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Runoff for Miami-Dade Commission pits Haitian American leaders, former allies against each other – Florida Politics

A two-term Mayor and a longtime nonprofit director are squaring off to be the first person in more than a decade not named Jean Monestime to represent District 2 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.
The showdown is between North Miami Mayor Philippe Bien-Aime and social worker Marleine Bastien, whose Family Action Network Movement provides social services to low-income and working-class residents.
The two are former allies. Bastien endorsed and helped Bien-Aime in prior elections. But she said he’s shown his true colors since becoming his political opponent last year, the first time she’s ever run for public office.
Regardless of who wins, the seat will remain in the hands of a Haitian American. Monestime, who won office in 2010 and Chaired the Miami-Dade Commission from 2015 to 2017, is the first Haitian American to serve on the Board.
District 2 covers sizable portions of North Miami and Opa-locka, as well as smaller pieces of Hialeah, Miami, North Miami Beach and the unincorporated neighborhoods of Biscayne Gardens, Liberty City and North Central Dade.
Bien-Aime and Bastien emerged as the No. 1 and 2 vote earners, respectively, among six candidates who competed in an Aug. 23 election for the District 2 seat. Since neither secured more than half the share of votes cast, Miami-Dade law requires them to compete in a runoff that culminates Tuesday.
Early voting is ongoing.
The district leans heavily Democratic and is home to many of Miami-Dade’s approximately 470,000 Black residents, many of them Haitian.
Success in leadership
Both candidates were born on the island nation a roughly 73-mile drive apart from one another.
Bien-Aime, 57, was born in Hait’s capital city of Port-au-Prince. He immigrated to America in the 1990s and held a variety of jobs — journalist, car salesman and auto dealership owner among them — before settling into work in insurance and taxes.
He won a place on the North Miami Council in 2013. A year later, he served a short stint as acting Mayor, a role he later earned in full following the city’s 2019 election.
The city has been on an upward trajectory since, he said. He cited the work being done through its community redevelopment agency, which he called the best in the county. North Miami also enjoyed a financial turnaround under his leadership, including a 15% reduction in expenditures and moving from a $14 million deficit to a $3.8 million budgetary surplus.
“We reduced crime by 22%, lowered property taxes by half, added over $6 million in assets and brought 14 quality developments to the city,” he said. “The city is better off today than yesterday, and … now I’ve decided to run for District 2 on the Miami-Dade Commission so I can continue to serve the people.”
Bastien, 63, was born in the small village of Pont-Benoit to farmer parents who built a school for children and adult literacy. She moved to the U.S. in the early 1980s and worked as a paralegal at the Haitian Refugee Center and as a social worker at Jackson Memorial Hospital, the flagship institution in Miami-Dade’s public health system.
In 1991, she founded Haitian Women of Miami, a nonprofit located in the city’s Little Haiti neighborhood, to fill a gap in services the county provides to residents in need. She later renamed the organization Family Action Network Movement. Its acronym, FANM, translates from Haitian Creole to “woman.”
Today, FANM operates with about 30 employees and a more than $2 million yearly budget to provide wraparound services to some 10,000 South Florida residents.
Her community connections and activities were and remain myriad. She was the founding treasurer of The Children’s Trust, which today offers resources for pregnancy and parenting, health insurance access, education, children with special needs and is a top funder countywide of after-school, youth enrichment and summer camp programs.
She co-Chaired the Human Rights Campaign with the late Congresswoman Carrie Meek, one of many elected officials from both sides of the political aisle with whom she became friends. And her expertise saw her testify before Congress, the Organization of American States and the United Nations.
Bastien told Florida Politics she was asked on multiple occasions to run for public office, including twice by Monestime, who endorsed her after the Aug. 23 election as his preferred successor. The timing was never right until this cycle.
“All the stars aligned. It made sense,” she said. “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.”
Priorities and resources
Bien-Aime and Bastien’s campaign platforms overlap in several areas. Both want to support entrepreneurs and local businesses to boost employment and prosperity in the district, which ranks among the poorest in the county.
Both also want to address the county’s mounting housing affordability crisis, support environmental and infrastructural sustainability, slow climate change, expand and improve transit, and broaden the area’s community service offerings.
Bien-Aime also wants to activate the district’s parks with more programming and community events, tamp down crime and invest in cleaning up the community with better sanitation services, home rehab programs and education for first-time homebuyers, among other initiatives.
