Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shakeup in District 5?

A quick intramural FYI:

While most of South Florida is focused on the upcoming Miami mayor's race, something interesting is happening in District 5 -- the district covering some of Miami's poorest neighborhoods (Overtown, Liberty City, Little Haiti...) Just a few weeks ago, most people you talked to would tell you that no one would be able to beat the incumbent: Manny Diaz protege Michelle Spence Jones. The commissioner has raised nearly $180,000 -- mostly from an assortment of developers and other business interests (no obvious Marlins money, but you've got to figure...) while her opponents, David Chiverton of the MLK Economic Development Center, and Jeff Torain, the former deputy police chief in Opa-Locka, have barely raised $20,000 between them.

But that was a few weeks ago.

And while I'd be the first to admit that there exists a frustrating, ongoing sense of incumbency fatalism in the Black electorate in South Florida, which keeps ineffective leaders in office literally until they retire, run for a different office, or get indicted -- suddenly I'm getting calls from unexpected people suggesting that Torain might have a shot to at least force a run-off. So what's up? I hosted an on-air debate between the candidates a couple of weeks ago on Hot 105, and the phones were so slammed, it took up the whole show. Last week, Bishop Curry took his turn, and same deal. Spence-Jones didn't turn up at the first scheduled debate last month (moderated by Jim Defede at a local church,) but there, too, a surprisingly robust crowd attended. Clearly, there is interest in this race within the black community (though it's impossible to know how much of it is coming from people actually registered to vote in District 5).

Meanwhile, Torain got the Miami Herald endorsement last Saturday (not surprising since the Herald has been chopping away at Spence Jones' ethical issues, and since Chiverton figured, not prominently, but palpably, in the paper's "House of Lies" expose.) But today, he also got the Miami Times endorsement. And for those of you who don't know, that's pretty huge. The Times is the African-American "paper of record" in Miami, and for them to ditch a well-known incumbent who has widely been considered unbeatable is no small thing. For Torain, the endorsement is in some ways more important than the Herald nod, since more people in the target demographic actually read the Miami Times cover to cover -- and pass it around -- than the tiny number who flip through the Herald on a daily basis all the way through to the editorial page. [Full disclosure: I contribute the occasional column to the rival paper in Broward, the South Florida Times...]

We'll see if the change vibe in the air is real, or if this is just the deep breath before the plunge back into the status quo on November 3rd. In a low, low turnout election (which sadly this will be,) a small but energetic base -- for or against the incumbent -- could swing the race.

Cross-posted at

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