NORTH MIAMI – They have participated in a series of community forums, door-to-door canvassing and meet-and-greet sessions. Now the North Miami candidates running in the May 12 election are waiting for residents to put one of them in office.

The mayor’s race, along with two council seats and the city clerk, will be decided in the city’s general election.


Candidates for the mayor’s office are: insurance agent Sidney Charles, businessman Gustavo Cuervo-Rubio III, North Miami Councilman Jacques Despinosse, homeowner’s association president and community activist Beverly Hilton, lawyer Andre Pierre and North Miami City Clerk Frank Wolland. All are seeking to replace Mayor Kevin Burns, whose second consecutive two-year term ends this month.


The candidates represent a diversity of ethnicities, experiences and platforms.


Among Despinosse’s priorities are lobbying for funding of a water plant to reduce the residents' water bills and revitalizing West Dixie Highway as well as Seventh Avenue with more commerce.  Despinosse, 63, was first elected to the North Miami City Council in 2001 and has served two terms on the council


He also would like to have the Community Redevelopment areas of Districts 2 and 3 collaborate and share resources as well as build a civic center, where a variety of events can be held.


"I see the others running and I don't see the vision," said Despinosse, who also is the executive director of the Haitian American Citizenship & Voter Education Center in Little Haiti.


Charles, 54, says his political connections in the Democratic and Republican parties also will help him bring resources to the city. Charles is a member of several city boards, including the Mayor’s Economic Task Force. He also was vice president of the Haitian American Democratic Club as well as vice chairman of the Republican Party of Dade County.


Last week, after a newspaper reported that Charles had been arrested four times since 1999, Charles said he had been wrongfully arrested – twice on drug-related charges and twice on charges of lewd and lascivious behavior. In each case, including the most recent arrest in 2004 for cocaine possession, the charges were dropped.


The recent revelation of Charles’ arrest record so far has not become a campaign issue that his opponents have used against him. It is his political and community record that shows his capabilities to run a city, Charles said.


“Working with both sides of the political equation, you realize that it is not about political parties, it is about being effective and knowing and understanding what it takes to have a community, to have a city, particularly at this time when we are going through such a hard time economically.”


Pierre, 40, has citywide cleanup on the agenda if elected into office.


“I will bring in a program to clean up the trash all over the city. It’s about keeping the city beautiful,” said Pierre, who collected more than 700 signatures from North Miami residents to support his candidacy.


To qualify to run, candidates pay a $2,400 filing fee and $480 Election Assessment Fee. But candidates do not have to pay the fees if they collect the names of at least 709 registered North Miami voters who have signed a petition in support of the candidate’s desire to run for office.


“I went door to door collecting signatures and got about 1,400 and gave 900 of them to the Department of Elections, even though they only needed 709,” Pierre said.


Wolland, 56, said he is ready to serve as mayor again.


“I was very unhappy with the state of our city for the past three years, and I’ve seen the city go in a direction which wasn’t really good for the people,” Wolland said.


He said a change in the City Charter two years ago took away the voters’ rights to approve and make decisions about zoning in North Miami neighborhoods. 


“The most important thing I’ve learned is that you have to listen to the people,” Wolland said. “It’s about serving the people, and if you’re not prepared to do that then you don’t belong in elected office. I’ve been the mayor before and I did a good job. I united the community and everyone who had something to say got heard.”


Gustavo-Rubio III, 48, however, said current Mayor Kevin Burns has done a good job for North Miami residents.


“The council and mayor are here to serve the people. Their decisions should reflect what the residents want. I’m not a politician; I’m not a lawyer. When I get up there, it’s not going to be politics as usual,” he said.


As mayor, Hilton says she will implement programs to reduce crime, reduce the financial burden of water and utilities, and unify North Miami into one city that is not defined by the high-priced condos and homes on the east and the lower-income neighborhoods in the west.


“The mission is to create a cleaner and safer community empowered by all its residents,” Hilton, 51, said. “We need a government that works for the people and we need people to take ownership and pride in North Miami. This is a city that is ready to do great things.”


The District 2 council race features incumbent Michael R. Blynn. The lawyer has held the position since 2001. His opponents are Miami-Dade Expressway Authority records retention officer Michael P. Killiany, teacher Claudio Sanchez and business retailer Bonnie Schwartzbaum.


Running for the District 3 council seat are Michelle Garcia, an information technology manager at Royal Caribbean International; Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention officer and small business owner Jean Rodrigue Marcellus; and Miami-Dade County public school treasurer and pastor Luna Marchand. Councilpersons serve four-year terms without a limit on the number of terms.


Two candidates want to become the next city clerk: real-estate broker Carol Besade-Preger and marketing firm and public relations firm owner Alix Desulme.


Editor’s note: Jenna Farmer is a graduate student of journalism at the University of Miami.