‘Passion to serve’: Marleine Bastien devoted to a brighter, better District 2 in homestretch of Miami-Dade Commission runoff
Marleine Bastien plans to apply her expertise in the nonprofit sector to policymaking. Image via VoteMarleineBastien.com.

Marleine Bastien 1
‘You need someone who knows of the problems, has management experience, competence, courage, the skill set to do it and the passion to serve.’

In her bid to represent District 2 on the Miami-Dade County Commission, Marleine Bastien is leaning on her more than four decades of nonprofit and social work. That, plus the good word of hundreds of local leaders and countless residents whose lives she’s touched.

It’s her first run at elected office.

“The skill set I acquired over the course of 40 years helping residents improve their quality of life translates well to the job,” she said. “And whenever I read about District 2 being the poorest district, it never sat well with me.”

The founder and director of Family Action Network Movement (FANM), a nonprofit that helps low- to moderate-income families, Bastien believes she can apply her specialized expertise to the County Commission job while also addressing some of the more pressing issues facing District 2 and Miami-Dade at large.

That includes tackling the county’s affordability crisis, bringing more economic and employment opportunities to District 2, improving government transparency and expanding transportation. Her campaign also prioritizes combating climate change and sea level rise, curbing gun violence and making women’s pay equitable.

Bastien grew up valuing service. Born in Pont-Benoit, Haiti, to parents who built a school for child and adult literacy, she learned the transformative power of community work at an age most American children learn their ABCs.

After moving to the United States in the early 1980s, she worked as a paralegal at the Haitian Refugee Center while earning her master’s degree in social work. Upon graduating, she took a job as a medical social worker at Jackson Memorial Hospital, the flagship institution in Miami-Dade’s public health system.

She worked there for 13 years, introducing changes vital to improving the hospital’s image with Miami’s Haitian community. She instituted home visits. At the onset of the AIDS epidemic, she advocated for HIV protocols for women and started the first support group for patients.

Her work earned her leadership roles and numerous accolades, but she believed more could be done.

“At Jackson, I realized that oftentimes the illness was not the most challenging problem for patients,” she said. “There was a gap. After patients went home, they didn’t have anywhere to go unless they came back to the hospital’s outpatient system, which needed a lot of improvement.”

That observation sparked the idea for FANM, originally called Haitian Women of Miami at its onset in 1991. “Fanm” means “woman” in Haitian Creole. The organization has since grown to provide wraparound services for more than 10,000 families a year and spearhead a variety of initiatives aiding refugees, unions and youths.

“It is my bedrock belief that strong families make strong communities,” she said, adding that FANM is not a charity. “We give people the tools to contribute to their own transformation and empowerment.”

She was the founding treasurer of The Children’s Trust alongside former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence, fought for the Haitian Refugee Fairness Act of 1998 and co-Chaired the Human Rights Campaign with the late Congresswoman Carrie Meek. All the while, she said, FANM developed a replicable model for a community service organization that delegations from across the globe use for guidance.

Bastien captured the second-most votes among six District 2 candidates in an Aug. 23 Primary Election to determine who will succeed term-limited Miami-Dade Commissioner Jean Monestime. Monestime has endorsed Bastien, as has Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and many others.

The district includes large pieces of North Miami and Opa-locka, as well as smaller portions of Hialeah, Miami, North Miami Beach and the unincorporated neighborhoods of Biscayne Gardens, Liberty City and North Dade Central.

She’s now competing in a runoff against North Miami Mayor Philippe Bien-Aime, a fellow Haitian immigrant and the top vote earner during the Primary. Neither secured more than half the votes cast, which would have earned them the District 2 seat outright.

Election Day is Nov. 8. Early voting is ongoing.

“A major difference between me and my opponent is everything I’ll be doing as a Commissioner is what I’ve been doing with my nonprofit,” she said. “I’ll just be able to help more people with more resources at my disposal, voting power and a say in how the resources are used.”

Bastien sat down with Florida Politics to discuss the runoff and her plans, if elected, for Miami-Dade at large and District 2 specifically. The transcribed conversation below has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Florida Politics: Despite running at a fundraising disadvantage, you placed second in the Primary Election for District 2 and are now in a runoff race for the seat. How did you feel about your performance during the Primary? And in what ways — if any — are you recalibrating your campaign to secure a win on Nov. 8?

Bastien: I was very proud of the campaign we led. We raised $254,000. We used my 40 years of work experience and impact in Miami-Dade and beyond.

