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Politics

Mayor Wayne Messam says he’s running for president. Is he really?

Wayne Messam
Presidential candidate Wayne Messam speaks at the South Carolina Democratic Party Convention in June 2019. The mayor of Miramar, Fla., campaigned in early voting states after his March entry into the crowded Democratic field, but his candidacy has faded sharply.
(Sean Rayford / Getty Images)

Edmond Randle was down the street from Miramar City Hall on Tuesday when he learned his mayor was running for president.

“That’s kind of strange because the election is next year,” said Randle, 63. He hadn’t seen a pamphlet or any fliers indicating Wayne Messam was competing for the Democratic nomination, and he hadn’t heard it from anyone in the south Florida city where he’s lived since 1999.

“He needs to get to stepping,” Randle said of the 45-year-old Messam.

Messam’s candidacy is something of a mystery. He did some campaigning in early voting states — stumping in Iowa in April, New Hampshire in May, South Carolina in June — but doesn’t appear to be venturing far on the trail now. When asked, he couldn’t say where he was campaigning in the coming weeks or months. I don’t have that in front of me right now,” he said.

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According to Federal Election Commission filings released this week, his campaign raised just $5 in the third quarter, a figure he suggests may be an uploading error. “I’m not sure, I’ll just have to check into that,” he said.

He insists he’s still a candidate and “making inroads.”

“I’m still in the race,” he said. “I’m still technically in the race.”

If Messam had captured the attention of the news media in Florida, one of the most-watched states in presidential elections, it would’ve been a boon for his campaign, said Susan MacManus, political analyst and professor emerita at the University of South Florida.

The field of Democrats vying to be the party’s nominee in 2020 remains crowded. Here are the 17 candidates competing to face President Trump.

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But his campaign, she said, “just never really caught fire. A day or two and the story was over.”

Messam’s motivation could be setting up a future run or expanding his political networking, she said. It’s possible that he saw a big opportunity to run this year, MacManus said. “Unfortunately, everybody else had the same idea.”

Messam, who was elected mayor in 2015 and easily won reelection in January, announced his presidential campaign in March. He garnered national attention as some saw his progressive platform and his background as mayor of a city of about 140,000 as the makings of a long-shot hopeful.

But he joined a crowded Democratic field, and media attention faded. In a phone interview Tuesday, Messam said that lack of coverage contributed to his campaign woes.

“Obviously running for president is a monumental task, but it’s an experience that definitely, we felt, we have been making some inroads,” he said, “obviously not as much as we would like at this point, but it’s not getting, you know, a lot of the media coverage as some of the other candidates — especially initially starting out — that it’s helped them get to the point where they are.”

But Messam’s candidacy faces steeper challenges than a lack of media coverage. His website appears outdated, soliciting enough donations to qualify for the June and July debates, and it does not list any upcoming events. His campaign’s main number prompts callers for their names and goes to voicemail.

His campaign has been rocked with allegations from former staffers and subcontractors who said they had not been paid, according to a Buzzfeed News report. He has regularly polled at 0% and has not qualified for a single Democratic debate.

“It’s a candidacy that has never really gotten off the ground because he failed that fundamental test of getting on that debate stage,” said Fernand Amandi, president of south Florida research firm Bendixen and Amandi International. “Just because you think you can be president doesn’t mean you should run for president.”

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Messam’s city, a 14-by-2.5-mile horizontal strip, is the third-largest city in Broward County and has a population greater than South Bend, Ind., whose mayor, Pete Buttigieg, has risen to the middle tier of the Democratic presidential field. Miramar’s housing complexes and manicured lawns are bordered on the west by the tropical wetlands of the Florida Everglades.

In June, Messam traded the humidity of his home for that of South Carolina, telling voters in the early-primary state about his upbringing by Jamaican-born parents and his father’s work cutting “sugar cane in the hot sun of south Florida for 75 cents per row.”

He stepped onstage at the “World Famous Fish Fry” at the invitation of Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), whose summer event is a traditional stop for presidential hopefuls. Messam talked about gun control and climate change, his early advocacy for eliminating college debt, his city’s efforts to pass a “living wage” and his opposition to oil drilling in the Everglades.

Since the fish fry, six of the 21 candidates on that stage have dropped out of the race, including several members of Congress. But Messam continues on, and says he remains optimistic.

“As long as I’m in the race, I’m optimistic,” he said. “I know that we’re talking about issues that are important.”

His campaign’s third-quarter filings, released Tuesday, stated that he had raised $5 and spent $0. Since he launched his presidential bid, his campaign has raised about $93,000, a fraction of what most candidates have raised in one quarter, according to the Federal Election Commission. His campaign has spent about $62,600, the bulk of which has been on fundraising, according to the FEC.

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In Miramar, resident Walter Wright, 68, was on his way to the gym on Monday when he learned Messam was running.

“As president?” Wright asked. The retiree, who has lived in Miramar since 2005, said Messam’s leadership has benefited the city — establishing a living minimum wage, beautifying the city — but he wouldn’t vote for him for president. Wright is leaning toward former Vice President Joe Biden.

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“He has more experience than I think our mayor does,” Wright said. But Messam, the retiree added, would be better than President Trump.

Times staff writer Tyrone Beason contributed from Columbia, S.C.


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