Jason Pizzo

Newly elected Florida Senator for District 38 Jason Pizzo, left, talks to a community resident about the different issues affecting Little Haiti during the 2018 Miami Times Political Forum.

If the recent primary election started to reshape the political landscape for Black Miamians, the November general election will complete the makeover.

Local senate and Black representation went down as voters made their picks for new state representatives and senators.

Former prosecutor and attorney, Jason Pizzo will replace Haitian-American incumbent senator for District 38, Daphne Campbell. In the Florida House, up-and-comer Dotie Joseph surprisingly beat incumbent Roy Hardemon for the House District 108 seat.

But the losses didn’t come in a vacuum. The replaced incumbents, Campbell and Hardemon, respectively were both involved in some level of controversy.

Campbell was embroiled in scandals that ranged from allegedly receiving a cash-stuffed purse from a donor at her 60th birthday party and re-election fundraiser, using her position as senator to restore power to her home and that of several family members following the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, to allegedly attaching her name to a Republican mailer that was sent to homes prior to the primaries. Campbell denied the accusations.

Hardemon’s opponents brought up his past, which includes multiple arrests, at campaign forums, and he was involved in a melee during a Model City advisory board meeting during campaign season. Hardemon maintained that he was protecting an attendee at the meeting.

Change sometimes has a downside. Oscar Braynon II, senator for District 36, which covers parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, is now the only Black senator representing South Florida.

With the votes, the community said yes. Yet, are voters going to give fresh faces a chance to represent them?

It’s possible, says Yolanda Cash Jackson, an attorney, lobbyist and community leader.

“The community seems to be willing to make a change,” Jackson said. “The community has said that they are willing to let somebody else new try to serve.”

That change may be attributed in part to the increase of Black registered voters. In 2016, the Miami-Dade Elections Department reported 232,906 Black registered voters. In 2018, 240,029 Black registered voters took to the polls. That is a 3 percent increase from two years ago.  

Pizzo, the newly elected Florida senator for District 38, which covers parts of Opa-locka, Brownsville and Little Haiti, as well as Miami Beach, Miami Shores and Bal Harbour, will represent a variety of demographics with different socioeconomic statuses.

The 2010 U.S. Census reports 466,655 residents live in District 38. 268,059 of those residents are white, 159,502 are Black and 180,322 are Hispanic.

According to a Miami-Dade Elections District Demographic analysis, 252,685 total voters participated in the August primaries in Senate District 38. About 76,396 Black voters went to the polls, surpassing the 73,765 white voters by more than 2,500 voters. Hispanics represented the largest number of registered voters with 81,018.

All of these residents deserve adequate representation, said Stephen Hunter Johnson, attorney, and chair of the county’s Black Affairs Advisory Board.

“People of that district deserve to have representation. Whether they are on this side of the water or on the other side of the water,” Johnson said.

In an interview, Pizzo said his campaign message focused on issues affecting the community he believes need addressing: education, affordable housing and climate change.

“I believe they want a change of representation to get something done,” he said. “It can be the representative, it can be the inability to make headway in the state Senate, but the bottom line is that after several years, we really haven’t addressed the critical issues around the community.” 

Pizzo said that a learning curve is imminent when it comes to the different needs of the community, and wants to be more inclusive when it comes to representing the community. “I look forward to being an alerted and informed representative of the community to bring real change,” he said. 

Much like Pizzo, Democrat Dotie Joseph, who won the primary election for House District 108 faces the task of representing a wide range of demographics. 

Florida House District 108 covers parts of Miami, North Miami, Little Haiti, Liberty City and El Portal among other areas. The 2010 census reports that 156,848 residents live in her district. Of that number 45,407 of the residents are white, 99,433 are Black and 38,502 are Hispanic. 

In the primaries, Black voters represented more than half of the total 88,020 registered voters of District 108. Black voters stood at 49,363 while 12,287 were white and 19,449 were Hispanic.  

“Their desire for a change came across loud and clear,” Joseph wrote in an email. “People wanted to feel that their interests were being represented in a way that the incumbent was not [sic], I am humbled that the voters in district 108 have voted to give me the opportunity to represent them.”

Joseph also mentioned the need to learn about the different neighborhoods in the district she wants to serve in order to better represent their needs.

Joseph will face Libertarian Party candidate Riquet Caballero in the general election on Nov. 6.

It is possible that the increase of racial mixing in the Senate and House districts, as well as the redrawing district maps, are part of the shift in representation that’s happening as a result of the August primary elections, said Jackson.  

The representation for Black Miamians may change further come 2020. 

Three of the four Black county commissioners face term limits. Vice Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson and Commissioners Barbara Jordan and Dennis C. Moss will have to give up their seats, leaving recently re-elected Jean Monestime as the only Black commissioner. A county commission mayoral race is also slated for 2020.

It is important for the community members to stay involved in the political agendas of their neighborhood and at the county level, Johnson said. He also stressed that residents need to be involved in the voting process.

“Turn out is going to be very important,” he said. “Their participation in the voting process is going to be very important as these seats come up. The communities that do not stay involved, get ignored.”

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