Six candidates vie for District 2 seat on Miami-Dade County Commission

Like the Commissioner they’re running to replace, four candidates immigrated from Haiti. Two were born in Miami.

Six candidates this year are competing to represent Miami-Dade County Commission District 2, which spans portions of Miami, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Opa-locka, Hialeah and the unincorporated neighborhoods of Liberty City, North Dade Central and Biscayne Gardens.

The district’s current Commissioner, Jean Monestime, must leave office in November due to term limits voters approved in 2012. By that time, he’ll have represented the district for more than a decade.

Monestime is not endorsing any of his potential successors, who include North Miami Mayor Philippe Bien-Aime, high school principal Wallace Aristide, nonprofit executive Marleine Bastien, former North Miami Mayor Joe Celestin, retired paramedic William “D.C.” Clark and business consultant Monique Barley-Mayo.

Of the six candidates, Bien-Aime holds the edge in money and political experience. The Port-au-Prince-born politician won election to the North Miami Council in 2013. Six years later, he was elected Mayor.

Since filing for the race in November 2021, Bien-Aime has raised more than $861,000. A significant chunk of his gains came from the real estate sector. He had $221,000 left by mid-August after heavy spending on advertising and other campaign-related costs.

His campaign priorities include supporting local businesses, addressing rising housing unaffordability, improving transportation, creating “forward-thinking” community services that help residents in need, and environmental and infrastructural sustainability.

Bien-Aime’s political career hasn’t been without controversy. In 2018, he was the target of sexual harassment allegations stemming from an alleged incident in 2016, when a former staffer said he propositioned her. A related federal lawsuit was settled out of court, and Bien-Aime maintains he is innocent of any wrongdoing.

Aristide, who was born in Haiti and lived in Nassau before settling in Miami-Dade, raised almost exactly half of what Bien-Aime did. Since filing for the District 2 race in January 2021, he amassed $430,000. Of that, he had $116,000 by mid-August.

His fundraising included large donations in recent months from a political committee linked to Malaysian casino giant Genting, which aims to build a sprawling, 14-acre mixed development a short drive from County Hall called Resorts World Miami. The company is also part of a consortium seeking to develop a monorail linking Miami and Miami Beach.

Aristide’s campaign platform includes building equal access for residents to resources and opportunities, improving elderly care, providing better health and wellness options, youth programming, economic development and workforce housing affordability.

Bastien, who also immigrated from Haiti, runs Family Action Network Movement, a nonprofit that helps low- to moderate-income families. She founded the organization in 1991 as Haitian Women of Miami. Today, the organization operates with a more than $2 million budget.

Her run at the Miami-Dade Commission, which she filed for in October 2019, marks her first attempt at elected office.

Bastien took a mostly grassroots approach to fundraising, though a fair share of contributions came from companies in the health care and real estate industries. Her campaign collected nearly $254,000 through mid-August. It spent nearly half that sum.

Bastien’s campaign boasts a broad platform. She wants to create a plan to improve housing affordability and increase homeownership, support entrepreneurs and small businesses, boost funding for senior centers to support wellness and social programs;, develop a more efficient and safe transit system, and curb gun violence, among other issues.

Celestin, who immigrated to Miami-Dade from Haiti in the 1970s, is an engineer by training. He left office as North Miami Mayor in 2005 for an unsuccessful run at Monestime’s seat.

Since filing for the race in December 2019, he has raised about $109,000. That included five-figure contributions from Weston-based urologist Angelo Gousse, who runs a nonprofit focused on supporting impoverished children in Haiti called Angels for Humanity, and a political committee chaired by Democratic consultant Screven Watson.

The Miami-Dade Commission is technically nonpartisan, as are its elections.

Celestin is running on a platform prioritizing incentives for major corporations to relocate to District 2 and create jobs, aiding community reentry for former inmates, assisting child-care and after-school programs for low-income families, reducing crime through county-trained “citizens on patrol” volunteers, seeking federal grants to rebuild parks and recreation properties in the district, adding to Miami-Dade’s affordable housing index and extending the Miami-Dade Metrorail northward.

While Celestin filed to run for District 2 more than two and a half years ago, he did not report soliciting funds from a political committee until June 30, 2022. The political committee in question, Floridians for Strong Families, opened in April 2019 and has been actively fundraising since, collecting nearly $73,000 through mid-August.

He’s also not without past financial issues. According to the Miami Herald, Celestin filed for bankruptcy protection last year over more than $500,000 in unpaid, decades-old judgements. He was also behind on property taxes for his home until the Herald questioned him about it last month. He’s since paid up.

Clark, who was born in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood and grew up in the James E. Scotts Projects, the second Black public housing project built in Miami-Dade, has a long list of campaign priorities.

He placed second-lowest in campaign fundraising with $65,000 collected since April 2020. All but $4,365 of that was gone by Aug. 18.

Clark’s campaign platform includes closing the “prosperity gap” by increasing Miami-Dade County’s employment of Black residents to a level congruous with its population, addressing the county’s growing housing affordability crisis and developing a comprehensive plan to boost employment, including job training and placement. He also wants to reduce gun violence, provide safe places for youths, better leverage benefits from opportunity zones to benefit locals and upscale Miami-Dade’s water and sewer infrastructure, which has grown increasingly faulty in recent years.

Barley-Mayo, also a Miami native, ran for the Miami-Dade mayoralty in 2020, placing fifth. That year, she managed to raise nearly $2,000. This election, she’s collected $360, all given by her husband, who also contributed $500 worth of campaign signs, according to her fundraising and spending ledger.

Barley-Mayo told the Herald that, if elected, she wants to aid charities and community groups so they are better equipped to assist residents in areas where the county government has fallen short.

In a recent post on her campaign’s Facebook page, she shared her priorities from her 2020 run for Mayor. They included transportation, affordable housing, teaching for financial literacy and encouraging first-time homeowners.

Were she elected, Barley-Mayo would join her cousin, Keon Hardemon, on the County Commission dais.

The Primary Election takes place Aug. 23. If no candidate secures more than half the vote, the two candidates with the most votes will compete in a Nov. 8 runoff.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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