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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

New Alliances In Doral

By Sandra Hernandez

July 23, 2003
Copyright © 2003 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

Less than a month after residents voted to make Doral an independent city, they returned to the polls Tuesday to elect their first mayor and four city council members.

While this election may seem like small-town politics to some, its significance is far greater. This nascent city that sits west of Miami International Airport is a snapshot of South Florida's political future in areas where Hispanics are moving into once white majority communities, analysts say.

"Doral is a reflection of what is happening in South Florida from West Palm Beach down, where Cubans are being replaced by other Hispanics," said Dario Moreno, director of the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University. ?

Hispanics won at least three of the five seats, including the mayoral race. The winners were Juan C. Bermudez for mayor. Pedro Cabrera, Sandra Ruiz and Mike DiPietro. There will be a runoff for the fourth seat between Patricia Zulueta and Mike Van Name on Aug. 5.

Once a predominantly white community, Doral is now a blend of Venezuelans, Colombians, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and others who make up 67 percent of its residents. Whites represent 24 percent while blacks make up just under 3 percent.

Moreover, Hispanics account for 60 percent of the city's 7,000 registered voters. Just over 25 percent of those who were registered voted.

Tuesday's election results mirror Doral's diversity and place this bedroom community of 20,000 on a new political frontier. Of the 15 candidates who sought office, at least half were Hispanic. Of the winners, Bermudez and Cabrera are Cuban-American. Ruiz is Mexican-American, and DiPietro is Italian-American. Zulueta, a Spaniard, is in a runoff against Van Name, whose ancestors were Dutch.

"This is probably the most diverse slate of winners in Miami Dade County," said Kevin Hill, professor of political science at Florida International University. "It looks like Hispanics voted for Hispanics and whites voted for whites."

Hill said a high turnout of white voters was a sign that ethnicity became an issue late in the campaign.

"It was a surprisingly high white turnout and that says that there are a lot of people who fear the Hispanic takeover of Doral," said Hill. "Ethnicity is already there but not in the voting until now. This really indicates a white bloc vote."

The new mayor said he wasn't surprised the vote split along ethnic lines. "I think Hispanics happen to live here and that happens to bother some people because we are close to being elected," said Bermudez.

The Doral election also indicates that Cubans will continue to influence the political landscape because of their ability to raise money and mobilize voters.

Hill and other analysts said broad coalitions between Cubans and non-Cuban Hispanics are the future throughout South Florida, an alliance that will produce more candidates and ultimately more Hispanics in office. These new unions are imminent in Broward County, where Puerto Ricans are the dominant Hispanic group but are still relative political novices.

"I think you will see Hispanics turning to Cubans because at this point I believe most of the political and organizational know-how is in the hands of Cuban-Americans.

They are the ones running many of the successful campaigns," said Hill.

In Doral, all the winners and Zulueta turned to Al Lorenzo, a Cuban-American, to run their campaigns. Lorenzo is a seasoned political consultant who worked on Manny Diaz's successful run for mayor of Miami.

"It makes sense to turn to people who understand the community," said Lorenzo. He downplays the role of Cuban-Americans, although he also managed DiPietro's campaign, the only white candidate to win.

Analysts say other consultants may not have as clear an understanding of how to tap into the Hispanic and more importantly Cuban community.

"It isn't enough just to run for office; you have to have money and know how to run a campaign," said Moreno.

In local elections, the impact will be less obvious, especially in affluent communities such as Doral, where residents focused on issues such as limiting development, traffic and education, according to many voters.

Chiqui Ramirez, a 53-year-old Puerto Rico native, said she voted for a Cuban-American. "I'm not voting for him because he's Hispanic. I like what he has to say and he happens to be Hispanic," she said.

Instead, the influence of these coalitions will be more obvious in statewide contests where the divisions between conservative and liberal Hispanics are more visible on issues such as education, immigration or even law enforcement.

"It will force both sides, in some cases Puerto Ricans and on the other hand the Cubans, to find a more moderate position on domestic issues," said Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a Hispanic think tank based at the University of Southern California. "There will be some issues, however, such as Cuba, that you won't see any change."

But don't expect these alliances to happen overnight.

"It's hard to say exactly when or where things will change because things change so quickly in South Florida," said Hill. "Doral's a good example of how fast it can happen. In 1997, 50 percent of Doral's voters were white and now look at the numbers. The same thing could happen elsewhere and just as quickly."

While Tuesday's results brought new Hispanic political faces, it also left some feeling bruised.

"I think there was some bitterness created by this election by those who sought to say it was a Hispanic dominant community," said Morgan Levy, who led the charter movement and was an outspoken critic of some of the winners. "It should never have been said that Doral was a Hispanic community. We all live here and we are all Americans."

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