Rep. Kendrick Meek (D)
Florida 17th District
North from downtown Miami, alongside Interstate 95, Miami’s main north-south artery, is the city’s largest African-American community. It stretches from the Miami Arena downtown through Allapattah and Liberty City to the brightly painted minarets and Moorish arches of the city of Opa-Locka. This has been a kind of frontierland in Miami, where hostilities between Miami’s blacks and its Cuban-American majority have played out. Many of Miami’s African-Americans have resented the economic upward mobility and political strength of the Cubans. There is also tension between the Cubans and the Haitians in Little Haiti as a result of federal policies that give Cubans who reach U.S. shores refugee status while Haitians are treated as any other immigrant group with the potential for deportation if they’re not here legally. This animosity is reflected in partisan politics. Cuban Americans have been solidly Republican over the years, though somewhat less so recently. South Florida blacks have remained largely Democratic, as has the growing Haitian-American community.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 17th Congressional District of Florida covers much of northeast Miami-Dade County, including Liberty City and Overtown, Opa-Locka, and Miami Gardens (known as Carol City until it was incorporated in 2003), right up to Biscayne Boulevard. It does not include the affluent enclaves facing Biscayne Bay or the beach towns north of Miami Beach, nor does it include heavily Latino Hialeah to the west. This is the historic heart of Miami’s black community. Some 56% of the district’s residents are black, the highest percentage of any Florida district; 25% are Hispanic. The district also includes part of Hollywood and other communities in southern Broward County, which are also strongly Democratic.
Rep. Kendrick Meek (D)
Elected: 2002, 4th term.
Born: Sept. 6, 1966, Miami .
Education: FL A&M U., B.S. 1989.
Family: Married (Leslie); 2 children.
Elected office: FL House of Reps., 1994-98; FL Senate, 1998-2002.
The congressman from the 17th District is Kendrick Meek, a Democrat first elected in 2002. He is the son of his predecessor, Carrie Meek, who was first elected when the district was created in 1992. She is the granddaughter of a slave and was elected to the state Legislature in 1978, when Kendrick Meek was 12. In July 2002, just two weeks before the filing deadline, Carrie Meek announced that she would not run again and promised to work “24 hours a day, seven days a week” to elect her son. The election did not require that much effort. The timing of her announcement left little time for a candidate to emerge against Kendrick Meek, whose name was familiar in the district, and no Democrat or Republican filed to run against him, a rare instance of a non-incumbent winning unopposed. The Meeks are not the first mother and son to be elected to Congress. In 1952 Oliver Bolton, an Ohio Republican, was elected to the House from a district adjoining the one that had been represented by his mother, Frances Bolton, since 1940 and by his father, Chester Bolton, before that.
|Kendrick Meek (D)||Unopposed||($1,311,327)|
|Kendrick Meek (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (100%), 2004 (100%), 2002 (100%)
Kendrick Meek would have been a formidable candidate even without the succession scheme. He was a page in the Florida Legislature when his mother was elected. At Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, he was president of state College Young Democrats and a football player. After receiving his degree in criminology, he worked as a captain in the Highway Patrol and became a security aide to Democratic Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay. In 1994, when he was 28, Meek was elected to the Florida House; four years later he was elected to the Senate. In each case, he took on longtime, respected incumbents and waged contentious campaigns to oust them. In January 2000, he staged a 25-hour sit-in at the lieutenant governor’s office to protest Republican Gov. Jeb Bush’s “One Florida” executive orders, which called for ending the use of racial preferences in state contracting and university admissions. Meek failed to change Bush’s mind, but his act of political theater helped spark the largest-ever protest march on the state Capitol two months later. In 2002, he was well-known as the chief proponent of the ballot initiative to force the state to decrease school class sizes, which, despite Bush’s opposition, was approved.
In Washington, Democratic leaders were impressed by Meek’s political and fundraising skills. He was one of the youngest members of Congress and co-chaired then Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi’s 30-Something Working Group. He and Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan made sometimes humorous YouTube videos explaining how Congress works. A lover of cigars, Meek has been featured in Cigar Aficionado and hosts an annual cigar party. But in keeping with the anti-Castro sentiment that runs strong among the many Cuban-Americans in his district, Meek never smokes Cuban cigars.
There may be hostility on the streets between South Florida blacks and Cubans, but not in the state’s congressional delegation. Meek set out to establish solid working relationships with Republicans, as well as other Democrats, from South Florida. He has worked hand-in-hand with GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, with whom he became close in the Legislature, to try to keep the trade embargo against Cuba. In turn, Diaz-Balart and Cuban-American Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario’s brother, have come to Meek’s aid on other projects. Meek refused to take sides when Democrats ran strong though ultimately unsuccessful campaigns against the three Cuban-American Republicans in 2008. Meek has also pushed to give Haitians refugee status and reduce deportations.
In 2007, Meek’s House career got a big boost when he landed a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He sponsored a bill setting up a mortgage-fraud task force in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which passed the House in September 2008. He also now has a seat on the leadership’s Steering and Policy Committee, which wields considerable power. The Miami Herald said in an October 2006 editorial that Meek “is tireless, creative and willing to work across party lines.”
But his star was tarnished a bit later in 2007, when the Herald ran critical stories about Boston developer Dennis Stackhouse, who in 2003 had proposed building a $250 million biopharmaceutical center in Liberty City. Stackhouse hired Carrie Meek, then no longer in Congress, and paid her $40,000 to be a consultant. In 2004, Kendrick Meek secured a $72,750 House earmark for the project, and in 2005, he helped get a $1 million grant for Miami Dade College to train workers for the center; the following year, Meek requested $4 million in federal funds for the center, but he didn’t get them. Stackhouse and his wife donated $5,000 to Meek’s campaign fund. But Poinciana Biopharmaceutical Park was never built, and most of the companies Stackhouse had claimed were interested in locating at the center said they’d never heard of it. Meek responded to the series by donating Stackhouse’s campaign contributions to charity and said he had never discussed the project with his mother. He also wrote Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez saying federal dollars should not be used for Poinciana Park.
Meek will try to move up to the Senate in 2010. When Democratic Sen. Mel Martinez announced in early 2009 that he would not seek a second term, Meek announced his candidacy for the seat. Certainly he starts off with a base in South Florida’s black community and, given his stands on many issues, in South Florida generally. The African-American vote could be as much as 30% of the total in the primary. Meek hired Steve Hildebrand, a deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Hildebrand specializes in Democratic strategies for winning over moderate and independent voters. This is Meek’s first statewide campaign.
The next representative of the 17th District will undoubtedly be chosen in the Democratic primary. In the spring of 2009, three Haitian-Americans were being mentioned as possible candidates: activist Marleine Bastien, former state Rep. Phillip Brutus and state Rep. Yolly Roberson.