Miami Commissioner Jeffrey Watson is running to hold onto District 5 seat

·3 min read

Miami Commissioner Jeffrey Watson, appointed by his colleagues in November after promising he would stay out of this year’s election, is running to hold onto the city’s District 5 seat.

City records show he opened a campaign account and filed paperwork with the city clerk on Thursday, an official recognition of his campaign days after he put up a large billboard in Little Haiti promoting his re-election.

“Commissioner Watson” reads the billboard across from Churchill’s Pub on Northeast Second Avenue, with “commissioner” in smaller letters and his surname in large font, a style typically used in campaign advertisements. The name of the political committee he used to pay for the billboard, Fighting for Change, is next to the name.

Watson did not respond to requests for comments Wednesday and Thursday. In an interview Tuesday morning, Watson said he hadn’t made a final decision — though he outlined district issues that had him seriously considering a run. Those issues include promoting stronger code enforcement, stopping illegal dumping and pushing for more economic development.

“I’m aware of the issues people are talking about in this district,” he said Tuesday morning as he drove around Wynwood and Little Haiti pointing out state road projects that he said were done improperly and overgrown, abandoned lots that have sparked complaints from neighbors. “I’m already figuring out how I can help people who need help.”

Candidates have until 6 p.m. Saturday to qualify for the election. Watson submitted initial paperwork Thursday, and he has until Saturday to file the remaining qualifying documents.

Miami Commissioner Jeffrey Watson has put up a billboard in Little Haiti, all but announcing his candidacy in this year’s municipal election. The appointed commissioner used his political committee, Fighting For Change, to pay for the billboard, which was photographed on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, days before the qualifying deadline to officially enter the District 5 race.
Miami Commissioner Jeffrey Watson has put up a billboard in Little Haiti, all but announcing his candidacy in this year’s municipal election. The appointed commissioner used his political committee, Fighting For Change, to pay for the billboard, which was photographed on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, days before the qualifying deadline to officially enter the District 5 race.

A broken promise to step down

In November, Watson pledged to sit out this year’s election to convince commissioners to appoint him to a one-year term after the previous District 5 commissioner, Keon Hardemon, won election to the Miami-Dade County Commission.

But in August, Watson told the Miami Herald he opened a political committee to test his fundraising ability and seriously explore running to hold onto his seat, which includes the city’s majority-Black neighborhoods from Overtown up through Liberty City and Little Haiti.

Watson said he was entitled to change his mind. A commissioner who sought the commitment that Watson would only serve one year, Manolo Reyes, also changed his mind and said he would support Watson’s candidacy.

Campaign-finance reports show Watson’s political committee raised $92,600 in August, with more than half of the donations coming from real-estate interests.

Among the donors: developer Michael Swerdlow, who broke ground in July on a $300 million mixed-used project in Watson’s district. In May, Watson successfully sponsored a resolution authorizing the city to give Swerdlow the permits to start construction of the Overtown building, which is expected to house a Target, Aldi and 578 apartments designed for low-income seniors. Swerdlow’s company gave the committee $25,000.

Watson’s anticipated entry into the race has drawn sharp criticism from other candidates, including attorney Christine King, who is the race’s leading fundraiser and is backed by Hardemon. On Thursday, another candidate, Michael Hepburn, told the Herald he had not seen the Watson billboard but was not surprised.

“I have actually expected this since the day he was appointed,” Hepburn said. “Since New Year’s Day, my campaign was built on our plan to beat Mr. Watson and Mrs. King at the polls.”

Four other candidates have opened accounts to fund campaigns for the District 5 seat: Francois Alexandre, Stephanie Thomas, Zico Fremont and Revran Shoshana Lincoln.

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