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25059: Hermantin(News)Exiting mayor finishes strong (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Posted on Tue, May. 10, 2005
Exiting mayor finishes strong
North Miami Mayor Joe Celestin, the first Haitian- American mayor of a large
U.S. city, was a source of pride for immigrants. He's leaving office after
today's elections because of term limits.
BY TIM HENDERSON
In a city where Creole speakers once had to bring translators to do business
at City Hall, there's now a sense of pride and power.
Just four years ago, when Josaphat Celestin was first elected mayor of North
Miami, he gained a place in history as the first Haitian American to lead a
large city in the United States.
But soon he'll be leaving that office, forced out by term limits, but
carrying a résumé peppered with multimillion-dollar accomplishments and
''Joe has done things for this city that no other mayor has done,'' activist
David Levin said. ``He was not complacent. Joe took the trees and shook 'em
To struggling immigrants, Celestin was a hero who demanded and got political
power for an ignored community. Even white residents on the east side, who
form the city's second-largest bloc of voters, were impressed by Celestin's
ability to get funds for public works, by his deal for the $1 billion
Biscayne Landing condo project and by the concessions he extracted from a
controversial Home Depot on Biscayne Boulevard.
Celestin admits stumbling over his own self-esteem at times.
''I have enough ego. I want to tone it down,'' Celestin said. ``North Miami
is a better place because of all of us.''
More than 15 years ago Celestin, then an Allapattah factory and store owner,
got a taste of county politics when he boldly applied for and won a $300,000
contract for the county's uniforms. His little factory, where workers still
used hand irons and steam presses, could beat out the high-tech national
company then making the county's work clothing, Celestin said.
The contract was contested in court and Celestin had to settle for a
fraction of the work.
Still, it was high-tech that helped launch Celestin's political career in
He undertook a computer study of the county's voter rolls, looking for
Haitian names, and North Miami stood out. The city's demographic shift would
become clear in the 2000 Census -- a white majority had given way to a
community that was one-third Haitian, one-fourth Hispanic and about
one-sixth each African American and Hispanic.
''I said I'm going to run for mayor there,'' Celestin said. ``They thought I
was a joke. But in the first round, I beat out everybody.''
That was 1999, when Celestin lost to Frank Wolland in a runoff. But his
showing attracted the support he needed to win in 2001.
Ron Cordon became his campaign manager, urging him out of bed at 5 a.m. to
In 2003, he won his second term unopposed.
But in the last two years, he seemed to endanger his hard-won standing in
both the Haitian and white communities.
There were protests last year when he invited Gerard Latortue, then
provisional Haitian head of state after the coup that toppled President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to a fundraiser in the city.
The year before, some Haitian-American lawmakers protested a plan to name
the city's main drag, 125th Street, after Celestin. State Rep. Phillip
Brutus argued that Haitian national hero Toussaint L'Ouverture would be a
better choice, and the dispute ended in a draw with no name change.
''In his heyday he was a me-first kind of guy,'' said Brutus. ``Some of the
things he did were not good, but he was not a bad person. He did a decent
job for the citizens of North Miami.''
And a series of firings in Celestin's second term, including those of City
Manager Irma Plummer and City Attorney John Dellagloria, created a
controversy among residents.
Today, a new mayor will be chosen. Three of the four candidates are Haitian
Americans: Danielle Beauvais, Jean Monestime and Dominique Simon. Kevin
Burns is the only white candidate in the field.
Political consultant Carline Paul thinks she may get Haitian votes for
Burns, even though Celestin has endorsed Jean Monestime. ''This is really
happening. Voters are rebellious,'' Paul said.
If one thing sums up Celestin's career, it might be the words of Gepsie
Metellus, director of the Haitian Neighborhood Center, shown on film at a
party for Celestin Saturday night at Florida International University's
conference center in the city.
''You've been tenacious,'' she told Celestin. ``And you've gone after what