Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones has made a comeback. After being acquitted of bribery charges earlier this year and having theft charges against her dismissed last month, she has reclaimed her District 5 seat.
“Today I stand stronger, wiser and a better public servant … ready to serve the underserved and making sure we receive our fair share of goods and services for the city of Miami residents,” she said during her Sept. 8 swearing in ceremony.
“I am truly humbled and excited about focusing on the next two years and finishing what I started,” said Spence-Jones, who will receive $183,000 in back pay. “I have no malice in my heart because I realize that [for me] God had a greater purpose.”
The ceremony took place before a standing-room-only crowd at the Charles Hadley Park Black Box Theater in Liberty City. Spence-Jones said that she chose a location in the heart of the district “because the power lies in the neighborhoods and not in City Hall.”
Miami attorney Peter Raben administered the oath.
Four days back in City Hall after a two-year suspension and facing down corruption charges, which were dropped, Spence–Jones flexed her political muscle when she cast the deciding vote to fire Miami Police Chief Miguel Exposito.
Exposito lost his job after months of wrangling with Mayor Tomás Regalado and City Manager Johnny Martinez over personnel and budget issues and video machine gaming. Martinez suspended the chief as a prelude to his possible removal. Following a 17-hour hearing Sept. 9 the commission voted 3–2 on Monday to turn his suspension into a dismissal.
Spence-Jones, Francis Suarez and Willy Gort sided with Martinez, who said Exposito ignored direct orders not to demote or take other personnel action against three top executives at the 1,100-strong force.
Exposito had been with the department since 1974 and served as chief since November 2009.
Spence–Jones returned to the City Commission after a comedy of politics that began in 2009. She subsequently was suspended by then Gov. Charlie Crist, won a special election called to fill her then vacant seat, was again suspended by Crist and replaced by perennial adversary Richard P. Dunn II.
Spence-Jones had been arrested only days after her 2009 re-election to District 5. “Hours after she was sworn in, we got a call saying that she had to turn herself in,” said her husband, Nathaniel Jones. “We went through low points; our children were asking questions. This entire ordeal really affected our family.”
But justice was done, Marleine Bastien, Haitian American political and social activist said after the ceremony. “We are amazed by her courage, resilience and determination, her strong faith. I am impressed,” Bastien said.
District 5 is better today than it was two or three years ago, said Rev. Anthony Tate, director of the community activist group People United to Lead the Struggle Against Equality (PULSE). “My colleagues, the residents, they are ecstatic about [Spence-Jones’ return]. PULSE stood by her from the beginning, worked feverishly to help her comeback. There’s no doubt she will do a good job,” he said.
Spence-Jones’ return from suspension ended Dunn’s time as her replacement. She reaffirmed her commitment to providing District 5 residents more housing, jobs, safer streets and parks. The next two years are crucial, she said. “We will make sure that
all major construction providers for projects hire local residents and small contractors by holding their feet to the fire to deliver on their promises after receiving public monies,” she said.
Infrastructure on roadway projects in Liberty City, Little Haiti, Buena Vista and Spring Gardens will be completed, Spence-Jones said.
“I am truly lucky to have received a second chance and be able to come back as a stronger, wiser public official,” said Spence-Jones. “What happened to me and my family in the past year was a travesty of justice and I can’t wait to start working again to improve the community I love and live in.”
The 90-minute ceremony in the packed park auditorium was replete with music from church choirs, prayers of thanks and hearty “welcome back” greetings from friends and supporters, including retired U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek and Miami-Dade County School Board Member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall.
“God’s truth has finally come,” activist Billy Hardemon said before Spence-Jones took the stage. “Thank you, Jesus, for setting Michelle free from the evil of politics.”
When Spence-Jones did appear, a good part of the crowd joined her as she recited the 23rd Psalm, The Lord is My Shepherd.
“Make no mistake, what happened to me and my family was an injustice,” said Spence-Jones. “No one should have to endure the pain and suffering we had to endure. But we must move on.”
Supporters at the swearing-in said Spence-Jones is key to solving the crime and economic problems that plague Liberty City.
“She has united people for good,” said Gerald Muhammed, 50. “I have seen her rise in the community in the last six years, since I met her. Now, she is a symbol in the community.”
Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net, Miguel F. Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: James Forbes/For South Florida Times