Wayne Messam, a big fish in the small political pond of Miramar, is hoping to become the biggest fish in the ocean by becoming president.
On Thursday, he became the 16th candidate to announce he’s seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, releasing a lushly filmed biographical video in which he vows to help restore the American dream.
On Saturday, he holds his first rally, at Florida Memorial University. Doors open for the event at 3 p.m. for the kickoff rally at the Lou Rawls Center for the Performing Arts,15800 NW 42nd Ave. in Miami Gardens.
Who is Wayne Messam?
The Twitter length answer: Mayor of Miramar, just in his second term. General contractor. Husband and father of three. Son of Jamaican immigrants. Starting wide receiver on Florida State’s 1993 national championship football team.
What’s his personal story?
Messam, 44, grew up in South Bay, in western Palm Beach County, and graduated from Glades Central High School, where he was senior class president.
His parents were Jamaican immigrants and his father was a laborer in the region’s sugar cane fields.
Messam was a starting wide receiver and member of Florida State University’s 1993 national championship football team, coached by Bobby Bowden and was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1997, but didn’t play in the pros.
At FSU, he was student body vice president.
He and his wife, Angela, founded a general contracting company that specializes in energy-efficient projects. They have three children.
What about political experience?
It’s less than many presidents, more than President Donald Trump.
In his first election, for Miramar City Commission in 2011, he ran against a candidate who had support from sitting and former city commissioners and the police and fire unions. He won with 38 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
Four years later, he challenged and defeated the incumbent mayor, Lori Moseley, who had been in office for 16 years. He won with 38 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
On March 12, he won a second term with 86 percent of the vote against token opposition. It was a low-turnout election; just 8 percent of the city’s 83,452 voters participated.
Is he a progressive or centrist?
Messam has links to both wings of the Democratic Party.
He was one of the earliest elected officials supporting progressive Andrew Gillum’s 2018 candidacy for Florida governor, when many other Democrats were supporting other candidates.
He was also a frequent representative on the 2016 campaign trail for Hillary Clinton, who was disliked by many progressives, and he campaigned on her behalf in South Carolina.
As mayor, he’s taken stands that fit the beliefs of many Democratic primary voters: Challenging a National Rifle Association-backed law in an attempt to make a new city amphitheater a gun-free zone, touted his city as a safe zone for undocumented immigrants, fighting oil drilling in the Everglades, criticizing Trump for withdrawing from the Paris Accord to combat climate change.
Is he a serious candidate for president?
That’s a matter of interpretation. He’s articulated a vision, restoring access to the American dream. He offers a compelling personal story, as the successful son of immigrants.
And he’s offered a rational for a path to the nomination, by concentrating on the early nominating states of South Carolina, the first primary state with a significant African-American population, and Nevada, where there is a large population of voters who immigrated to the U.S. or are children of immigrants.
Also, he’s the only candidate from Florida, one a critical battleground state that awards 29 electoral votes, more than 10 percent of the total needed to win the presidency.
But he is barely known outside the city where he’s mayor. And the field is crowded with a diverse cast of better known, well-funded candidates.
Major news organizations have been skeptical. The Atlantic magazine asked and answered the question this way: “Can he win the presidency? Um, no.” CNN referred to him as “one of the longest of longshots in the 2020 race.”
What are his key talking points?
— Helping people achieve the American dream.
“I am living the American dream that my parents came to this country to have, and one that is slipping away from average Americans,” he said. “We have to re-commit to making that reality achievable again.”
— Washington doesn’t have all the answers, and is “broken.”
Messam said his service as a mayor — a job that puts him close to people and non-Washington solutions — is a selling point.
— High student loan debt is an enormous burden on everyday Americans. Alleviating $1.5 trillion of national student loan debt is his top issue.
“Every day people are graduating from universities with crippling debt stifling their opportunity for financial mobility; that is what’s broken with this country,” he said in the video announcing his candidacy.
Can someone go from small city mayor to president?
It hasn’t happened before. No one whose highest elected office is mayor has ever been nominated for president.
And in 2020 there’s competition from another mayor, Pete Buttigieg, 37, is mayor of South Bend, Ind.
South Bend, population 102,000, is smaller than Miramar, a city of about 142,000.
Messam said in an interview he’s “not comparing myself to the other mayor.”
Where is Miramar anyway?
Many outside Florida see it as a suburb of Fort Lauderdale or Miami.
It’s located in southwestern Broward County, along the border of Miami-Dade County.
The 31-square mile city is Florida’s 13th largest.
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