Four candidates are vying to replace North Miami Mayor Smith Joseph in the May 14 election: the current vice-mayor, a businesswoman, a Miami-Dade County official and an activist. Here is a look at each, and what they say they hope to bring to the city.
Though controversial, Vice Mayor Philippe Bien-Aime has served the city for years in multiple capacities. In addition to the largely ceremonial title, he has been the councilman in the city’s third district since 2013 and served as an interim mayor back in 2015 when former Mayor Lucie Tondreau was suspended from her position after being convicted for her part in a wire fraud conspiracy.
He currently faces his own legal troubles, however. Earlier this year, a former employee of the city, Janice Antoine, filed a $5 million lawsuit on claims of sexual assault against Bien-Aime dating back to 2016.
In September 2018, Antoine also filed a lawsuit against the city for wrongful termination, which she says was in retaliation for vocalizing her complaints. Bien-Amie has denied the allegations in both suits.
Bien-Amie did not respond to multiple attempts for comment for this article.
However, according to his candidate website, he says he is a strong supporter of environmental issues, particularly climate change. He touts his work on several initiatives, including planting 360 native trees, a city-wide ban on pesticides in public areas, and legislation to ban the use of Styrofoam products on city property.
If he wins, Bien-Amie says he wants to work to upgrade North Miami’s irrigation systems, promote economic growth, improve aging infrastructure, strength police relations, and practice better fiscal responsibility, among other things.
Bien-Aime migrated from Haiti to Canada in 1991 and then moved to the U.S. in 1993. He has been a community advocate in South Florida since 1999. He is the father of three children and lives with his wife Sarah Bien-Aime in North Miami.
Danielle C.J. Beauvais
Danielle C.J. Beauvais, 59, the only woman in the race, says she is running to help improve the city’s economic growth, its infrastructure and its public safety.
“I’m a resident, property owner, experiencing the same disappointments in our local government as everyone else,” she said in an interview.
Beauvais ran in the 2005 and 2017 mayoral elections. She also worked in former Mayor Josaphat Celestin’s successful campaign in 2001.
She says her motivation is to be “a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
Beauvais is no stranger to the life of politics. Her father, Mosene Beauvais, served as mayor of Delmas, the second largest commune of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from 1986 to 1991.
While on a business trip to Miami in 1989, Beauvais fell in love with the area and decided to call South Florida home after that unforgettable visit.
“It’s a beautiful city full of beautiful people from all over the world. It’s like the melting pot of Florida,” she said.
She is a fluent speaker of four languages: English, Spanish, French and Creole. She believes this skill gives her and advantage over her rivals in a city in which 71 percent of its citizens are non-English speakers.
“Growing up in a mixed community I’ve learned to embrace everyone regardless of their race religion or lifestyle. “[I am] the best candidate to really represent everyone equally in our North Miami diverse community,” said the mother of four.
When Beauvais is not campaigning, she likes to volunteer as a local Tai -Chi instructor and is the CEO of Global Enlightenment Inc., a company which focuses on alternative healing methods.
Mac-Kinley Lauriston – the former chief of staff for Miami Dade County Commissioner Jean Monestime – said his government background and local knowledge make him the best candidate for the job.
“North Miami needs now more than ever someone with experience who believes in principled leadership and who will lead with integrity,” he said. “My record shows that I am that candidate.”
He said his main priority is expanding and improving services for residents, businesses and the elderly population. In addition, he said he wants to attract employers to create more jobs, improve aging infrastructure as well as strengthen police presence and community relations.
Lauriston took a leave of absence from his county job, he said, to dedicate himself to his campaign. Monestime’s district includes parts of North Miami.
“In my capacity as administrative director and then chief of staff, I saw firsthand on a daily basis the unmet needs of the residents in North Miami in particular and I thought that my experience could well serve to find innovative ways to address these issues and improve their quality of life” said the FIU alum.
He expressed his concern about the 23 percent of North Miami’s population that lives in poverty, which he believes is due to high housing prices, a lack of local, well-paying work and the cost of transportation to those remote jobs.
As mayor, he said he wants to “invigorate North Miami” by attracting new companies to expand employment opportunities.
Born in Haiti, Lauriston moved to South Florida in 1983.
“North Miami is my home and I am raising my children [here]. I care about the residents of North Miami and that makes it worth my while,” he said.
As a graduate of Miami Edison Senior High School, Lauriston was part of the first Haitian student newspaper at the school. The publication stemmed from a student’s death as well as the need to vocalize the struggles and stigmas of Haitians during that time, he said.
“I have been involved in my community since I was in high school. I have worked at the county and municipal level. Running for office is just a natural progression,” he said.
In his past career Lauriston was an accountant and financial analyst for a Fortune 500 company, saying that background will be a boon for the city. He also says he has the temperament to serve.
“The current state of politics is a bit toxic to say the least,” he said. “We need to get back to the times when we put the people first and not politics.”
Longtime resident and activist Hector Medina is trying again for the mayor’s job following a short-lived 2017 attempt.
“I am running because I do not find anyone honest enough to do the job,” Medina said. “I am not interested in money or position. I just want to do the best I can.”
After an abbreviated campaign last time around, Medina feels “more prepared” this time.
“The last time I only ran for three days [before the election],” he said. “This time I have been running for a year and a half.”
In the 2017 race, the Puerto Rico-born Medina recruited his wife, daughter and three other volunteers. He wrote 1,000 handwritten letters to potential voters, which earned him 728 votes, enough for second place.
Since then, the candidate has become more versed in the political game. He said this time he’s listening to experts instead of doing his own thing.
“They are professionals who know what they are doing. So I am following directions,” he said.
As an outsider throwing his hat into the ring, what surprised him about government was how similar politics is to HBO’s Game of Thrones.
“They don’t kill you but it’s pretty much the same,” he joked. “People have their agendas and the agenda is usually money … hopefully in the future people will enter this world to serve not to benefit.”
Medina aims to motivate the voter’s faith in the government. He said the citizen’s lack of trust within a government as the number one reason that hinders a city’s progress. In particular, he finds fault with the budget process.
“We are wasting a lot of money on things that are not needed and are not spending it where we do, [nor] are we investing in our future,” he said.
He said his first priority as mayor would be to cut wasteful spending.
“They wasted $250,000 in six hours on a Mardi Gras party for the city,” he said referring to the controversial 2017 event. “You know how many roads we could have fixed or seniors we could have helped with that money?”
That incompetence, he said, is paired with corruption.
“I moved to America 45 years ago having run away from corruption. I wasn’t going to put up with that here,” he said.
Medina is now a retired medical doctor and has lived in North Miami since 2009. A few years ago, he said he started attending council meetings and publicly addressing various issues within his neighborhood. But, he said, he didn’t feel that was enough, and feels he has a real duty to serve.
“The one thing I learned from my military training is that you leave a place better that you found it,” he said. “I have applied that all my life.”
For more information
To learn more on how to vote, visit miamidade.gov or call 305-499-8683.