Florida Senator Mel Martinez’s decision not to run for reelection has opened the door for Rep. Kendrick Meek to seek his post next electoral campaign. After a Latino and an African-American here comes a calvacade of Haitian-Americans eager to succeed Representative Meek.
However, personal ambitions, as promising as they may seem, are not enough to insure victory. Too often, Haitians behave abroad with the same illusory expectations they would in their homeland. Their constant motto is too often, “if I want it, it has to be mine”. But, let’s look at what is the reality.
Florida’s 17th District has indeed the highest concentration of Haitian born Americans in the nation. However they are only part of this district total population and none of the actual candidates can be certain of a majority now.
No one can count on past events that favored local city council races around the Haitian enclave of Miami Gardens, the largest city in the district. This is a new challenge. We have three Haitian-American candidates who have political bases within the district who have announced their candidacy for the seat. They are: former state Rep. Phillip Brutus, state Rep. Yolly Roberson and community activist Marleine Bastien. .
Brutus, the first Haitian-American elected to the state Legislature, realizes that “it’s impossible to win the nomination unless one candidate wins the community’s full backing.” But, “This community has spoken loud and clear that we’re tired of this division and want to have one person representing the community.”
Some political observers say that Brutus’s “efforts could be complicated by one inconvenient fact: Roberson is his ex-wife, and the two have become intense political rivals. Roberson, who represents the state House seat that Meek held in the Legislature, has been able to win support from both the African-American and Haitian-American communities”.
However, this election is about much more than personal politics for the community. Local Haitian-American advocates believe “winning the seat is a critical first step toward advancing an agenda that they believe has been neglected”.
The third candidate, Marleine Bastien, is new in this political/family fray. She is known, however, as an activist in the growing Haitian community for the past 15 years. She received the WEB DuBois Award for her long time advocacy on issues concerning Haitian refugees and the rights of Haitians. She was disturbed to learn on voting day that the precincts, in violation of the law, did not have bilingual bulletins and protested consequently.
Representative Ronald Brise, a Haitian-American whose legislative district covers much of the 17th congressional district, said: “There will be a huge national push from the Haitian community seeking to support someone to make that happen … that person will have the responsibility of being the representative of the Haitian people all over the country.”
Andre Brutus claiming his personal experience declared: “When you feel it, you can articulate it better … You won’t have the same drive and passion on an issue if you haven’t experienced it.” That include, he added, “experienced clearing customs … asked for a visa or a passport, [going] through the whole trauma of dealing with relocation. You have to be in it to feel it, to understand it.” Susan McManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida explains: “This race signifies the maturation of a very important group in South Florida politics. The Haitian community first exercised their clout in local races — and they’ve become quite cohesive as a political group. So it’s natural they’re looking beyond the city council and looking to run for Congress.” May the best Haitian-American candidate succeeds.