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Erick Johnson

Stories by Erick

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Hey Jerk!

13th annual Grace Jamaican Festival at Markham Park in Sunrise on Nov. 9

Chef Jimmie Jackson is on a sizzling winning streak. For years, Jackson, the owner of a food seasoning company, had to settle for second place finishes in cooking contests at major jerk festivals in the South. Now, Jackson sits on the culinary throne as the defending champion of the ultra-competitive Publix Jerk Cook-off at this year’s 13th annual Grace Jamaican Festival on Sunday, Nov. 9 at Markham Park in Sunrise.

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Multicultural Tourism Department promotes Black communities

Start spreading the news. Overtown, Little Haiti and other ethnic neighborhoods will play a larger role in South Florida's multi-billion dollar tourism industry. After a splashy luncheon on Miami's lush waterfront Monday, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau announced a new Multicultural Tourism Department aimed at luring visitors to the city's Black and ethnic neighborhoods.

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Former CEO at TACOLCY responds to new OIG report

Former Belafonte TACOLCY CEO Taj Brown is speaking out after the Miami-Dade Office of the Inspector General closed its probe that found no major wrongdoing at the venerable Liberty City agency. After a year-long investigation, the OIG last month concluded that none of the agency’s funds from the Children’s Trust and Miami-Dade County had been abused under Brown's leadership. OIG officials said while Brown spent money on himself, those funds came from private donations and sports programs fees. OIG officials acknowledged that efforts had been made to curb the cash-strapped agency’s spending practices in the wake of financial concerns.

A tearful goodbye to Arthur Woodard

The jokes and tributes helped Vanessa Woodard Byers keep her composure at the funeral of her prominent father, Dr. Arthur Woodard. But at the cemetery, Byers was overwhelmed with emotion as her father’s casket was placed in the same mausoleum where her late mother was entombed four years ago. Byers openly wept as she placed one hand on the headstone just before Woodard was finally laid to rest.

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Leaders urge voters to reject marijuana on ballot

Dr. Fabian Thurston remembers when his 19-year-old daughter called home from college one day to tell him something. “She said ‘All of my friends smoke weed and I don’t want to be around people who do that,'” Thurston recalled. “That was a very proud moment in my life," said Thurston, chief operating officer for the Jesse Trice Family Health Center in Liberty City. Thurston joined T. Willard Fair of the Urban League of Greater Miami at a community meeting last Wednesday at Northside Police Station where the two condemned a statewide referendum to legalize medical marijuana. Entitled, “Making it legal doesn’t make it right,” the presentation aimed to educate and discourage voters from passing Amendment 2 in the Nov. 4 elections.

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Judgment day for disgraced Northside pastor

Long ordeal finally ends after judge bars Gardner from church property

For church members, it was Good Friday. For Pastor Mark Gardner, it was judgment day. The defiant pastor who was accused of sinking Northside Church of God with more than $500,000 in debt was finally removed from the pulpit after a Miami judge issued an injunction that will keep Gardner away from the building, located at 2590 NW 103rd St.

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Michelle for Charlie Crist

First lady Michelle Obama threw her support behind Charlie Crist's campaign for Florida governor at a rally in Miami Gardens last Friday. “If we want to finish what we started then we need to elect Charlie Crist governor of Florida,” Mrs. Obama said. “This is on us. It’s all on us. We can’t wait around for people to do this for us.” The first lady's campaign visit follows recent showings by vice president Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton, who campaigned in Miami the past month with hopes of reversing voter apathy among Democrats.

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Voters set to give their verdict on courthouse

Movement to replace crumbling landmark hangs in the balance

Black leaders and top legal professionals are speaking out in support of a controversial referendum to replace the crumbling, but historic Dade County Courthouse, with a new multi-million dollar building in downtown Miami. The support comes as county leaders delayed a backup plan in the event that voters reject the referendum in the Nov. 4 elections. The proposal had called for a $75 increase in court costs for those convicted of crimes and criminal traffic offenses.

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Making music in Miami

One room has a huge soundboard that has 120 knobs. The new recording booth can fit at least three people. It's time to make some music. Music executives from all over the country helped open the sleek, new Midtown Studios and Films complex in Little Haiti Oct. 15, with a lavish ceremony that included fancy cocktails and the latest hip-hop sounds from Miami's top disc jockeys.

