When the Rev. Richard Dunn accepted the appointment as Miami District 5 commissioner on January 26, he did so with an asterisk, gaining the votes of Commissioner Francis Suarez and Chairman Marc Sarnoff only after promising he wouldn’t run for the seat in November (the third election in 12 months.)
When Dunn made that promise, a lot of the people in the audience at City Hall, myself included, cringed. Apparently, so did Richard Dunn.
Less than two months later, a report in the South Florida Times suggests Dunn may be backing off his “no run” promise.
And why not? As his chief of staff Keith Carswell pointed out (backed by the previously stated opinion of the Miami city attorney,) Dunn’s promise was not legally binding.
“There are more pressing issues impacting the community than ‘will he or won't he’ [run],” Carswell told me, adding that “at the end of the day, it's not up to any newspaper or any one pontificator who may not even live in the district, or to those other commissioners who don't live in the district.”
It’s entirely up to Dunn, who claims it’s entirely up to “the people,” and whether they see progress during his brief tenure.
But how much progress can Dunn deliver if, for instance, his colleagues on the dais treat him mostly as a temporary roadblock or placeholder, and why wouldn’t they use his status to change the equation for the next District 5 commissioner, perhaps permanently?
A case in point: During Dunn’s second official commission meeting Feb. 11, he asked that the chairmanship of the Southeast Overtown/Park West/Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, home to tens of millions of dollars in development money, revert to the District 5 commissioner, where it had resided before Sarnoff took it over last December following Michelle Spence-Jones’ first suspension.
Sarnoff, who’s eager to see a downtown convention center built in Park West with CRA funds, objected, saying the Omni part of the CRA is entirely in his District 2, and taking a swipe at the history of past chairmen:
“Former Commissioner Dawkins served from 5 – May 11, 1995 to September 12, 1996, whereupon he was arrested, indicted, and convicted. That left that to former Commissioner Hernandez, Humberto Hernandez, who served from February 20, 1997 to January 13, 1998, where he was arrested, indicted, and convicted. Former Commissioner [Art] Teele served from January 13, 1998 to October 14, 2004, where he was arrested, indicted by two different governmental agencies. Former Commissioner [Johnny] Winton served from 10/14/2004 to June 20, 2006, where he was arrested, he was informed, and then he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. Former Commissioner Spence-Jones served from 6/21/2006 to November 13, 2009, where she's been informed against.
He continued: “She has been arrested, and she is now awaiting her trial. The historic background of the CRAs are not histories that are becoming to the City of Miami. In Southeast Overtown/Park West, $57,255,426 has been spent there. I would find it difficult to find those $57 million.”
Sarnoff also added, “The history of how these CRAs have been governed is that everyone who's ever chaired them has been arrested, has been indicted, and has been found guilty of something.”
Needless to say, Dunn took offense, particularly after Sarnoff added that there are “two kinds of people in Miami; those who work for a living and those who talk about working for a living,” and that while he’s “glad to give them the opportunity to demonstrate that they're going to work for a living … the history of joining these two CRAs should come to an end tonight.”
Dunn swatted back, calling Sarnoff’s comments “disrespectful, condescending and paternalistic,” and adding, “I take it as suggesting that anyone from District 5, whether it be Richard Dunn or whoever, is incapable of serving as chair.”
In the end, the commission voted 4 to 1 to split the CRA in two, giving Dunn control of the Overtown/Park West portion (including parts of downtown, south of 22nd Street from NW 7th Avenue to NW 1st Place) with Sarnoff retaining control of the Omni section (stretching east from NW 1st Place to Biscayne Bay.) Dunn was the lone “no” vote.
Ironically, the Solomon-esque motion was offered by Commissioner Willie Gort, one of two pro-Dunn holdouts back in January; prompting Dunn’s promise not to run. The other pro-Dunn commissioner in January, Vice Chairman Frank Carollo, tried to calm things by moving that the split be revisited in late April. Carollo’s motion passed 4 to 1, with Sarnoff voting no.
Like Commissioner Dunn, the CRA decision will be temporary, at least for now.
Joy-Ann Reid is a writer and media/political strategist who worked on President Barack Obama’s Florida campaign.