Florida

Score of Haitian candidates seek office in Florida

By Sam Bojarski

At least 20 Haitian-American candidates will run in Florida’s primary election, scheduled for Aug. 18. Candidates have advocated for criminal justice reform, affordable housing and health care access, to federal issues like Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which apply more exclusively to Haitians. 

Sheila Cherfilus McCormick, who is running to represent Florida’s 20th District in the U.S. House, identified Temporary Protective Status, or TPS, as well as ongoing deportations and loss of health care coverage amid the coronavirus pandemic, as the most important issues impacting Haitians at the federal level. 

“I think that we need to have a clear pathway, especially for those who were affected by the earthquake, for citizenship,” McCormick said, referencing the long history of Haitians and Americans helping each other in times of need. 

McCormick joins two other candidates, Jesse Philippe and Vic DeGrammont, in a bid to become the first Haitian-American to represent Florida in the U.S. Congress. At the state level, six Haitian candidates – including two incumbents – will run for seats in the Florida legislature. Other candidates, largely in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, are running for elected posts in local government, school boards, judicial offices and party precinct committees.

Campaign signs from several Florida candidates. Image by Leonardo March.

While official numbers are likely an underestimate, census data suggests that more than 420,000 Haitians live in Florida, with Miami-Dade and Broward counties having the highest numbers. 

“I absolutely believe that Haitians are underrepresented at the state level right now. In all of Miami-Dade County, it’s baffling to me that we only have one state representative, and that Broward County, which is so full of Haitians, has zero,” said Dotie Joseph, who represents Florida’s District 108 in Miami-Dade County and is running for reelection. 

Joseph is joined in her bid for reelection by another incumbent, Al Jacquet, who represents District 88, in Palm Beach County. Jacquet was elected in 2016. He has sponsored bills urging the president to extend TPS status for Haitians, a bill to restore voting rights for felons and numerous other pieces of legislation. Proposals sponsored by Joseph include paid family leave for Floridians, as well as efforts to eliminate the potential for racial bias when charging defendants. 

“South Florida’s Haitian community is growing in leaps and bounds; however, there is no Broward County representation in Tallahassee. It is time to elect someone who understands the needs of such a diverse community as District 101, someone who will represent everyone and not the interests of some,” said Marie Woodson, who is running to represent District 101 in the Florida House. 

A longtime resident of Broward, Woodson has decades of experience in government, recently serving as assistant department director of human services for Miami-Dade County.  

Haitians undoubtedly have a visible and active role in South Florida politics. Cities like North Miami have a mayor and council members of Haitian descent. Miami-Dade Commissioner Jean Monestime previously chaired the county commission, and in 2016, Daphne Campbell became the first Haitian-American elected to the state senate. 

Campbell, who does not currently hold office, is running to represent Senate District 35 this year. She decided to run “to continue to be the voice of the voiceless, to continue to represent our Black communities who had been neglected, to continue to bring back money from Tallahassee to District 35 and be the true champion for the constituents,” Campbell said. 

“Each cycle we get a couple more Haitian Americans running for various seats, but … they’re usually concentrated in the same districts, and so you’re not seeing an increase in the number of elected officials but a replacement of one or two seats,” said Dr. Sean Foreman, chair of the history and political science department at Barry University, in Miami Shores. 

Much of the representation remains at the local level, where politicians naturally focus on issues like economic development and funding for education, that impact their broader constituencies. 

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Sam Bojarski

Sam Bojarski

Sam Bojarski has been covering Haiti and its diaspora for The Haitian Times since 2018. He is currently covering New York's Haitian community as a Report for America corps member.
Sam Bojarski
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Jul. 26, 2020