By Joan Murray

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – The primary battle to fill the seat left vacated by the late U.S. Representative Alcee Hastings has turned into a free for all, with 11 Democrats and two Republicans hoping to win Tuesday.  The field is jam packed with political pros and newcomers.

District 10 encompasses large chunks of Broward and Palm Beach Counties. The majority of the residents, who number over 800,000 people, are African American and from the Caribbean. The district has a high poverty rate and most of the people who live there cannot afford a mortgage.

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Among the familiar faces running from Broward are two county commissioners and a state senator.

Congressional candidate Barbara Sharief, a registered nurse and mother of five children, has been a vice mayor in Miramar, a Broward commissioner and county mayor.

Watch: Joan Murray’s Part 2 of candidates running for Seat 20

 

“When I became involved in politics, my sense of focus came from seeing the results of helping people,” she said.

Sharief has run a home healthcare company for decades.  It’s a business she built from the ground up.

When CBS4 spoke to her about her campaign, Sharief indicated she is doing well in the polling and has the support of another South Florida political pro, Lois Frankel, a Democratic congresswoman from West Palm Beach.

Sharief told CBS4, “I want to go to Congress to make things better for everybody.  That starts with healthcare, a living wage, affordable housing and educational opportunities.”

Sharief credits her parents with giving her the drive to succeed. She said her father was murdered when she was only 14, fending off a robber who entered his clothing store in Fort Lauderdale.

Fellow Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness is also running for the District 20 Congressional seat.

Holness claims he was picked by Hastings to be his successor, before Hastings passed away from pancreatic cancer last April.

Holness was county mayor during the rough first year of the pandemic and was a visible force, encouraging social distancing and good hygiene to slow the spread of COVID.

“The congressman saw in me someone who was going to push to change things and improve the lives of the people in the district.  We know the black community has been left out and locked out more than they should be,” he said.

Holness said he has been out in the communities comprising the district and connecting with all segments.

Florida State Sen. Perry Thurston has been doing the same as he tries to shore up support for his campaign.

Thurston, whose office is on Sistrunk in Fort Lauderdale, has a long record of public service, having served four terms in the Florida House and in the Florida Senate since 2016.

Thurston graduated from the University of Miami Law School and interned with Hastings when Hastings was a federal judge in Miami.

Thurston was a public defender and still works as a criminal defense attorney.

“The community is in dire straits.  We need criminal and civil justice reform.  We need education because everyone know, it’s the way up,” he said.

Many of the candidates say they are anxious to get to Washington and build on Hastings legacy.

State Rep. Omari Hardy, who has progressive Democratic support, said his focus will be helping struggling families.

“We are living through a unique and dangerous moment.  Republicans are attacking our voting rights.  We need democrats who will stand up and fight back for our rights,” he said.

Healthcare executive Sheila McCormick calls herself a lifelong fighter who has faced steeped odds she’s always overcome.

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McCormick said she wants to be the next congresswoman from District 20 because she believes she has the passion to effect real change.

McCormick is a single mom who struggled but succeeded in finding help for her special needs daughter. And though her company was in financial straits, McCormick said she pressed through and built the company into a profitable powerhouse.

“It takes a fighter, it takes tenacity, it takes someone to see the impossible and make it happen and it takes vision and that’s what we are lacking in the district,” she told CBS4.

The political neophytes taking a run at the congressional seat include a doctor and retired labor investigator.

Emmanuel Morel, a retired federal investigator, said he believes in reparations for descendants of African-American slaves. But his main focus will be addressing the high poverty rate in District 20.

Morel said it pains him to see dilapidated housing and people scraping by.

“In Palm Beach and Broward we have the poorest district in the nation in two of the wealthiest counties in the country” he said. “We cannot say things will change every two years when nothing changes.”

Morel is critical of politicians who make empty promises.

Frontline medical Dr. Imran Siddiqui is another outsider who wants to be a voice for the voiceless after practicing medicine for 20 years.

Siddiqui is an internist with the Memorial Healthcare System.

In the past 20 months, he has concentrated on helping COVID patients who are hospitalized.

“I’ve taken a pledge to no empty promises, to say no to lobbyists and no to special interests.  We need to fight for people in this district,” he said.

Reverend Elvin Dowling, a former aide to Congressman Hastings and a champion of civil rights, said the fight comes down to basics.

“I believe we should fight for 15 dollars an hour minimum wage, and a guaranteed income for seniors.  And we should invest in education,” said Dowling.

Retired Navy Ofc. Phil Jackson supports helping undocumented immigrants and tuition debt forgiveness.

“Focus on seniors. A 300 child tax credit and help kids K through 12 to the first years of college,” he said.

More familiar faces on the ballot in Tuesday’s primary, include State Rep. Bobbi Dubose.

The Democratic leader in the Florida House and a one-time Fort Lauderdale city commissioner, Dubose said he’s learned to work with Republicans and that the pandemic has shone a harsh light on District 20.

“I’ve lost friends.  It has exposed the lack of affordable health care and the effects on pre-existing conditions,” he said.

Former State Rep. and one-time Palm Beach County Mayor Priscilla Taylor also wants a shot at the congressional seat.

She has a broad list of priorities, including climate change, helping small businesses, voting rights and police reform.

She realizes trying to fill the shoes of Hastings she is standing on the shoulders of a political giant.

“He had that booming voice and the heart. I may not have the voice but I have the heart,” she said.

Whoever wins the primary, is expected to win the seat in January in the predominantly Democratic District 20.

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The Republicans running for the seat are Jason Mariner and Greg Musselwhite.