All five Democrats who showed up Tuesday night to make the case they are the best person to replace the late Rep. Alcee Hastings in Congress agree on income equality, abortion rights, health care for all, COVID-19 vaccine mandates and destigmatizing those identifying as transgender.
The differences between five candidates running to represent Florida’s 20th Congressional District became clearer only as they each talked about their personal stories and campaign strategies during Wednesday’s Broward County Presidents’ Council of Democratic Clubs & Caucuses online candidate forum.
The evening featured Trinity Health Care Services CEO Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Rep. Bobby DuBose, Rep. Omari Hardy, Broward County Commissioners Dale Holness, Barbara Sharief and Sen. Perry Thurston. They were chosen from a field of nearly a dozen Democrats who have qualified to compete in the Democratic Primary Election Nov. 2 based on fundraising prowess and other factors.
Who can adequately meet the needs of the district’s 800,000 residents, 19% of whom don’t have health insurance, emerged as a big talking point. The word “fight” came up 22 times during the 90-minute debate.
Thurston pointed to his record as a lawyer and a state Senator.
“There’s now a lot of things going on in Tallahassee, and I’ve fought that fight,” Thurston said. ”From the beginning, right up until today, I’m going to continue to fight for the community. I have tried over 200 cases, fighting in the courthouse, as well as the statehouse and know that we need someone who can fight, and someone who can bring the same spirit to this fight that Alcee Hastings did. And I can tell you, I’ll be the man to do that.”
Sharief pointed to her personal story, losing her father at age 14 to gun violence and later becoming Broward County’s first Black female Mayor, a nurse and a businesswoman. That gave her an appreciation for how much people need the type of chances she received.
“I think that when you talk about justice and equality of opportunity, I’m a prime example of why I’d be a great fighter,” she said. “I’ve worked my way through nursing school, I created opportunities for myself but most of all, I had the opportunity of having Pell grants and writing essays and qualifying for scholarships, and that’s something that not everybody has the opportunity to do.”
Different points of emphasis emerged when the candidates were asked how they would advance social justice legislation.
Hardy said it would be the Green New Deal, a top priority for U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts. It is seen as a way of tackling climate change. But It’s so much more, Hardy said.
“It is meant to use this (global climate change) crisis facing not just Americans, but all of humanity, as an opportunity to correct some of the previous mistakes that we’ve made in the history of this country,” Hardy said. “It will provide a federal jobs guarantee, something that would, of course, benefit poor and working-class people and people of color. It would create a federal guarantee for health care, and it would also target these funds to what the Green New Deal calls frontline communities — that’s communities like (Congressional) District 20, communities that have been left out.”
Holness said he would want to work on criminal justice, to reform a system that has resulted in what he called “wasted human capital” through the high rate of incarceration.
“I think it’s essential that we address that issue, so that we’re not robbing ourselves of that human capital that’s so necessary for us to build and strengthen the nation,” Holness said, pointing to his work setting up a criminal justice and police review board.
On the question of addressing the shortfall in Social Security, all the candidates but one agreed lawmakers should remove the cap on income that can be taxed for Social Security. That would allow higher incomes to flow into the waning Social Security coffers. Cherfilus-McCormick had a different approach.
“We’re not taxing enough of the new products, enough of the new systems that we have going on,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. “We’re facing a new chapter. We have new businesses. So right now we need to change our tax code.”
CD 20 spans Broward and Palm Beach counties, crossing several majority-Black areas near major cities such as Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
Another forum is scheduled for next Wednesday, to be streamed on Facebook.