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North Miami mayoral candidates set for intense runoff

Dr. Smith Joseph, Kevin Burns fighting for office in predominantly Haitian city

North Miami is a difficult place to get elected. Ask Kevin Burns, who is seeking a third term as the city’s mayor. Burns, who is white, lost in a bitter runoff race in 2013, all because of North Miami’s powerful Black electorate, which has placed a Black mayor in City Hall in the past four years. In two weeks, it will be déjà vu for Burns as he goes ups against Dr. Smith Joseph in another runoff race in the same city that has denied political careers to contenders who have dared to run for office against Black candidates.

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World-record holder brings hair-raising experience to Liberty City

Her hair is 55 feet long and Asha Mandela brought all 40 pounds of it to the Natural Styles hair salon at the Northside Flea Market in Miami. Dozens of onlookers were star-struck as they took photos with the famous woman who set the Guinness World Record in 2009 for the longest dreadlocks. “I was like wow. I wondered who that was until people told me,” said Larry Mitts, a shopper who was passing by. “I didn’t want to make it so obvious that I was so excited.”

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In fight for city’s future, Miami Gardens candidates square off

It’s a tough choice for voters in Miami Gardens. Andre Williams, a seasoned attorney, is known throughout the city for his tenacity and unpopular views toward Florida’s largest Black city. Dr. Erhabor Ighodaro is an educator and popular community activist who has been endorsed by the mayor and many of South Florida’s prominent Black politicians.

Bright Futures scholarship program under scrutiny

State is examining concerns raised by newer and tougher standards

Florida’s Board of Governors, the group that oversees all of the state’s universities, is set to review concerns created by tougher new academic requirements that left hundreds of Black high school students in Miami-Dade and other counties without Bright Futures scholarships. On Nov. 5, the group will hear arguments on how the new standards have dramatically reduced the amount of eligible minority students, whose socioeconomic backgrounds have placed them at a disadvantage as opposed to white, affluent students.

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A park makeover helps transform Opa-locka

A barren half-acre lot in Opa-locka has been transformed into a picturesque community park. Milkweed plants and Gumbo Limbo trees were among the foliage incorporated into the makeover of Magnolia Park North, where about 100 volunteers and residents created an exquisite butterfly garden at the park, 2123 Ali Baba Ave.

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Leaders push to boost early voter turnout

Voting set to begin; residents urged to go to the polls at town hall meeting

With voter apathy still a concern, Black community and religious leaders are stepping up efforts to boost voter turnout as early voting begins Oct. 20 for the midterm elections. At a town hall meeting Oct. 7 at Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Liberty City, leaders urged frustrated residents in crime-ridden neighborhoods to take their concerns to the polls on Nov. 4.

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Resident one of few to celebrate Halloween on grand scale in the Black community

It’s the bewitching hour. A death train with a corpse chugs along the driveway. Body parts fill a makeshift cemetery in the front lawn. It's an unusual scene at Victoria Washington’s house in West Little River where hundreds flock to the elaborately-decorated home filled with witches, ghosts, spiders, goblins and skeletons.

Commission endorses Black museum

County funding a hurdle for project proposed to be located on Miami’s waterfront

The Miami-Dade County commission last week endorsed a plan to erect a Black museum on Miami’s waterfront. In a unanimous decision, commissioners passed Commissioner Dennis Moss’ resolution to instruct Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s staff to put together a plan that would bring a Black museum in a city still struggling to achieve racial and ethnic harmony. The move follows the commission’s endorsement during the summer of a proposed Cuban Exile museum.

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Making the cut

On the brink of closure, Boot Camp program graduates transformed young offenders

One month after it faced being shut down because of budget cuts, Miami-Dade’s Boot Camp program held its graduation ceremonies Oct. 1. In a packed courtroom at the Richard E. Gersten Justice building, 34 cadets assembled in the same place they once stood for crimes that would have sent them to jail. It was a dramatic ceremony, where male cadets with troubled backgrounds sat in crisp white shirts and ties with fresh haircuts after rehabilitating for committing serious, but nonviolent crimes.

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Spirit of Togetherness told in a divided world

Sounds and dancing are moving the journey of South African experience

The uplifting voices of the African continent tell harrowing stories of human suffering and spirituality during the Apartheid era in South Africa, where Blacks lived in harsh and segregated conditions under white rule. Then there is the fury of the Traditional Zulu tribal dance with performers in colorful African garb expressing their pain and emotions in a ritual dance that has endured for centuries. In the Venda Snake Dance, artists band together to slither like an outsider seeking to do something evil in an African village.

