Miami-Dade County’s Commission races will come to a close in less than a week, but the campaigning is far from over for candidates Keon Hardemon and Gepsie Metellus. Their District 3 race is one of the most highly funded and talked about political races in the city this year.
The seat is up for grabs this year, as the current commissioner, Audrey Edmonson, approaches her term limit. Six candidates ran to replace her in the Aug. 18 primary, and now just two of them, Hardemon and Metellus, remain for the Nov. 3 runoff.
District 3 is a very diverse area. It includes the historically Black neighborhoods of Overtown, Liberty City and Little Haiti, but also Midtown, Wynwood, Edgewater and Miami Shores. According to statistics from the Miami-Dade Department of Elections, 44.2% of the district’s registered voters are Black, while 33.6% are Hispanic and 14.1% of them are white.
Hardemon, 36, is an attorney and the current Miami commissioner representing city District 5, which is located inside the bounds of the county’s District 3. He’s also a member of the locally renowned Hardemon family, whose political influence can be traced back to the 1980s.
Hardemon won 49.2% of votes in the primary, just eight decimal points shy of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. He’s also raised over a million dollars in campaign funding, through the help of One Miami-Dade and Improve Miami – two political committees run by his aunt, Barbara Hardemon.
Meanwhile, Metellus, who is 60, is the executive director of Sant La Haitian Community Center in North Miami and has served the community in several different roles for the last 30 years.
She won 21.2% of votes in the primary and rose close to $300,000 for her campaign.
When it comes to the issues Miami-Dade and the district face, the two candidates seem to be on a similar page.
They agree the economic fallout from COVID-19 should be addressed immediately. They also both have cited transportation, sustainability, crime and affordability as important for the county to tackle.
So, what sets these two candidates apart? Hardemon claims it’s “relevant experience.”
“The city of Miami is one of the state’s largest cities. We deal with some of the largest budgets and a lot of complex issues,” he said. “This is not the time to have amateur hour.”
Hardemon says his experience in District 5 and proven track record make him the right choice.
“I’ve had the opportunity to really negotiate and play a monumental role in many of the projects that have made the news for Miami-Dade county, brought a lot of tourist attractions, large amounts of real estate,” he said, “and really got to tackle a lot of issues such as affordable housing, homelessness, redevelopment and even transportation.”
Metellus responded to Hardemon’s comment about her lack of experience by saying, “He is a former commissioner in a different jurisdiction, so yes, I imagine that counts as something. But in my view, I can look at my experience being Director of Public Affairs for the county commissioner of District 3 many years ago, and say that I have a first-hand view in terms of county functioning and policymaking.”
Metellus also spoke about her experience serving as an educator and community leader.
“I have been active, engaged and present in a number of community issues, ranging from education, to refugees, to immigration, to climate change — you name it,” she said.
Metellus added, “As I walk around and talk to residents, they can’t tell me how his tenure on the city commission has benefited people. All I hear are complaints about his non-visibility, about his absence, about the fact that when you call for a meeting you don’t get a call back.”
Others claim that the important difference between the two isn’t their experience, but their genders.
Commissioner Edmonson endorsed Metellus in an op-ed article for The Miami Times this week. She wrote, “When women of color are involved in leadership, our community is better off for it.”
“Miami-Dade is rich in diversity and it is critical that we have a county commission that is representative of all our communities, both in gender and in race,” Edmonson wrote.
Hardemon responded to Edmonson’s endorsement by saying she’s “mistaken” if she thinks voters will follow her recommendation.
“I think that the people in the community are going to speak, and they’re going to speak loudly, that they want to move their community forward with proven leadership and proven results,” Hardemon said.
Both candidates are, without a doubt, eager to serve and full of passion.
“I come into this with a heart of service, with a goal to serve honestly, honorably, with transparency, and accountability,” Metellus said.
“We made such tremendous progress in District 5. Mayor Francis Suarez said it most recently at a groundbreaking,” Hardemon said. “He said I was the best commissioner that District 5 has ever had, and he looks forward to me serving in District 3.”
On Nov. 3, voters will have the chance to settle this debate, and decide for themselves who’s the best fit for District 3 and Miami-Dade County overall.
Whether this race will be decided on money, experience or gender will remain a mystery until then.