A Race About Race

If Humberto Hernandez has it his way, Miami's only black commissioner, Rev. Richard Dunn, will be history

The chance that black representation could be eliminated from the commission dais has riled many in the black community -- not the least of whom is Dunn himself. "It would send a message to blacks -- in particular those such as myself who have supported Hispanics against other black candidates -- that there is no reciprocity," preaches the incumbent. "It would hinder, impede, and probably sever any hopes of uniting this city. That's really what is at stake. It would jeopardize the city's very existence."

Dunn is campaigning against an opponent familiar with the impact of race on Miami elections. During the election for Carollo's old seat, Dunn held an early lead over Hernandez, but before the polls closed, Hernandez mobilized Hispanic voters. He was so successful that Dunn eventually finished third, behind Hernandez and Regalado. Hernandez, however, denies he played any ethnic cards. "I did urge the Hispanic community to go out and vote," he explains. "I did go to radio and say that we needed to go out and show that we are the largest voting bloc and that we need to vote more than anyone, but I never did use any kind of ethnic motivation."

Now that he is seeking the historically black seat, Hernandez's campaign theme is not ethnicity but his qualifications and experience. He reminds voters that he served on the city's code enforcement board, its zoning board, and the Latin Quarter review board. He is, he says, the only professional in the race; the fact that he is Cuban should not be a factor: "I think it is damaging to the electoral process to handpick somebody and say that this seat belongs to a black. Let the people choose who belongs in the seat." He adds that if elected he will push for district elections, which would virtually guarantee ethnic representation.

District elections are also supported by Dunn, as well as by Ted Lyons, another black in the race. The untested Lyons, a bureaucrat who has worked in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., raised more money than any other candidate during the initial reporting period. He, along with former Cuban radio personality Margarita Ruiz, hopes to shake up the race, stealing votes from both Dunn and Hernandez. Dunn still predicts he will win at least 90 percent of the black vote.

Dunn says he needs about 35 percent of the Hispanic vote to ensure his election. To help win those votes, he has stepped up his presence in the Hispanic community. At a recent commission meeting he volunteered to work with the Cubans in Little Havana's Domino Park. More recently he shouted, "Down with Castro!" at a campaign rally outside Versailles restaurant.

He even makes an appearance at the Robert King High Towers Hispanic Heritage Festival. While Hernandez methodically works the tent, Dunn stands near the performance stage talking to a campaign aide. "We've got some Dunn water bottles that are on their way," he informs the aide. "We're going to give them out, then we'll get some stickers passed around."

After some time waiting for the bottles to arrive, a Cuban woman approaches the commissioner to declare her support. "Vote for him!" she shouts, pointing at Dunn. "We need to be together!" Dunn laughs loudly, hugs the woman, and admires the pro-Dunn flyers she is handing out.

The woman is Mayor Joe Carollo's mother.
Over in the tent, the layers of lipstick emblazon Hernandez's cheeks. He has tried to reach out to the black community, he says, but he realized that these people, these elderly Cubans, are the ticket to his potential success. "I know that obviously the Hispanic voting bloc is so large and so strong, based on the percentage of turnout, that I honestly do not have to get one black vote or one Anglo vote to win this race.

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