For Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, the refrain from voters was: Four more years.
Spence-Jones, 41, had a sizable Election Day victory Nov. 3. With 3,947 votes — 82.71 percent of those who made a choice in District 5 — she easily beat challengers David Chiverton and Jeff Torain.
Spence-Jones will now work with a new mayor, Tomas Regalado, a city commissioner who defeated fellow City Commissioner Joe Sanchez for the top post.
“I’m thankful and blessed that the citizens of my district decided to re-elect me,” Spence-Jones told the South Florida Times. “Eighty-two percent of the vote sends a very powerful message that the voters of the district support what we are doing.”
Spence-Jones said her principal goals are to improve access of residents to jobs and better housing. She said she plans to gain access to federal stimulus dollars to achieve both.
Another major goal is fighting crime.
“Most of the criminal activities taking place in our district [are] among young people,” she said.
She said she plans to provide more crime prevention programs for youth.
“What we have to do is continue to look for additional things that can happen for our young people in the neighborhood,” she said.
From her former opponents and community leaders, there is a consensus that Spence-Jones will have to do more for the district, which includes Overtown, Lemon City,
Model City, Buena Vista, Spring Garden, Little Haiti, Wynwood and Liberty City.
Chiverton, the chief executive officer of Miami/Miami-Dade Weed and Seed, received 10.04 percent of the tally, or 479 votes.
“I think we still need to address the crime and lack of jobs in the community….Housing and realistic affordable rentals have been a challenge for District 5 for the last couple of years,” he said.
Chiverton also said he hopes District 5 residents “become more politically astute,” and pay attention to the details behind campaign promises.
“We certainly forget when people come before us and promise us things, and it doesn’t help us through the long haul,” he said.
Torain, vice president and chief operating officer at Deco International Security Corporation in Miami Beach, received 346 votes, or 7.25 percent. He agreed with Chiverton that crime and unemployment need to be addressed. Torain suggested that tourism for the district is another major issue.
“The key for District 5 is to tap into those tourism dollars,” said Torain, citing Little Haiti and the Seventh Avenue corridor as potential centers.
“It’s a major, major industry that we are just letting slip by,” he said.
Different issues took priority among those who went to the polls.
“What we’ve mostly been talking to voters about is the renter issue,” said Shannan Reaze, organizer of the Renter Majority Project for Power U Center for Social Change in Overtown. She said about 40,000 people rent residences in the district, and they pay the majority of district taxes.
Reaze said voters hope Spence-Jones focuses on “what does it mean to actually have good housing….How is the city protecting renters during this crisis?”
In Liberty City, Alison Austin, chief executive officer of the Belafonte Tacolcy Center, had a different perspective on Election Day. The center is a non-profit facility for children and families.
“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of energy around the election, and there certainly hasn’t been a lot of outreach from either of the mayoral candidates,” she said.
Austin said the reaction was better from District 5 candidates.
“All three of them have at least recognized the constituents that Tacolcy serves and have been through here,” she said. But she added that Liberty City had seen little economic or other progress.
Spence-Jones will also need to pay more attention to Little Haiti, Fred St. Amand believes.
“The business people are also complaining,” said St. Amand, chairman of Citizens on Patrol and a member of the Civilian Investigative Panel. “They said, ‘Where is the commissioner in District 5?’….Who are we? Are we invisible?”
Spence-Jones said they and other district residents are not invisible, nor have they been.
“In four years, we got a lot done,” she said. “Even after I leave, there’s still going to be something to be done.”
Spence-Jones pointed to refurbished buildings, improved infrastructure and community projects such as rehabilitated businesses along Northwest 17th Avenue and a soccer park in Little Haiti as achievements.
Her future goals include the rehabilitation of Northwest 15th Avenue as a “Soul District,” highlighting the African-American community and culture. Another plan is the reopening of the Caribbean Marketplace in Little Haiti.
“Infrastructure projects, those are things people can see, touch and feel,” she said.
Spence-Jones added that the projects during her first term came during good economic times, and that the current financial climate makes matters more challenging.
Still, she said, “You’re going to see incredible changes in the next four years.”
For full election results, visit www.miamidade.gov/elections/home.asp.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones makes a V for victory sign Tuesday, Nov. 3 inside her election headquarters at Edison Plaza on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Liberty City.