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New York Times
The Election Turmoil And South Florida's Ethnic Divisions
by DANA CANEDY
November 11, 2000
MIAMI - At a coffee shop in Little Havana, at a cab company in Liberty City and in between games of canasta at a retirement community in Delray Beach, black, Jewish and Hispanic voters who rarely agree on much agreed one at least one thing Friday - the racial and ethnic undertones of the election chaos show just how fractured this highly diverse part of the country can be.
In South Florida, where diversity is as much a part of the landscape as the white-sand beaches and the sun-kissed resorts, many racial and ethnic minorities acknowledged that their communities were too often isolated by perspectives as much as precincts.
Blacks and Haitian-Americans often feel marginalized. Many Cuban-Americans, especially since the Elian Gonzales saga, say they are misunderstood. And some Jewish retirees see the divisions separating racial and ethnic groups as having to do with class as much as anything else.
In some ways, the reaction to the election turmoil, many say, is the latest reminder of these divisions. The results of the vote have underscored the sense of isolation of some groups, notably Cuban-Americans, who areon the sidelines of the turmoil over whether there should be a re-vote in Palm Beach and other places.
And the battle over whether Gov. George W. Bush or Vice President Al Gore won Florida has served at least temporarily to create an alliance between Jews and blacks in South Florida.
"The Jews want something similar to the blacks," said Al Hooks, a cab driver and part-owner of Society Cab in Liberty City, a low-income, predominately black community. Both groups, he believes, desperately want to elect Al Gore president. Many, he said, are bitterly angry about what they see as an unfair election process in this part of the state.
Dozens of elderly Jewish voters in Palm Beach County said confusing ballots had caused them to mistakenly vote for Pat Buchanan, the Reform Party candidate who some perceive as anti-Semitic.
Many blacks, meanwhile, said tactics at some polling places were intended to keep them from voting. It may well take a court to sort out the all the contentions, but Hooks' mind is made up.
He said Jews who believe they lost out on a chance to elect the first Jewish vice president, Gore's running mate, Joseph I. Lieberman, and blacks who say they lost an opportunity to keep a Democrat in the White House, have found something in common.
"I think it will make us closer," said Hooks, 60, who is black and voted for Gore.
Arnold Clark, an unemployed black man from Liberty City, said he tried to vote but was turned away from the polls, even with a voter registration card, because of a felony robbery conviction in 1986. He said he hoped the election chaos would serve to unite people.
"We should fight together because the system can't work unless we all come together. Blacks, Hispanics and Jews have all been persecuted and we should be trying to get a mutual understanding."
A Jewish voter, meanwhile, said race and ethnicity were not the point at all. "It has nothing to do with black or white or green or Cuban," said Natalie Cantor, a 71-year-old resident of the Lakes of Delray retirement community in Delray Beach. "It has to do with the future."
But, adversity brings people closer together, Cantor said. Besides, she said, "The African Americans are better educated than in my day, and water rises to its own level whether you're black or white or whatever."
Tiffany Roker, a 26-year-old mother and security guard at a hotel in South Beach, said she was filled with pride when she was so many faces - black, brown and white - at New Birth Baptist Church in North Miami on Wednesday, where the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke about the election problems. Rocker, who is black, has long believed that white people try to control blacks, and Hispanics "take so many jobs."
But at that church on Wednesday, at least for one night, she felt something else. "It was the only time I'd seen so many blacks and Jews come together," Roker shaking her head, as if she still did not quite believe it.
The post-election rallies may be a source of unity for some South Florida minorities, but "there's certain things that still divide blacks and Jews," said George Wilson an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Miami. "This one issue is not likely to carry over into other spheres of social and economic life."
Rocker and others say they are not at all certain just how far the tender thread of unity will stretch. And some say it is altogether invisible to them.
"It seems that blacks and Jews and Hispanics will never agree on anything," said Marisel Fernandez, a 23-year-old fashion design student who lives in Little Havana. If voter fraud was committed it should certainly be investigated, she said. But if blacks feel they lack the support to help bring an investigation about, it is their own fault, she believes.
"African Americans alienate themselves," she said. "They hold rallies in their own churches, in their own neighborhoods and only with their own people. They don't invite anyone else to join them in their cause."
Wilson said: "The majority of Cubans are going to adopt the Republican standpoint. African-Americans are going to echo the sentiments of the would-be Gore administration. That's going to be another source of division and tension in this community for weeks and months to come."
Manuel Reyes says he that is tired of the finger pointing and that all of Florida suffers when the state does not embrace its diversity. "After the Elian issue, everyone has a bad opinion about Florida," Reyes said as he drank Cuban coffee outside a coffee shop in Little Havana. "Now it only gets worse."
Karen Mitchell, 39, a computer technology student from South Florida who is white and not Hispanic, said the election fallout been racially divisive. And she echoed Reyes in saying that all Floridians were hurt by it.
"It is providing entertainment for the rest of the world," Mitchell said. "It is like a South Florida soap opera."