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Ellen Christopher heard Geri speak. She was impressed. "I had never seen her at any of the other meetings. I was like, "You go, girl,'" says Christopher, who is white. As a detective in the sex crimes division of the Miami-Dade Police Department, Christopher knows all about information-gathering. She put together a three-ring binder about Potter Park and delivered it to Geri and Richard's house.
Dan Barr was impressed too. He and Bruce Megee, who are both white, had been hoping to find a candidate to unseat District 1 incumbent James Bush, an attorney who had served on the Town Council for nine years. They wanted to break up the voting bloc of Cox, Bush, and Terry Santini. "Geri seemed like a good recruit," says Barr, who is chairman of the citizens group United Neighbors of Davie. "I liked her right off the bat."
Megee says Geri understood the cost of the neglect, and she saw the problems in broad focus. "She could understand our needs, and we could understand hers," Megee comments. "She has a common-sense approach to issues. She can see to the core quickly. She just had natural ability."
Once Megee, Barr, and others persuaded Geri to run, she went full-tilt. She pored over documents to familiarize herself with the issues. Bush sent out mailings. One, which pictured Geri's visage on a milk carton, like a missing-children advertisement, asked, "Have you seen me?" On it, Megee says, Geri's face was doctored so that her nose appeared wider, more stereotypically African.
Geri went door to door. After finishing her day job in the scheduling department of Austin Tupler Trucking (where her mother still works) and on weekends, Geri talked to voters at area shopping centers. She stood on street corners holding signs and waving. She telephoned voters. Christopher, her sister Jean Mesler, and the others manned phone banks and put in ten-hour days on Saturdays and Sundays to get out Geri's name. "I've never gotten so involved in anything like that before," Christopher recalls. "It was incredible."
But early in the campaign, the group hit a wall.
One Saturday, a Clark for Council contingent descended on Oak Hill, a Davie neighborhood of tall, graceful trees, one-acre lots, horses, and spacious homes built in the 1960s. Geri brought along Richard Jr. It didn't go well. "We seemed to be getting cut off short in conversation," Megee says. "People seemed uncomfortable."
After the campaigning, several compared notes. Megee, president of the Davie firefighters union Jim Spence, and others agreed that Richard Jr.'s presence might make some people nervous. Richard sports an Afro that he picks into a giant black cloud around his head. "We didn't know how this race thing was going to play," Megee says. "But we thought maybe she shouldn't be bringing Richard around with her." Megee was nominated to discuss the issue with Geri.
After the discussion, Geri called her husband crying uncontrollably. When she got home and told Richard of the concern over their son's presence, Richard suggested she drop out of the race. "They just don't know from a person how that hurted her," he says. "I wanted her to stop so I could tell them what I think of them."
Richard asked Geri if she really wanted to serve in a city that would look down on her child? Tears turned to anger. "I said, "Hell yeah!'" she shouts, remembering the discussion. "That attitude is the reason why we're in the position we're in. That was proof there was a problem, if even the decent people who thought they were my friends thought it was a problem. That just showed me."
Comments Megee: "That's why I just admire the woman to death. She knew if she won this thing, there was the opportunity to make real changes."
On Election Day, Geri carried 62 percent of the vote in precincts throughout Davie. Both black and white residents supported her. They celebrated at the Oar House. Dozens of jubilant people showed up.
Since winning office, Geri has won council consensus for: speed bumps around Potter Park, $1.8 million to build a gym that the PAL will operate next to Potter Park, and the creation of a Community Relations Advisory Board to deal with race and other issues. Last year, Davie even adopted Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as an official holiday.
Life as a council member has put a lot of stress on Geri's family. In addition to Richard Jr., nine-year-old Lorenzo, and three-year-old Sarah, Geri and Richard in July had a fourth child, Christopher. Richard and his brother Isiah were hired as full-time program directors at the PAL last year, a job Richard says means he works seven days a week. Geri works a 40-hour week at Austin Tupler, then takes care of constituents. "They think of me as their watchdog now," she says. "They say, "Geri, you take care of it -- they won't listen to us.'"
One of her goals is to change the east side's resignation to activism. "I tell people to come down to the Town Council," she says. "In this town, the squeaky wheel gets greased."