By Sam Bojarski
A steady rain drenched Miami Gardens for much of the morning last Sunday, but it didn’t dampen city council candidate Linda Julien’s enthusiasm for engaging voters. For hours, she criss-crossed the parking lot at the North Dade Regional Library polling station in her rain poncho, talking to campaign volunteers and voters who trickled in.
The effort has been part of Julien’s routine since early voting opened Oct. 19.
“If Election Day is the Super Bowl, early voting is the playoffs,” said Julien, 39, who is running for City of Miami Gardens Council Seat 5. “Nothing’s going to stop me, nothing’s going to stop the vote. So I’m going to be here every single day, [until] Nov. 3.”
In a presidential election year, where the names at the top of the ballots dominate, many residents do not know for whom to vote at the municipal level. Julien, who works as economic development manager for the City of North Miami, is taking the direct engagement route to make sure that voters know about her race and choose her ‒ even if she has to appeal to them herself, all day every day.
“It’s important for the candidate to be present, it’s important for the voters to know that you’re there,” Julien said. “Because a lot of voters say, ‘wow, you’re the candidate, and you’re here?’”
Julien is running against Andre Williams for Seat 5 on the city council. The local race to join the city council, which is composed of six members that each represent a separate district, is non-partisan, and Haitian-American voters can swing it.
Julien, who grew up in Miami’s Little Haiti and is the daughter of a Haitian immigrant, said her goals for the city include attracting more businesses that create jobs, increasing public safety and being more responsive to the day-to-day needs of residents.
To increase her chances of getting elected, her ground game at the polling site consists of herself and two campaign volunteers, who aim to raise awareness among early voters. A food truck in the library parking lot, plastered with campaign signs, advertises for free ice cream, provided as an in-kind donation by her campaign. Some voters have applauded Julien’s boots-on-the-ground approach.
According to the Census Bureau, more than 9,100 Haitians live in Miami Gardens, making up a significant 8 percent of the city’s 110,000 people. Julien’s efforts have already garnered the support of Haitian-American voters.
“I think she will be a good candidate to help us with our situation. She will fight for us,” said Madelien Eugene, 55, a Miami Gardens resident who supports Julien.
Eugene said she wants to see cleaner-looking neighborhoods in Miami Gardens. Julien herself said she wants to improve the city’s infrastructure and address the number of dilapidated properties in the city.
The former Parkway West Regional Medical Center illustrates the problem of unkept, dilapidated buildings in Miami Gardens. The property has sat unused since 2002 and was the site of a deadly fall earlier this month.
But Eugene has other demands from council. She has attended council meetings to inquire about her steadily rising water bill and noticed inconsistency when it comes to addressing resident concerns.
“Sometimes they help us right away,” Eugene said. “But sometimes they take time, and you have to address the situation over and over and over, to tell somebody to come and help.”
The Haitian community in Miami Gardens, Julien said, needs job opportunities and deserves to know who their elected representatives are.
As Terrance Durham Jr. walked out of North Dade Regional Library carrying his one-year-old son, he admitted that he did not follow the city council race closely, before casting his ballot.
But Durham, a youth sports coach in Miami Gardens, said he has not seen much of a presence in the community from elected officials. This has discouraged many of his friends from voting.
“Make connections, in parks, in recreation centers, where the real problems [are],” said Durham, 34. “Then, voting wouldn’t be a problem.”
Durham also addressed the issue of crime in the community, saying that many youth have not been shown another way.
Overall, Miami Gardens is plagued by high rates of violent crime – 7.26 violent crimes per 1,000 residents, compared to 3.85 in the state of Florida.
Julien views job creation as a way to reduce crime. She also said the presence of law enforcement professionals, whom she wants to incentivize to move into the city, would help make the community safer overall.
In the immediate future, being a resource to residents is top-of-mind for Julien.
“We want to be responsive to people’s needs,” Julien said. “And so I’m here, I’m that person willing to lend a listening ear and helping the best that I can.”