I’ve been knocking on doors since 2019, when Commissioner Monestime expressed a desire to run for Mayor. It’s rare to find someone I haven’t helped one way or another at Jackson, the Haitian Refugee Center or as a volunteer.

I have thousands of hours of volunteer work under my belt as the founder of many important organizations. You can find that on our website. I played an important role.

What also catapulted me to the runoff was our experience on the ground. We’ve been organizing for as long as FANM existed. We’ve had a fairly solid and successful civic education component.

All those are skill sets on the ground, and canvassing is part of my daily work fighting for inclusive, participatory development. We’re always knocking on doors, and a lot of people know my work.

I’ve always believed an engaged constituency truly strengthens our democracy, and FANM has been trying to impress that upon local and national funders. You cannot just organize to bring voters out during presidential races. You have to consistently engage them so that when the time comes for them to vote, they are ready.

A lot of voters are disappointed in elected leaders and do not want to come out and vote. That is why at FANM we organize year-round and our civic education program is year-round.

Why, after decades of not running for public office, did you decide to do so?

I believe we can do better. I also realized I have the same experience as a manager, as a practitioner. I’ve been doing work in our center with a minimum of 50 people a day who come in with all kinds of challenges. A lot of them come from the cities of Miami and North Miami, which is the biggest city in the district.

I know the challenges. I see and hear them. They come to our center. I also realized we made an award-winning institution for the greater good, helping more people, more families, gain access to affordable housing. Over 60% of our members have housing issues.

When Commissioner Monestime decided to run for Mayor in 2019, he asked me to run for his seat. He did the same four years prior. He and his wife came to meet with me.

At that time, we were so involved with our (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and (Temporary Protected Status) campaign that I didn’t feel I could leave to run for office. I was not ready.

But when he announced he would run for Mayor in 2019, I thought about it and said, ‘I think we’re in a good place. We are organizing for permanency, for DACA, for the 800,000 recipients, almost 2 million TPS recipients, and are working on comprehensive reform.’

Most of the Commissioners will be brand new. Six were elected in 2020, and the others will be in 2022. There is a unique opportunity to change the culture and be part of that change. It’s an exciting time to be at the County Commission.

Plus, we elected the first-ever (woman Mayor of Miami-Dade), Mayor Levine Cava, who’s been a friend of mine for 40 years. We’ve been on the ground together, traveling to Tallahassee, to Washington, D.C.

All the stars aligned. It made sense.

Of which accomplishments during your time leading FANM are you proudest?

There’s so much. Just the fact I was able to build this award-winning institution that is now a model for others. Even the State Department, when they have delegations come to see how democracy works in the U.S., they always come to see our model.

FANM has received the Human Rights Award from Amnesty International and the Leadership for a Changing World award from the Ford Foundation. Three thousand people applied for that award.

We’ve also created an immigration clinic where we have a 99% passing rate for people who want to become citizens. This is a well-kept secret. Very few people know of that fact.

What is your opinion of your opponent, North Miami Mayor Philppe Bien-Aime?

I supported him when he ran the last time, but in the course of this contest I realized I’m facing some of the most devious and corrupt people I’ve met in the course of my work. And the more I learned, the more disappointed I became.

I believe in people’s actions. Let me give you a few examples. During the Primary, my campaign’s signs were disappearing all the time. All the different candidates were saying, “It wasn’t me.” Coming out of my house, all my signs are gone. His are still there.

Thirty minutes after my volunteers put my signs up, they came back and they were all removed. It’s like they have small gangs going around removing my signs.

Also, if somebody goes on Haitian-language radio and speaks on behalf of my campaign, this person receives a call and is offered money. I had a voter who called me the other day: “Marleine, they just offered me $8K to leave your campaign.” This kind of stuff is disgusting and demoralizing.

A third example is the day the absentee ballot dropped. Voters told me, “I just received a bag with a picture of the city of North Miami — the logo — with a five-pound bag of rice, beans, spaghetti and a can of sardines.” The beans were no good. They were expired.

This is so corrupt. Plus, it’s a conflict of interest for him to use the North Miami logo, the taxpayers’ money, to do that. It seems I’m facing a bunch of corrupt gangsters. It’s very disappointing.

The last example is this. I was invited to a candidate forum by the Biscayne Gardens Housing Association. I probably didn’t do due diligence, went there in good faith. My campaign realized right after the first question that it was a trap.

