Miami Latinos Have Avoided Electing African American County Mayors, But That Could Finally Change

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Early last week, Luther Campbell used his Miami New Times column to boldly declare that Latino, especially Cuban, voters will “never elect a Black Miami-Dade County mayor.” Campbell – affectionately known as Uncle Luke of Miami bass pioneers 2LiveCrew – is no stranger to stirring the pot in his native Miami, particularly with his criticism of Miami politics and its negligence of Black communities. On January 16, Luke hosted a community meeting in Liberty City with city officials to present his five-point plan to solve the problem of gun violence in Miami’s Black neighborhoods, but two very important men were missing: Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and county police director, Juan Perez.

This failed effort prompted Luke to write of the frustrations that seemingly continue to happen in Miami-Dade, year after year, election after election. Luke wrote, “The black vote can push a candidate over the top in a countywide election, [but] we somehow always select the best Cuban candidate. And once the Cuban candidate wins, he tosses the African-American community into the garbage… While African-Americans always give Cuban candidates the benefit of the doubt, Latino voters never do the same for black candidates for county mayor.”

Luke previously endorsed the county mayor, writing that fighting youth gun violence was Gimenez’s “number one priority,” but his absence now is sending a different message to the people he vowed to serve. In fact, there is a history of repeated contention between Miami’s Cuban Latino and Black communities and their politics.

In 1983, Puerto Rican Miami Mayor Maurice Ferrer won his sixth consecutive two-year term against Cuban-born Xavier Suarez after a campaign that began to uncover the growing tensions between Miami’s Cuban majority and the Black minority. Many Black voters campaigned for Ferrer, resentful of the “Cuban takeover” of the city. Suarez’s supporters, in turn, were found holding signs that simply urged, “Cubans, vote Cuban.” As Luke wrote, only one Black county mayoral candidate has gotten a close chance at the seat: Arthur Teele, Jr. in 1995. Teele won a majority of the Black vote, but barely gained any Latino neighborhoods, while his opponent, Cuban born Alex Penelas, garnered 90 percent of the Latino vote come election day.

Since then, the political Cuban stronghold has mostly remained. In April of last year, The Miami Herald published a piece called “Election 2017: a Miami Game of Thrones,” for its tangled familial connections amongst Miami’s powers that be (and probably other scary similarities).

“From my perspective, older, white Cuban politicians want to relate to the white voters.”

“It’s the same-old, same-old,” said pollster Fernand Amandi to The Herald. “For a lot of Miamians, that’s part of the frustration they have: For a city that’s constantly reinventing itself and re-branding itself, we seem to have the same names circulating in the political and civic leadership.” The four (majority Republican) prominent families, Regalado, Barreiro, Carollo, and Suarez, have birthed generations of leaders that are not accurately representing the people that the citizens of Miami are becoming – or the ones who have always been there.

It’s a sentiment wholly felt by Yvette and Yvonne Rodriguez, Miami-based, Afro-Cuban twin sisters who own a business, Y.R. Public Relations, and are highly involved in their community as mentors, entrepreneurs, and activists.

“From my perspective, older, white Cuban politicians want to relate to the white voters and even kind of aim to transform themselves into ‘White Anglos’ as much as they can,” Yvonne shares. “I agree with Luke. They campaign and make promises to Black communities then very seldom follow-through… As far as Afro-Cuban voters, they’ve probably forgotten that we even exist. It seems like for them, their perspective is pretty much black and white and ‘white is always right.’”

Although slight, there is a trend that shows Cuban voters, specifically, are swaying their vote, which might ultimately loosen the iron grip of the old “Miami dynasties.” Latinxs tend to lean Democratic, but a 2014 Pew Research found that 47 percent of Cubans identified with the Republican party, compared to the previous 64 percent a decade before. The report accounts this shift to the fact that 44 percent of Cubans in the United States are native-born, naturally feeling less attached to Cuba and the politics tied to it. In this past presidential election, Hillary Clinton edged out Donald Trump in the county’s most heavily Cuban populated neighborhoods by 290,000 votes.

Jefferson Noël, a Haitian-American community educator with extensive Miami youth community involvement, feels that regardless of background, this new wave of Miami voters are ready for honest candidates that will truly represent them and their neighborhoods.

“Regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, or social status, the majority of rational people will vote for the candidate that explicitly articulates their interest and promotes their successes,” he says.

While voters are changing and looking for quality candidates, communities in Miami are making space for themselves at the table. There are politicians of color and organizers making waves in their communities, like Miami City Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon, beginning his second term under new Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, whose major platform includes increasing affordable housing. Jean Monestime is the first Haitian-American to serve as a Miami-Dade County commissioner, representing North Miami, Little Haiti, and Liberty City. Active organizations like the New Florida Majority have made it its mission to empower marginalized constituencies to use their voting and political power outside of their neighborhoods and into larger county seats to ensure “an inclusive, equitable, and just Florida.” Along with owning their successful cigar business, Tres Lindas Cubanas, the Rodriguez sisters started Afro-Latino Professionals in an effort to particularly empower the Afro-Latino population and the unique experience they face as being both Black and Latino in the Miami workplace.

“I almost prefer to not search for my place in the elections. I feel that they need to make an effort to find me,” Yvette says. “My sister and I are focused on strengthening the Afro-Cuban and Afro-Latino community to hopefully have a strong enough platform where we don’t need to fit into a population but instead demand that they acknowledge our existence.”

And for this evolving generation of progressive Miami voters, the demand for a Miami that represents all of its citizens, its colors and its struggles, is rightfully becoming too loud to ignore.

They will make it so that Miami can’t vote for anyone except the right person for the job.