Florida 18th District
A century ago, it was a tiny tropical village where the Miami River empties into Biscayne Bay. Today it is a world-class city. The surrealistic high-rises of Brickell Boulevard, the reminders of the 1920s in the pseudo-Spanish Villa Vizcaya, the winding lanes of Coral Gables, and the shimmer of orange and pink neon signs in the hot night air: This is Miami today. It lives on the cusp of two civilizations, North America and Latin America, with different traditions, styles, and sensibilities converging in this one place, with the strength of both despite some friction. Miami is in many ways the commercial and economic capital of Latin America. From Miami, it is easy to fly directly to any part of Latin America where top business and banking services are available to a sophisticated Spanish-speaking (and usually also English-speaking) clientele. There is an underside to this, portrayed in the 1980s TV program Miami Vice. What is striking about Miami though is less its vices than its virtues—the vitality and creativity of its entrepreneurs and artists, the sophistication of people living and prospering in two (or more) cultures, and the successful Americanization of Cubans and other Latinos, with the retention of a cultural flavor that is linked to the past but headed fast into the future. In 2006, a movie version of Miami Vice depicted a more modern and glitzy city.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
John Quincy Adams believed that Cuba would inevitably become a part of the United States. That never happened, but many of Cuba’s people have become U.S. citizens, and the focus of Cuban America has been Miami, ever since the first refugees fled Fidel Castro in 1959. In the 1960s, the tone of Miami civic life was set by the large Jewish community and the liberal voice of the Miami Herald. But increasing numbers of Cuban immigrants, implacably opposed to the totalitarian Castro, and estranged by President Kennedy’s betrayal of their cause at the Bay of Pigs, entered the voting stream as Republicans. Then, Cubans were a noisy minority in the Miami area. Now, they are a dominant voice in a Latino majority in Miami-Dade County (as Dade County was renamed in 1997). In 2007, the population of Miami-Dade was 61% Hispanic and 20% black, leaving Anglo whites a fading minority. The city has the highest percentage of immigrants of any large city in the world. Most of South Florida’s Jewish community has moved north to Broward and Palm Beach counties. Little Havana around Calle Ocho (S.W. 8th Street in English) is now home to many Nicaraguans, Hondurans and Peruvians. Its annual spring carnival has featured the world’s largest paella (serving 300,000 people) and the longest conga line (four miles). Latinos in Miami-Dade tend to go to school at Miami Dade College, the nation’s largest community college, or Florida International University, then start businesses or join the professions in Miami’s vibrant economy.
Politically, Miami-Dade County is sharply divided, with black neighborhoods north of downtown and the remaining heavily Jewish condominium developments in the northeast heavily Democratic, and the Latino districts in the west and south mostly Republican. Once the most Democratic county in Florida, it delivered relatively small margins for Democratic presidential candidates in the last five elections. Cuban-Americans remain Republican, but less monolithically than in the past. Younger Cubans are less focused on overthrowing the Castro regime, and many opposed the Bush administration’s restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba while still favoring the embargo.
The 18th Congressional District of Florida is one of Miami-Dade’s three Hispanic-majority districts. It is 65% Hispanic and only 5% African-American. The district includes most of the city of Miami. It follows Calle Ocho west to heavily Hispanic West Miami and Westchester. It includes most of metro Miami’s high-income residential areas: Coral Gables, with luxurious streets laid out in the 1920s and Spanish, French-country, and even Chinese-style houses; Cocoplum, a gated community with huge houses for rich Cuban-Americans and docks for their boats; the postmodern apartment buildings and upscale hotels along Brickell Boulevard; and Key Biscayne, with its high-rise apartments owned mostly by Latin American immigrants and their second-generation offspring. The district includes parts of Miami Beach: South Beach, where old art-deco hotels are home to the glitziest celebrities of North America, Latin America and Europe. It also takes in the high-rises along Collins Avenue facing the ocean, and the Latino neighborhoods around 63rd Street. Miami Beach was the focus of the Florida land boom of 1925 and the bust of 1926, and in the past few years, boom has turned to bust again. Big apartment buildings on Brickell and in downtown Miami stand mostly empty, as speculators default on mortgages. Condo values have plummeted by as much as 40%.
South of Miami, the district is connected to the Florida Keys by U.S. 1. The highway ends in bustling, tropical Key West, the southernmost city in the continental United States. Key West was long accessible only by sea, and treasures from shipwrecks along the miles of coral reefs once provided its residents the highest per capita income in the nation. Key West has attracted famous residents—Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Jimmy Buffett—and a large gay population, many living in quaint clapboard bungalows called “conch houses.” The gay communities in Key West and Miami Beach are solidly Democratic, and they wield some clout. The 18th was drawn to be a Republican district and voted twice for George W. Bush. But in 2008, it delivered a narrow majority to Barack Obama.