Miami-Dade County hasn’t done it in nearly half-a-century. Broward took a decade. Palm Beach did it in one year. By sheer coincidence, the two northern counties now have their first black mayors and both are women. Both will serve one-year terms.
Following elections on Nov. 19, commissioners in Broward tapped Barbara Sharief as mayor and Priscilla Taylor’s colleagues in Palm Beach selected her to head their commission.
Miami-Dade County has had a mayor since 1964 but no blacks have ever been picked for the post. Following a switch to the executive or strong-mayor form of government in 1996, Miami-Dade commissioners selected at least three blacks to chair the commission at different times: Barbara Carey-Shuler, Dennis Moss and the late Arthur E. Teele Jr.
The difference may be due to the fact that the Miami-Dade County mayor is elected directly by voters, whereas those in Broward and Palm Beach counties are elected by fellow commissioners annually.
With African Americans in the minority, chances of being elected mayor by voters is not great. Prior to switching to the mayoral form of government, one black was picked to head the Broward County Commission: Sylvia Porter. Maude Ford Lee and Addie Greene served as commission chairwomen in Palm Beach County.
“I come to this position committed to leading this commission forward in a spirit of congeniality and cooperation,” Sharief said in her acceptance speech. “This will be an exciting year for Broward County and I will be a mayor on a mission.”
Some miles north, Taylor told her colleagues, “I hope that we will always remember what is so obvious to us all here today, that we all share a strong passion for this county and its people.”
Taylor, who was born and raised in Fort Pierce and now lives in West Palm Beach has spent several years in politics and has 25 years of experience in business and the insurance industry.
She was elected to the Florida House of Representatives from District 84 in November 2004 and was twice re-elected to the seat. She served as Democratic Whip for the 2004-06 term and was Speaker Pro Tem designee for two terms between 2008 and 2010.
Prior to being elected a state lawmaker, Taylor was twice elected to the Port of Palm Beach District Commission, serving as chairwoman in 2001 and 2003. She has an undergraduate degree from Barry University and a Master of Business Administration from Palm Beach Atlantic University.
“It’s always a good feeling when you are put in a position to serve,” Taylor told South Florida Times on Tuesday. She said her leadership background led her to believe she would be named mayor, especially since she was serving as vice-mayor already, though, she added, that didn’t mean her colleagues would automatically elevate her.
Taylor made it clear in her acceptance speech that she will continue to focus the county’s energies on business development and job growth, as well as pushing Palm Beach’s 10-year plan to end homelessness.
“I would imagine that the next year will be a busy one,” she said. “Things are beginning to change already. We are seeing more requests for permits, businesses coming to the county, hopefully investment in that which made Palm Beach County strong, such as infrastructure, our beautiful parks, agriculture and other areas of importance.”
She wants to see the county working with the Business Development Board and other economic partners to bring more businesses and jobs.
“I would like to see all residents of Palm Beach County have an opportunity to work and better themselves.” Taylor said. “To do this we must insist on local hire when at all possible, and erase any sign of disparate treatment of any group.”
Sharief, who grew up in Miami and now lives in Miramar, attended North Miami High School and Miami Dade College and graduated also from the Jackson Memorial Hospital School Nursing. She obtained a bachelor’s degree and a Master of Science in Nursing and an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner degree from Florida International University. She is one of the youngest people to pass the RN board exam in the state.
Sharief grew up in a Muslim home and is proud of her religious roots. Her father, James Muhammad Sharief, who was prominent in the Miami Muslim community, was fatally shot by a teenage robber.
His death left his widow, Bobbie Muhammad Sharief, to care for their eight children, of whom Sharief was the fourth. She told South Florida Times Wednesday that times were tough after that.
“I came from a very desperate time in my life and through the foundation which my parents gave me and my faith I have been able to make something of my life,” she said.
That achievement included not only being elected to the Miramar City Commission and the Broward County Commission but also the launching of the Pembroke Pines-based South Florida Pediatric Homecare Inc. Sharief started the healthcare business with her mother and 30 employees and has grown it in 12 years to [providing 600 workers, with annual revenues of $6 million.
She sees herself as a role model for other black women and black girls.
“Before I was elected mayor, I wasn’t thinking about it this way but when it happened I felt glad because I can be a role model for other African-American women and black girls,” Sharief said.
She says she has inherited from her father the desire to give back to the community and being in politics is one way of doing so. “My father started a food program and he always told me that when I get to a certain point, I should start to give back,” she said.