It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light

Mwen se echantiyon yon ras kap boujonnen men ki poko donnen

Si vous voulez vous faire des ennemis essayer de changer les choses

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

FLORIDA CONGRESSIONAL RACE: A historic opportunity to elect the first Haitian-American to Congress …but will too many candidates blow the opportunity?

by Stanley Lucas  

September 23, 2009 

With the retirement of Rep. Kendrick Meeks in southern Florida, there is a historic and very real opportunity to elect the first Haitian-American to the U.S. Congress in 2010.   However, with a too crowded field of candidates, divisions and personal ambitions threaten to get in our way and prevent us from galvanizing our community.  In order to succeed, we absolutely must consolidate our resources and focus our energy behind one candidate.   

Unfortunately, four Haitian-Americans have put their hats in the ring.  Obviously, this not only divides precious – and scarce – financial resources, but it also divides and dilutes the Haitian vote.  We cannot afford any division because there are several tremendously strong African-American candidates and talk of Hispanic candidates entering the race as well. 

We have a real opportunity here, but we must make a real choice.  If we work together to identify and support a strong Haitian-American candidate, we have an excellent and real opportunity to succeed.  This Congressional district is about 39% foreign born.  Almost 60% African-American (30% actually are Haitian and another 25% are from other Caribbean nations), 22% Hispanic, 17% Caucasian, and the rest is classified as other. The district has the largest concentration of Haitian-Americans in the United States.  

Winning a congressional seat would be tremendously impactful for our community as we face significant policy issues such as TPS and immigration.  There are approximately 2 million Haitians living the United States concentrated in Florida, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Boston, Maryland, and Michigan.  Haitian-Americans hold local offices around the United States in Illinois, Florida, Boston, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey.  In fact, Raoul Kwame, a Haitian-American, took Obama’s State Senate seat in Illinois after Obama was elected to the Senate.   This would, however, be the first time a Haitian-American would be elected to national office. 


Rep. Phillip J. Brutus

Attorney practicing for 24 years; First Haitian-American elected to the Florida Legislature; Webpage community service; Associate General Counsel to the NAACP; Legal Adviser, Caribbean-American Democratic Club; Legal adviser, Conference of Minority Transit Officials; Vice-Chair of Banking and Finance and Claims Committees during legislative service; initiated the Phillip Brutus Diversity award in 2001 to chronicle the historic election.  Accomplishments include: raised $2.3 million for clinic in Little Haiti in 2001; sponsored a bill allowing aliens with cases pending before immigration courts to keep their driver's licenses until their cases are resolved; introduced legislation banning nepotism on the school board; sponsored a bill mandating fingerprints for all teachers; had several Miami streets named after Haitian independence heroes; and spent three weeks in Guantanamo in 1992 to assist Haitians with their asylum claims. Ex-spouse of Yolly Roberson. 

Rep. Yolly Roberson

Attorney since 1991; Nurse since 1989l Elected to the Florida legislature in 2002; Term limit ends in 2010; Served on several committees while in office, mostly related to health; Member of Haitian Nurses Association; Ex-spouse of Phillip J. Brutus; Replaced Senator Frederica Wilson in State District 104 -- Senator Wilson is also running for District 17; District 104 is 90% African-American.  

Mareleine Bastien

Social worker; Never held public office before; Runs the Haitian Women of Miami organization; Very active in refugee issues; Does not speak fluent English. 

Rudolph Moise

Holds an MBA and law degree, but practices medicine; Has contributed monetarily to Haitian causes and community causes; Never held public office; Used to run radio carnivale before it went bankrupt.  


Senator Frederica Wilson

Served on School Board and State House before being elected to Senate in 2002; Terms ends in 2012; Has raised the most money thus far among all the candidates; Former school principal, strong on education issues, but weak on others;  Runs 5000 role models of excellence that awards scholarships to young people every year; Has acute health issues. 

Mayor Shirley Gibson

She literally created the City of Miami Gardens; Prior to being elected mayor she was a Police Officer; She also served on Community Council 3 in the mid-90's; Very strong in debates and well versed on the issues. 

Rep. James Bush

Previously served in the House of Representatives; After a few years hiatus, he was re-elected to his seat; A minister with strong support from the churches; A strong debator who enjoys a positive reputation from his previous service. 


Clearly all the candidates bring strong credentials to the table.  It will be critical though to identify a candidate that can connect with all constituents in the district, including the Haitian-Americans.  Their agendas and platforms must be responsive to issues facing the majority of the voters.  Obviously, Haitian-Americans will make up the bulk of their support and fundraising efforts.  One possible solution could be to have a several Haitian-American groups join together to hold a debate among the candidates to assess their positions and ultimate electability.   Perhaps this could culminate in an unofficial on-site poll that could give the candidates an immediate indication of their level of support among their targeted constituency.  Hopefully this would also indicate which candidate the Haitian-American organizations would support.   

This is one potential path to choose the best Haitian-American candidate.  There are no doubt other creative thoughts as well that we should all entertain.  What is certain though is that going forward with four Haitian-American candidates is a recipe for a missed opportunity.