Following a contentious campaign, Miami Commissioner Ken Russell was re-elected Tuesday, receiving 59.6 percent of the vote.
The District 2 commissioner thanked his family, staff and supporters at his election party at the Sweet Mercy Brewery in Coconut Grove.
“All of you are the wind beneath the wings of this campaign,” Russell said. “Without you, we would not have the accomplishments to show the constituents that we are delivering for Miami … I know that I can improve. I know that Miami can improve. That is my commitment to you, to do everything I can to deliver for this city.”
Russell, who was first elected in 2015, faced three challengers: real estate broker Jim Fried, real estate agent Javier Gonzalez and businesswoman Rosy Palomino. The candidates were competing to represent one of the wealthiest and most historically important sections of the city, spanning from Coconut Grove to Morningside.
During the last two months, each participated in different forums throughout the district, with discussions ranging from redevelopment and affordable housing to flooding concerns and historical preservation.
Earlier in the day, Russell said he was hopeful his campaign could surpass the 50 percent threshold and avoid a runoff. He said a get-out-the-vote drive was vital, as the turnout at municipal elections is usually low.
“I’m confident that we’ve served the community appropriately. We have done really great projects. I’ve enacted a lot of good legislation,” Russell said. “There’s a lot that I have left to do, so I’m hoping residents recognize that and keep me in.”
Fried, considered Russell’s main opponent, said he had received incredible feedback from the community throughout the day. Now, he said, he wants to focus on making Miami better, starting with Coconut Grove.
“I have ideas on how to address the demolition and disruption of the West Grove and help the people that live there achieve their goals of living in a neighborhood … that is consistent with their past cultural experience in that location,” said Fried.
Russell, Fried and Gonzalez visited the Vizcaya Village Garage polling station during the day to speak to residents. Several approached the candidates to discuss community issues, such as the population of aggressive peacocks in the area and future plans for the abandoned Coconut Grove Playhouse.
“I voted for Jim Fried because I think that Russell has let us down on a couple of key issues … those views are on the playhouse and him not really using the avenues that are open to him to fight against Carrollton putting a school in my area,” Coconut Grove resident Mary Lou King said, who added that she felt Fried was “a really upstanding guy.”
Others supported Russell.
“I voted for Ken Russell. The guy knows the area, he’s committed and he has worked really hard,” Coconut Grove resident Allan Freedline said. “I know his heart is in the right place. He’s looking out for us.”
Russell had faced numerous attacks from his challengers, who claimed he was improperly partisan and not focused on local issues. In particular, they focused on his connection to the Florida Democratic Party as well as a failed bid for the U.S. House of Representatives last year.
“This was a very tough campaign. There was a lot of negative campaigning and it was hard to not get sucked into that,” Russell said. “My team said ‘are we going to hit back’ and I said no. We’re going to stay positive because we have a track record of four years of accomplishments … so if we tell our story, the voters will listen.”
While Russell was at the polling station, Fried accused the campaign of illicit activity via Twitter, saying a city vehicle had been used to deliver food to the location. Palomino retweeted this, adding her own attack on Russell.
“Typical arrogance from #KenRussellMiami to rely on breaking the law to help his re-election campaign and done in broad daylight!” Palomino said.
Responding, Russell said the city employee in question was Coconut Grove Director Cynthia Seymour, who was there to briefly discuss issues they are working on at City Hall.
“There are none of my city employees who are volunteering today, even though they wanted to,” Russell said. “We could have closed the office, but my chief of staff and I decided [that since] they helped me last weekend on their own time, nobody from my office is working on my campaign or helping today.”
Palomino said she did not believe Russell’s record warranted reelection but said she would continue to work to better the community.
“I will continue to advocate for issues regarding budgets, public safety, good government, transit options, affordable housing and our public spaces. The type of holistic approach that builds community,” said Palomino. “I want voters, my neighbors who are just as concerned about the direction our city is going, to know there are real solutions to our quality of life concerns.”
Gonzalez was unavailable for comment.
Russell said he was incredibly relieved and is looking forward to the next four years.
“People expect a lot and I have an obligation to them,” Russell said. “You have to stay true to yourself and so that’s all I can do. I know I have a lot left to learn and that I can improve. That’s my obligation to the residents of Miami.”