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The Orlando Sentinel

Hispanics Lose Public Offices

by María T. Padilla

November 12, 2000
Copyright © 2000 The Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

And then there were four.

Tuesday`s election saw the number of Hispanic elected officials in Central Florida shrink to four from six who held office in January.

The diminishing number of Hispanic elected officials is not for lack of trying. Five candidates lost their bids for public office in Tuesday`s election.

Defeated were Dalis Guevara and Peter Olivo of Osceola County, who ran for County Commission; Norman Eddie Lorenzo, who lost a bid for Kissimmee City Commission; Letty Marques, who ran for Orange-Osceola public defender; and James Auffant, who made a bid for state District 35, which includes parts of Orange and southeast Seminole County.

"We went from a high down to a new low," said state Rep. Anthony Suárez, who currently represents District 35.

Guevara`s race was perhaps the most closely watched among Hispanics.

She`s the widow of the late Osceola County Commissioner Robert Guevara, who died in April. Dalis Guevara ran for what would have been Robert`s second term, getting only 46 percent of the vote.

"I am confident that at least I made a clean and viable campaign," Guevara said.

Although most Hispanic candidates lost Tuesday, some people were buoyed by the narrow margins in most cases. That`s seen as an indication that Hispanic candidates are becoming more competitive.

Olivo took 49.7 percent of the vote, trailing his opponent by less than 1 percentage point. Marques received 46 percent of the ballots. Auffant garnered 45 percent. Lorenzo got 33 percent.

Still in office are Orange County Chairman Mel Martínez; Winter Springs Commissioner Eddie Martínez, who was re-elected Tuesday to a second three-year term; Deltona Commissioner José Pérez; and Orange County Commissioner Mary Johnson, who was re-elected earlier this year.

The political landscape began to shift when Gov. Jeb Bush didn`t appoint Guevara to replace her husband.

Then Suárez bowed out of a re-election bid this year, choosing instead to run for Orange-Osceola circuit court judge. He lost.

Auffant made a bid for Suárez`s District 35, which is 17 percent Hispanic, the most Hispanic state district in the region. However, the district also has a majority of Republicans, while Auffant is a Democrat.

Democrat Suarez won that seat in 1999 in a special election boosted by absentee ballots.

Losses aside, Hispanics have shown an increasing tendency to run for office. That is likely to continue, reflecting higher population numbers. But as Tuesday`s election shows, there`s no guarantee that the number of Hispanic officials will climb.

Other factors also may come into play. Pérez of Deltona announced recently he won`t run for City Commission next year, although he may run for mayor. Eddie Martínez, who on Tuesday won 57 percent of the Winter Springs vote, said this may be his last term. "It takes a lot out of you," said Martínez, who estimated he knocked on 4,000 doors.

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