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Haitian Americans in the Miami-Dade District 2 race


When Jean Monestime completes his tenure on the 13-member Miami-Dade Commission in November, another Haitian American is likely to step up to fill the District 2 seat. Of the six candidates in the non-partisan race for the seat, the only one held by a Haitian American historically, four are Haitian. 

District 2 comprises portions of Miami, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Opa-locka, Hialeah and the unincorporated neighborhoods of Liberty City, North Dade Central and Biscayne Gardens. Nearly half of its 200,000 residents are Black, many of them Haitian.

The contenders — Wallace Aristide, a high school principal, Monique Barely-Mayo, a business consultant, Marleine Bastien, a prominent non-profit organizer, Philippe Bien-Aime, the mayor of North Miami, Joe Celestin, a former mayor of North Miami, and William Clark, a retired firefighter/paramedic — have drawn support from constituents and key stakeholders alike, such as influential real estate developers. Throughout the campaign, the candidates have drawn contrasts both professional and personal about who can best address such issues as affordable housing, higher wages, transit and public safety.

Many observers recognize that having Haitian Americans in office is “critical” for representation. However, some say, having so many vying for the same seat does have a downside.

“It seems to be challenging for a community like ours with limited resources to support all these candidates,” Santra Denis, the founder of Avanse Ansanm, an organization that aims to increase Haitian Americans’ political engagement. “It’s not only dividing the vote, but it might be also divvying up resources.” 

The Haitian Times sat down with three of the four Haitian American candidates to learn more about them. From those sit-downs, recent candidate forums and public information, here’s a summary of what to know about each ahead of election day, Tuesday, Aug. 23. 

Marleine Bastien, the community organizer and activist

Marleine Bastien with her young volunteers at her campaign headquarters for the county commission seat. Photo by: Ashley Miznazi
  • CEO of Family Action Network (FANM), which she founded in 1991.
  • Member of founding teams that help women, children and immigrants (i.e., Center for Haitian Studies, Sant La, Catalyst Miami and Kristi House)
  • 35 years as a paralegal at the Haitian Refugee Center 
  • 13 years as a medical social worker for Jackson Memorial Hospital
  • Previously ran for Kendrick Meek’s U.S. Congressional House seat, who held the seat from 2003-2011.

Driving principles

Bastien said she realized strong civic engagement was not only important among the organizations she worked in, but it was necessary for advocates like herself  to be in  spaces where life changing decisions were made for the community.

She was previously hesitant about serving in an elected office but when considering the level of power elected officials have, she realized the voices and experiences she elevated couldn’t be left out of the conversation. 

Bastien plans to continue the fight for affordable housing and said she worked with families who first hand experienced climate gentrification and displacement from new developers.

While the cost of housing has skyrocketed, salaries have remained stagnant and Miami has gotten far too expensive for the $15 wage, Bastien said. She wants to raise it to $20-25 dollars.

“We were up against people with a lot of money. Billionaires who think they can come in like Christopher Columbus,”

Marleine Bastien

In her own words…

On running for office

“I feel that after 40 years of providing services, organizing and advocating, it was important to be in an elected position where I would be making decisions that would impact the greater majority,” Bastien said

“We cannot allow folks who are making decisions about our lives to only be coming from specific groups or specific demographics, from specific political views,” Bastien said. “We have to create a space for working folks to be able to make decisions about our lives, because after all, we are the majority.”

On the real estate development in Miami 

“We were up against people with a lot of money. Billionaires who think they can come in like Christopher Columbus,” Bastien said. “It was our [FANM’s] campaign for the development to be done with the people.”

“What kind of society are we building that workers who contribute to making the economy strong cannot live where they work?”

On the District 2 election

“It’s an uphill battle, but I believe we can win this time around,” she said.

Video of Marleine Bastien

Joe Celestin, former mayor of North Miami, entrepreneur

Joe Celestin portrait
Portrait of Joe Celestin, running for District 2 County Commissioner. Photo by: Ashley Miznazi

Former mayor of North Miami, entrepreneur 

  • Two-term mayor of North Miami, first Haitian American candidate as mayor of a sizable city
  • Member of Miami-Dade County civilian Police Oversight Board
  • Engineering contractor and a general builder, contracts to build churches
  • Has served on the governing board of Miami-Dade County Metropolitan Planning Organization, Tenet Healthcare Corporation; was chairman of North Miami Board of Adjustment and The Planning Commission.

Celestin prides himself on being a “well known” candidate in the district because of his time in office and for living in District 2 for more than 40 years.

However, he’s been dogged by scandals over the years. In 2021, Celestin filed for bankruptcy related to a uniform factory totalling more than $500,000 in debt. 

Celestin said he will fight against incorporation in certain areas of District 2, such as Biscayne Gardens, that need their foundations to be evaluated for water and sanitation. Celestin thinks high density could hurt the look and desirability of the area, and does not want apartments built in residentials.

