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Nasty campaign messaging inflames looming special election in Miami's District 2

A mural in West Coconut Grove with the words "One Grove," depicting people of color painting and making art.
Joshua Ceballos
A mural in the historically-Black western portion of Coconut Grove with the unifying catchphrase "One Grove."

The special election to represent Miami's wealthiest district is right around the corner — and the race is heating up as residents in Coconut Grove, downtown and Brickell receive campaign messages that some consider offensive.

Election day for the District 2 seat in the Miami Commission is set for Feb. 27, with early voting already beginning next Thursday. There are 13 candidates still in the race, seeking a simple majority of votes to take the spot that has been vacant since Ken Russell resigned last year after running for federal office.

As the trip to the polls grows closer, inflammatory campaign flyers and text messages have gone around to voters in the district. One such text went out last week, eliciting calls of racism from local leaders.

The text opens with the words "DIVERSITY ON THE CITY COMMISSION," and goes on to suggest that in order to preserve diversity, the District 2 seat should not have a Hispanic commissioner.

"Today Miami's District 2 is at risk of losing the only non-Hispanic seat on the City Commission," the text reads, in part. "Miami sorely needs diverse representation on the City Commission so that all sectors of our great city are rightfully represented by one of their own."

Of the 13 candidates, only a handful are White non-Hispanics. Three of Miami's district seats are traditionally Hispanic: Districts 1, 3 and 4. District 5 is the city's historically Black seat — though that distinction has been challenged in a recent lawsuit.

WLRN was unable to ascertain how many voters received this text, nor where it originated from.

"As a Latino living in D2, I’m actually kind of offended. I’m voting for whomever best represents my policy stances, regardless of their race or ethnicity," tweeted resident Kevin Amézaga after receiving the campaign text early this week.

District 2's former commissioner, Ken Russell, had harsher words.

"Protecting the white to Vote? This racist text says that this district should be repped by one of its own so we don’t lose the last non-Hispanic seat. Help me find who sent this bull****," Russell wrote in the caption of an Instagram video describing the text.

The text is emblematic of a race that's seen numerous jabs and attack ads lobbed back and forth, despite the fact that the prize is only a nine-month term on the commission.

Other ads include a racially-charged text message WLRN has seen that accuses one candidate of being a criminal. Another message lobs accusations of hypocrisy at one popular candidate. WLRN has chosen not to name the candidates smeared in these messages.

Drama over candidate town hall

This comes amid other campaign drama among the candidates, as some have opted out of forums over personal differences.

City of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, pictured here in November 2019, recently called out a campaign text in the District 2 special election as “racist.”

Last weekend, candidate Michael Goggins turned down an opportunity to speak at a candidate town hall meeting hosted by the Sierra Club because Russell, his would-be predecessor, was moderating the discussion.

In an email to the club, Goggins said he did not believe Russell could be "unbiased" and "professional" because the former commissioner endorsed candidate Sabina Covo. Goggins also took issue with the fact that Russell believes the text about Hispanic seats came from a candidate, whom Russell accused of being a "racist" in his Instagram video.

"Without knowing who or what group sent that message he unprofessionally accused a candidate of being a racist," Goggins wrote.

"I will not take part in an event that seems to have evolved into a show for entertainment instead of a serious discussion of issues and matters concerning the community. These volatile inflammatory comments made on Instagram only leads the discussion further away from the important issues."

Though the winning candidate will only be in office a short while, they will have a chance to take part in planning for the city's multibillion dollar budget.

Early voting and election day information for the District 2 special election can be found at the City of Miami's website.

Joshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Joshua Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org
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