michele_spence-jones_bw_12.jpgFlorida International University

Two veteran community activists and four less known candidates will fight it out come Election Day for the chance to represent the key black neighborhoods of Overtown, Liberty City, Wynwood, Alapattah and Little Haiti on the Miami City Commission.

The race is expected to come down to incumbent Richard P. Dunn II, appointed to fill Michelle Spence-Jones’s seat after Jones was indicted on corruption charges, and Alison Austin, CEO of the Belafonte TACOLCY Center.

Also on the Nov. 2 ballot are Michael Jackson Joseph, who left a job with the Department of Homeland Security to run for office; activist Ernest Mailhot of the Socialist Workers Party; Andre D. Joyce; and Jerry Dean Sutherland Sr., a minister and Miami-Dade County police officer.

With some 80,000 registered voters, the area is the poorest, least developed and most crime-ridden of Miami’s five commission districts and has a troubled political history.

Spence-Jones succeeded Arthur E. Teele Jr., who, in 2005, committed suicide in the lobby of The Miami Herald amid corruption charges and scandal.

The late Miller Dawkins, who represented the district in the mid-1990s, pleaded guilty in 1997 to taking $30,000 in bribes and was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison.

Dunn was appointed to Dawkins’ seat but lost an election a few months later to Humberto Hernandez, who, himself, went to jail for vote fraud.  Dunn ran again in 2005, losing to Spence-Jones, before being appointed to her seat by the City Commission on a promise that he would not run for a full term.

Dunn, 49, did not respond to several phone calls requesting an interview. He told The Miami Herald that he changed his mind about running because of a “groundswell of support asking me to keep the seat.”

Dunn was born in New York, moved with his family to Florida as a child and was raised in Overtown and Liberty City. He received a bachelor’s degree from Central State University and a master’s in counseling and pastoral care from Morehouse School of Religion and is senior pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church.

Dunn’s campaign website touts his support for strictly enforced teen curfew ordinances and the creation of a blue-ribbon committee to advise police on District 5 issues. The website also says he provided funding for Curley’s House of Style’s efforts to feed, clothe and otherwise help needy residents.

As of Oct. 15, Dunn reported raising slightly more than $127,000 for his campaign, much of it maximum $500 contributions from developers, attorneys and construction companies, many from outside the district.  He reported spending about $58,000.

Austin, also a District 5 native, is Dunn’s most prominent challenger who had also hoped to be appointed to Spence-Jones’s seat.

Her campaign is more of a grassroots effort and she has raised slightly more than $25,000, with many of her donors giving less than $100 each.

Austin talks about what the district has compared to what it’s been promised.

“Where are the businesses, the restaurants and stores for people to come back to? You can drive down I-95 and see 75 cranes but here, in Liberty City, there hasn't been a single capital improvement project in 21 years,’’ Alison said in a previous interview with South Florida Times. “There's a whole generation of young people who have grown up without ever having seen development take place where they live.
That has to change.”

Austin, who will turn 51 next week, has been CEO of the Belafonte TACOLCY Center since 2006, leading its year-round youth programs.

She first worked at the center as a summer intern while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communication at the University of South Florida.
She also has a master’s degree in hospitality management from Florida International University.

Austin has worked as an account executive for Xerox Corp.; was communications director for Florida Audubon; and worked on development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean for the United States Agency for International Development and the Organization of American States.

Joseph, 29, who worked eight years for the Department of Homeland Security before leaving to make his commission run, said it is time to get rid of the “same old usual suspects.” Experience, he said, can be a detriment when it becomes hidebound.

“This is not some type of monarchy,” he said. “I just want to tell them, ‘This is not about you.’ ’’

Joseph has an MBA from Florida International University and a law degree from St. Thomas University. His campaign website stresses job creation, crime prevention, environmental protection, business and transportation issues but offers few specifics.

Joseph raised about $9,500 as of Oct. 15.

Andre D. Joyce, 45, who did not respond to requests for an interview, has raised $1,500 to support his campaign.

“We want a community that we can find everything that we need in the community,” he writes on his campaign website. “My team and I have put together a blueprint for the success.”

Economic recovery, “restorative justice,” health, welfare and wellness and community revitalization are Joyce’s priorities, according to the site.

At 24, Sutherland is the youngest candidate on the ballot. He grew up in the Liberty Square housing complex and graduated from Miami Northwestern High School only five years ago. His top priority is job growth.

“One of the primary things we’re doing to create jobs is working with local corporations. We’re already reaching CEOs, asking them to bring jobs to our people,” he said.

Sutherland has received slightly more than $2,000 in contributions to his campaign.

Ernest Mailhot of the Florida Socialist Workers, who did not return calls requesting an interview, has raised $150.  In 2008, he ran as a write-in candidate for U.S. Senate in Minnesota.

Charity Vergara may be reached at cverg002@fiu.edu.