A conservative sweep of national and local elections has kept black Miami Democrat Congressman Kendrick Meek from rising to the U.S. Senate but it propelled Jennifer Carroll, a black Republican state legislator, to the office of lieutenant governor, Florida’s second highest political office.
GOP victors in Tuesday’s midterm election also include Allen West, a black Republican from Broward, who heads to the U.S. House of Representatives as a first-time political office holder. Joining him in the newly Republican-controlled House will be Frederica Wilson, a black Democratic state senator from Miami who survived a crowded primary election in August before staving off Tuesday’s challenge from Roderick Vereen, a black lawyer with no political affiliation.
And long-serving Congressman Alcee Hastings returns to his congressional seat after winning against opponent Bernard Sansaricq, a Haitian American who held office in Haiti before coming to South Florida, where he has a career in residential real estate. He also ran without party affiliation.
Other African Americans won elections in statewide and local contests. State Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Richmond Heights, was re-elected to a second two-year term, along with two other black Democratic representatives, Mack Bernard of Palm Beach and Dwayne Taylor of Daytona.
Former Miramar Vice Mayor Barbara Sharief and former Lauderhill Vice Mayor Dale Holness were elected to the Broward County Commission. And Jean Monestime beat longtime Miami-Dade Commissioner Dorrin D. Rolle for a seat on the Miami-Dade Commission. Monestime is the first Haitian American to be elected to that body.
Despite those successes, black Democrats say the midterm elections were disappointing, given the Republican takeover of the U.S. House and the widening advantage the GOP has on the state level. Many point to Meek’s loss, whether he was favored to win or not, as an example of ugly political maneuvering. Some say he was targeted by the conservatives, the Independents and even by members of his own party.
Meek, the first candidate to enter the Senate race, found himself at the end of his long journey making a concession speech Tuesday night.
“From the moment we began this journey in January before President Obama's inauguration through this evening, we have prided ourselves on our hard work and steadfast dedication to the people of our state,” Meek told to his supporters at the Rusty Pelican restaurant off Key Biscayne.
By the end of his campaign, Meek was fielding questions and speculation that he should bail out of the race to give Independent candidate Charlie Crist, a better chance to upset Republican candidate Marco Rubio. The “anybody but Rubio” strategy suggested that Democrats switch their votes to Crist.
Hastings, the keynote speaker at a recent Miami-Dade NAACP banquet, said he had heard some people say that “a vote for Kendrick was a wasted vote.” He did not agree with them.
“It’s important that we fight,” said Hastings, who became the first African-American federal judge in the state before being impreached and removed from the bench, only to become one of the first African Americans from Florida elected to Congress since the post-Civil War period.
Although Meek won the Democratic primary in August, he placed third with 20 percent of the vote in the general election, with Crist second, 29 percent and Rubio the winner, 48 percent.
State Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-District 39, called Meek courageous.
“He did not waiver,” Bullard said at a Tuesday evening victory party in West Kendall for her son, Dwight Bullard. “With some of the pressures I’m sure Meek was facing, he could have dropped out. But he didn’t. He would not let anyone talk him out of the commitment he made to the people and the
party that he served.”
Donald Jones, a law school professor at the University of Miami, said other reasons contributed to Meek’s loss.
“The reason that Kendrick could not win is because he fell for the trap that Rubio set. He associated himself with [President Barack] Obama and [former President Bill] Clinton,” Jones said. “It is as if Rubio created a profile that said a Washington insider is someone who has lost touch with working people.
And Kendrick created a campaign surrounded around that.”
Curiously, Jones continued, “Rubio is an insider and an incumbent, a speaker of the Florida house. At a time when the electorate is saying we should throw out the incumbents, he should not have had a chance. Rubio dressed himself up as an outsider, sold himself to the tea party and rode that wave of anger to victory.”
Carroll, an NAACP member who also attended the Oct. 30 Miami-Dade NAACP candidates forum at New Birth Enterprise in Little Haiti, commented on reports Clinton had tried to persuade Meek to drop out and that the Democratic leadership had been lukewarm to his candidacy.
Carroll said Meek should remain in the race and she chided Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink for not showing enough support. “Instead, she was praising Crist on her Facebook page. She didn’t speak up for Meek,” Carroll said.
Sink, who also attended the NAACP forum, along with scores of other candidates, said Meek definitely should remain in the race. Carroll then responded to another concern that surfaced on the campaign trail: Would the addition of Carroll to the gubernatorial ticket give black Caribbean Democrats a reason to vote for a Republican lieutenant governor who was born in Trinidad and Tobago?
“I hope they do,” said Caroll, who was the first African-American female Republican in the Legislature. “No reason to put all of your eggs in one basket.”
Sink said she had not seen an exodus of Caribbean voters going to the GOP. “I have spent a lot of time with the Caribbean community,” Sink said. “They are sticking with me.”
The governor’s race, which was not decided until Wednesday afternoon, was one of the closest in state history, Sink said in an e-mail to her supporters. Scott won with 49 percent of the votes. Sink received 48 percent.
“When I called Rick Scott to congratulate him,” she said in her email, “I told him that, especially after such a close election, he will need to work hard to bring our state together. That means being a governor for every Floridian , including the two-and-a-half million Floridians who didn’t vote for him.”
Many Democrats are debating why the midterm elections were so disappointing.
One of the reasons is low voter turnout. Early estimates show that only 5 percent of blacks voted in Tuesday’s elections, compared with an overall turnout of about 50 percent. With Obama on the ticket in the 2008 presidential election, 60 percent of black eligible voters went to the polls.
“The Democratic Party was not out there supporting Democratic candidates as they have in the past,” said Larcenia Bullard. “And the African-American community also needed to do more, not just voting, she said, but contributing financially.”
“To have a mass media presence, you need financial support,” she said. Jones, the law professor, agreed.
“They handpicked Meek and asked him to sacrifice years of his life to this campaign but later did not fund him,” he said.
The midterm election, said Dwight Bullard, “is a reflection of how the national dialogue has had an adverse effect on the state of Florida, considering that the Republican party has been steering the state economy as the national economy has been falling.”
Dwight Bullard holds the House seat first occupied by his mother, then by his father, Ed Bullard.
“It will be really tough to get anything done now,” said Ed Bullard. “We lost five Democratic seats in the House during this election.”
Others say the future will be difficult, for Democrats not only statewide but nationwide.
“We are in for gridlock,” said Jones who himself ran unsuccessfully against Kendrick Meek’s mother, retired U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek, for Congress 10 years ago. “The Republicans have been the party of ‘no.’ Now it will get worse. They don’t want to communicate; they simply want to throw people out.”
Alan Luby/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES
Savoring the moment: Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott, left, and his running mate Florida Rep. Jennifer Carroll, R-Jacksonville, wave to supporters in Fort Lauderdale.