michelle_spence-jones_1.jpgMIAMI – Amid family, friends, fellow politicos and unknowing patrons who wandered into the newly renovated Jackson Soul Food for lunch on Friday, Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones launched her campaign for re-election to the city of Miami’s District Five seat at the popular Overtown eatery.

Flanked by local clergy, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, former State Representative Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, fellow Commissioner Angel Gonzalez, North Miami Councilman Jacques Despinosse and others, a very pregnant Spence-Jones said her baby, a boy whom she and her husband have already named “Noah,” was expected to arrive within 48 hours after Spence-Jones’ noontime press conference. Spence-Jones was elected in 2005 to a four-year commission term. Retired U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek told the crowd, “You should be aware of the fact that if you didn’t have a good commissioner you would not be where you are today. Michelle Spence has stood the test. She has gone through a lot.”

Diaz, whom Spence-Jones referred to as a mentor and a friend, said, “We have to re-elect Michelle. I’m going to be gone in a few months, so Michelle needs to carry on.”


Demonstrating that the word “Teflon” could be a fitting addition to her title, Spence-Jones rattled off a list of accomplishments in her district despite being the target of several highly publicized investigations into her political behavior.


“I stand before you as a daughter of District 5 and all that it represents. I was born in District 5 and I was raised here in District 5, my family is in District 5, so for me this position is personal. It’s much more than politics. It’s about making a difference in the lives of people,” she said.


“We have committed millions in funding to address affordable housing in Overtown. Finally, something is happening in Overtown. Today we stand on a street that over a year ago people thought was dead. Local businesses were struggling and many of them were starting to move out. Today, that same street is now Hope Street and a model for what the future holds for every neighborhood in my district.”


The city of Miami’s Community Redevelopment Agency granted Jackson Soul Food nearly $800,000 to renovate the family-owned restaurant and $300,000 to Just Right Barber Shop a few blocks away. Ten other Overtown businesses have received a combined $179,000 from the CRA.


The “test” that Meek referred to includes an issue that was the subject of a controversial memo written by Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, conspicuously absent from Friday’s press conference. During her remarks, Spence-Jones acknowledged each of her colleagues from the commission, except Sarnoff.


In his May 15, 2007 memo, Sarnoff alleged that Spence-Jones asked the developer of high-rise buildings being constructed on property owned by Mercy Hospital to pay $100,000 in consulting fees to two of Spence-Jones’ closest allies, former Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler and Barbara Hardemon, Spence-Jones’ campaign advisor, in exchange for her approval of the project.


In a March 21, 2008 South Florida Times article, Spence-Jones denied any wrongdoing and was adamant that she would be vindicated. In that same story, Joe Centorino, of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office urged caution regarding the veracity of the memo’s content. “People should reserve judgment…it’s based on hearsay upon hearsay,” Centorino said at the time.


Centorino on Friday would provide no details on the status of the investigation. “I’m not in a position to comment on it,” he said.


Spence-Jones was also implicated in a misappropriation scandal involving the embattled Metro Miami Action Plan Trust. The Trust granted $50,000 to Karym Ventures, Inc., a company whose board of directors included Spence-Jones and members of her family. The Trust also provided a $25,000 grant in 2005 to a non-profit organization called Friends of MLK, much of which authorities allege wound up in the pockets of the non-profit's director, the Rev. Gaston Smith, who is the senior pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Liberty City. Smith was charged last year with second-degree grand theft.


Talmade Frazier, owner of Brother Frazier’s Ribs, was one of several District 5 small business owners at today’s announcement.


Frazier said his business has received approximately $20,000 in grants and loans from the city and has grown because of Spence-Jones’ support.


As she begins her re-election effort, Spence-Jones appears to have learned from her first-term experiences.


“I stand here today a wiser public servant. A humble public servant,” Spence-Jones said.




Pictured above is Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.