Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson has entered the crowded field of candidates seeking to replace Kendrick Meek in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Meek is the perceived Democratic frontrunner in the similarly crowded race to replace outgoing U. S. Senator Mel Martinez.
Gibson, long rumored to be running, confirmed her intentions in a statement on Monday that touted her accomplishments as mayor of the third-largest municipality in Miami-Dade, and the largest predominantly black city in Florida.
Her entry into the race sets up a captivating battle between herself and state Sen. Frederica Wilson, the first to declare her candidacy for the District 17 seat in a race that may also include Haitian activist Marleine Bastien and state Reps. Yolly Roberson and Phillip Brutus.
The district stretches from southern Broward to central Miami-Dade.
After Meek decided to vacate his seat, Gibson said her telephone began ringing with people encouraging her to run. Her initial response was “no,’’ but after agreeing to at least think about it, she changed her mind.
“I think I’m a good candidate,” Gibson told the South Florida Times at a Miami Gardens Starbucks, one of the many businesses she and her administration lured to the city after its incorporation.
“This is my race to lose,” she said, demonstrating the confidence that has been instrumental in Miami Gardens’ progress and in her selection as the first black woman to run the Miami-Dade League of Cities.
When asked about Wilson, the candidate that many think will be her toughest competitor, Gibson replied, “I think it would be a good race. The voters should have the opportunity to have the best candidates to choose from. I would much rather have a formidable candidate…it brings out the best in you.”
Gibson said she looks forward to appearing in public forums where all the candidates can debate the issues, which she said will be essential to voters’ ability to effectively assess their qualifications.
Of the opportunity to debate Wilson, Gibson said, “Bring it on.”
Prior to leading the city’s incorporation efforts, Gibson was also a part of the team that unsuccessfully attempted to incorporate the same area as the city of Destiny.
Gibson’s popularity and name recognition beyond the city’s limits have grown considerably since Miami Gardens was incorporated in May 2003. That election saw just 3,558 of the city’s 50,548 registered voters decide the city’s fate.
Gibson’s landslide victory in the crowded race began what she calls her ministry to transform the area that is now Miami Gardens into an efficiently run city that its residents would respect. She was re-elected without opposition in 2008.
The retired Miami-Dade police officer said that feedback from Miami Gardens’ residents about her decision to run for congressional office has been bittersweet.
Gibson said some residents are concerned about what might happen to the city without her and others who want to see her take her political talent to Washington.
To those with worries about the city without her leadership, Gibson said she reassured them that their exposure to a progressive city will continue to serve them well.
“I’ve demonstrated to you what good leadership is, and you’re never going to accept anything less,” she said.
Nine-year Miami Gardens’ resident Cathy McDowell said she’d like to see the city’s parks improved, but overall, “[Mayor Gibson] has done a good job.”
McDowell’s husband, Jamal, said he’s pleased with the mayor’s accomplishments in the city and that if she’s able to do in Washington what she’s done here, she’ll do a great job.
Janice Marshall and her husband, Samuel, have lived in Miami Gardens for nearly 20 years. The pediatric nurse said she was not familiar with who the mayor is, but is impressed with the city’s progress.
“My husband and I were talking about how Miami Gardens is coming up to the level of anywhere out West,’’ Marshall said. “The policemen that are always around, all the development that’s coming together, the community center that’s coming. Somebody in the background really knows what they’re doing.”
Photo: Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson