Hastings foolishly tries to shrug off Haitian challenger GOP leaders think they have a chance to win the seat

September 20, 2010|By Gregory Lewis, Sun Sentinel

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D- Miramar, is concerned about the anti-incumbent mood that has already taken down some experienced politicians — but not for his own re-election bid.

“I have been responsive to the constituency and done a considerable amount of legislative work. I have served as the glue that holds the South Florida delegation together on the Everglades and on transportation,” said Hastings, who represents U.S. Congressional District 23.

His Republican challenger, Bernard Sansaricq, is a native of Haiti who was president of the Haitian Senate in 1994, where he advocated human rights and crime reduction.

He saw 13 family members killed in 1964 during the Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier regime. In 1987, friends kept Sansaricq hidden in the Argentine Embassy so he would not be killed by the Haitian army.

He first came to the United States in 1961 and, since then, has split his time between the U.S. and Haiti.

Hastings said he is trying to ignore the challenger.

“I am running on my record and service to communities. I am not running against this man,” he said. “I will run a positive campaign and try to get Kendrick Meek elected to the U.S. Senate and Alex Sink elected governor.”

Sansaricq, who lives in Pembroke Pines and sells residential real estate, is campaigning hard to defeat the nine-term Democrat in a district that includes parts of Broward, Palm Beach, St. Lucie, Martin and Hendry counties.

“Mr. Hastings has been in Congress 18 years and has done nothing,” said Sansaricq. “He is absent 57 percent of the time. I’ve been all over the district for more than one year and there are people in Hendry and Martin who have never seen Mr. Hastings and don’t know who their congressman is.”

Sansaricq has been campaigning all over the district, the poorest in South Florida, where minorities make up the bulk of registered voters, most of whom are Democrats. That makes his task of beating the incumbent even more difficult.

But Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Republican Party in Palm Beach County, says Sansaricq could unseat Hastings.

“He’s a viable candidate for the first time who is not Alcee Hastings,” said Dinerstein. “The people in that district have been poor all their lives. Their grandparents were poor. Their parents, their children and their grandchildren are poor.

“Alcee Hastings is opposed to school vouchers,” Dinerstein continued. “He is opposed to anything that will allow them to pull themselves up.”

Dinerstein said Sansaricq has a chance because he has name recognition among Haitian-American voters.

“He was a freedom fighter in Haiti,” Dinerstein said. “A number of Democrats will vote for him. And Obama is not on the ticket. That matters.”

Sansaricq said he is making his case to the voters.

“The first issue is education,” said Sansaricq, who notes the district has a 52 percent high school dropout rate that rises to 70 percent for foreign-born minorities. “I will have a top staffer focus on education when I am elected.”

Hastings said job creation is the most important issue, followed by housing and education.

“Never did I think it [the downturn] would be so pronounced,” Hastings said. “Immigration and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq don’t loom as large as the issues of the economy.”

The congressman said he is proudest of healthcare reform, although it doesn’t go far enough. He continues to support the president.

“Obama, with the assistance of Congress, has done remarkable things, including keeping the economy from collapsing,” he said. “I am not running away from Obama.”

Gregory Lewis can be reached at glewis@SunSentinel.com or 954-572-2084


Author: `