al-sharpton_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

The Rev. Al Sharpton, CEO of the New York-based National Action Network, has joined the growing chorus of black leaders calling on voters to turn out on Nov. 2 to cast their ballot.
“For you to sit here and not vote when they're trying to roll back the clock from a centralized government back to state's rights is an abomination to our forefathers who gave us the right to vote,” Sharpton said in a keynote address at a Miami-Dade NAACP candidates forum at New Birth Baptist Church Cathedral of Faith in Opa-locka.

Sharpton underlined his call by visiting a handful of early voting locations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. African-Americans voter turnout was high in the 2008 presidential election but Sharpton was concerned about a possible drop-off in the fall mid-term balloting.

He felt proud, he said, to hear candidates talk about local issues but was sad about a lack of motivation to vote during elections.

“The sadness I feel is that we are at the most opportune time in history and someone still has to beg us to come out to vote,” he said.

He added that African-Americans should always keep fighting regardless of who is in power.

“Can you imagine if you ask your great grandparents and they told you that they didn’t fight for freedom ‘cause they didn’t like who was in charge of the fight?” he added.

Cindy Richard, a member of the Florida African-American and Caribbean Empowerment Alliance, said that the forum motivated her to vote. While she had an idea of who would get her vote, the forum and Sharpton’s words shaped her decision.

Bernice Belcher-Miller, a retiree from North Miami, said what she liked most about Sharpton’s speech was the reminder that the struggle continued and people must not give up.

“This was a speech that makes you think and makes you vote,” she said.

Candidates speaking at the forum included Jennifer Carroll, Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, Miami-Dade County District 2 incumbent commissioner Dorrin Rolle and challenger Jean Monestime.

Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall and Ronda Vangates, candidates for the District 2 seat on the Miami-Dade County School Board, also spoke.

Carroll, only the second black woman to be nominated for lieutenant governor, found her conservative views did not sit well with the audience.

Asked about unemployment, Carroll said that Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott would bring jobs to Floridians in the same way he has created employment in the country  when he ran Columbia/HCA health care company.

Carroll had to explain at the forum questions of Medicare fraud  that involved the company which paid a record $1.7 billion in fines. Carroll denied Scott was involved in any fraud and noted he was never charged.

“If there were any issues with Scott, he will not be running for office,” she said.

Carroll also presented her views on the health care reform and the Arizona law on illegal immigration. She said that she disagreed with the health car reform law because now the government controlled citizens’ health insurance.

“I don’t want the government to tell me to purchase something I don’t want to purchase,” she said, referring to a provision in the new law requiring Americans to take out health insurance.

Regarding the Arizona law on illegal immigration, Carroll said anyone who comes to this country needs to be legal in order to work. However, she said, she won’t support racial profiling.

Bendross-Mindingall and Vangates stirred a lot of interest when they explained their position on education in Miami-Dade County. Both candidates support year round-school and charter schools on the grounds that they make students learn more and improve their academics. Vangates said charter schools must not discriminate against black students.

“We need to make sure that charter schools don’t create two educations, one for blacks and one for whites,” she said.

Asked about how to improve the educational level of students, Bendross-Mindingall said it is necessary to create more pre-kindergarten centers and increase parental involvement. She also said it is important for children to attend school at a young age.

According to Vangates, the problem with education is that parents and counselors don’t motivate children to study hard and succeed. “Our kids need to know they have an obligation to succeed,” she said.

Rolle and Monestime explained their positions on the county. Rolle pointed to new buildings and investments in District 2 but Monestime said the district still looks deteriorated and there is little sign of change.

“The commissioner is either in denial or he doesn’t live here,” Monestime said.

Rolle responded that since he was elected, the sewage system and infrastructure have been notably improved, boosting the quality of life for residents.

Photo: Al Sharpton