Bastien, meanwhile, wants to curb gun violence and improve pay equity, particularly for women. She also would like to improve lighting throughout the district and help find housing for people living in their cars, a situation she described as a “new breed of homelessness.”
In terms of financial muscle, Bien-Aime was unmatched in the District 2 race, amassing $1.4 million between his campaign account and political committee, Progressive Advocates for Change, through late October. By then, he had $192,500 remaining.
The donations he took skewed heavily toward the real estate and development sector, including two-thirds of the $1.1 million he received through his PC.
Bastien raised a comparatively modest $276,500 since launching her campaign in October 2021. Her donations were overwhelmingly grassroots, with most personal checks coming in at $250 or less.
The money she accepted from the health care and real estate industries composed a small portion of her overall gains.
Three of the four other candidates in the District 2 race — retired paramedic William “D.C.” Clark, former North Miami Mayor Joe Celestin and business consultant Monique Barley-Mayo — have endorsed Bastien. High school principal Wallace Aristide, who took fourth place overall, sided with Bien-Aime.
Bastien also received nods from Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, North Miami Councilwoman Mary Estimé-Irvin, Hollywood state Rep. Marie Woodson and former Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson.
A passel of local unions and advocacy groups, including but not limited to the South Florida AFL-CIO, SAVE Action PAC, SEIU, AFSCME, Florida Rising, Ruth’s List, Planned Parenthood, Unite Here! Local 335 and Transport Workers Union Local 291, similarly threw their support behind her.
Bien-Aime has backing from U.S. Reps. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick and Frederica Wilson, state Sen. Shevrin Jones, state Rep. Joe Geller, Miami-Dade Commissioners Keon Hardemon and Kionne McGhee, and Miami-Dade Commissioner-elect Anthony Rodriguez.
He’s also courted support from Miami-Dade School Board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, Opa-locka Vice Mayor John Taylor, North Miami Vice Mayor Alix Desulme, Miami Commissioner Christine King, North Miami Council members Scott Galvin and Kassandra Tomothe, Opa-locka Commissioner Audrey Dominguez, former state Rep. Barbara Watson, South Florida Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce President Luisa DeRosa, and a dozen or so local faith leaders.
Unpleasantries
Bien-Aime’s political career hasn’t been without controversy. In 2018, he was was accused of sexual harassment stemming from an alleged incident two years before, when a former staffer said he propositioned her. He settled out of court and has consistently maintained he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
Asked during a Florida Politics interview about the disproportionate donation sums from real estate interests, Bien-Aime alleged that Bastien accepted contributions from the same groups. The only difference, he said, is that she takes the money through her nonprofit organization rather than her campaign.
“I receive donations from them while I’m running for office, while she receives money from them through her organization,” he said. “Everybody receives that. The Mayor of the county receives donations from the same group of people. The cities — all those people find us every campaign. It’s not unique to me.”
Bastien, who collected a salary of $83,223 in 2019 for her work as FANM’s director — $5,000 less than she earned in 2018, according to the company’s tax filings — called Bien-Aime’s accusation “crazy” and said FANM receives no money from real estate interests.
FANM’s 2019 Annual Report supports her claim. It lists 12 funders and 19 sponsors, none of which are real estate entities. Seventy-seven percent of its funding is from Miami-Dade County.
“And it’s all public records, so you can see I don’t receive any money from real estate,” she said. “You cannot give credit to anything he says. He’s a serial liar.”
That harsh sentiment is a far cry from kinder words Bastien had for Bien-Aime when she endorsed him and helped him fundraise in his four previous runs at public office. But in running against him, she said operatives from his campaign employed unseemly tactics against her.
In an interview with Florida Politics, Bastien accused Bien-Aime’s camp of removing her campaign signs from public rights-of-way. She said operatives working on his behalf attempted to bribe some of her supporters into leaving her campaign and disrupted a public forum the two participated in until police intervened.
On the day voters got their absentee ballots in the mail, she said many people in District 2 told her they received bags branded with the North Miami logo containing expired cans of beans, sardines, rice and spaghetti. What she described is similar to goods Bien-Aime and his administration handed out to residents at the onset of the pandemic.
Bien-Aime denied Bastien’s charges and noted his city has operated a food-distribution program with Farm Share for years.
“This is a distraction. She campaigned with me for four campaigns, and I never did any nasty campaigning,” he said. “It’s desperation. They feel they have to make allegations.”
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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