Queen of the Kingmakers

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And in the end, they inspired a minor miracle. Leslie Bowe came from behind, from obscurity, from a racial minority, and on election day he overtook the much better-known Richard Renick. Bowe won by 250 votes.

Secada could now boast of two campaign victories in as many months. And for all her frenetic work and sleepless nights she earned a grand total of $4000 A $1000 from Cunningham and $3000 from Bowe. "In city elections, people don't spend a lot of money," she says, smiling at her understatement. "And if you charge too much, you are not going to get hired. But there is no way I'm going to charge that little in the future."

Irene Secada, like her client Tom Cunningham, comes from a large family. She is one of nine children born to Albert and Irene Secada, who emigrated from Peru to South Florida in 1954. Her father worked as an aeronautical engineer and her mother was a secretary at a small airline company. All the children were educated in Hialeah, starting at Immaculate Conception Catholic School from kindergarten through middle school and finishing at Archbishop Curley High School. In 1969 Secada's mother began studying at Miami-Dade Community College to become a nurse. Nine years later, after Secada had completed her junior year at Curley, Albert took a job in Brazil and the couple split apart.

That same year, 1978, young Irene transferred to Hialeah High School, where she lettered in softball, volleyball, basketball, and tennis, received the Hialeah Optimist Athlete of the Year award, and graduated sixth in her class. The following year she entered the University of Miami on an academic scholarship. While there, she wrote a column for the Miami Hurricane newspaper and criticized the school's decision to drop the women's volleyball program, despite its being ranked in the top twenty nationally. It was her first foray into activism.

"There were ten people on half scholarships [for volleyball], plus the price of the coach's salary, plus travel A so you're talking about less than $100,000 or $150,000, and they dropped it," she fumes. "I thought, There really is something wrong with this, so I started doing research and I interviewed the president of the university and the coach, who had to tell her players that they had to go somewhere else [to school]. I was never satisfied that [the university] cared as much for women's sports as they did for men's. People were saying that the university was justified because women don't attract as many fans. Well, you tell me A if they gave the same media attention to women's sports as they do to men's, you'd think you would have a bigger audience. The same goes for high school sports and college. If they're never given the same amount of print and other media, you will never have the same audience. Never."

Secada graduated from UM in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in history and a minor in math (her father's legacy). Subsequently she was awarded an internship at the Washington, D.C., office of the National Organization for Women, and soon she was traveling around Florida with NOW president Eleanor Smeal, who was giving lectures and encouraging women to run for public office. In 1986 Secada returned to Miami, enrolled at Florida International University to take women's studies courses, and organized a NOW chapter at the school. Two years later she was nominated by the Latin Business and Professional Women's Club to be their Woman of the Year.

Inspired in part by Geraldine Ferraro's selection as running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale, Secada leaped into the statehouse race for District 109 against Republican Luis Rojas. She raised about $40,000 and enlisted her brother Alex as her campaign manager. "She ran in one of the fading-redneck, soon-to-be-Hispanic, very Republican districts," recalls political consultant Bob Levy. "She was very young, very feisty, very aggressive, and to be honest, I don't even remember who she ran against. But she was kind of a sacrificial lamb, because a Democrat couldn't win the seat. It was just a basic reality. I mean, you can't win a majority Republican district as a feminist Democrat. That district is a very conservative area, where feminism doesn't extend much beyond the kitchen. So Irene didn't exactly fit the stereotype of someone who could win a seat like that."

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Oscar Musibay