Challengers Denounce Sen. Gwen Margolis for Referring to Opponents as "Haitians"

Two candidates running against state Sen. Gwen Margolis in the newly redrawn District 38 are demanding an apology from the 81-year-old after she allegedly referred to three of her five opponents as "three Haitians" at a recent campaign event.

Don Festge, a North Miami teacher running for Margolis' seat, last night attended a meeting of the Sunny Isles Beach Democratic Club, where Margolis was the keynote speaker. Shortly into her speech, Festge says, Margolis made a comment to the effect of, "What right do these three Haitians, some teacher, and some lawyer have to run for my seat?"

Festge says he looked at his campaign manager in disbelief.

"I was really hoping it was just a slip of the tongue. I couldn't believe she would say that," Festge tells New Times. "Then she went again and said it four more times. The last statement, she goes, 'I have an unlimited amount of finances. I'm not going to let three Haitians or some teacher or some lawyer win my seat.'"

Margolis — who is running against accountant Anis Blemur, state Rep. Daphne Campbell, former state Rep. Phillip J. Brutus, lawyer Jason Pizzo, as well as Festge — has not yet responded to a message left for staffers at her office by New Times. We'll update this post should we hear back from her. 

Brutus, who was the first Haitian American elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2000, was not in attendance at Monday's meeting but says he learned of Margolis' remarks through Facebook the next morning.

"I think it is sad and deplorable that Sen. Margolis would succumb to these impulses, racist impulses, to really blemish an otherwise good record of hers," Brutus says. "She said it publicly and lumped us as Haitians together to bring out a racist, xenophobic approach to it that I think is sad."

The other candidates say they want Margolis to apologize for her remarks. 

"She should apologize," Brutus says. "It doesn't look good to say Trump is racist against Muslims and crazy and then she makes a statement like this. We're denouncing Donald Trump, we should be denouncing Gwen Margolis." 

Brutus says party leadership should also denounce the comments. 

"We should all demand that both Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Hillary Clinton denounce these remarks at once and apologize to Haitian and Black democrats who always vote blindly for everything Democrat," he wrote on Facebook

It's worth noting that District 38, which runs from Miami Beach up to the Broward County line, is considered a majority-minority district.

"You represent all the people in this district, and this district is the most diverse. You should not even have those kind of thoughts and speak that way," Festge says.  "I couldn't believe in this day and age somebody would go ahead and say something like that. We live in such a diverse community."

Pizzo, a former prosecutor with the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office who also is running for Margolis' seat, says the district deserves someone who serves its diverse population, from the people living in mansions in Golden Beach to the crime-infested blocks riddled with shootings that he dealt with as an assistant state attorney.

"Sen. Margolis is from Coconut Grove. She had to move into this district," Pizzo says. "She hasn't represented them."

To him, the senator's comments indicate a more serious problem. 

"If what's being reported is true, it's a clear indication that Gwen needs to step aside and let new leadership in," he says.