Miami-Dade District 2 bunch has a lot of passion; two candidates stand out

All six candidates in the Miami-Dade District 2 race are experienced public servants or civic leaders and any one of them would make a good county commissioner. But two candidates stood out for the right reasons Thursday in The Miami Foundation’s forum: Wallace Aristide and Joe Celestin.

These two — a former principal of Miami Northwestern who is now principal of ITech magnet and a former mayor of North Miami — showed a real grasp of municipal government, budgets and issues. They answered questions with details and authority, passion and conviction.

Celestin, who has a community center named for him but is lagging in fundraising (more on that later) was the only one who said he was against the incorporation of Biscayne Gardens or other areas in North Central Dade. The other candidates said some version of let the people decide.

“I’m going to take the position of a leader. The area cannot take care of itself,” Celestin said. “D2 does not have the taxbase to incorporate. We must invest in infrastructure first.”

He was also the only one to say he was not in favor of rent control. “I don’t know why all these politicians are misleading people on rent control. I’m not for something that is illegal,” he said, citing a 1978 Florida law that prohibits municipalities from imposing rent limits. He said the way to reduce rent was to work with developers during the zoning process and set conditions where units are set aside for affordable and workforce housing.

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Aristide said local leaders should work to change the law in Tallahassee for residential rental caps if they want to, but he’s against caps on commercial rents — which could include property managers — because it would “destroy” businesses. He also supports increased density along the transit corridors, something Commissioner Oliver Gilbert has already proposed and is in the works.

North Miami Mayor Phillipe Bien-Aime, who said he was the mayor of North Miami like 27,654 times, brought up public housing several times and said that the county needed to invest in that also, because workforce and affordable housing is not enough. “Those people making $15, $16, $17 an hour won’t be able to afford affordable housing,” he said.

Nobody really had any kind of plan to battle the gentrification that is displacing longtime residents from their homes and neighborhoods. They kind of just shrugged their shoulders like it was a fact of life.

Ladra likes Monique Nicole Barley-Mayo, even if she did support Esteban Bovo in the 2020 county mayoral runoff after she lost in the first round. She has guts. She has passion. She speaks truth to power. But Barley-Mayo didn’t know how to answer several important questions and seems unprepared to serve as a commissioner. She couldn’t even say whether she was for or against moving the Urban Development Boundary, which all the other candidates said was not the right thing to do.

Someone needs to put Barley-Mayo on some committee where she can make a difference, though.

Ditto for William Clark. The veteran firefighter paramedic — raised in the Scott Homes projects — has an incredible amount of experience with multiple community organizations and institutional knowledge about the district’s history and future needs. He’s been there, done that in many different capacities, for work and as a community volunteer. But he wants to revisit the half-penny sales tax for transit and seems to favor increasing density as a way to bring housing prices down.

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His best message is that the Haitian and other black communities need to be more united — or at least less divided.

“I’m the best candidate to put the community together. Many of my opponents, you barely ever see them on this side of the highway,” Clark said at Thursday’s forum, referring to the four Haitian-American candidates who are vying to replace termed-out Jean Monestime, the first Haitian-American elected to the Miami-Dade Commissioner.

In addition to Little Haiti, the district includes other portions of the City of Miami, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Opa-locka, parts of Hialeah and the unincorporated areas of Biscayne Gardens and North Dade Central.

We love Marleine Bastien, who has served the community for 40 years most recently as founder and director of the nonprofit Family Action Network Movement, which began as Haitian Women of Miami in 1991, and offers help with immigration, parenting, after-school care, adult literacy, nutrition and more. It has an annual budget of more than $2 million.

She is known for empowering women and immigrants and generally making life better for thousands of people. The Miami Herald has recommended her over the others and everyone knows her heart is in helping the community, not herself. She is the least likely to corrupt. Her campaign contributions seem to come from real people, not special interests, and she leads the clusterbunch with $228,918 as of the last report (more on that later). This shows wide community support from people who could actually vote in the election because they live in the district.

But her answer to everything is “invest in families,” and she wants more “disparity studies” and to “humanize transit systems.” She said that if schools restore their music and sports programs, “we won’t even need the police.”

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It all sounds very flowery and nice, but look at what happened the last time we elected a social worker to office. We want to try that again?

There’s not so much love for the current mayor of North Miami, who said that he was the mayor of North Miami around 27,654 times (so Ladra can say that twice). That was practically all he said. Delivered with an undeserved arrogance, his answers at the forum were lacking specifics or facts.

But what wasn’t spoken of is what concerns some people the most: His settlement for a sexual harassment claim — his nickname is “Casanova” — and some problems paying property taxes and his mortgage that led to the foreclosure of his home last year.

And yet he has $50K this year to loan his campaign (more on that later).

Meanwhile, taxpayers carry his city-leased 2020 GMC Yukon SLE, at more than $900 a month, according to Voter’s Opinion, the blog to read about North Miami and North Miami Beach politics and government. And he is accused of allowing several multi-family buildings to fall into massive disrepair so he can exploit the poverty and rental assistance for votes.

The city has gotten back into the black under his tenure, but only by selling off city assets and raiding the reserves so that there are none. And like everybody else, they got millions in federal COVID relief funds.

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An interesting observation from the forum: Access to transit options for people with disabilities was an issue and candidates were asked what they would do. Ladra fully credits Dani Rivera and her twitter account with videos with making this an issue by her documentation of totally unacceptable service for people with disabilities or physical challenges.

All the D2 candidates said there should be “free rides” for the disabled.

Moderator Jacqueline Charles from The Miami Herald did a great job, taking questions from the public, concentrating on housing — which shows what’s important to voters — and hitting the mute button on Celestin when he went over his time.

Ladra hopes The Miami Foundation posts a video. Help me hound

The next virtual forum is for the candidates in District 8. Register here.