Four African Americans are among 11 candidates who have entered the race to become the next mayor of Miami-Dade County.
They are Wilbur B. Bell, entrepreneur and former Redland Community Council member; Roosevelt Bradley, former Miami-Dade Transit director; Luther “Luke” Campbell, entrepreneur and former 2 Live Crew front man; and Eddie Lewis, retired Miami-Dade police officer.
The winner will fill the seat left vacant last month when voters ousted Carlos Alvarez in a recall election.
Early voting will begin May 9 for the special election scheduled for May 24. If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff for the top two finishers will be held June 28. The new mayor will serve until November 2012.
Bradley, 55, who was born in Goulds in the southern part of the county, became a migrant worker at age 5.
“My parents were not professional people. I worked with my father as a migrant worker until I was 10. My mother did not have a high school diploma. She was constantly looking for work to feed us so we moved a lot,” he recalled in a recent interview.
His family moved from South Miami to Liberty City to Carol City to other parts of what is now Miami Gardens.
“We lived from one end of the county to the other, so I know Dade extremely well. And, with six sisters and two brothers, it was hard. So I know firsthand what it takes … the work that’s needed,” he said.
As Transit director, he said, he had a $400 million operating budget and a $5 billion capital budget “so I know what it takes to get things done.”
He jump started the Intermodal Center construction project currently underway at Miami International Airport, garnering $100 million from the Florida Department of Transportation and getting the federal government to match it with $100 million.
“That was the second time something like that, with that dollar amount, was done in the history of the U.S.,” said Bradley, who owns a construction management company in Medley and is chairman of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials.
Bradley, a resident of Miami Lakes in the northwest section of the county, is campaigning on a platform of easing what he says are the racial divisions in Miami-Dade, a high rate of home foreclosure and job-creation.
Bell, 70, made his first real estate investment, $500, at age 24. “The property is still going almost 50 years later and producing income,” he said.
He opened Short Stop convenience store in West Perrine at age 29 with $600, to earn another $100 per week to supplement his U.S. Air Force salary. “That venture grew to over a million,” he said, adding that he sold the business last year. He is currently CEO of the landholding company Short Stop Properties.
“I am the most successful small independent businessman in South Florida,” he said, adding that a lifetime in business and success despite humble beginnings have prepared him to lead the county.
He grew up in Perrine, another South Miami-Dade community, coming up “the welfare road.”
“My mother raised my [eight] siblings and me on a welfare check of $26 per month. When I was 10, I got a job on the garbage truck. That was my beginning and I’m still working today,” he said.
Bell’s first election to public office came in 1996 when he became a member of the Redland Community Council, stepping down to run for mayor. He is active on committees and in groups, including the South Dade Neighborhood Advisory Board, the West Perrine Christian Association and the Perrine Cutler Ridge Council and is an NAACP life member.
Bell’s platform includes lowering property taxes and re-establishing full service at the South Dade Government Center.
Campbell, 50, a self-described “political junkie” from Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, believes he was “destined to be a politician.”
“As a child, we would visit my uncle Ricky, who would not let us watch cartoons,” said Campbell, who now lives in Miami Lakes in Northwest Miami-Dade. “He encouraged us to look at the news and read the newspaper. He said I should do that to stay informed on the political process.”
Campbell was the first African American to own an independent record label with the launch of Luke Records in 1983. He became internationally famous when the raunchy lyrics of his rap group 2 Live Crew drew fire and a court case involving free speech that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and he won.
He has mellowed considerably since then and is now president and CEO of Luke Holdings & Investments Inc., He founded the Luther Campbell Charitable Foundation and co-founded the Liberty City Optimist, a youth academic and athletic program.
His campaign rests on economic development, public safety, affordable housing and community revitalization. “This is like the bible of where the work needs to start in county government,” he said.
Lewis, 58, grew up in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood, the eldest of nine children of a mother who worked as a domestic in Miami Beach and in South Dade, and father who worked in construction.
The family lived in “an impoverished area” in a two-bedroom house, “so I know a bit about family life and making things work.”
He said he began caring about community and people at an early age. He coached Little League football while attending high school and spent 17 years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a gunnery sergeant. After a 20-year stint in Miami-Dade law enforcement, he retired in 2006.
In 2008, the Miami Shores resident was on the ballot for property appraiser and received nearly 100,000 votes. He tossed his hat in the mayoral ring because “people are simply fed up with the system and the shallow government.”
“I am a union person, a labor person, I worked here. I’ve been out there and know what people in the county want,” he said.
His campaign focuses on term limits for the mayor and county commissioners, reorganizing the police, fire and corrections departments, lowering the salaries of some administrators, imposing a freeze on raises for at least 18 months, expanding the transit system and improving education.
This will be the first time in history that four black men are running for this office, Lewis noted.
“It’s an opportunity to restore things for our people and send a message to our kids. They need to see that black men are stepping up to bat, challenging the good old boy’s system,” he said.
Cynthia Roby can be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net