When local and national news media wanted to know how Cubans along the I-75 corridor voted in the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential election that was decided by Florida, they called on Kevin Hill.
When expert witnesses were needed for the Miami voter fraud trial that gave the mayor’s seat to Joe Carollo over rival Xavier Suarez in 1998, statistics whiz Hill got the call.
Hill, an associate professor of political science at Florida International University, was tapped often by the Miami Herald, Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, Fox News, ABC and NBC for his analysis on voting trends. Most recently, he was WSVN’s on-air political analyst for the 2016 Trump-Clinton race.
On Monday morning, Hill died in his sleep at his Weston home. The cause of death is not yet known, his family said. He was 51.
“A tragic week for South Florida,” tweeted i24 News political commentator Fred Menachem. “We’ve lost Sergio Bendixen, pioneer pollster of Hispanics and now political science professor Kevin Hill. This is awful news. Kevin Hill was an integral part of our South Florida community.”
Hill, who earned his bachelor’s in political science and history from Furman University in South Carolina in 1988 and his doctorate in political science at the University of Florida in 1993, started teaching at FIU that year as an assistant professor.
He also wrote and analyzed more than 150 polls in the tri-county area, along with Monroe, Collier and Hendry counties, from 1996 to 2005 as a public opinion pollster for Campaign Data Inc.
This is a huge loss. I’ve never spoken with a student who didn’t think he was tremendous in the classsroom.
John Stack, dean of the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs, FIU.
“He loved learning and teaching. It wasn’t just data and facts. He enjoyed what he did,” said his ex-wife Barbara Herrera, with whom he had daughter Olivia.
Born April 16, 1966, in Greenwood, South Carolina, Hill moved to South Florida in 1993 to teach at FIU. He published “Florida’s Politics: Ten Media Markets, One Powerful State” (with Susan MacManus and Dario Moreno) in 2004, and “Cyberpolitics: Citizen Activism in the Age of the Internet” (with John E. Hughes) in 1998.
“He was interested in history to some extent in high school, but once he was in college at Furman University that is where he decided to major in political science and he became intensely interested, his mother, Alice Hill, said. She added that he also “had a wicked sense of humor,” a trait that she, and his friends, loved best.
“He had an impact on a generation of students who were interested in American politics,” said John Stack, dean of the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs at FIU. “He was a brilliant teacher, bringing to the classroom a plainspoken understanding of politics, with insight on Southern politics, in particular, and a sense that students could make a difference in the real world.”
One of his students, Kathryn DePalo, earned her doctorate under Hill’s mentoring and worked as his teaching assistant. She’s now a senior instructor in the department of politics and international relations at FIU. One of Hill’s gifts, in addition to expertise in redistricting and African politics, was being able to interpret reams of data and convey it clearly to the public, she said.
“I owe my career to him,” DePalo said. “He really elevated FIU and the department with his research and outreach to the community. He was the smartest person I ever met.”
A memorial at FIU is being planned.