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.
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.
“Haitians being elected to office doesn’t necessarily bring Haitian-affililated policies,” added Foreman, who mentioned immigration issues specifically.
Gepsie Metellus, who serves as executive director of Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in North Miami, an organization she co-founded, knows first-hand the issues that Haitian-Americans and others in her county face. Sant La, a nonprofit, provides employment, immigration and other assistance to the Haitian community.
Metellus said her decision to run for Miami-Dade county commission comes on the heels of much soul-searching and conversations with community members. She has indicated that her experiences serving community members have put her at the forefront of the challenges they face.
“We have reached crisis proportions in terms of the lack of affordable housing, whether as rental units or homeownership opportunities. We know that wages are very low here given our service economy, and in this kind of economy, the wages cannot sustain the lowest available property, rental property, never mind homeownership. So we know that we’ve got a challenge to address here,” Metellus said.
Addressing the number of Haitian candidates running in Florida, Metellus said the development is good for the diaspora at large. Their formation of cross-cultural alliances also speaks to the integration of Haitians into American society.
“These candidates have forged alliances across their communities, such that they can’t just rely on the Haitian-American vote, they have to appeal to other constituencies, as well. So that is what speaks to our integration,” she said.
See the full slate of Haitian-American candidates running in the Aug. 18 primary, below. Voters in Florida, a hotspot for the coronavirus, can cast ballots in-person or request a vote-by-mail ballot by Aug. 8.
All of the below candidates in partisan races are running as Democrats, unless otherwise noted:
Name: Sheila Cherfilus McCormick
Office Sought: Representative, Florida’s 20th Congressional District
Name: Vic DeGrammont
Office Sought: Representative, Florida’s 20th Congressional District (Republican primary)
Name: Jesse Philippe
Office Sought: Representative, Florida’s 15th Congressional District
Name: Dotie Joseph
Office Sought: Florida House, District 108
Name: Al Jacquet
Office Sought: Florida House, District 88
Name: Daphne Campbell
Office Sought: Florida Senate, District 35
Name: Marie Woodson
Office Sought: Florida House, District 101
Name: Jessica Laguerre Hylton
Office Sought: Florida House, District 117
Name: Georges Bossous
Office Sought: Florida House, District 108
Name: Judge Phoebee R. Francois
Office Sought: Broward County Court Judge, Group 27
Name: Gepsie Metellus
Office Sought: Miami-Dade County Commission, District 3
Name: Ludmilla Domond
Office Sought: Mayor, Miami-Dade County
Name: Stephanie Thomas
Office Sought: City of Miami Commission District 5
Name: Nadia Assad
Office Sought: Lauderhill City Commission, Seat 3
Name: Linda Julien
Office Sought: Miami Gardens City Council, Seat 5
Name: Nancy Metayer
Office Sought: Coral Springs Commissioner, Seat 3
Name: Ketley Joachim
Office Sought: North Miami Beach Commissioner
Name: Narnike Grant
Office Sought: Broward County School Board, Seat 9
Name: Dr. Marie Flore Lindor-Latortue
Office Sought: Miami-Dade School Board District 7
Name: Dr. Cassandra Arnold
Office Sought: Democratic Party Precinct Committeewoman