Rep. Kendrick Meek’s (D-Fla.) Senate aspirations have set off a scramble among a slew of Miami-area public officials looking to fill the Congressman’s shoes in the overwhelmingly Democratic, majority-black 17th district.
Several Democratic insiders in Washington, D.C., and in Florida agree that state Sen. Frederica Wilson (D), who announced her candidacy late last week, is probably the frontrunner to replace Meek.
Wilson’s state Senate district overlaps most of the Congressional district, she has probably the highest name identification among the announced candidates and she is known outside her legislative capacity for founding a drop-out prevention program for minorities in Miami-Dade County. She also has a proven fundraising machine which has propelled her to state legislative victories to succeed Meek in both the state House and state Senate.
“This is a district I already know well,— Wilson said in her announcement last week. “These are the same schools, businesses and families I’ve worked with and fought for my whole career. And just as I’ve made sure these communities had a voice in Tallahassee, I will do the same for them in Washington.—
Wilson’s main competition in the primary may be Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson (D), who said this week that she expects to make her formal campaign announcement around April 1. Elected in 2003 as the first mayor of Miami Gardens, Gibson is the executive of the third-largest city in Miami-Dade County. Gibson said she expects to raise at least a half-million dollars for the race.
But even as Wilson and Gibson build their campaigns, some state party insiders are wondering if a certain white Republican might have the biggest hand in deciding the outcome of the race in a district that is 55 percent black.
One Florida Democratic consultant argued Wednesday that the most important person in the 17th district race right now is popular Gov. Charlie Crist (R), who is mulling a Senate bid but has said he won’t make a decision until later this spring.
“If Crist runs for Senate, Kendrick Meek might not,— the consultant said. That could mean that Meek would seek a 5th term in the House in 2010.
Meek, who has traveled the state extensively raising money since announcing for Senate, has insisted that he wouldn’t be deterred by Crist’s enormous profile or extensive fundraising connections. And his campaign insisted this week that the Congressman is in the Senate race to win and that there’s been no talk of dropping back into the House campaign.
Even if Meek were to end his Senate campaign and try for a fifth term in the House, it seems unlikely that he would have a clear road to the Democratic nomination.
Between the Congressman and his mother — former five-term Rep. Carrie Meek (D-Fla.) — a member of the family has held the 17th district seat for 17 years. And considering the number of individuals who have made their Congressional ambitions known since Meek announced for the Senate, there appears to be a healthy amount of pent-up ambition in this 100-square-mile district that takes in part of Miami-Dade County and a piece of southeast Broward County.
Gibson said she doesn’t expect Meek to drop his Senate bid but that if he did choose to seek re-election, she would end her Congressional bid.
Still, not everyone is prepared to be so deferential.
“People are saying Kendrick might get cold feet,— said former state Rep. Phillip Brutus, who has also thrown his hat into the Democratic primary. Brutus said that “it would not bode well— for the Congressman to return to the House race now after so many people in the district have accepted that he’s running for Senate and put their own campaigns in motion.
“I sure ain’t going to clear it for him and I know other people have said the same thing. We are here to stay and the cream will rise to the top,— Brutus said.
Another intriguing possibility being discussed by district Democrats is the return of Carrie Meek to electoral politics.
According to one scenario, Carrie Meek, who started the Miami-Dade County-based Carrie Meek Foundation after she left Congress, could file to run in the 17th and depend on her wide name identification and Congressional record to secure a victory in the Democratic primary. That would allow Kendrick Meek to run in the Senate primary and, if he loses, give him a path back to the House in 2010.
For that to happen, Carrie Meek would have to withdraw her name from the ballot after winning the primary and then Members of the party executive committee in the district would have to vote to replace Carrie Meek on the general election ballot with her son.
It would be a complicated maneuver, but there is precedent for Carrie Meek lending a hand to her son’s Congressional career.
In July 2002, just two weeks before the state filing deadline, the Congresswoman suddenly announced she would not run again and promised to work “24 hours a day— to get her son elected. Some Democrats in the district admit that the move caught many would-be candidates flat-footed and unprepared to mount a challenge. It also left some hard feelings.
Miami Gardens City Councilman André Williams, who has filed to run in the 17th, acknowledged that he’s heard chatter that Carrie Meek could come back. And while he said Carrie Meek did “a great job— during her years in Congress, he said “it’s a new day and I think the community is ready for new leadership.—
He added that if she were to return this year, her maneuver on behalf of her son in 2002 wouldn’t be far removed from voters’ minds.
State Rep. Ronald Brisé (D) — who continues to mull a 17th district bid — said he believes Carrie Meek could win a Democratic primary, but if she were to do so just to give her son a safety net, “it would leave a horrible sense in people’s minds and horrible taste in people’s pallets.—
Two other Democrats running in the 17th district primary are four-term state Rep. Yolly Roberson, who was previously married to Brutus, and community activist Marleine Bastien, who plans to formally launch her campaign sometime in April.
The 17th district is 55 percent black and has a large Haitian and Caribbean-American population. President Barack Obama won the district with 87 percent of the vote and Republicans haven’t contested the seat during Meek’s four terms in Congress.