State Rep. Daphne Campbell is running for the Florida Senate, but her presence looms large in the House District 108 election.
Campbell won the House seat three times despite investigations into her former healthcare business that led to the Florida Democratic Party to publicly ask her to step down in 2012. She was able to unify Haitian-Americans in the district but faced questions over absentee ballots at assisted living facilities.
Two candidates for the seat, registered nurse Fayola Delica and former North Miami Council Member Marie Steril, have direct ties to Campbell. Delica served as a campaign organizer for Campbell, while Steril shares a campaign consultant with Campbell who recently completed probation for campaign violations.
Seven Democrats will run for the seat on August 30: Delica, Steril, motel owner Henry Patel, community organizer Taj Collie-Echoles, Florida Immigrant Commission policy director Francesca Menes, community activist Roy Hardemon and teacher Moise Dugé.
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Patel leads the money race with $48,270, although that includes $15,000 in loans. Menes and Steril have both raised over $25,000.
Hardemon, who officially reports $0 raised, has not filed fundraising reports since declaring his candidacy.
The District, which runs along the western shore of Biscayne Bay from I-195 to North Miami, is majority Haitian and heavily Democratic.
No independents or Republicans are running, which means all voters regardless of party affiliation can vote in the primary election, since it will determine who will win the office.
Francesca Menes self-identifies as a progressive. The 31-year-old says her work with the Florida Immigrant Coalition got her entrenched in state and local politics. She is particularly proud of her effort to have undocumented immigrants pay in-state college tuition that was eventually signed into law by Governor Rick Scott.
“I've been very engaged in practically everything,” Menes said. “I was active in Planned Parenthood and I am clearly pro-choice.”
Delica has the opposite view, saying there should be “no public funding” for abortions.
“Life begins at conception,” she said.
Delica, whose uncle was noted Haitian advocate Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste, sees her experience working with Daphne Campbell as an asset in Tallahassee.
“She gave me insight on what a state representative does,” Delica said of Campbell. "People don't realize that all politics is local."
Moise Dugé is still on the fence about abortion, saying that his Catholic roots make it hard to support abortion but he is unsure what tack he will take in Tallahassee.
“You have to be open-minded about these things,” he said.
Dugé, who worked on Kevin Burns’ campaigns in North Miami, says the Haitian-American community is sometimes ignored by the Democratic Party because they are seen as a reliable source of votes.
“When you think Haitian you think Democrat,” Dugé said. “I feel like we should be appreciated in all senses of the word.”
Henry Patel says he appreciates the diversity in District 108 due to his long-time experience as a business owner. Patel owns the King Motel on Biscayne Boulevard and lives on the premises with his family.
“I understand lobbying, helping hotels on Florida’s Gulf Coast after the BP oil spill,” Patel said. “My experience in lobbying is so wide and I know so many elected officials.”
Patel sits on the Miami-Dade County Tourism Development Council and says the district can be safer, even though it has improved since the 1990s.
Taj Collie-Echoles specifically mentioned that school choice would be a big part of his platform.
“Parents and families should be afforded the opportunity to seek the best possible education for their child,” Collie-Echoles said. He supports school choice for parents but “it should not be at the expense of our public school system.”
Collie-Echoles ran against Campbell in 2014 but lost with 17 percent of the vote.
“I was able to capture close to 2,000 votes last time as a first-time candidate,” he said. “This race is more than just about a base.”
Roy Hardemon, who has run in multiple past elections, says his nephew and Miami City Commissioner Keon Hardemon gives him the name recognition that will propel him to victory.
“I've been working for almost 20 years actually trying to be elected,” Hardemon said. “My opponents don’t have the same name recognition and experience that I do.”
Hardemon says his work with Liberty City Rising, a city project that aims to reduce poverty, gives him the necessary experience to work with Republicans in Tallahassee.
“You need to cross the aisle and talk to the people,” Hardemon said.
Marie Steril did not respond to questions about her candidacy. In 2014, she was fined after admitting that as a North Miami council member she asked city staff to give her mother special treatment for housing upgrades.