“Vetting” is a series of essays that will provide in-depth analysis of the records of the more overlooked 2020 Democratic candidates.
I spent about half my childhood living in a (very) small town just east of the Florida panhandle. And my parents recently returned to the area. Still I had never heard of the city of Miramar, Florida until March of this year. That’s when the city’s first black mayor, Wayne Messam, announced that he would join a crowded Democratic field of 2020 hopefuls and officially launched his presidential campaign.
That being said, who is Wayne Messam?
Wayne Messam was born in Florida to Jamaican immigrants on June 7, 1974. After earning full athletic and academic scholarships to Florida State University, Messam began attending in 1992. While matriculating, Messam played football under Bobby Bowden, a legendary college football coach. He was also elected student body vice-president. He graduated in 1997 with a BS degree in Management Information Systems.
Messam was drafted by (but never actually played for) the Cincinnati Bengals before he founded Messam Construction (also known as Asset Builders, LLC). Messam Construction worked on the modernization of Galaxy Elementary School in Miramar, the first school in Florida to earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification. Gove Elementary School, another Messam Construction project, earned a LEED Silver certification in 2016. In fact, according to the company’s website, Messam has a commitment to sustainable building with “over 95% of [their] project certified or registered as LEED projects.” Messam’s commitment to the environment doesn’t stop with erecting green buildings. He is currently leading opposition to proposed oil well drilling in the Everglades.
Messam was elected to the City Commission of Miramar in 2011. As Miramar Commissioner, Messam represented the city in the National League of Cities Congress of Cities in 2013. This year, he sponsored the Miramar Health Fair & Family Fun Day, an event that provided, among other screenings, bone density tests, mammograms, blood pressure checks, and vision and hearing tests for children. In 2014, the commissioner sponsored “Open For Business,” an event designed to woo companies interested in doing business with the city.
Later that year, in the wake of the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, Messam called for the creation of a public safety advisory board and promised that the city would study the feasibility of body cameras. While admitting that the Miramar Police Department needed to increase its diversity and improve community relations, Messam also stated that “ We don’t have that issue [police misconduct] here and we want it to remain that way.” The year before Messam participated in a bike patrol with the police. In a video published by It’s Right Here in Miramar, Messam stated that the bike patrols would allow local residents and the police officers to “touch and feel” each other.
In 2015, Messam defeated long-time incumbent mayor, Lori Moseley, in his quest to become mayor of Miramar, becoming the first black person ever elected to the position. As mayor of Miramar, Messam arranged to have the police department set up “run-hide-fight” training sessions for concerned church-goers in response to a spate of mass shootings in churches. Last year, Messam joined several other Florida mayors in a lawsuit to overturn a Florida law that prevents mayors and municipalities from implementing gun-control ordinances. He also fought against a permit that an oil company sought in order to drill for oil in the Everglades. Messam has served on the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO).
Messam’s tenure as mayor hasn’t gone without controversy, however. While running for mayor, Messam was investigated by the Broward Office of the Inspector General. According to the official complaint, “the OIG observed expenditures totaling $9,059.66 for campaign supplies and services that were directly paid to two business entities owned and managed by the mayor and his wife [Angela Messam], whom he appointed as his campaign treasurer. In addition, numerous post-election expenditures were identified that may not have qualified for payment from campaign funds.”
The Messams refused to produce relevant documents and also refused an interview which prompted the OIG to conclude that the Messams were withholding information that was “unfavorable” to them. The OIG then referred the matter to the Florida Election Committee in in 2017. The FEC has yet to offer a public opinion on the matter.
In 2017, Messam’s decision to raise the pay of legislative assistants prompted an outcry, too. A flap over retroactive holiday also drew fire. And Messam publicly supported two city administrators accused of sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Messam then pushed for Vernon Hargray, one of the accused administrators, to become city manager. Two of Miramar’s commissioners opposed the length of Hargray’s contract as well as the level of his compensation. One commissioner stated that she felt Hargray planned to bypass the commission and report directly to Messam, saying, “[Hargray’s appointment] seemed to happen in a very sneaky way.”
Now that he is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, Messam is running on a platform of student loan debt forgiveness, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and gun control. Messam supports the Green New Deal and has also spoken out in favor of abortion rights.
However, Messam’s campaign is floundering. Not only is he struggling to raise donations from the requisite sixty-five thousand unique donors, lawyers are currently reviewing claims that campaign staff hasn’t been paid.
The next installment of “Vetting” will feature Tim Ryan.