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7905: And the winner is....... (fwd)Miami area elections

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Haitian Americans to lead North Miami

North Miami on Tuesday elected a Haitian-American mayor and a 
Haitian-American majority city council -- the latest sign of the immigrant 
group's growing population and emerging political clout.

Josaphat Celestin will be the first Haitian-American mayor of a large 
Miami-Dade city.

Celestin, a 44-year-old builder, defeated Arthur ``Duke'' Sorey, an 
African-American former council member, by sweeping the city's black 
neighborhoods. Jacques Despinosse, an immigration consultant who also is 
Haitian American, easily beat Tyrone Hill, an African American in Council 
District 3.

Celestin and Despinosse join the city's first Haitian-American council 
member, Ossmann Desir, on the five-person council.

Their victory is just the most recent of the Haitian-American community's 
political gains. In the past two years, voters in Northeast Miami-Dade have 
elected a Haitian American to the Florida Legislature, and a 
Haitian-American city council majority in El Portal. El Portal also had a 
Haitian American mayor in 2000.

``We've come a long way from being immigrants and boat people to becoming 
elected officials,'' said Leonie Hermantin, executive director of the 
Haitian American Foundation. ``It makes the community very proud to have 
Haitian Americans in charge.''

Hundreds of Celestin's supporters, most of them Haitian, erupted with joy 
when the election results were announced about 8:30 p.m. at North Miami City 

Reached by phone, the mayor-elect called for unity. ``North Miami made a 
decision by electing the best qualified candidate, and I have always said I 
would work for the entire city,'' Celestin said.

Celestin is a native of Haiti who came to the U.S. in 1979. He lost a close 
race for North Miami mayor to Frank Wolland two years ago, and ran 
unsuccessfully for the Florida Legislature in 1998 and 1996.

He will become the top elected official in a city whose population is now 
mostly black.

North Miami, the county's fourth-largest municipality with a population 
close to 60,000, was for many years a city of white retirees and blue-collar 
workers. But according to 2000 Census figures, North Miami's white 
population dropped by one-third from 1990 to 2000, while its black 
population more than doubled. It is now nearly 55 percent black and nearly 
35 percent white.

The city's black population includes a large Haitian community, although its 
exact size isn't clear. The Census Bureau does not collect separate 
information on Haitians.

Celestin's victory came despite his Republican party membership. North Miami 
-- both black and white neighborhoods -- is heavily Democratic in voter 
registration, and Sorey emphasized that he was a Democrat.

Sorey won in white neighborhoods, such as Keystone Point and Sans Souci. But 
Celestin won heavily in black areas such as Sunkist Grove.

Ethnicity was a factor in the campaign, with some Haitian radio announcers 
telling listeners that they should vote for a Haitian, even though Celestin 
is Republican. Sorey actively courted the Haitian vote, campaigning with a 
Haitian community activist who urged people to vote for the Democrat.

Gepsie Metellus, a Haitian American who is an aide to Miami-Dade 
Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler, said the election shows that Haitian 
Americans are no different from any other ethnic group learning its way in 
American politics.

``This is a process,'' Metellus said. ``We are not any different than any 
other community that says, `We want to elect our own and I don't care what 
party affiliation they are.' ''

It was only 10 years ago that Despinosse was heavily criticized for 
preaching to Haitians that they should give up on returning to Haiti, become 
American citizens and concern themselves more with American politics.

Eventually, many Haitian immigrants listened. Despinosse ``was absolutely 
right,'' Metellus said. ``Today, history has absolved him.''

Said Despinosse: ``This is definitely a strong showing of Haitian Americans 
at the polls. Now it's our time to conduct ourselves as proper elected 
officials, with decency, and help unite the entire city.''

State Rep. Phillip Brutus, a Democrat who became the state's first Haitian 
legislator when he was elected to represent House District 108 in November, 
didn't endorse anyone in the race. But he, too, sees Celestin's win as 
another political milestone.

``We've come of age,'' Brutus said. ``I don't think 10, 15 years ago, we 
would have fathomed this possibility at all. We were busy trying to deal 
with a dictator, military, the deaths and boatlifts.''

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