MIAMI – Michelle Spence-Jones faces a court date on corruption charges and probably another suspension from her commission seat.
But voters in the city of Miami’s District 5 are sticking with her.
Spence-Jones won Tuesday’s special election, which included eight other candidates. Because it was a special election, there was to be no runoff election. None would have been needed, regardless. Spence-Jones received 2,043 votes, or 53.48 percent. Her closest competitor, the Rev. Richard P. Dunn, received 601 votes, or 15.73 percent. In 2005, Spence-Jones defeated Dunn in a runoff to win her first term.
“I have the right to serve as the District 5 commissioner,” Spence-Jones told supporters at her Liberty City headquarters Tuesday night as it became clear she would win the special election.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist may disagree with Spence-Jones’ declaration. Crist has already suspended her once and has publicly stated that he will do so again. Last week, Spence-Jones went to Miami-Dade County Court to challenge Crist’s right to re-suspend her. The case has yet to be heard.
“It is the voters’ choice, not Charlie Crist’s choice,” Spence-Jones told supporters.
If Crist suspends Spence-Jones again, the next action on the matter will come from the rest of the Miami City Commission, which will appoint another commissioner for District 5.
Commissioners could not appoint a District 5 commissioner after Spence-Jones was originally suspended Nov. 13 because they lacked a quorum for the time period in which they had to name a replacement. The resignation of District 1 Commissioner Angel Gonzalez as part of a plea deal and a runoff in District 4 left only two commissioners, Marc Sarnoff and Frank Carollo, during that time.
District 1 also had a special election Tuesday. That race was won by Willy Gort, who previously served on the commission from 1993-2003.
Spence-Jones set the fundraising pace in District 5, with more than $40,000 through Jan. 8, while real estate manager Georges William raised $30,000, half of it loaned to his own campaign. William received 151 votes, 3.95 percent.
Other than Spence-Jones, Dunn and William, others in the race included: Miami-Dade Public Schools administrator Pierre E. Rutledge, with 319 votes, 8.35 percent; attorney Erica Wright with 284 votes, 7.43 percent; American Intercontinental University representative Robert Malone Jr. with 189 votes, 4.95 percent; David Chiverton, chief executive officer of Miami/Miami-Dade Weed and Seed, with 138 votes, 3.61 percent; Howard University economist Dufirstson Neree with 66 votes, 1.73 percent and homemaker Yashica Brown-Rogne with 29 votes, 0.76 percent.
The district includes Overtown, Lemon City, Model City, Buena Vista, Spring Garden, Little Haiti, Wynwood and Liberty City. There are about 40,000 registered voters in the district. The election attracted fewer than 10 percent of them – 3,820 voters.
By about 2 p.m. Tuesday, about 50 people had voted at St. Matthew Freewill Baptist Church in Little Haiti. Polls clerk Jannie Williams called the turnout at the church “steady.”
Marc Henry Saint Amour voted for Georges William. “I like him,” Saint Amour said. “[He’s] good for the poor people.”
Earlier in the chilly day, there were more roosters than voters at the Jack Orr Senior Center in Overtown. By noon, about 10 voters had shown up.
Center resident Isabel Alonso voted for Erica Wright, “because I promised her and I like her,” Alonso said.
There were plenty of campaign volunteers outside the gates.
“It’s been a very slow turnout here,” said George Garcia, a volunteer for Spence-Jones. “Most of the people who come in have already made up their mind.”
Spence-Jones, who had served on the commission since 2005, was originally re-elected to a second term Nov. 3 with 83 percent of the vote. She was sworn in a week later, but in quick fashion the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office charged her with one count of second-degree grand theft, a felony. She is accused of steering two county contracts to a company she and family members owned, and spending the money for personal use.
Still, she maintains strong support in the district.
“You really don’t know how much love you have until you see it in the streets,” she told supporters Tuesday night. “I saw it in Little Haiti, I saw it in Overtown.”
She may see it in volunteers like Garcia.
“In this country, you’re innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “She’s a fighter, she’s someone who’s stepped up for the community.”
South Florida Times photographer Khary Bruyning contributed to this report.
Photo: Michelle Spence-Jones speaks with reporters about her victory at election headquarters on Tuesday night. Photo by Khary Bruyning.