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Caribbean clout tested in Miramar

South Florida Sun-Sentinel 

February 13, 2005

Copyright © 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel


By Georgia East
Staff Writer

  MIRAMAR · When radio host Winston Barnes and entrepreneur George Pedlar won City Commission seats in 2003, they proved the Caribbean community could flex its political muscle.
  The two newcomers, along with Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman, made Miramar the first city in the state to have a predominantly Jamaican-American commission.
  This year, all three are running again for at-large seats on the five-member board. The outcome is being closely watched, since another victory would prove the last was no fluke.
  "What's happening in Miramar is sending a message that it can be done," said Thomas Pinder, president of the Democratic Caribbean Caucus of Florida, himself a candidate for office in North Miami. "It's sort of a model showing that if we reach out and come together, we can get the support and get a piece of the pie. It's tremendously encouraging."
  There are 13 candidates running this year, as there were two years ago. The 10 challengers include whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, a Haitian and a Jamaican.
  It's a makeup as diverse as Miramar.
  Once a predominantly Italian enclave, a 2003 census estimate showed there are about 97,000 residents in Miramar. Whites and blacks each make up about 45 percent of the population and Hispanics, who can be either white or black, make up about 40 percent.
  In 2000, the census showed 24 percent of the population was West Indian, and of that 14 percent were Jamaican -- estimates experts say are outdated and too low. No newer figures are available.
  What the Caribbean politicians in Miramar have managed to do is extraordinary, say political experts, since the city is not predominantly Jamaican.
  However, Geri Peterkin, president of the Caribbean American Democratic Club, wasn't surprised by the outcome.
  "Caribbean people are politically savvy. Look at Lauderdale Lakes, Pembroke Park and Southwest Ranches," other areas where Caribbean-Americans are on the commission, she said.
  On the other hand, Hispanics have a solid presence in Miramar, but haven't succeeded in winning a seat on the council.
  Analysts attribute that to a lack of districting, which defines which part of a city a candidate must live in.
  "When you don't have districts, it works against groups who are in the minority [overall] but live in an area where they're the majority," explained Kevin Hill, a political scientist at Florida International University.
  Currently, the three incumbents and the vice mayor live east of Palm Avenue.
  Two years ago, Pedlar and Barnes drew their strongest support from the east, which is predominantly Caribbean and African-American. They did not carry the majority of the precincts west of Interstate 75, which are predominantly Hispanic and which have continued to see explosive growth.
  For many western residents, the issue is not demographics -- it's about knowledge of the community.
  "We all feel we don't have the representation we should have," said Realtor Linda Mortenson, who lives west of Interstate 75 in Sunset Lakes. "We need someone who lives over here and knows the issues."
  At least three of the current challengers live in the west.
  The incumbents know these are areas where they are vulnerable and are planning meet-and-greet functions in those neighborhoods.
  Last election, Barnes and Pedlar launched a campaign in which together they tapped into Caribbean radio stations and weekly newspapers.
  This time around they're running individually. There are no plans, they say, for the motorcades they did with Salesman two years ago.
  They say that while their cultural backgrounds unite them, on several contentious issues they took different stands.
  "We approach things from the standpoint of what's best for the city," said Pedlar, who said initially people feared the three would vote as a bloc on everything. "People looked at us as three immigrants on the commission, but there have been many other immigrants on the commission. It just so happens that we're the first three Jamaican immigrants."
Georgia East can be reached at geast@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7921.






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