MIAMI GARDENS — It felt more like a spirited family gathering than a political event.
State Sen. Frederica Wilson last weekend announced her intention to replace U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, who is looking to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by U.S. Senator Mel Martinez.
The event, held on March 14 at the North Dade home of Wilson’s longtime friend, Ernestine M. Kelly, began with an opening prayer by Bishop Victor T. Curry, who introduced Wilson’s family, friends and former colleagues as they announced their support for the former elementary school principal easily recognizable by her trademark hat collection.
Prior to the event which drew about 60 people, Wilson told the South Florida Times that she hopes to continue her winning streak of succeeding Meek, whom she replaced in both the Florida House and Senate when he left those positions to seek others. Wilson is scheduled to leave her current position in 2012 due to term limits.
She has entered a race that is becoming increasingly crowded with familiar names. Although State Rep. James Bush, former State Rep. Phillip Brutus, Miami Gardens Councilman Andre
Williams and Haitian activist Marleine Bastien have announced plans to run, only Wilson and State Rep. Yolly Roberson have officially declared their candidacies. Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson has reportedly also thrown her hat into the ring.
Gibson’s pending announcement places at least two of Wilson’s supporters into uneasy positions, though they are both adamant about their support of the senator.
Curry, who is also the president of the Miami-Dade NAACP, and education activist Tangie Sears said they admire Gibson, and that they are clearly impressed with all that she has accomplished as the leader of the largest predominantly black city in the state. But they also said their support of Wilson is unwavering.
“My cousin could get in the race, and I would just have to tell my cousin I’ll catch you next time,” Curry said to laughter as he explained his support of Wilson.
Curry, who is also the senior pastor of New Birth Baptist Church in Opa-locka, has led a staunch fight against Florida’s controversial standardized test, the FCAT, with Wilson.
Gibson could not be reached for comment.
Educational reform is Wilson’s passion. If elected, she said one of her first priorities would be requesting that she be appointed to the education committee, especially since no Florida congressperson currently serves in that capacity.
“My goal would be education, education, education,” Wilson said.
Kelly, who met her husband John at Skyway Elementary – the school at which Wilson once served as principal – said opening her home for her friend’s announcement was a no-brainer.
“I have known Frederica since 1971. We have been neighbors until recently all of this time. I have watched her children be born and she has watched mine be born,” said the part-time
Miami-Dade resident who has homes in South Florida and Atlanta.
Wilson’s penchant for stylish hats came in handy during her early political career. When she was scheduled to attend two events at the same time, Wilson dispatched close friend Emma Curry to fill in for her.
“Emma, take this hat and go speak for me,” Emma Curry told the audience.
Wilson’s supporters came from all parts of Miami-Dade to celebrate her announcement. Village of Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner traveled from the southern part of the county to support her former state legislative colleague.
Miami-Dade School Board members Wilbert “Tee” Holloway and Marta Perez also voiced their support of Wilson; as did B.J. Chiszar, 29, chairman of the Democratic Party of Miami-Dade.
“I’m here today as an individual and the youngest chairman in the United States…to say that I support Sen. Frederica Wilson,” Chiszar said.
Sears said she supports Wilson because of their long friendship and, also, “because of the experience she has in terms of legislation, she would be a great help to Obama’s strategy.”
When asked how difficult she thought Wilson’s chances might be in the crowded race, Sears said, “The people within the congressional district are familiar with Frederica and what she’s done for them.”
Curry, donning a 5000 Role Models signature red tie provided to him when he arrived (Wilson is the creator of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence program that pairs black youth with professional mentors), said he supports Wilson’s candidacy, and – because he lives in congressional district 17 – he also plans to vote for her.
“She is the personification of a public servant,” he said, adding that this differs greatly from a politician.
“A politician normally shifts with the wind,” bending to the will of focus groups, he explained. “If you are a public servant and your heart is to serve people – it may not be popular sometimes, you may not have the focus groups, but in your heart you know it’s the right thing to do because you’re there to serve, not your…self, but the people.”
Photo by Khary Bruyning. State Sen. Frederica Wilson