Florida International University
The Rev. Richard P. Dunn II won election to a full term on the Miami City Commission Tuesday, easily overcoming a grassroots effort by community activist Alison Austin to take the seat with promises of change.
Dunn beat Austin for the Commission District 5 seat by a nearly 2-1 margin, 5,551 votes to 3,122, according to unofficial election results. Election results remain unofficial until certified by the Miami-Dade County Canvassing Board.
Also on the ballot were Michael Jackson Joseph, who received 1,510 votes; Andre D. Joyce, with 354; Ernest Mailhot, 75 votes; and Jerry D. Sutherland Sr. with 303.
“I’m blessed and highly favored,” Dunn said in an interview Wednesday morning. “My main focus is going to be making sure we keep creating more jobs. We need jobs in Overtown. We need jobs in Liberty City.”
The Miami City Commission appointed Dunn to the seat in January after then Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones was indicted on corruption charges.
He came to Election Day with a campaign treasury of more than $127,000 and support from a legion of political insiders and city vendors. Austin, who raised $42,000, blamed her loss on lack of money.
“The reality of the situation is that elections in this community are all about money,” Austin said in an interview election night. “Our opponent had five times the amount of support we did, so he won.”
District 5, spanning Liberty City, Overtown, Wynwood, Alapattah and Little Haiti, has a troubled history of political corruption.
Besides Spence-Jones, three other former commissioners have faced corruption charges and two were sentenced to prison terms.
Dunn had been appointed to the seat after promising not to run. Yet, community observers were not surprised that Dunn ran and won.
“Very few people can resist re-running,” said Marvin Dunn – no relation to Richard Dunn – a retired Florida International University professor who has written extensively on black history in South Florida. “His incumbency is what assured his reelection.”
Vanessa Woodard Byers, who runs a community blog, bloggingblackmiami.com, added, “The voters in District 5 don’t hold elected officials to the same accountability that others do. The fact [that] he said he wouldn’t run again and did, apparently that was okay to the people. They seem to like him enough to elect him overwhelmingly.”
Both Dunn and Austin are stalwarts of Miami’s black community.
Dunn is senior pastor of Faith Community Baptist Church and former president of People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality (PULSE). He was raised in Overtown and Liberty City and graduated from Central State University and Morehouse School of Religion.
Austin is CEO of the Belafonte TACOLCY community center in Liberty City and lives in the community. She worked for Xerox Corp and spent more than a decade working for USAID on development projects in the Caribbean and Latin America.
Both candidates based their campaigns more on themselves than on specific policy positions.
Dunn pushed for enforcement of teen curfew laws and supported a “blue-ribbon panel” to advise police on District 5 issues, His campaign website boasted of “numerous initiatives to reduce government spending and abuse” but offered no details.
Austin, likewise, said on her website that she is “working on a plan that will address the complexity of issues plaguing this community… designed to create economic growth and generate jobs through sustainable commercial development.”
At least one influential Dunn supporter said his prominence made a difference.
“We know what his agenda is. The community has accepted him,” said Sara Smith, 49, president of the resident council at the Liberty Square housing project. “We don’t want someone new that we have to get used to. It’s like starting all over again to try to get what we need.”
Natalie Alvarez, Rina Guerrero, Luis Roca and Alec Scott contributed to this report.
Daysi Calavia-Lopez may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NATALIE ALVAREZ/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES
VICTORY CELEBRATION: The Rev. Richard P. Dunn II celebrates his victory with supporters at a gathering election night at Jackson Soul Food in Overtown.