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A campaign mailer produced by a political committee chaired by the aunt of a sitting Miami-Dade County commissioner is rankling local Democrats, who say the ad falsely implies that the party has endorsed certain candidates in Miami’s nonpartisan Nov. 2 election.
The mailer, which shows large photos of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on one side and photos of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and commission candidate Christine King on the other, claims to be a “Democrats’ absentee voter’s guide” and calls out to liberal voters with big letters that say: “Attention all Democrats.”
Suarez is a registered Republican. King, who is running to represent Miami’s heavily Democratic 5th Commission District, has not received a Democratic Party endorsement.
But King does have the support of Miami-Dade Commissioner Keon Hardemon, the last politician elected to occupy Miami’s District 5 commission seat. And the political committee that sent the mailers, Improve Miami, is chaired by Barbara Hardemon, the commissioner’s aunt, according to campaign finance records.
Such “unauthorized” slate cards aren’t uncommon in local elections, and are sometimes passed around outside voting precincts and early voting centers. Often, they carry no political disclaimer showing who paid for them or where they came from.
Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Robert Dempster said the ad preys upon unknowing voters, and “is categorically not from the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. Period. Full stop.” District 3 candidate Quinn Smith, who is running to unseat incumbent Joe Carollo, is the only candidate in the Miami election to get an endorsement from the party.
“It is disturbing, and anything that is trying to deceive the voters does a disservice to the electorate and ultimately does a disservice to all the candidates involved,” Dempster said. “When you have a header that says Democrat-endorsed candidates, that is kind of absurd.”
King is one of six challengers seeking to unseat incumbent District 5 Commissioner Jeffrey Watson, who was appointed to the seat when Keon Hardemon was elected to the County Commission last year. King is also the CEO of the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit chaired by Billy Hardemon, the commissioner’s uncle.
Also running: Stephanie S. Thomas, Revran Shoshana Lincoln, Michael A. Hepburn, Zico Fremont and Francois Jr. Alexandre.
In a text message, King said she had not seen the advertisement until Friday.
“I had no knowledge of the mailer — my first knowledge of the mailer was this morning,” she wrote.
Watson, however, blamed King for the misleading mail.
“That’s the basis of her campaign, it’s misleading. Why do you want to deceive people like that? Make your case,” he said. “It’s always bait and switch. ... It’s deception. People already get bad information.”
Two-thirds of the registered voters in the district King is running to represent are Democrats, a fifth of whom are 66 or older.
A spokesman for Suarez’s campaign said the mayor’s campaign “had no involvement or knowledge of this mail piece.”
Suarez faces challengers Anthony Melvin Dutrow, Marie Frantz Exantus (formerly Exantus McKee), Mayra Joli, Maxwell Manuel Martinez and Francisco “Frank” Pichel.
Barbara Hardemon, who worked as a consultant on her nephew’s first campaign in 2013, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
She is no stranger to city politics. After failing to convince the city to hold a voter referendum on its project at Jungle Island in 2017, real estate investment firm ESJ Capital Partners hired her to set up meetings. One month later, she was hired by David Beckham’s Major League Soccer franchise as it neared a crucial vote on a $1 billion stadium and retail proposal.
Her newest committee states its purpose as “supporting candidates in Miami-Dade County,” and is registered to the West Park home of Commissioner Hardemon’s cousin.
Barbara Hardemon is not actively registered to lobby the City of Miami.
Her political committee has raised more than $300,000 since it formed in 2019 and $111,000 in September 2021 alone, with five-digit checks from various real estate groups, an Overtown promotions company, the Little Haiti developers behind the Magic City Innovation District, the general counsel for Ultra Music Festival and a Tallahassee political committee chaired by Democratic consultant Screven Watson.
Throughout the last calendar year, the committee has also paid the commissioner’s aunt for “outreach consulting” and her business, B&B Professional Consultants, for “direct mail.” It also paid two additional Hardemon family members for “outreach,’ according to campaign finance reports.