Special to South Florida Times
Throwing a reported $73 million of his personal fortune into his campaign, and taking the near unprecedented step of choosing a black female running mate, Republican Rick Scott took a gamble and it paid off Tuesday when he edged out Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink by a razor thin margin to keep the governor’s mansion in the hands of the GOP.
Refusing to concede late Tuesday night, Sink finally gave up hopes of a victory when it became apparent Wednesday that she did not have enough votes to win.
Scott won by just under 70,000 votes of the 5.3 million cast, garnering 49 percent of the votes to 48 percent for Sink and running mate Rod Smith.
“As of today, I work for every Floridian. Today is the end of ‘politics as usual’ in the state of Florida,” Scott said Wednesday during a victory rally at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina Hotel. “Thanks for saying that Jennifer and I were the best qualified to serve you,” he said, referring to his running mate Jennifer Carroll.
Carroll has made history by becoming the first African-American lieutenant governor in the state. A native of Trinidad and Tobago, she came to this country at age 8 and, today, the retired U.S. Navy officer and former state representative sums up her life this way: “I am living the American dream.”
Three other blacks have run for lieutenant governor: Republican David Montgomery in 1876 and Democratic state Rep. Mary Singleton in 1978. Former Democratic state Sen. Darryl Jones ran in 2006 after losing a bid to become the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2002.
Flanked by her husband Nolan and their three children, including rookie Miami Dolphins player Nolan II, Carroll was all smiles on election night and the following day as she and Scott raised their hands in victory.
“It’s been an amazing year,” Carroll has said of her selection as Scott’s running mate and with her son making the Dolphins team. “For us to do the things we’re doing, we have to thank God for that,” Nolan II told a sports reporter.
Carroll’s family members in Liberty City were just as ecstatic when the final results came in around 11 a.m. Wednesday, about the time Sink conceded the race.
“I’m just glad she finally conceded, because it could’ve been drawn out,” said Judy Nelson, 66, of North Miami, aunt of Carroll’s husband. Nelson was referring to the possibility of Sink’s calling for a recount after it was impossible to declare a clear-cut winner as the votes were counted into the wee hours of Tuesday night.
Nelson is the sister of Nolan Carroll’s late father, Charles Whitfield Carroll. Another of their brothers, Earl Jackson Carroll, made history himself by becoming Miami-Dade County’s first black county commissioner in 1968. The family grew up in Liberty City and Earl Carroll, who is in declining health, still resides in Miami.
Steven Carroll, 52, of Liberty City, Earl Carroll’s son, said Miami, and the state as a whole will benefit from his cousin’s being in high office. He believes many black Democrats crossed party lines to vote for her.
“Many have expressed that to me,” said Steven Carroll. “Once they got to know her, they wanted to give Rick Scott and Jennifer a chance.”
During the campaign, Carroll was a guest on the radio show of popular minister and Miami-Dade NAACP president Bishop Victor Curry. She also took part in an NAACP candidates forum in October in Little Haiti.
Steven Carroll believes her eagerness to come into the black community, despite being a Republican, made a difference with African American voters, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic. It was not immediately known how many Democrats – and how many African Americans voted for the Scott/Carroll ticket.
Scott, a former CEO of Columbia/HCA, is bringing to the governorship his business sense and a willingness to give back and Carroll brings legislative experience, Steven Carroll said. Together, they will change Florida for all people. “Together, they make a great team,” he said.
Riviera Beach Councilwoman, Billie Brooks, an African American and a long-time Republican, is expecting and hoping for a difference, too, now that a high-profile black Republican is in statewide office. Her city is predominantly black and Brooks is hoping her constituents will benefit from having Scott and Carroll in office.
Brooks believes Scott made a bold statement by selecting Carroll for his ticket and she is now hoping that Carroll will be visible and accessible to elected officials, like herself, who represent large minority constituencies.
During the campaign, when asked about her commitment to the black community, Carroll said she will represent all the people of Florida, regardless of race, creed or color. Her record of supporting the African-American community, she said, speaks for itself. She produced a lengthy list of bills and legislation which she sponsored, enacted or voted for, in support of black business, enterprises and causes. She was expecting that her track record would resonate with people who usually don’t vote Republican. At the time, she said in an interview, she wanted those constituents to have a comfort level with her, to say, “This girl has been there, she’s done that, she’s been with us and she’s all about results and solutions that will positively impact our area. And if she did that when she wasn’t running for lieutenant governor, then she’ll do even more when she becomes lieutenant governor.”
Floridians will get a chance to see how well she lives up to that promise when she and Scott are sworn into office in January.