MIAMI – For the last four years, City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones has represented the city of Miami’s District 5. “You know what they call me in the neighborhood? They call me Scrapper,” she said.
Spence-Jones, who wants another term as commissioner, has two opponents: David Chiverton and Jeff Torain.
Election Day is Nov. 3, though early voting is taking place at various locations. A runoff, if necessary, is scheduled for Nov. 17.
District 5 includes Overtown, Lemon City, Model City, Buena Vista, Spring Garden, Little Haiti, Wynwood and Liberty City.
All three candidates say they believe that improving the economy and fighting crime are priorities in the district, which includes most of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods.
Not surprisingly, the incumbent has the largest war chest. As of Oct. 16, Spence-Jones had raised more than $187,000 for her campaign, while Chiverton had raised $13,730 and Torain had raised almost $13,000.
Chiverton, 45, is the chief executive officer of Miami/Miami-Dade Weed and Seed, an initiative by the U.S. Department of Justice to clean up neighborhoods and reduce crime. He founded and is the president of The Foundation of Community Assistance and Leadership (FOCAL), an after-school program with emphasis on reading, math and science. He chairs the Martin Luther King Jr. Economic Development Corporation. He and his wife, Geraldine, have six children and three grandchildren.
“I’m running because I believe that the district has been underrepresented,” Chiverton said. He said he believes that current projects “do not reflect the need of the residents and have catered more to special-interest groups.”
Chiverton supports improved infrastructure. In the Little Haiti/Lemon City area, he said, “Northeast 2nd Avenue is a viable corridor….But the streets do not have the proper drainage.”
Chiverton said Liberty City needs more economic development.
“We need to look at anchor companies to invest in the community,” he said.
He also said he believes that youth programs should include more emphasis on girls.
“Young women of our community are the mothers of the future,” he said.
For Miami’s budget, Chiverton would seek not to eliminate jobs, “but [ensure] them through a public-private partnership.”
He recommended a fiscal forecast before the second half of a fiscal year begins, saying, “It gives us an opportunity to inform the city and the employees…that we may have to tighten our belts.”
Spence-Jones, 41, is the president of Liberia Street Group, a promotional and marketing company. She and her husband, Nathanial, have two sons.
As accomplishments, she has cited street improvements on Northwest 3rd Avenue, a focus by the Liberty City Community Revitalization Trust on affordable-housing opportunities and economic development, the opening of the Black Police Precinct and Courthouse Museum in Overtown, and a soccer park and cultural complex in Little Haiti.
“The thing that I’m most proud of is the ability to mobilize people to get involved in their own neighborhoods,” she said. She also cited the development of destination points within the district for tourism.
She called building a sustainable community the biggest issue.
“To me, you can’t have a sustainable, stable community until you address crime,” she said.
On the city’s budget, “I think this is a time for us to become more creative.”
She recommends changes to the city’s pension system. “No one wants to see people lose their jobs,” she said.
Last year, Spence-Jones was cleared in an investigation by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office of accusations that she used her vote on a Coconut
Grove waterfront project to steer money from the developer to two friends.
“It is very clear that I’ve been cleared of any wrongdoing,” she said. “The state attorney is supposed to investigate. That’s their job.”
Spence-Jones said constituents supported her. “Through all that investigating, I was still able to produce results,” she said.
Torain, 47, is vice president and chief operating officer at Deco International Security Corporation in Miami Beach and a former deputy chief of police for the city of Opa-Locka. He has one son.
Job creation is part of his platform, along with crime prevention and funding for youth sports.
“Like so many other people, I’m a parent who lives in the district, and I see our children in crisis,” Torain said. “The commission needs to work closer with the [Miami-Dade] School Board in addressing those issues.”
As an economic boost to the district, Torain said, “in Little Haiti, there is a need for that area to be developed for tourism.”
He suggested a tourism zone between 54th and 62nd Streets north to south, and from Northeast to Northwest 2nd Avenue east to west.
“Dollars are attracted to the community from people who live outside,” he said. “We don’t see that happening in District 5.”
Torain said he wants a change in the way Community Redevelopment Agency dollars are spent. “Are we assuring that the money is going to people who live in the district?” he asked of the agency that uses tax dollars for redevelopment purposes.
Torain also criticized Miami’s housing programs. “The city’s already invested millions and millions of dollars on housing, and these programs have never worked,” he said.
He said he believes improving the economy also will help with the housing crisis.
“If we grow our economy within the district, it will ease the high inventory of foreclosed properties,” Torain said.
He wants changes to the budget process, with more review time for commissioners and city departments after the mayor submits a budget. He said the current method “makes the city look bad and makes us look as if we don’t have control over the city’s finances.”
The biggest division among the candidates is over the Florida Marlins ballpark now being built.
Spence-Jones voted for the project, after initially holding back over the issue of jobs for District 5 residents. The ballpark will be at the old Orange Bowl site in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, which is not in District 5.
“If I had to vote again for the Marlins stadium, I would support it again,” Spence-Jones said.
She said she will not agree, however, to an increase in the city’s contribution from $94 million to $120 million for the ballpark parking garage. “I said no way….I’m not supporting anything beyond the $94 million.”
Chiverton called the reported cost overruns “bad fiscal oversight” and said he would have advocated a new city convention center instead of a ballpark.
“This is going to be a real challenge for the city – something that can send us back into receivership, if not bankruptcy,” Chiverton said.
Torain also opposed the deal, and called the commission vote to cap parking garage costs at $120 million “a political ploy.”
“We should be carrying the lighter load, if we’re going to be carrying it at all,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For an early voting schedule, visit www.miamigov.com/cms/comm/1724_6806.asp. For a sample ballot, visit miamidade.gov/elections/s_ballots/11-03-09_mia.pdf.
Photo: Michelle Spence-Jones