MIAMI, Fla. – Six candidates have thrown their hats into the ring to run for a vacant Florida state House of Representative seat, seeking to replace Christopher Benjamin, who decided to forgo a second term and run for County Court judge.
Vying to represent predominantly African American District 107 in 2024 are Eric Knowles, CEO and president of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce; business consultant Monique Mayo-Barley, a former Miami-Dade mayoral candidate and county commissioner hopeful; DeMarco Byrdsong, a former Washington-area event promoter; Christine Olivo, a two-time congressional candidate; Wancito Francius, an entrepreneur and former state representative and North Miami City Council candidate; and Stanley Yves Jean Poix, a retired police lieutenant.
The primary election is set for Aug.20.
Knowles has led the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce since 2014, overseeing its operations to create programs to foster business growth in South Florida by advocating, networking and providing resources for business owners.
Knowles, 68, said small businesses are the backbone for the local economy and he’s advocating for more growth to help them thrive.
Also on Knowles’ priority list is advocating for senior programs to help them keep their homes due to schemes and lack of wills and trusts, enhance the quality of education in public schools, and more affordable housing.
Knowles, who lives in Biscayne Gardens, said the school-to-prison pipeline is hurting the Black community and he wants to make sure students from kindergarten to high school learn how to read on advanced levels.
Knowles said younger generations of Floridians are leaving the state due to the housing shortage.
"My platform includes affordable housing units for young adults, ﬁrst responders and educators," he said. "A program in which they can save money for ﬁve years and be able to buy homes."
Addressing health, housing insurance and gun violence are also on Knowles’ priority list.
Olivo, a ﬁrst-generation Haitian American born and raised in Miami, who previously ran for Congress twice, saw an opportunity to seek Benjamin’s seat which was left open.
Olivo, 40, is a teacher and owns a small business.
An advocate for the economy, access to healthcare and better living wages, Olivo, who lives in Miami Gardens, said District 107 needs a ﬁghter who will have the people’s interests at heart.
"My focus is on society to thrive," she said. "Not just for affordable housing but affordable living altogether… living wages and rent."
Education for kids and adults also is forefront for Olivo.
"As a teacher, I think it’s important for our youth to learn in excellent schools and have STEM programs," she said. "And adults should have an education when they want to change for better careers to deal with the high costs of living."
Olivo said economic development for small businesses is another part of her political platform. She said they should have access to resources to help them thrive instead of struggling to stay in business.
"Right now, 14 percent of businesses are below the poverty line," she said. "More resources should be available so businesses can hire within the district and alleviate some pressure."
Olivo said everyone in Florida should have equal opportunities in life, especially immigrants, and wants to see more programs to level the playing ﬁeld for those lagging behind ﬁnancially and socially.
"Everyone should have the same rights in Florida," he said. "Equal rights is big on my list."
Francius, also a Haitian-American, said as a lifelong resident of the district, he has seen ﬁrsthand the challenges in the community and developed a plan to address the issues.
Francius is seeking to create jobs and economic opportunities for small businesses, quality education including property funded public schools, enact immigration policies, overhaul the correctional system and curb gun violence.
"I am committed to ﬁghting for the people of District 107, and I will work tirelessly to create a better future for our community," he said. "I believe that these are the most important issues facing District 107 today. I am committed to working hard to address these issues and make our community a better place to live, work, and raise a family."
Barley, 40, said she owns a business development company. Running for public ofﬁce runs in her family pedigree. Her father is former state Rep. Roy Hardemon and she’s the cousin of Miami-Dade County Commissioner Keon Hardemon.
"I always had a passion to be in public service to my community," she said. Inspired by her father, she said, “the passion has always been there since I was growing up."
Barley said running for Miami-Dade County mayor and county commissioner gave her the experience to campaign and address constituents’ concerns that created an opportunity for her to run for state representative.
Barley said some of her priorities include helping small business owners secure funding to stay in business, reduce the homeless population and host town hall meetings for constituents who are unaware of programs that can help improve their quality of life.
She said some small businesses in her district have permanently shut down because they lacked the resources to help them survive especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I’m looking to create opportunities for small businesses because there’s not enough funding to help them," she said. "That’s what I’m looking to do."
Barley said she was somber over seeing a 10-block stretch of homeless people near Jackson Memorial Hospital, sleeping in tents, some disabled and elderly.
Even though the area is not in her district, she said her political platform addresses the homeless issue throughout Miami-Dade.
"I’m looking to reduce the homeless rate and work with organizations in MiamiDade County to help get homeless people services," she said.
Poix, 54, was a teacher when he decided to trade in his bookbag for a badge.
He was on the City of Miami police force for 25 years before he retired as a lieutenant, but politics piqued his interest especially after the Florida Legislature adopted a course altering African American history, and the lingering affordable housing and property insurance crisis.
He said the suspension of Central Florida State Attorney Monique Worrell by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis was also intriguing.
Poix, also a Haitian American, said instead of sitting back being a critic, he decided to run for political ofﬁce to make changes.
"I was always intrigued by politics but when I retired and kicked back to relax, I’m watching what the governor and the Legislature are doing," Poix said. "It was like we are regressing and not progressing."
Piox, who lives in unincorporated Ives Estate, said his neighbors often complain about soaring rent rates and unaffordable property insurance.
Piox said his rent increased by $600 and without a cap could go up more. "It’s not that your rent goes up by $50 like in past years," he said. "And in some areas in Miami-Dade rent is higher. People say the market value is driving up rent costs. We should do something because it’s so expensive to live in Miami."