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Fernandez Rundle Wins Reelection After Bruising Election

Katherine Fernandez Rundle
Miami Herald

Calls for police accountability drove much of the election.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle has staved off a strong challenge to her 27-year tenure, and been reelected as top prosecutor of Florida’s most populous county.

Her opponent, Melba Pearson, confirmed with WLRN that she called Fernandez Rundle to concede the race.

"Representing all of you in this community has been and continues to be one of the greatest honors of my life," said Fernandez Rundle in her victory speech at a small in-person event.

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The challenge mounted by Pearson, a former prosecutor and former American Civil Liberties Union of Florida deputy director, gained steam over the course of the past few months, lifted by protests against police violence following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

As the protests swept Miami-Dade and South Florida, Fernandez Rundle became a target of specific ire. At issue was the fact that in her 27 years in office she has never charged a police officer with an on-duty killing.

In 2016, the Department of Justice investigated the City of Miami Police Department over a spate of police shootings that took place during Fernandez Rundle’s tenure. The investigation “identified a pattern or practice of excessive use of force through officer-involved shootings in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.”

None of the officers involved in those shootings were prosecuted. The situation led to the federal government monitoring the Miami Police Department until earlier this year.

Pearson announced her challenge in January, well before the protest movement swept wind into the sails of her campaign. But in the wake of Floyd's death, signs and messages calling for the ouster of Fernandez Rundle were widespread in protests, and Pearson's campaign took on an underdog, word-of-mouth aura.

"There has to be the political will to be able to do what is right and to be able to bring closure to these families who are grieving and have no other redress within the criminal system if the State Attorney falls down on the job," Pearson told WLRN’s South Florida Roundup in June.

In addition to calling for police accountability, Pearson ran on a reformist platform of ending cash bail and issuing other large-scale reforms of the criminal justice system in Miami-Dade.

“Every journey starts with a single step,” Pearson said in a phone call with WLRN. “We took the first step today around raising issues of our youth, policing, corruption and other issues in our community. The fight is not over.”

In her victory speech, Fernandez Rundle pushed back against the narrative that drove much of her opponent's campaign.

"We ran and we won on the strength of our record, our unity and our guiding principle that prosecution is based on the rule of law, not one based on emotion, politics or sending a message," said Fernandez Rundle. "To do otherwise is an abdication of our responsibilities. I have not and I will not abdicate the hard choices that the law, ethics and fairness require."

She also sounded a conciliatory tone.

“For all the people that supported my opponent, please know we heard your voices,” said Fernandez Rundle.

The first thing she plans to do in her new term is to create a “collaborative task force” within the purpose of reexamining the criminal justice system in Miami-Dade County.