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Disparity report brings sweeping reform

New programs will address decades of economic losses

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho last week pledged his commitment to reinstate the Minority/Women Business Enterprise (M/WBE) program as part of a historic agreement to address the economic disparity in business contracts between Black and white firms. The agreement is the direct result of efforts by Black leaders, who released a disparity report in response to a preliminary M-DCPS study that said there were no economic inequities between Blacks and other ethnic groups doing business with the school board. Consequently, the school board released an audit that uncovered the errors and concerns raised by Black leaders.

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Miami Gardens police chief ushers in era of transparency backed by political savvy

Stephen Johnson on openness, safety

There was a time when Stephen Johnson filled the sanctuaries of churches with soulful melodies as a jazz musician. Today, he spends most of his time creating harmony as Miami Gardens’ new police chief. Since he arrived in Miami Gardens in April, Johnson has managed to connect to residents by simply being himself, a no-nonsense person who enjoys a good night on the town with a trip to Tony Romas or any Jamaican restaurant.

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Tips lead to arrests in The Spot shooting

It was a quick ending to a mass shoot-out that put Liberty City in the national spotlight. After receiving many tips, Miami Police on Monday arrested a 17-year-old male who opened fire in a crowded, illegal nightclub called the Spot, where 15 people were injured by gunshots during a party attended by some underage patrons.

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Leaders outraged by shooting at The Spot in Liberty City

Concern grows after teenagers were shot at The Spot, an illegal nightclub on NW Seventh Avenue

Code violations. Gambling. Gunfire. It was not the place for any teenager on a Saturday night. But the heavy bass and pulsating beats of rap artist Iceberg kept many youth in the dark confines of The Spot in Liberty City into the early hours of last Sunday morning. When it was over, 15 people were injured by gunshots, including a 15-year-old from Miami Norland Senior High who’s fighting for his life at Jackson Memorial Hospital. As of Tuesday nine of them were treated and released.

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MOCA begins new era with board, art reception

North Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) opened a new era last Thursday with a splashy art reception attended by 200 guests who viewed the museum's first exhibit since the organization's board of directors left to form their own museum. The exhibit, Third Space: Inventing the Possible, drew guests from all walks the life who perused 60 artworks from 18 artists in a

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Miami broward Carnival

Massive festival gives South Florida a taste of the islands

The Caribbean culture in South Florida will be on full display when the Miami Broward Carnival celebrates its 30th anniversary with celebrations in two counties, culminating with a grand festival at the Miami-Dade County Youth Expo Center on Oct.12. In recent years, the carnival has attracted spectators from all over the country, who enjoy South Florida's balmy climate as its tourism season swings into high gear.

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Community Fest celebrates Haitian culture

Event aims to bring more exposure to Little Haiti's cultural center

It’s the perfect place for a big party. A colorful mural of Haitian culture serves as a dramatic backdrop to an outdoor stage where artists and musicians can entertain spectators as they mingle in a grand courtyard surrounded by palm trees and sculptures.

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Would-be first Black city manager declines offer

One week after making history, Jim Beard is out as Coral Gables’ first Black city manager. Beard’s withdrawal was announced at the city commission meeting on Tuesday at the same time that reports surfaced that Beard had a domestic abuse charge and a bankruptcy case. The announcement came as city officials were set to approve Beard’s salary and start date. Beard was picked as Coral Gables’ city manager Sept. 16 over four other finalists. Beard did not attend the meeting.

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Residents stuck in Liberty City slum

Damaged building to remain open as tenants have nowhere to go

The City of Miami decided not to shut down a Liberty City Apartment where dozens of residents have complained about unsanitary conditions. Miami Assistant City Attorney Brian Dombrowski reaffirmed the city’s decision at a meeting last week at the Overtown NET Center. The move has left 77 residents of the apartment with very few options and nowhere to go.

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Inventing the possible space

Bold new exhibit explores possibilities over hard times

A new era is set to begin at North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art next week with the opening of an edgy new exhibit called Third Space: Inventing the Possible. The exhibit explores the challenges of the human condition, but it also illustrates the struggles of MOCA, an institution at a critical crossroad as it tries to redefine itself to re-connect to the art community.

Miami Gardens may gain yardage over stadium area

A proposed agreement by Miami-Dade County officials would give Miami Gardens the right to issue building permits for land around Sun Life Stadium. Commissioner Barbara Jordan, whose district includes Miami Gardens, sponsored the resolution at a Sept. 3 commission meeting, where officials proposed giving the predominately Black city the right to make recommendations to the county on future land-use applications around the stadium.

