NOTE: Today is the last day to vote early in Miami-Dade. It’s also rapture day, so, well … you know the drill. It might be now or never. The official election day, assuming we’re all still here, is on Tuesday, May 24.
I don’t live in Miami-Dade County, so in the end, my opinion really doesn’t matter. But if I did live there, I’d be voting for Luke Campbell for mayor. Wait, wait, let me explain.
I’m sure most of my friends will say I’m nuts. And for the record, I have withheld judgment until I got the chance to hear all the candidates for myself, which I did by watching one prior debate, and hosting another (the recent one held by the NAACP.) That said, let me start off by explaining what is NOT behind my pick from the 11 candidates vying to lead Florida’s largest county in Tuesday’s special election.
For starters, it’s not because I’m a fan of, or even condone the messages in, “Uncle Luke’s” music. I frankly never liked bass music. I grew up liking New York hip hop, and West Coast hip hop. The farthest south I can tolerate, rap-wise, is Atlanta (with the occasional exception of Rick Ross.) So I don’t come at this as a Luke “fan.” In fact, I share with a lot of other women, some serious issues about his history of professional misogyny. But at some point, we should allow people to grow up, and grow beyond their history. If past moral strangeness were a bar to public service, we’d have to root out every philandering, foul-mouthed politician in the game, and there’d be virtually nobody left.
I also don’t know Mr. Campbell personally, though he and I have some mutual friends. I’ve met him exactly once, briefly, when I even did some PR for a celebrity peewee football All Star event in Miami a few years ago. What struck me about Luther back then was that while he’s got “that reputation” – he’s serious about working with kids. Luke’s team, and the one coached by fellow rapper Nelly, were some of the best behaved, most respectful, most obviously cared for kids there that day (Snoop and his team, on the other hand … Jesus, take the wheel...) And Luke seemed clearly to have taken a personal interest in those kids, not as a stunt, or to earn some community give-back cred, but because he has a long time passion for football (including UM football — sometimes with controversial results) and his community. He has continued that interest by coaching not just peewee football, but also by volunteering as a coach/mentor at Miami Central High School (the same school President Obama visited a few weeks ago to tout his education reforms.)
In addition, Luke actually has some real ideas that transcend the stereotype he created for himself back in the day. He’s running as a regular guy — a husband and father and fellow “fed up” taxpayer who wants to see government corruption rooted out, jobs brought home, Jackson hospital fixed, community policing enacted and revenues balanced out (yeah, he wants to decriminalize marijuana and enact a stripper tax. Read Luke’s platform here.) And if running as an “everyman” is fine for the tea party, why not Luke?
Having had a successful rap career, Campbell could be doing anything. But he chooses to put his name on a column (in the Miami New Times) in which he dares to name names, and put forward a quite informed opinion about local politics. I can relate to the idea that putting yourself out there in that way creates a certain vulnerability. It’s not just the hate mail — some of which can be pretty ugly. You also have to see the politicians you criticize in the community in real time, and it takes a certain amount of gumption to put them out there in print, and sign it, putting aside the fact that it could crush your “access.” Luke gets respect for that.
Now, of course, there are a lot of people who despite his insistence that he’s serious, are dismissing Campbell as a “celebrity candidate.”
Personally, I don’t celebrity candidacies are either always bad or always good. Like anything else, you find smart, capable people in all professions. Sure, voters tend to gravitate toward names they know, so you get a Governor Schwarzenegger (and his side dishes), a Congressman who used to play Gopher on the Love Boat, an NFL athlete (or “Real World” contestant) turned politician or a President Reagan. But you also get a Senator Al Franken. Whether you agree(d) with them or not, these guys actually had well formed political ideas before they ran, but used their celebrity to propel themselves into contention. We are a society that takes the political views of our celebrities seriously, to the point where it becomes news when Matt Damon is disappointed with President Obama.
Running on celebrity name ID is, to my mind, no worse than bankrolling your campaign with your megabucks and foisting your evil, bald self on the state of Florida mostly so you can rip it up at the roots and probably enrich yourself. (Ahem) … and some nutters think the guy who did that could be president. Eighteen months of Luke cannot be worse than the four years of Rick Scott that Florida voters inflicted on themselves in 2010.
But can a non-Cuban win?
Whatever happens on Tuesday, sometime soon, Miami-Dade needs to find a way to break out of what has become an ethnic one-note that doesn’t serve the entire community. It has become axiomatic that only a Cuban-American can become county mayor, and that idea is offensive, not just to the anglos, blacks and non-Cuban Hispanics who actually, together, now make up about more than 50 percent of the population — it’s also offensive to Cuban-Americans; suggesting that they lack the basic good will to vote beyond their tribe.
Has the recent history of Miami-Dade suggested that only a Cuban can win? Sure. But what major candidates — with significant name ID — from outside that community have stepped forward recently? The late (and controversial) Art Teele came close in 1996, making it into a run-off with Alex Penelas. But that was 1996 — 15 years ago. Meanwhile, up in Jacksonville, which has roughly the same percentage of white voters as Miami-Dade does Cuban-Americans, and where the percentage of black voters is just 9 percent higher than in Miami-Dade, an African-American Democrat, Alvin Brown, just got elected mayor, defying the double stereotype that no Democrat, and no black person, could win that seat.
