MIAMI GARDENS — Taking a cue from Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic National Convention speech on the theme of unity, the new mayor of Florida’s largest majority black city has told residents they are all one people with a role in developing their hometown.
“Understand that Miami Gardens is not an ‘I’ or a ‘them,’ it’s a ‘we’ or an ‘us,’” Oliver Gilbert told a standing-room-only gathering at Florida Memorial University’s Lou Rawls Performing Arts Center Aug. 30.
“We are Miami Gardens,” Gilbert said. “We will grow this city together.”
With his hand on the Bible held by his mother Kirklyn Gilbert, the 39-year-old attorney took the oath of office from his predecessor, Shirley Gibson, following a decisive victory at the polls on Aug. 14. He garnered 63 percent of the vote to defeat six other candidates.
In an interview Tuesday, Gilbert said he will focus on economic development, youth and seniors and especially public safety. “People need to be able to spend their money in their hometown and they need to feel safe,” Gilbert said. “These are things that are fundamental to community. So, as we move forward, we are looking for ways to actually address those issues.”
His plan for dealing with crime includes hiring more police officers and enforcing the law “to create an atmosphere where people know that violating the law won’t be accepted.”
“We will also continue our outreach with crime and neighborhood watches. It’s important to have us all participate in crime prevention and not just the sworn law enforcement officers,” Gilbert said.
The lifelong resident of Miami Gardens doesn’t pretend to be the final authority on what’s best for the city. He says in order to move forward he’ll need the help of his entire community.
“A lot of what I’ll do won’t just be to bring programs to the city but to bring buy-in to the city,” Gilbert said. “People need to feel vested in what’s happening because it’s not just my plan, it’s our plan. It’s what we want to do.”
He already has fans in the city and beyond, including Keith Jennings and Nathalie Cadet-James. Jennings, who has lived in Miami Gardens for more than 25 years, said he and most of his family and friends voted for Gilbert and are looking forward to seeing him get to work.
“I’m excited, fulfilled and anxious to see the future of this fine city,” said Jennings, who was at Gilbert’s swearing-ceremony. “He’s energetic, he has a vision, the community has bought into it and we all are looking for the next step. The previous mayor did a fantastic job and it’s his calling now to pick up the baton and move us to the next level where we know we can be.”
Cadet-James, who attended the University of Miami School of Law with Gilbert, also showed up for the occasion. Though a Miami resident, she said she couldn’t miss his swearing-in ceremony.
“I’m proud. There’s no other way to describe it,” she said. “This is incredible. To be someone he studied with, see the determination he had even back then in law school and to see his dream realized of representing the city he grew up in, it’s really perfect. He’s really so invested here, so not only Miami Gardens but Miami Dade County has a lot to look forward to. He’s accountable and I know he’ll deliver.”
Miami Gardens has a weak mayor form of government, with the city manager running the day-to-day operations and the mayor and city council members setting policy. Gilbert is confident he will have the support of colleagues and residents for his initiatives.
“I think everyone is interested in moving the city forward,” Gilbert said. “I was blessed to have the support of the council when I ran for mayor because of the policies, goals and vision I have for Miami Gardens. I am completely aware that Miami Gardens is a team and I’m prepared to build a coalition from the dais to move Miami Gardens forward.”
Gilbert’s overall vision is for the city to become a destination spot.
“We want to develop a community where people want to move [to], where businesses want to open and where people feel safe,” Gilbert said. “In everything we do, we want people to want to be here. I want to show others how good and hard-working the people here are and how extraordinary this place is. Right now they may not know, but I do.
“I love Miami Gardens. I feel awed and honored to be elected. I take very seriously the fact that I represent my hometown and I take very seriously how it develops. I go to church here, I went to school here. This is my home.”
*Pictured above Oliver Gilbert's mother Kirklyn Gilbert holds the Bible as outgoing Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson administers the oath of office to her successor Aug. 30 at Florida Memorial University.