In his two-day visit to Florida this week, President Barack Obama left behind $1.5 million to buoy Democratic congressional races and $200 million in federal stimulus money to boost the state’s energy capabilities.
“The president showed a real commitment to Florida for only having had nine months in office,” said Adam Sharon, a spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami.
Obama did a whirlwind sweep of the state, stopping first in Jacksonville on Monday, where he visited the city’s Naval base and spoke to 3,500 servicemen and women. Later that afternoon, he arrived in Miami Beach, where he immediately attended a fundraiser at which supporters paid $500 to have dinner with the president.
Meek, the Democratic frontrunner for a U.S. Senate seat, is pleased with president’s fundraising abilities, Sharon said.
The fundraiser, he said, “shows a high level of enthusiasm in Florida for electing Democrats to Congress that will benefit Meek's run for the U.S. Senate.”
Meek was among a small contingent of South Florida leaders who met the president when he arrived aboard Air Force One. The welcoming crew also included Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the leading Democratic candidate to replace Charlie Crist as governor; state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, a candidate for attorney general; U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who introduced the president at the fundraiser; U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.
In his blog, the mayor commented on the president’s stimulus package, which will help modernize the state’s power system: "This program [Energy Smart Miami] is helping to support the integration of renewable energy into our electrical grid, helping us all make more informed choices about our energy use and move our city and state into the 21st century.’’
The president formally announced the stimulus package Tuesday, Oct. 27 during his visit to Arcadia, the last leg of his Florida visit. He also toured a new FPL solar facility there before returning to the White House.
Although the president brought good news to Florida, not every one here welcomed his visit. About 100 people – many of them protestors – assembled outside the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, where the president spoke at the Tuesday evening fundraiser.
"Obama Sucks," read a sign held by a man on the corner of Collins Avenue.
Jose Llerena, 41, a Miami lawyer, was among the largely Cuban, anti-Obama crowd.
“He is one of the most divisive presidents we've had,” Llerena said. “I want this president to know that we don't like him. He doesn't believe in us. I hope he realizes that the Democratic Party is going to have a significant loss in 2010."
Marta Juan, 62, of Miami, had tied an American flag around her jeans. Her sign read: “Obama, Cuban Americans can recognize a Socialist Agenda.”
“We want him to stop the health care plan and stop the communist agenda,” Juan said.
Members of the Haitian-American community also wanted to send a message to Obama. They came out to urge the president to take a stand on granting Temporary Protected Status to Haitian Americans.
“After 10 months in office, the Obama administration has not responded to several appeals from Haitian advocates nationwide regarding granting of
Temporary Protected Status designation to approximately 30,000 Haitian Nationals,” said Jean-Robert Lafortune, chairman of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition.
“Haitian-Americans from South Florida met on three occasions with administration officials in order to advocate for TPS,” Lafortune added. “We told the administration that undocumented Haitians cannot continue to live on hope alone.”
The TPS provision grants temporary immigration status to foreign nationals who live in the United States but whose countries are recognized by the U.S. as being temporarily unsafe.
Susana Barciela, policy director at the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, also voiced her concern about the president’s inaction on TPS.
"We had high hopes that the Obama administration would grant TPS soon after coming into office,” Barciela said. “We've been disappointed. There are simple remedies that would offer Haitians work permits and allow them to send the remittances that Haiti desperately needs. That's the least that this administration should do."
Lafortune said the organization’s latest protest efforts did not fall on deaf ears with the administration. The day after the president left, he received a call from an administration official.
“We let them know that the TPS campaign will continue ‘til we get results,” he said.
“We are not asking the administration for preferential or special treatment. We are asking for the same benefits that citizens from Sierra Leone, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador have received.”
Photo by Carol Porter. President Barack Obama