Ex-2 Live Crew rapper runs for Miami-Dade mayor

By Jennifer Kay

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 16 2011 6:30 a.m. MDT

If voters consider Campbell's rap career at all, it should be in the context of his legal battles defending 2 Live Crew's First Amendment rights, says Gary Johnson, executive director of political research for the Transportation Workers Union Local 291.

"It goes back to the heart of the man, who fights for what he believes in, and you have the characteristics of a leader when someone will fight. Would he do that for the people of Dade County? That's why he's running for mayor, because he's willing to fight for the people," says Johnson, who also remains undecided about who will get his ballot.

Local elections such as the Miami-Dade County mayor's race often come down to name recognition, and voters may cross ethnic lines to vote for Campbell because they remember him standing up for First Amendment rights, says George Gonzalez, a political science professor at the University of Miami.

But, he asks, will that be enough to sway voters struggling with school cutbacks, joblessness and the real estate market collapse? "Here we are talking about Luther Campbell only because he was a rapper 20 years ago," Gonzalez says.

Campbell was raised in Miami's tough Liberty City, where he's a familiar face through a football program he started more than 20 years ago. He coaches at high schools struggling to meet state standards, and with the pride of a father, brags about the players who made it out of the neighborhood to attend college.

At one candidates' forum, Campbell was asked what headline about his leadership of county government would be after 18 months in office. Campbell's response: "He brought respect back to county government."

When asked how that answer would fly with people familiar with Campbell's vulgar exploits, and he said Miami-Dade residents know he has changed.

"The people here locally, they know me as a community servant. They know me as a disciplinarian, versus people outside of this community," Campbell said. "They'll tell you, 'He don't play about his community.'"

Campbell says he learned politics through the court cases his rapping seemed to inspire, though he wasn't completely unprepared. His mother named him after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and an uncle insisted he read the newspaper every day.

"You have to know the issues, the law of the land. It's a test. I understood that," Campbell says. "When you got a Senate subcommittee hearing on the lyrics, you get really lost if you're not politically savvy. So I became a political junkie of sorts."

The manager of the Little Havana restaurant comes over to test Campbell about the campaign promises listed on his flyer. He doesn't recognize the former rapper, but he's familiar with political campaigns because all politicians go out of their way to make stops on Miami's famous Calle Ocho.

"How are you going to create jobs?" the manager asks. Campbell explains that in Little Havana, he would support lengthening the annual Calle Ocho daylong carnival to a week to bring in more business.

Entertainment creates jobs, and he did it himself while building his rap empire, he says.

With a busboy mopping the floor around them, Campbell cajoles the manager, "I'm no politician, I'm like you: I'm a business owner."

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