Keon Hardemon, scion of one of Liberty City’s most politically active families and the son of a Miami police officer, was elected Tuesday as the youngest member of the Miami City Commission since districts were created almost two decades ago.
Hardemon, a 30-year-old Miami-Dade assistant public defender, easily outdistanced his more politically experienced opponent, the Rev. Richard P. Dunn II, for the city’s District 5 seat. He coasted to victory with the aide of departing Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones’ seasoned election team, and benefited from a host of campaign-related gaffes on Dunn’s part.
Hardemon and Dunn faced off for a second time Tuesday as the two top vote-getters during the Nov. 5 election. The younger Hardemon handily beat Dunn in absentee voting Tuesday — as he did two weeks ago — and bested Dunn in the vast majority of polling sites across the district, taking in more than 72 percent of Tuesday’s total vote.
Hardemon officially takes office at noon on Nov. 27. He will be sworn in before that, though no time and date have been set.
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Tuesday night, Hardemon’s supporters were in a festive mood, drinking and dancing to music played by a live DJ at Overtown’s Jackson Soul Food Restaurant. The city’s newest commissioner was greeted with congratulatory hugs from Spence-Jones, Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez and rapper Luther Campbell.
An hour after the results came in Hardemon said he was “happy the community wants to see someone who grew up here do something positive.” He said he hadn’t yet heard from Dunn.
The mood a few miles north at Faith Community Baptist Church, where Dunn and his supporters had gathered, was much more sober. Before Dunn arrived shortly before 9 p.m. the room was quiet and seemed on edge. Dunn’s arrival lifted their spirits as he greeted people individually and thanked them for their effort.
When the final numbers came in just after 9 p.m, Dunn and his supporters gathered in a circle, prayed and recited Gospel verses.
“We gave it our best and I have absolutely no regrets,” Dunn told the crowd of more than 50. “It was a good fight and all we could do is fight a good fight.”
Hardemon will now represent 80,000 residents in a diverse district that stretches from Overtown, through Little Haiti and into Liberty City, and east to the bay in the neighborhoods of Shorecrest and Belle Meade. Even with the addition of the eastern districts this summer through redistricting, District 5 remains the poorest and most crime ridden of the city’s five districts.
Hardemon promised Tuesday night to follow through on campaign pledges to fight crime, lure development and help residents get basic needs like water hookups.
Hardemon’s only dive into politics before the commission race was a runoff loss to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson last year. He is a Miami Northwestern High School graduate who went on to Florida A&M University, and received a law degree from the University of Miami. He’s been an assistant public defender for five years.
Hardemon said he would continue to practice law despite salary and benefits in Miami that exceed $104,000 a year. He won with strong support from Spence-Jones, who occupied the seat for two terms, and his aunt and uncle, Barbara and Billy Hardemon.
Barbara Hardemon is a consultant with close ties to Spence-Jones. Her husband was a long-time county public works employee until he abruptly quit this past summer. His name became familiar to followers of local politics, after he was entangled in one of Miami-Dade’s most famous political corruption scandals of the 1990s.
Billy Hardemon was the chief aide to former county Commissioner James Burke, who was found guilty of selling his vote and received a 27-month prison term. Billy Hardemon, charged with bribery conspiracy, was acquitted after a two-month trial.
Another cousin, Roy Hardemon, lost a run for a state House seat in 2010. Keon Hardemon said his aunt and uncle won’t have a spot on his staff.
“I’m my own man and I’ll stand on my own two feet,” he said.
Hardemon’s victory Tuesday likely marks the end of a lengthy on-and-off political career for Dunn, who has repeatedly held the District 5 seat over the past two decades.
In 1996, he was chosen to replace Miller Dawkins, who had been arrested and suspended from office. Dunn lost a runoff election for the same seat to Spence-Jones in 2005. He was later chosen to replace her during her second term after she was arrested and suspended from office in 2010. A year later, he won a special election for the seat, only to be replaced by Spence-Jones in mid-2011 after she beat a felony charge and another was dropped.
Dunn, the senior pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church, outpaced Hardemon in fundraising and was considered the early favorite with a chance at winning the seat outright with a majority of the vote on Nov. 5.
But a sloppy campaign, and sloppier bookkeeping, did Dunn in.
First, the pastor’s Oct. 4 campaign finance report arrived at City Hall almost three weeks late, though the city said it was timely because it was postmarked Oct. 4. A U.S. postal inspector in Miami later said although the campaign had purchased a 1-Day Priority Mail envelope dated Oct. 4, the scanner on the envelope showed it never entered the postal service’s system until Oct. 18 — well past the deadline.
The same report also showed an unusually high number of visits to area restaurants ranging from Royal Castle to the 94th Aero Squadron. The report also showed 43 lump sum payments to a group of seven women, totaling more than $18,000, for the three-month period ending Sept. 30. Campaign manager Gregory King admitted paying some of the women in cash, which is against state election laws. Two of the women said they weren’t paid as much or as often as the report showed.
Campaign finance report problems surfaced again, when the report due Nov. 1 arrived 12 days late. The city clerk’s office said Dunn would be fined Dunn $6,000. Dunn vowed to appeal. His campaign finance report listed $46,950 in contributions — and no expenditures.