PAHOKEE – When Colin O. Walkes was a child, his parents immigrated from Barbados and worked in the fields, raising three sons and a daughter. They stressed education to their children and all graduated from college.
On Saturday, Walkes was feted at an elegant ball celebrating his election as the second black mayor of this small city on the southeastern edge of Lake Okeechobee.
Walkes campaigned as an independent against four candidates, including the white incumbent, J.P. Sasser. The two faced off in a runoff election in March and Walkes won, despite Sasser’s formidable ally, U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar.
Hastings, whose district includes Pahokee, wrote a letter of support for Sasser that angered many black voters.
Walkes said he was surprised when he saw a copy of the letter. It happened when he visited Washington to meet with Hastings in a bid to gain access to aides of President Barack Obama. He wanted to discuss proposals for Pahokee. The meeting with Hastings fell through because of bad weather.
After seeing Hastings’ pro-Sasser letter, Walkes said, he did not believe it was authentic so he called the congressman and learned that he was indeed supporting Sasser.
The Rev. Patricia S. Wallace, founder and pastor of Harvest AME Church, where Walkes is a member, said she also got the Hastings letter. She too could not believe its authenticity and she faxed it, she said, to the congressman’s Fort Lauderdale office. She was told it was real.
The late Roy Singletary, a self-employed radio and television technician, served a term as the first black mayor during the 1980s.
“Roy was the first black city commissioner for about 14 to16 years before he was elected mayor,” said his widow, Elsie Singletary. “He was an activist in the community and with all the churches. He loved people – and his wife.”
Walkes was celebrated at a “Pahokee Night of Elegance” Mayoral Inauguration VIP Ball. He said “my wife encouraged me” to run for mayor.
He has been a
community activist since high school but said he never considered running for political office.
“Brother Singletary’s are the shoulders upon which you stand, Mayor Walkes,” said South Florida Times Publisher Robert Beatty.
With Walkes’ victory, the March election also saw an all-black city commission elected for the first time. Allie H. Biggs and Diane Walker – Singletary’s daughter – were re-elected to the commission. Vice Mayor Felisia Hill and Keith W. Babb Jr. were not up for re-election.
The city has some 6,500 residents, about 60 percent of whom are black.
Walkes, who works for the Family Central ChildCare Administration assigned to the Glades area, is a graduate of Alabama State College and is studying for a master’s in Public Administration.
He lamented the brain drain from areas like Pahokee and inner cities. “We must come back to our communities,” he said. “The city of Pahokee is a gift given to us . . . this community will rise up.”
He recalled Pahokee as a booming town in the 1960s and ’70s, with agriculture, factories and stores of every kind and money circulating.
He does not envision a future in which big
developers will displace the population. Rather, he would like to see implementation of Obama’s plan for bringing manufacturing back and developing green industry.
“Empty factories out here could be
restarted,” he said, and badly needed drainage infrastructure could be built to cope with flooding, especially during rainy season, which begins in June.
“Pahokee is a community that blesses the world,” he said, calling attention to the talent which the city has produced, including famed personal injury attorney Willie Gary, lawyers, doctors and educators, country singer Mel Tillis and about a dozen professional football players and other athletes.