Bien-Aime went there with consultants and several people who organized the event in cahoots with the Biscayne Gardens Association. All the so-called questions were attacks against me only. And when he started attacking me and I asked for a chance to rebut, none was permitted. It was attack after attack.

If you invite me to a forum, let it be respectful. The police even had to escort some of his consultants out for heckling and booing. When he spoke, they were quiet. When I was speaking, no one could hear what I was saying.

Even the reporting was not fair. The young reporter maybe felt it was a regular forum. It was not. I’d never seen anything like this in my life. No respect.

In your opinion, what are Miami-Dade County’s three greatest needs?

It’s a three-pronged approach: improve housing affordability, increase homeownership and also take a look at existing affordable housing and make sure it’s repaired so people can live like human beings with respect and dignity.

The second issue that comes back over and over again is low salaries. Salaries have remained stagnant for years.

We’ve been organizing the Fight for $15, but it hasn’t gotten traction. There’s also job training, youth empowerment, developmental training — providing technical training not only for adults but also for our youth.

Not all of them can go to college. And those who can’t afford it should be able to go into apprenticeships or technical programs.

The third would be to support and expand small and micro businesses. They’re facing challenges. I’d like to look into the county procurement system and bring equity to it.

I’d also like to bring transit into the 21st Century and have ideas on that.

Regarding the Fight for $15, didn’t voters approve Amendment 2 in 2020, which will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026 and adjust it for inflation every year after?

I believe so. But why 2026? People are hurting now.

Yes but it seems some businesses need more time to prepare. This affords them a gentler slope.

When I become the Commissioner, I’d like to find a way to help these businesses. Voters and businesses are telling me that both small and big businesses are facing challenges. Let’s see if we can help them so they can pay more before 2026.

Businesses are telling me they’re not selling. Some of them, because they cannot find employees, are paying $15 an hour anyway. We need to find a way to support the businesses and get resources to where they need to be.

Especially if we’re going to have so much infrastructure, you can use a (Community Redevelopment Agency) in a more equitable way — not the way it was done in North Miami, with so much corruption, but in a way that really helps small businesses, renters and homeowners.

I see a new breed of homelessness. No longer are the homeless those who are unemployed and have mental health issues. I walk a lot in the district. I’m an early riser. And I see young professionals sleeping in their cars.

I’ve been in North Miami since 1991, and I’ve never seen that — young people sleeping in their cars with suitcases in the back and sometimes children. Other residents, especially those in North Miami, are putting their things in storage and sleeping in the storage. The situation is grave.

What do you see as the biggest needs in District 2 right now?

Its greatest needs are resources, money. We need affordable housing. The businesses need help, and there’s a lot of violence. It’s a problem. There were a couple drive-by shootings last week. I’m getting calls. I’m supposed to visit a family whose family member got killed.

Flooding is another huge issue. And it’s so dark. There isn’t enough lighting. A lot of areas in the district — I know, because I live in Biscayne Gardens — are not family-friendly. There are no bicycle lanes, nothing.

We have a lot of problems. That’s why you need someone who knows of the problems, has management experience, competence, courage, the skill set to do it and the passion to serve.

And work hard — I’m always working. I volunteer all the time.

How would you characterize your campaign? What is its overriding message, the attitude or mood you hope to convey?

Most of the people who work on my campaign are not paid. They’re doing the work because they believe in me as a leader, manager and advocate.

My campaign manager is a volunteer. I don’t pay him. We don’t have enough money. We have to be very intentional with our spending because we have so little.

I’m pleased to have support from most of the organizations in the county, including Florida for All, SAVE Action PAC, Florida Rising, SEIU, AFSCME, the AFL-CIO, Unite Here, Ruth’s List, Florida College Democrats, Transport Workers Union, The Miami Times, Miami Herald and more. They believe in the breadth of the work I’ve been doing for the past 40 years.

And if you look at all the people who support me, they include the Mayor and Commissioner Monestime, who is putting boots on the ground; (former District 2 candidates) WilliamD.C.” Clark, Monique Barley-Mayo and (former North Miami) Joe Celestin; (former Miami-Dade) Commissioners Xavier Suarez and Audrey Edmonson; my dear friend, (former U.S. Rep.) Lincoln Díaz-Balart; and many others.

The campaign is very dynamic. They are passionate and knocking on doors. We have so many of them joining and working to make sure we make history as the first woman to be elected in District 2.

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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