By Lisa Dumas
Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick is not your average Democrat.
Cherfilus-McCormick is a first-generation Haitian American, and, although she’ll be running against incumbent heavyweight Alcee Hastings in Florida’s District 20 congressional primary next month, she may also become a legend in her own right.
If she wins, the 39-year-old attorney, CEO, and healthcare-reform lobbyist will become the second Haitian American to be elected to Congress.
The child of immigrants, Cherfilus-McCormick’s mother moved to the United States at age 16, putting herself through college by working as a maid at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Her father immigrated to the U.S. after completing medical school.
As a result, Cherfilus-McCormick said she’s no stranger to hard work.
“When I entered this race, I knew nothing was going to be easy,” she stated. “I knew I was going to have to win over the people with a platform that had a clear vision for the district.”
Cherfilus-McCormick’s run also comes on the heels of President Donald Trump recently decrying immigration, and labeling Haiti and African nations as “sh*thole” countries.
Consequently, Trump’s remarks have been the catalyst for Cherfilus-McCormick’s platform, which includes agenda items like economic mobility, affordable housing, universal health care, and justice and equality.
“As a first-generation Haitian American, my objective policy-wise is to ensure that immigration policies are not based on biases and discrimination,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. “We have to introduce facts, instead of assuming that immigrants, especially Haitian immigrants, are undesirable. I know firsthand that Haitian immigrants sustain our health care industry. Without the immigrant population, I don’t know where we would be as a health care provider.”
Cherfilus-McCormick earned a bachelor’s degree from Howard University, as well as an MBA from the University of Maryland, before putting herself through law school at St. Thomas University.
During her undergraduate years, she was also leader of Howard’s Haitian Student Association.
She said it seemed important to help promote awareness and visibility of Haitian history, culture and traditions in those days.
And, today, not much has changed.
That’s why it’s still important to ensure upward mobility for everyone, Cherfilus-McCormick said.
“Everyone has the right to pursue their American Dream,” she stated.
But, with everything Cherfilus-McCormick has that is working in her favor, she’s still got some heavy lifting to do, if she’s going to rack up a win over Hastings.
In 1992, Hastings became the first African-American elected to the House of Representatives in Florida since the days of Reconstruction.
And, throughout the years, he’s been the Democrats’ political darling, continually winning every election in his district handily for the past two decades, despite having a career that’s been rife with controversy.
In 1989, Hastings was impeached from public office for bribery and perjury. Then, in 2011 he was accused of sexual harassment by a former staffer.
Hastings admitted no wrongdoing in the sexual harassment lawsuit; however, Congress ultimately used $220,000 in taxpayer dollars to settle the case.
Nonetheless, Cherfilus-McCormick said, it’s her competency and qualifications that will be most important.
And, they will be the factors that determine the primary’s outcome.
“My chances of winning have always been based on my qualities as a candidate, and not based on Congressman Hastings’ misdoings,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. “I am running because my district is in need of a change. As the next Congresswoman of District 20, I plan to facilitate this change by writing bills that encourage economic mobility through cooperative agreements between rural areas and cities, where they can share their resources through commerce and cooperative partnerships… .This type of change cannot come from the incumbent because the incumbent has a history of resisting change.”
Cherfilus-McCormick may not be far off in her assessment.
Hastings has recently been one of several Democrats who’ve warned against putting too much stock into newcomers, especially after New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s upset in the state’s 14th district primary against former 10-term Congressman and head of the House Democratic Caucus Joe Crowley.
“Meteors fizz out,” Hastings told the The Hill.com. “What she will learn in this institution is that it’s glacial to begin with, and therefore no matter how far you rise, that’s just how far you will ultimately get your comeuppance.”
Still, Cherfilus-McCormick isn’t worried.
“When confronted with change that the people desired, Congressman Hastings instinctual reaction has been resistance,”Cherfilus-McCormick stated. “Now we see this creeping up with the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Instead of viewing her win as a win for the Democratic Party, and celebrating the parties ability to attract millennial women and vote them into power, he prefers to criticize her harshly.”
Currently, there’s no Republican challenger District 20, which encompasses majority African-American neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
So, whoever wins the primary will take the seat.
A write-in candidate, Jay Bonner, will also be on the ballot.
The District 20 primary will take place on Aug. 28
And, although she may not be your average Democrat, Cherfilus-McCormick said she has as good a chance as any to take the seat.
Visit www.SheilaForCongress.com for additional information regarding Cherfilus-McCormick’s campaign.