IN THE RING: Caribbean American Enters 2020 U.S. Presidential Race

Author  PATRICK SMIKLE

In a less that 25-minute informal gathering with reporters at Florida Memorial University (FMU) in Miami Gardens, following his formal announcement that he was running for president of the United States, Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam was called an “underdog” and “long shot” candidate.

wayne2One reporter used a “Cinderella” metaphor to describe the Caribbean American’s candidacy. He quickly amended that to “Cinderfella”.

The candidate laughed it off. 

Messam had heard and seen these descriptions in the media since January, when he first floated the idea of running for president. Back then he was still a first term mayor facing an election for a second term.

Newspapers quoted some “political consultants” describing Messam’s proposed candidacy as “far-fetched” and “absurd”.

Messam easily won re-election as mayor on Mar. 12 and, the following day, announced he was forming an exploratory committee to examine the feasibility to run for president. Yet it was clear to anyone following his activities that Messam had already made up his mind to run. He had made several visits to South Carolina, an early primary state where the size of the black electorate makes it important to any candidate seeking the Democratic Party nomination.

He also visited the Middle East and held talks with Israeli and Palestinian elected officials, and community activists on both sides, presumably to sharpen his foreign policy chops. Messam visited Nevada, another early primary state, where his life-story as a first generation American, a child of working class immigrants, can be expected to get a sympathetic hearing.

‘THE MUCK’

Messam is the son of Jamaican immigrants: His father, a cane cutter; his mother a cook and house-cleaner.

Born June 7, 1974 in the tiny rural village of South Bay (known affectionately, or derisively, depending on your perspective, as “the Muck”), he did well enough in high school to earn a full academic and athletic scholarship to Florida State University, where he was a wide-receiver on the 1993 national champion Seminoles football team.

Messam graduated from FSU, married his college sweetheart. They have three college-age children. The couple started a construction business. Messam had been a student activist in college, so it surprised no one when he ventured into politics. He won a seat on the Miramar City Council in 2011.

Four years later Messam challenged incumbent Lori Mosely, a 16-year veteran on the council, for her seat as mayor.

“They said I was crazy,” Messam remembers.

He won and became Miramar’s first black mayor. When he won re-election, Messam got 86 percent of the votes, although only eight percent of the 83,000 registered voters cast ballots.

 Although, not a strong mayor (day-to-day executive authority resides in the city manager’s office) Messam boasts that, under his leadership, Miramar has become an example of a successful municipality. It is one of the country’s fastest growing cities.         Messam has joined with other Florida mayors in suing the state to overturn a law banning local governments from regulating guns. He has fought alongside other municipalities and environmental organizations against drilling for oil in the Everglades.

Messam is said to be well-known and respected among Democratic Party elected officials across the county. He serves on the National League of Cities’ Board of Directors and is a past president of the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials.

CAMPAIGN POSITIONS

At his Mar. 30 campaign launch, a modest but enthusiastic crowd, estimated at more than 200, heard Messam outline an ambitious program of initiatives he would pursue as president.

He planned to forgive or pay off student loan debt (paid for by repealing tax cuts implemented by President Donald Trump), take action on climate change (by re-engaging with the Paris Accords dismissed by Trump), make health care a human right and “ban military-style weapons from our streets and our schools.”

Messam said his administration would invest in the next generation of entrepreneurs. He wants to create an economic council to develop a long term program to plan for the advent of new technologies.

Messam joins Kamala Harris as two Democratic presidential candidates with a Caribbean background. The California senator’s father is also from Jamaica. He understands his roots are different.

“I am not the traditional and status quo candidate coming out of Washington,” Messam explained.

“I am a mayor of a growing and diverse city. Mayors get the job done.”

Messam brushed aside talk his candidacy has no realistic possibility of success.

“Being called an underdog is not an insult to me,” he said. “It’s motivation. It’s fuel.”

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