since the day I was elected,” she said, adding that Sarnoff went after her because she is a young black woman and because she voted to give Mercy Hospital the green light to develop a controversial condo project in Coconut Grove. Sarnoff was against it.
“It is amazing how wicked people can be,” Spence-Jones rattled. “For some reason the standards are different for African Americans and women. He’s pissed off because he didn’t win.”
Before she was done, Spence-Jones promised “the lady days are over. You are not going to disrespect me. You are not going to disrespect my family. You are not going to disrespect my district.”
The gathering rose to their feet, applauded her and shouted “Amen.” -- Francisco Alvarado