The Untold Story

Guess who's coming to vote? Guess again.

This year's election also proved to be a day of reckoning for those in the black community who endorsed Jeb Bush in 1998. State Rep. Willie Logan of Opa-locka, state Rep. Rudy Bradley of St. Petersburg, and state Sen. Jim Hargrett of Tampa all suffered defeats. Logan tried running for the U.S. Senate as an independent, and although he was allowed to participate in statewide televised debates with his two main challengers -- Nelson and McCollum -- Logan received a paltry one percent of the statewide vote. "You have to work real hard to only get one percent of the vote," Tony Hill says derisively.

Bradley and Hargrett didn't fare much better. Bradley, who switched parties and became a Republican, lost his bid for an open state senate seat; Hargrett failed to make it past the Democratic primary for a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission. In both races Bradley and Hargrett's endorsement of Bush helped galvanize black voters to oppose them. "That will not happen again," Hill says, referring to the phenomenon of prominent black legislators endorsing Jeb Bush. "You can't say one thing in Tallahassee and then go home and think people won't remember."

The question now for black political leaders is whether this level of participation can be maintained in future elections. Not surprisingly they answer affirmatively. "This is going to carry over," says Rev. Victor Curry, president of the Miami chapter of the NAACP. "This is going to carry over to the mayoral election in the City of Miami next year, and it is going to keep on carrying over into the governor's race in 2002."

The presidential race marked an awakening of political activism within the state's black community
Irene Secada
The presidential race marked an awakening of political activism within the state's black community

Adds Carrie Meek: "In my opinion Jeb Bush is through. He's finished."

Indeed the results of this presidential election would appear to set up a dramatic battle in two years for the governor's mansion. It is a battle that already may be engaged. The early favorite among Democrats to challenge Bush is Attorney General Bob Butterworth. As chairman of Gore's presidential campaign in Florida, Butterworth has proven himself to be a loyal Democrat. But just as important, in his role as attorney general he has been reasonable and even-handed in his approach to the ballot recounts. There has been no vitriol from Butterworth. On one of the most contentious issues of the past two weeks -- the debate over military ballots that arrived without postmarks -- he issued an attorney general's opinion arguing that those ballots should not be discarded and instead should count toward the final election tally. "I think Bob has been groomed for this," Curry says of Butterworth's gubernatorial potential.

Another name already being discussed is Bob Graham, the former governor and current U.S. senator. In 1998 Graham was pressured to give up his senate seat and run against Jeb Bush. Graham considered it but in the end ran for re-election to the senate. This time the calls for him to run may be even louder.

Graham and Butterworth would do well to make their intentions clear sooner than later, as an open field would likely produce a Democratic free-for-all. Among those who might be willing to take a crack at Jeb would be congressmen Robert Wexler of Palm Beach and Peter Deutsch of Pembroke Pines. "It's going to be interesting to watch," says Obi Nweze.

In addition to continuing their voter-registration efforts, Kendrick Meek and others add that the next step will be teaching blacks how to assert their rights on election day. With so many tales of black voters being turned away at the polls -- Haitians especially -- informing people of their voting rights will be essential in the next election. "This community has gotten a shot in the arm," he reports. "They are ready to go more than ever."

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