tanya_james_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

MIAMI GARDENS — With the popular incumbent Shirley Gibson out of the race for mayor of Miami Gardens, elections scheduled for Aug. 14 have drawn eight candidates vying to take her place.

Gibson, who led the incorporation drive for the state’s largest majority black city, is barred by term limits from seeking re-election as head of the 9-year-old town. She is instead challenging incumbent Miami-Dade County District 1 Commissioner Barbara Jordan for that seat.

The city’s charter stipulates that the original mayor and council members could serve two consecutive four-year terms plus one additional year because the municipality was new at the time.

Candidates seeking to replace Gibson are Aaron Campbell, outgoing council member and former Miami-Dade police commander; Tanya Yolanda James, 38, health and wellness director; Willie B. Kelly, 66, retired educator and former Community Council member; Gilbert Oliver, 39, incumbent vice mayor; John D. Pace, 61,

retired Miami Gardens police officer and community activist; Andre Williams, 48, attorney, outgoing council member; Katrina Wilson, 49, educator and curriculum specialist; and Darwin Woods, 48, mortgage banker.

Campbell, the last original councilman, is terming out of Seat 1 after nine years.

Those seeking to replace him are Lillie Q. Odom, 69, founding member of the North Dade Municipal Advisory Committee, and Sardebra Wright, 55, retired postal worker and former chief steward for the American Postal Workers Union.

With Williams relinquishing Seat 3 to run for mayor, candidates in the race to replace him are Rodney Harris, 46, senior juvenile probation officer; Ulysses Harvard, 55, insurance broker and former councilman; and Erhabor Ighadora, 39, a Florida Memorial University professor of Criminal Justice.

Incumbent councilmembers not up for re-election are Lisa Davis, seat 2; Felicia Robinson, seat 4; and David Williams Jr., seat 5.

Public safety and economic development are top priorities for most candidates, both for mayor and the council.

Williams says his emphasis would be “to provide the residents public safety, employment, and stir up the city’s economic engine. Our unemployment rate is 17 percent and foreclosure rates are the highest it has ever been.” Wilson, who would also push for economic growth, says for that to happen the city must address public safety.

“Businesses don’t want to come into the area if they think they will be robbed,” Wilson said. “No matter what, people want to feel safe and we need to fix that.”

For Gilbert, “serious” redevelopment is needed. “People are coming here for great events and then leaving the city to really spend their money,” he said.

Miami Garden's citizens, Pace said, “need our ears. We need to listen to them, allow them more input regarding the things that go on in our city. As a visionary, I am here to work for and serve the people."

Kelly’s focus would be on the police department and parks development. “Taxpayers are shoveling at least $36 million per year (into public safety) and I will make (the city) better and safer at about $9 million and put money back into our parks,” he said.

Woods agrees that the city needs more effective policing, as well as a stable economic plan. “We can work with private developers to build economic stability for our residents,” he said. “And this includes big-box retail (stores) and the expansion of hotels.”

James, too, would tackle public safety. “Our streets need to be free from crime,” she said. Children deserve the opportunity “to play outside, and elders to live without fear. That is the foundation of a vibrant community.”

Small businesses need help “getting on target,” Odom said, adding that seniors “need to become comfortable with technology and computer skills as it relates to life skills.”

Wright, a native of Bunche Park, said that the city needs “an influx of money and there needs to be a drastic decrease in crime. I feel our current leaders are unable or unwilling to bring new ideas to produce continuous revenue for the city and are mistakenly placing their failed financial decisions on the backs of our residents, who find themselves struggling to survive.”

Harris, too, would focus on reducing crime. “Everyone has to come together and do their part because there is no one answer to the problem,” he said. “I will work with the police department, churches and the residents to make this happen.”

For Ighadora, education, economic empowerment and opportunity will “balance the city. We need to combine good partnerships with out-of-the box thinking to get back on the economic track.”

Miami Gardens was incorporated in 2003, following a failed attempt to create a smaller city to be named Destiny. It became the 33rd municipality in Miami-Dade County and the third largest, after Miami and Hialeah, with a population of about 120,000. According to the U.S. Census, 77.9 percent of the residents are black.

The city encompasses an area comprising the communities of Andover, Bunche Park, Carol City, Lake Lucerne, Norwood, Opa-locka North and Scott Lake. It got its name from its main street, Miami Gardens Drive, which runs through the city from east to west.

Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net