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Mega mall moves forward

City approves zoning for the project that will bring jobs to Overtown

After hearing frustrated Overtown residents and business leaders, the City of Miami commission last Thursday unanimously voted to approve two zoning changes for the proposed Miami Mall at Worldcenter downtown.

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Community reacts to disparity report

Inequities apparent as Black contractors fight for M-DCPS contracts

Dozens of professionals and community residents packed Freedom Hall near Northside last Wednesday to hear alarming details of a scathing report that accuses Miami-Dade County Public Schools of shutting out Black contractors from hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts.

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The Slumlord Files

Efforts underway to relocate tenants from filthy living conditions

In one apartment, human feces and water once leaked from the ceiling into the kitchen. In another unit, the ceiling collapsed and hit a 16-year-old boy who was sleeping in his bedroom. In many of the apartments, the walls are rotting from mold and water damage. One tenant, Wayne Carroll is forced to take showers at another location because the mold-infested tub is too unbearable. And his sinks back up when he turns on the water. The rusting toilet doesn’t always work.

Black contractors losing millions

Disparity study by Urban League, NAACP claims firms not receiving their fair share of bids from M-DCPS

After achieving little success to address economic disparities among Black firms doing business with Miami Dade County Public Schools, community and civil rights leaders are set to release a blistering report that attacks policies and practices that have shut Blacks out of hundreds of millions of dollars in plum contracts.

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Going Over the Edge for Liberty City

The Miami Children's Initiative went over the edge last weekend with a charity event at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel in downtown Miami that raised $150,000. About 100 brave people rappelled down 19 stories of the hotel to raise money to benefit families and children in Liberty City. The two-day event featured local civic and business leaders, elected officials, philanthropists, journalists and university presidents. Celebrities including Joe Morton from the hit ABC Show Scandal, participated in the event. "The event was a good analogy for what people experience in Liberty City," said Hopi Horton

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Will mall benefit Overtown?

Worldcenter developers pledge to recruit residents for employment

Overtown residents stand to benefit from the proposed massive mall at Miami Worldcenter after the city commission unanimously approved a zoning change for the upscale shopping and dining retail complex. The city commission is set to review more zoning changes for the development on Thursday. But last Wednesday, commissioners voted 9-0 to approve a special zoning plan that helped long-stalled plans move forward to build Miami Mall at Worldcenter Mall.

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5000 Role Models kick off new school year with bigger dreams

The 5000 Role Models of Excellence program kicked off the school year with bigger dreams and plans to prevent hundreds of Black males from suffering the same fate of Michael Brown, who was killed by a White police officer in Ferguson, MO officer last month. At its annual Site Directors Training meeting at the PortMiami on Thursday, about 200 educators, administrators and professionals helped Congresswoman Federica Wilson and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II open the 21st year of the mentor program which has helped thousands of young, Black males succeed in the midst of poverty and social ills. The meeting provided training and

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From Little Haiti to Abu Dhabi

His works does not contain the iambic pentameter of William Shakespeare’s sonnets but come October, Calvin "madeS.O.N" Early of Little Haiti will take his urban poetry thousands of miles away to a rich Middle Eastern country where poetic recitals are growing in appeal.

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President Clinton campaigns for Crist

Visits Miami to boost voter turnout, in gubernatorial Democratic bid

Charlie Crist’s campaign for governor received a big boost last weekend when former President Bill Clinton visited Miami to support the Democratic candidate who’s locked in a close race against incumbent Rick Scott. At a rally at the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Miami last Friday, Clinton spoke to about 700 campaign supporters, elected officials and voters with a rousing speech that aimed to help Crist in opinion polls and increase voter turnout in the Nov. General elections. Clinton urged supporters to flock to the polls to avoid a repeat in 2010 when low turnout sent Scott to the state's highest office.

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The American Dream underwater

Coconut Cay residents frustrated over constant flooding problems, red tape

Coconut Cay in Miami Gardens is the American dream for many Black professionals. Rows of large Spanish Mediterranean-style single family homes with massive rooms and soaring, vaulted ceilings line pristine streets where children skateboard and play amid well-manicured lawns. SUV’s and luxury cars occupy large driveways. Located just off State Road 441 and NW 204th St., Coconut Cay spans several blocks. Once priced at half million dollars per home, the planned community has been considered the city’s most affluent and exclusive neighborhood.

