First Lady invites 102-year-old North Miami woman to State of Union speech

Desiline Victor, who spent hours in line to vote last year, will be seated in the first lady’s box at the president’s address Tuesday in a gesture intended to highlight the need to improve the voting proces

02/11/2013 6:58 PM

02/12/2013 2:01 PM

At 102 years old, it is possible that Desiline Victor is the oldest guest ever to attend a State of the Union address.

But the North Miami woman, known as “Granny” among the city’s Haitian community, was chosen less for her age than what she stands for.

As a naturalized U.S. citizen who waited for more than three hours to cast her ballot Nov. 6, Victor represents what President Barack Obama wants to highlight most in his second term. So she will be sitting Tuesday night in the first lady’s box, along with other invited guests.

“I know I’m going to sit with the president’s wife,” she said. “I did not think I would get here. I am proud.”

As an immigrant, former farm worker, respected elder and minority from a heavily populated part of South Florida, Victor and others like her stand to benefit most from the policies the president will discuss during his speech, White House officials say.

She came to the attention of the White House through the Advancement Project, which tracked problems at the polls after Florida lawmakers reduced the number of early-voting days.

The White House describes Victor as “a spirited and independent centenarian” who was born in Haiti in 1910 and arrived in the United States in 1989. She enjoys attending church services and cooking her own meals.

For South Florida, Victor symbolizes the thousands who endured long lines during early voting and on Election Day.

On the first day of early voting, Victor stood in line for three hours until some voting rights activists complained that an elderly woman was struggling.

She finally left with a family member, but returned that evening. When she emerged from the North Miami Public Library with an “I Voted” sticker, the crowd erupted in applause.

“The line was shorter at night,” she said. “I wanted to vote for my guy, my son, President Obama.”

Word of her determination spread in the community.

“She said even if she got dizzy or collapsed on the line, ‘This is something I have to do,’ ” said Philippe Derose, a North Miami Beach City Council member who met Victor later.

Voting concerns

Local activists and observers expect Obama to address voter rights during the State of the Union address. During his election night speech, Obama referred to those who waited hours to vote, saying, “We have to fix that.”

He echoed a similar sentiment in his inauguration speech.

“Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote,” he said.

Two Florida members of Congress members also are making a political statement with their guests at the State of the Union address. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, both Democrats, invited two people whose lives were affected by gun violence.

Frankel’s guest is Lynn McDonnell, the mother of Grace, 7, who was one of the 26 people — mostly children — who died in Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting tragedy in the Newtown, Conn.

Frankel said it would take public pressure to move some of her colleagues to act on gun reform.

“That’s the reason so many of us are bringing guests from Newtown,” she said. “You cannot look these parents in the eye and say, ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do.’ ”

Frankel sits on the Democratic Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, which recently outlined several gun-control measures, including a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Hialeah teen

Wasserman Schultz invited Megan Hobson, 17, of Hialeah, who was the victim of a drive-by shooting in May. Megan, who spent three weeks in intensive care, was hit by a bullet that entered through the trunk of a car and helped save the life of a 2-year-old passenger, according to the congresswoman’s staff.

Hobson, now a senior at American Senior High School in Miami-Dade, will join Wasserman Schultz at a news conference Tuesday morning before traveling to Washington for Obama’s speech.

Miami Herald Staff Writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.

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