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25374: Hermantin(News)Infighting costly to Haitian candidates (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
Posted on Sun, Jun. 12, 2005
NORTH MIAMI | MAYORAL ELECTION
Infighting costly to Haitian candidates
The mayoral race in North Miami became a debate about haves and have nots for
the Haitian community -- and about who controls their vote.
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
Four years ago, a rising Haitian-American votership achieved its promise of
electoral strength by making one of their own mayor of North Miami.
Four weeks ago, that same Haitian-American votership -- now plagued with
political infighting -- tossed it all away with one of the lowest voter-turnout
elections in recent North Miami history.
How the Haitian community lost its political clout in a city of just over
61,000 residents, one in which they outnumber other ethnic groups, is a lesson
about how even local elections can't escape the bitter divisions raised by
Haiti's political crisis.
In the end, longtime neighborhood activist and newly sworn-in Mayor Kevin Burns
beat former North Miami councilman and fundraising front-runner Jean Monestime
by 58 percent to 36 percent in an election in which many Haitians apparently
''Jean Monestime didn't lose. We all lost,'' local Haitian-American radio
personality Ed Lozama of 1700 AM Planet 17 said. ``We did it to ourselves.
Kevin Burns didn't beat us, we just didn't win.''
Unlike in 2001, when a united Haitian community help elect Joe Celestin North
Miami mayor, this year's race was overshadowed by a divide-and-conquer campaign
anchored on Haitian radio and led by a handful of Haitians who had declared war
on Monestime and his supporters.
It began early when popular Haitian radio personality Nelson ''Piman Bouk''
Voltaire told voters to vote all of the elected Haitian officials out of
office. Voltaire is a supporter of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the elected Haitian
president who was ousted in a 2004 rebellion but who still is considered by
many to be Haiti's constitutional leader.
For Voltaire and Lavarice Gaudin, another radio host and prominent member of a
pro-Aristide grass-roots group, Veye Yo, North Miami's election became a way of
showing they still wield control over South Florida's Haitian community despite
dwindling support at recent pro-Aristide rallies.
Led by Haitian-American professionals, strategists and elected officials,
including state Rep. Philip Brutus, the first Haitian-American elected to the
Florida House, other Haitian-American leaders rallied around Monestime.
Yet some observers of the race believe there was a concerted effort to derail
Monestime's candidacy and the legitimacy of the so-called Haitian power brokers
''It's all the work of one person who is very shrewd at politics, and he's
good,'' said Lozama, who refused to name the individual.
That individual, according to sources and accusations flying in Haitian
circles, is Ringo Cayard, executive director of the Haitian-American Foundation
and founder of Miami Mardi Gras.
''Ringo is a power broker,'' Monestime said. ``Ringo is not a community
activist, so therefore Ringo may have a lot more responsibility in the loss of
Cayard denies being the mastermind -- but doesn't deny his involvement in
''There is a leadership in this community, and people have a tendency not to
respect the leadership in this community. When they don't respect them, they
will get slapped on the wrist,'' said Cayard, whose family has been here since
The Haitian community's failure to support Monestime on Election Day was
payback for alleged remarks and radio attacks Monestime supporters made on
Haitian radio against him, Voltaire and Veye Yo, Cayard said.
In the final days of the campaign, callers jammed Haitian radio phone lines,
responding to a mudslinging campaign involving a rumor that Monestime, who
holds a master's degree, had called Voltaire, a businessman with a general
equivalency diploma, ``dumb.''
Voltaire controls 25 hours of weekly airtime on Creole-language radio and
employs 17 people through two businesses.
Monestime denies making the comment.
Still, the rumor touched off heated feelings on issues of class and education
-- issues that forever have dogged Haitian society and continue to play a role
in Haitian politics.
Gaudin and his Veye Yo group not only made class a rallying cry in the
election, they flailed at the failure of Monestime, Brutus and other campaign
supporters to speak out against the current situation in Haiti.
One thing Monestime supporters and opponents agree on is that Monestime ran a
lousy campaign -- failing to come out swinging against rumors that he voted to
have the city's water bill go monthly, and that he handed interim Haitian Prime
Minister Gerard Latortue -- an unpopular figure among many local Haitians --
the keys to the city during a visit last year.
But Brutus said the Haitian-American community has to stop listening to ''radio
terrorists'' and think for itself.
Herald Staff writer Tim Henderson contributed to this report.