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By Walter Pacheco | Sentinel Staff Writer
November 11, 2001
After Deltona's city election, the political scales could remain unbalanced for Hispanics in Central Florida, but the few remaining elected Hispanic leaders vow that voter participation is the key.
In Tuesday's general election, former Deltona City Commissioner José "Joe" Pérez was defeated by incumbent Mayor John Masiarczyk -- who garnered more than 75 percent of the vote.
Deltona architect and former Planning and Zoning Board member Rafael Valle lost to newcomer Diane Obremski, a schoolteacher.
Now, the Deltona City Commission has no Hispanic representation for a community with more than 13,000 Hispanics, or 18 percent of the city's population, and with a Hispanic voting population of more than 4,000.
That means only two Hispanics remain in elected office in a region where Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the population.
Hispanics have a consumer spending power of more than $400 billion nationwide and own thousands of businesses in Orlando.
Former Orange County Chairman Mel Martínez, a Cuban immigrant, was appointed Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development this year, leaving Orange County Commissioner Mary Johnson as the only Hispanic on the board.
Johnson, of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent, has served since 1992 as the first Hispanic elected to the county board, and prior to that, she was the first Hispanic on the Orlando City Council, where she served for 12 years.
"The community needs to get mobilized," Johnson said. "They need to get more involved in order to make their presence known.
"It's not going to happen overnight. We do have to support each other and join the many boards and use that as a steppingstone. I have always encouraged that," Johnson said.
Winter Springs City Commissioner Ed Martínez Jr., a Puerto Rican, has been in office since 1997 and founded the Hispanic-American Political Action Committee in 1994. One issue he has tackled has been to provide bilingual ballots for Seminole's Spanish-speaking registered voters.
"We keep stepping backward if there are not enough Hispanic candidates," Martínez said.
"The community is in a kind of limbo. Voter apathy among Hispanics can be tackled by higher attendance at public meetings at municipal and county levels," he said.
Deltona's Pérez, who drove to different polling places on Election Day, does not see Hispanic representation getting better in the future without addressing the deficits.
"We need to assess what are the problems [in order to] get the voters out there," Pérez said. "I'm a community person and getting the word out to people to vote is important in reducing voter apathy."
Pérez reported seeing the Hispanic community at the polls, but felt the turnout was poor.
"I was a bit disappointed with the turnout," Pérez said.
Luis Ramos III, a member of the Volusia County Hispanic Association, agrees that participation is the way to better representation.
"I noticed that most Hispanics do not get as involved in politics, the school-parent meetings, city, state or national issues as we once cared and were very outspoken in the place we felt to be our home. But America is our home," Ramos said. "We need to continue our heritage."
By Mark Pino | Sentinel Staff Writer
November 11, 2001
Splitting Hispanic-heavy Buenaventura Lakes into two political districts could turn into a nasty political fight, tinged with charges of discrimination and racism. But it's the wrong fight for Osceola Hispanics to wage in a war for political power.
Voters elect School Board members and county commissioners countywide. The geographic description of districts is purely window dressing -- unless commissioners someday ask voters to give single-member districts another shot.
That's unlikely. So splitting representation of BVL among two districts isn't going to have any influence on the odds of a Hispanic candidate getting elected to office.
Nope, the true test rests with the candidate.
The county's first and only Hispanic elected official, Robert Guevara, was elected to the County Commission when commissioners were elected from individual districts. Some think he would have faced a tough battle for re-election in a countywide race. We'll never know because Guevara died before his term was up. He certainly had won the respect of many non-Hispanics, and he always emphasized that he wasn't just a Hispanic commissioner, but represented all Osceola residents.
There's no doubt that Guevara, a Democrat, had a special place in his heart for the people of Buenaventura Lakes. But he was also an advocate for residents who still don't have a steady voice at the commission dais. Guevara was an outsider who learned about county politics. Sometimes he lost and sometimes he won. At least he was in there swinging.
So far, no one has come forward to replace him as a bona fide political heavy-hitter for Hispanics. His widow, Dalis, ran for his seat and lost a close election. She has a big heart for issues that affect regular people and may still have a shot at local politics.
Other Hispanics have sought office and failed, mainly because they were unprepared to deal with Osceola's issues. They could be back, too -- hopefully better prepared.
There must be more potential contenders out there. One may be Republican Jose Hoyos, who was considered by Gov. Jeb Bush as an interim replacement when Guevara died.
That there are no Hispanics in Osceola elected office is shocking -- and shameful.
Osceola is 30 percent Hispanic, and Kissimmee is 42 percent Hispanic. But Hispanics haven't found a way to connect themselves to the power structure. That's because we need leaders who inspire. To do that, potential leaders need to know their stuff.
Being qualified means having experience and a record of community service. Many candidates think the only qualification they need is a Hispanic last name or that they can speak Spanish. The true
measure of leadership is found in their qualifications.
Hispanic candidates seeking public office need a platform that helps people, not themselves. They need to ask themselves why they are running and how they can make a difference for the Hispanic community -- and Osceola as a whole.
Expecting to be elected just because you're Hispanic is no way to run for office. Candidates need to show they have vision and the ability to lead others to it.