He thinks the infrastructure needs to be fixed first. He also wants to place police substations in the area for hopes of quicker police response in the district.

“When I was elected, I was the first Black person elected. Not just Haitian, African-American,”

Joe Celestin

In his own words…

On being a Haitian-American in office

“When I was elected, I was the first Black person elected. Not just Haitian, African-American,” Celestin said. “After my family and my children, this is the biggest honor I’ve ever had to represent people badly in need.”

Driving principles

“I returned because there is a need for experience and someone with knowledge.”

On beautifying the area

“The image of the area needs to be improved, we need to stop making the area look like a ghetto,” Celestin said. “We need to have code enforcement.”

On incorporation and development

“People of Biscayne Gardens are on the verge of suffering because developers are eager to move up to large lots,” Celestin said. “I would like to make the county commission understand it’s not about reacting to the demand, it’s seeing the feasibility of creating such a project in an area. Not all areas are equal or the same.”

Video of Joe Celestin

Wallace Aristide, the high school principal

Portrait of Wallace Aristide. Photo by: Ashley Miznazi
  • 30 years in the education system, currently the principal at iTech Magnet High School
  • Spent 10 years as principal of Miami Northwestern Senior High School and 6 years as assistant principal
  • Has been a teacher, head football coach and athletic director

“People are on the streets with nowhere to stay, and we can’t lose these residents. And I want to be clear, these residents helped build Miami-Dade County,”

Wallace Aristide

Driving principles

This is Wallace Aristide’s first time running for office. He said he felt the need to run for city commissioner after seeing the trouble students and their families went through to keep food on their tables and sometimes even find a place to stay. While he did what he could to connect families to resources, he wants to extend his work to help his students and neighbors past school grounds.

If elected as commissioner, Aristide, 65, said he wants to build space for vendors and condos. But also Section 8 and workforce housing. He has taken donations up to $10,000 from the real estate business, but claims he wants to involve the community in the development projects.

In his own words…

Keeping old residents in

“People are on the streets with nowhere to stay, and we can’t lose these residents. And I want to be clear, these residents helped build Miami-Dade County,” Aristide said.

On development 

“Look at the buildings in midtowns,” Aristide said. “They go to the local shops, we need something like that in District 2.

“We have a supply and demand problem,” he added. “We’re not looking for Wynwood prices, we’re not looking for downtown or Brickell prices, we’re looking for prices that we can afford in District 2. But District 2 doesn’t have to be a rundown shack.”

Video of Wallace Aristide

Philippe Bien-Aime, the current officeholder

Photo of Philippe Bien-Aime from his campaign website philippebienaime.com.

Philippe Bien-Aime did not respond to numerous requests from The Haitian Times for an interview. This information is compiled from materials available publicly.

  • Current mayor of North Miami, served on the North Miami City Council, as the District 3 Councilman and vice mayor
  • Worked in automobile industry for almost 20 years

Lawsuit 

Bien-Aime, 57, has campaigned on partnering with local businesses and fixing the infrastructure of District 2. To many, however, he stands out for having  had numerous allegations levied against him. The accusations, stemming from a lawsuit brought by a staffer who worked with him in his current role, include sexual assault, battery, false imprisonment and emotional distress. 

Bien-Aime settled the suit for an undisclosed amount in 2019, reported by the Miami Herald.

Bien-Aime also failed to pay county property taxes for his residence for five of the last six years. 

Community policing

Like the other candidates, Bien-Aime supports community policing. He suggests having a police oversight board.

“Then we’ll provide the police department with the training and equipment they need,” Bien-Aime said during the District 2 Miami Foundation forum. 

Real estate development 

Bien-Aime raised more than $126,000 in the first three weeks of July between his campaign account and political committee, Progressive Advocates for Change, largely from real estate money, Florida Politics reports.

But during the candidate forum, he said, “We’re not going to allow developers to come in and change our zoning, we will not allow big scale development.”

Ballots were being cast at Lemon City Branch Library on the first day of early voting Aug. 8, 2022. Photo by Ashley Miznazi.

Additional candidates

The two non-Haitian candidates in the race are Monique Barley-Mayo and William “DC” Clark. 

Barley-Mayo, 39, is a business consultant and the founder of Broken But Healed Foundation. She was a former candidate for Miami-Dade County Mayor in 2020.  Having experienced homelessness herself, she is running for better opportunities for the district. Her main focuses are on housing, safety and bringing back parks and recreations. 

Clark, 65, is a retired Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue Department firefighter/paramedic. Before his 28-year tenure, he was an English teacher and coached football at four different high schools. He also worked as a counselor at Concept House Drug Rehabilitation Center. 

More about the race

In addition to the District 2 race, six other seats on the Miami-Dade County Commision are up for grabs. With many being currently held by term-limited commissioners, this primary is an opportunity for new names and faces to join the governing body.

The winners of the August election take office Nov. 22. 

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