The Hardemon family has a new candidate, and she is running for Miami-Dade mayor

Monique Nicole Barley, a 2020 candidate for Miami-Dade mayor, arrived at a recent interview with a glossy purse decorated with fashion shots of the Obamas during their time in the White House. “I love Michelle and Barack,” Barley said when asked about the accessory.

And if that endorsement sounds predictable for an aspiring Democrat and 2016 Clinton voter running her first campaign in a blue county like Miami-Dade, Barley’s take on the current White House occupant hardly follows the party line.

“I don’t like the separation of the families,” Barley, 36, said of the President Donald Trump policy that sent hundreds of undocumented youths to a detention facility in Homestead, among other places. “I do like that he is cracking down on people who are coming to the United States illegally. He is protecting the United States of America. ... I think he’s doing a good job.”

Barley isn’t playing it safe as she jumps into her first run for elected office, filing for the county’s senior elected post in a race that’s expected to be crowded with well-known politicians. Former county mayor Alex Penelas, who left office in 2004, is running again, even though he hasn’t filed his candidacy papers.

Other sitting or recent officeholders exploring runs include Commissioners Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Jean Monestime and Xavier Suarez, former U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and former Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

So far, Barley is one of three candidates who have filed to succeed a term-limited Carlos Gimenez in the officially nonpartisan race for mayor in 2020.

And while she’s a relative unknown compared to the other two official contenders — Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava and former commissioner Juan Zapata — Barley has ties to one of the most prominent names in Miami politics.

One of Barley’s cousins is Miami City Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who is running for a County Commission seat in 2020. She’s also the daughter of Roy Hardemon, a former state lawmaker who is running to reclaim his District 108 House seat against the incumbent who unseated him, Dotie Joseph. Barley ran his successful 2016 campaign, when Hardemon overcame an arrest record that included a domestic violence charge to win his seat.

“She’s hardball,” Roy Hardemon said. “She made sure I got where I needed to be. To do the door knocking.“

Barley comes to her debut campaign with a biography that weaves through hard times. As a single mother in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2007, Barley said she and two young daughters shared a room with other families in a dormitory for new mothers experiencing homelessness. She described working low-wage jobs in fast food and security before bills got too far away from income.

The Miami Northwestern graduate said her life turned around when a friend of the family offered to take her and her children in. From there, Barley got hired by a collections agency, with a requirement she make 300 calls a day to try to get debtors on the phone. “You call their work, their primary number, cell number, relatives,” Barley said. “You have to be creative.”

Barley said she was able to launch her own debt collections firm, M&L Associates. State records show she launched the firm in 2012 in the Charlotte suburb of Fort Mill, South Carolina. The records show it folded in late 2018. Barley said she and her ex-husband shuttered the business after their divorce.

A resident of county public housing, Barley said she opposes Miami-Dade’s redevelopment of the 1937 Liberty Square complex. The signature housing effort of Gimenez’s two terms, Liberty Square is a tax-funded project by the Related Group that opened its first phase of units in July, a mix of apartments for people who qualify for public housing and apartments with higher rents for people with higher incomes.

The project has 7 percent more public housing units than the 709 residences in the existing Liberty Square buildings, which are being demolished as the new project takes shape. Residents are able to move from their existing units to new ones.

Barley said the project for Miami-Dade’s underfunded housing agency makes a mistake by not focusing solely on public housing. “I understand gentrification,” she said. “I think they should have done more upgrades to the existing units. It’s an historical site.”

She also is calling out Miami-Dade on what she sees as unequal treatment on quality of life issues. She points to Miami-Dade’s emergency efforts to clean seaweed from the sands of Miami Beach, while county streets remain sullied by illegal dumpers leaving trash and debris that can remain for weeks. “It’s about keeping all of Miami-Dade clean,” she said.

Barley said she receives some income from a roster of debtors she transferred to a different debt collections company. Other than that, she said her campaign is her primary occupation at this point. She lives in a county public housing complex, Little River Terrace north of Miami, with her mother and three daughters. Barley said the limited amount of money she receives from her debtor portfolio is low enough that she qualifies for the low-income housing.

Like any first-time candidate, Barley has a steep climb ahead to get voter attention and campaign dollars. Barley filed for the mayoral race on May 28, and has raised only $1,077 for her campaign account. That’s the lowest amount reported by any of the 16 candidates for county office who have reported fundraising totals.

“I will have to prove myself to the residents,” Barley said, adding she’s not discouraged by joining a race with established politicians. “At some point, they had to prove themselves before they got to where they are today. I can have that same chance.”