Campbell and Robaina have been the only two candidates making a serious, sustained effort to reach out beyond their ethnic base, with Robaina hiring an African-American campaign team and refusing to participate in debates that exclude non Spanish-speaking candidates, and Campbell touting his relationship with Hispanics in the hip-hop and business communities. If these two got into the run-off, they would represent the broadest collective outreach to the Miami-Dade residents of any other candidate combination.
Miami-Dade is a Democratic county. Shouldn’t it have a Democratic mayor?
Meanwhile, as a Democrat, I frankly couldn’t bring myself to pull the lever for one of the umpteen Republicans running, without at least considering an alternative. Yes, Julio Robaina has the mayoral experience to hit the ground running. But his past is at least as flawed as Luke’s is outrageous. And he’s a Republican, endorsed in the mayor’s race by Jeb Bush and supported by the far right Christian Family Coalition.
Carlos Gimenez comes across as a great manager — if a dry and uninspiring politician who seems to be being dragged kicking and screaming into actual communication with humans. If I had a multi-bazillion dollar company, I’d hire him to be my CEO. And he was right about the Marlin’s stadium. But he’s a Republican, too. And also boring.
Marcello Llorente hasn’t even made a pretense of giving the first of any damns about any community outside his Cuban-American base (I guess you could give him props for honesty.) And for that matter, neither has Jose “Pepe” Cancio. Worse, Llorente has proven himself to be a rank hypocrite: agnostic on the toxic new voter law signed by Rick Scott yesterday, but suing to prevent that law from applying to the race he’s in. And both of them are Republicans, too. In fact, Llorente is a Jeb Bush Republican.
Miami-Dade County is a majority Democratic county. Has been for ages. Non-partisan office or not, it should have a mayor whose politics and policy mirror the values of the majority of voters, who happen to be Democrats. Sorry, but I just can’t get excited about having a Jeb Bush-anointed mayor running the place.
So what about the other black candidates? Well, Eddie Lewis is a complete unknown who can’t win and has no experience. Ditto Wilbur “Short Stop” Bell, who claims to be a “multi-millionaire,” but other than that, I couldn’t tell you anything about him. Roosevelt Bradley did run the Transit agency, but whether or not you believe he was unfairly fired by former mayor Carlos Alvarez, getting along with your mayor is part of the job of a municipal bureaucrat. If he couldn’t figure out a way to do that, and worse, if he did what he was accused of doing, I’m not clear on why he deserves a promotion to the top spot.
The other candidates I know very little about, other than the fact that Dr. Farid Khavari has written a lot of books. (There’s also someone in the race named Jeffrey Lampert, who I believe is an attorney.)
Last but not least, there’s Gabrielle Redfern. She’s actually my favorite candidate in many ways. She’s sharp, witty, and right on the issues. But Ms. Redfern has no experience even being in the rhetorical fray of county politics — her background is in Miami Beach, where she heroically pushed for more pedestrian and bike access to the roadways. A complete unknown, she has no real chance of winning, though I’d love to see her run for the commission, or for mayor of Miami Beach.
Which brings me back to Luke.
Is he the ideal mayoral candidate? No. None of these candidates are. But Luke is the one guy who’s talking about “one Miami” — about bringing together the various, competing ethnic groups and putting them all on an equal footing. He’s the one guy who has a personal, demonstrated interest in what happens to the kids in the urban core. He’s the one guy focusing on things like community policing, which rarely get a hearing in county-wide races. And he’s the one guy who has a shot of getting into the run-off. A recent Miami Herald poll showed Campbell running third at 10 percent, behind Robaina (20 percent) and Gimenez (25 percent.) That’s a longshot, but it’s not an impossibility in a poll with 25 percent undecided. All that has to happen is for the top vote getter to fall short of 50 percent, and Miami-Dade has got itself a run-off.
It would be a good thing to have a Democrat in that run-off. It would be a good thing to have a guy with name ID and a following, who could bring a varied ethnic constituency into that run-off. And for those who are worried about Campbell’s rap persona or his articulation or his association with strippers, I have three words for you: Sweet Mickey Martelly. And he’s not even just a mayor. And here are four more: good chief of staff. Those last four words can help any reasonably intelligent, competent person be a good mayor. Luther Campbell is not some young hip-hop head. He’s 50 years old, has run businesses (with ups and downs — not unlike a certain hotel magnate the media recently took seriously for his fake presidential campaign.) And he is running with a seriousness that suggests he’d take the actual job seriously, too.
More importantly, win or lose, Luke has the best chance of any of the candidates to get younger people — who after all are the future of this community — engaged, both now, and leading up to the presidential election. His candidacy is bringing attention to important issues, and if his candidacy raises turnout even 5 percent, I’ll consider that a win for Miami-Dade.
Just my take. Disagree if you like. And know that it’s one hell of a longshot. But if I was in Miami-Dade County, my vote would go to Luther Campbell for mayor.
I’m dead serious.