In the spotlight

New Miami Urban Music and Film Festival aims to help Black producers

The inaugural Miami Urban Music and Film Festival (MUMFF) is preparing to shine the spotlight on South Florida and make an impressive debut with a lineup of events to cultivate a stronger and successful entertainment industry among urban producers.

EEOC files suits against South Florida farms

EEOC files lawsuits, allege rape, sexual harassment at two South Florida farms

While they were on the job, two female workers say they were raped, another says she was terminated after she refused her supervisor's sexual advances. And after they had sex, male bosses demanded more. Those allegations are part of two blistering new lawsuits filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against two South Florida farms who are accused of subjecting its female workers to sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

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Egellocs gear up for 2014-2015 Men of Tomorrow program

Long before there was President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” or the 5000 Role Models of Excellence program in Miami-Dade public schools, there was the ‘Men of Tomorrow’ program in Miami for Black males conceived by The Egelloc Civic and Social Club of Miami.

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Fifth annual African Diaspora Dance and Drum Festival in Little Haiti

The thumping sounds of traditional African drums will celebrate ethnic pride and culture during the fifth annual African Diaspora Dance and Drum Festival from Sept. 5-7 in Little Haiti. Sponsored by Delou, Africa, Inc. the festival will include myriad music, dance and drum traditions of Africa under the event’s theme, Bridging Cultural Gaps. Adults and children of various cultures will be immersed in workshops and classes that aim to promote diversity and harmony. Organizers said the festival will also showcase the creativity and the cultural resilience of the rich traditions of Africa.

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Anti-crime campaign comes alive in Brownsville cemetery

The fight against crime is not dead. Amid thousands of above-ground graves and towering evergreens, District 3 Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, joined police officials in one of Miami’s oldest Black cemeteries to appeal to community residents in helping solve dozens of deadly shootings that have plagued Miami’s urban neighborhoods this past year. At an unusual press conference at Evergreen Cemetery in Brownsville, Edmonson along, with pastors and community leaders, pleaded residents to come forward

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Black incumbents win; Ighodaro, Burns headed for runoff'

After months of listening to campaign speeches and attending political forums, Blacks in Miami-Dade County headed to the polls to vote in the primary elections on Tuesday. Education, health care, unemployment and moral integrity were all important issues that concerned Black voters regarding several key political races in Miami Gardens, North Miami, Liberty City and Miami-Dade County. Black voters also turned their attention to the gubernatorial race, and the bid for the attorney general office.

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Diddy leads a REVOLT

Music mogul to host star-studded conference on Miami Beach

Diddy. Russell Simmons. LA Reid. Look out. They’re set to lead a REVOLT in Miami. The trio will be among a powerhouse lineup of some of the most influential movers and shakers who will converge on Miami Beach for the first-ever REVOLT Music Conference at The Fountainbleau Hotel OCT. 16 – 19.

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Crist turns up campaign for the Black vote

Democratic candidate for Gov. renews attacks with “Restore Cuts Tour”

Trailing behind Gov. Rick Scott in most polls, Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist campaigned heavily in Miami’s Black community last Friday with his “Restore Cuts Tour” to boost sagging numbers as the clock ticks down to Election Day. With concerns about his political aspirations fading, Crist launched the campaign to regain the lead in opinion polls against his opponent. Traveling on a yellow school bus to highlight this election’s hottest issue, education, Crist campaigned in Liberty City before he opened a new office in Miami Gardens, where he hopes to increase the number of new voters in Florida’s largest Black city.

Problems plague Campbell in tough re-election bid

Incident, ethical problems hurt legislator’s bid to keep her seat

State Rep. Daphne Campbell is under investigation for an intense confrontation that may cost the embattled legislator her re-election bid next week. Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief accused Campbell’s brother-in-law of pulling a gun on her during an argument over politics two weeks ago in the parking lot of the WAVS Caribbean radio station in Davie. Daphne Campbell’s brother-in-law, Jeremiah Campbell, allegedly emerged from the station with a gun in his hand, according to story aired on WPLG Channel 10 Monday evening.

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Campaigns turn dirty as election nears

The political race for Miami Gardens’ general election turned dirty last weekend after allegations of unethical campaigning swirled among candidates seeking seats on the city council. The seats are currently occupied by Lisa Davis and Dr. Erhabor Ighodaro who are stepping up their campaigns against a group of determined candidates who want to change the city with bold opinions and fresh ideas. Davis, who occupies Seat 2, seeks a second term against Charlene Butler, 65, a retired postal worker and Tamarah Lee, who has a law degree from the University of Florida.

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