Activist Richard Ward shares his 50 years of community leadership

By Raquel Garcia….

Richard Ward in front of South Miami City Hall

“Why in the hell would anyone want to get up on that dais and be mayor or commissioner? While I love politics, there is no way I would get up there and subject myself to what they have to deal with,” said retired former assistant principle and South Miami Middle School 9th grade Civics teacher Richard Ward. When this South Miami activist of more than a half century and volunteer campaign manager of 13 campaigns (11 successful) speaks, the community listens.

Local historian and beloved resident Richard Ward was the James Carville, or campaign brain, behind the first African- American vice mayor in South Miami, Leroy Spike Gibson, and the first Hispanic mayor, Julio Robaina. Perhaps it was the apparent authenticity of his voluntary leadership or the overabundance of passion that sealed Mr. Ward’s successful track record.

Now in his early 70’s and “retired” since 1991, to hear him elucidate about city politics, one might assume he was just getting started. As current chairman of the board for the City of South Miami Parks and Recreation, Ward pinches his index finger and thumb together and his eyes sparkle brightly as he says, “we are this close to getting the community pool for South Miami I have been lobbying for this for over 40 years now!”

Although optimistic about this long awaited community goal, his eyebrows furrow when asked about the current climate of local politics. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “In the last three elections, the community has never been so divided politically. Some controversies are carrying over after the elections and spoiling the soup. We’ve had four city managers in one year because one person on the commission didn’t like each former manager.” Mr. Ward does commend the current city manager, Dr. Hector Mirabile, as a man with a calciferous enough backbone to survive the slings and arrows.

The South Miami city manager form of government operates with the mayor and commissioners creating policy while the city manager is delegated with making said policies happen. Mr. Ward is a huge proponent of the COW or “committee of the whole” meetings currently in operation where local city issues are discussed with ample citizen input. He applauds these efforts that encourage resident involvement in local government.

“My success in education was because I always tried to be fair, firm, and consistent,” he said. “When I stated my objections with the political processes of this city, I did it in a professional manner without ripping the insides out of the person standing there in opposition. We need to reclaim this preexisting courtesy to continue to succeed as a city of elected leaders and residents working constructively together. South Miami is the captivating dynamic community we enjoy today because of heavy community involvement with elected leadership.”

Although Mr. Ward would like to see more community involvement, including four-year elections as opposed to the current two-year terms, he hopes the future will offer a more ethical political process as well and greater stability in the city manager’s office.

“Look, I admire anybody that can handle serving the public office and not go crazy,” he said. “I’ve never seen so much controversy in the 50 years I have been here. I feel like the man on the moon sometimes in such a strange setting. I hope to see more community involvement because that was the secret to our success over the years, particularly when we became an officially recognized “All America City” under the mayorship of Julio Robaina.”

Chairman of the Board, Mr. Ward has been married to wife Margaret for 51 years. He has six grandchildren from daughter Suzanne and son Steve, who is currently a senior broadcasting technician at South Miami Middle School. And so the legacy continues. Mr. Ward said that the only reason he was successful as a community activist was because of the support of the community and his family.

“We won political elections because we went out and knocked door to door and got acquainted with the entire community. We became known and trusted,” Mr. Ward explained. “I love it here and I would never leave it. It is a small city inside a massive metropolis mess.”

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