Lead­ers re­act to first black sher­iff

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - NATION & WORLD - By Dan Sweeney Staff writer An­thony Man con­trib­uted to this re­port. [email protected]­Sen­tinel.com, 954-356-4605 or Twit­ter @Daniel_Sweeney

For more than a cen­tury, the church now known as the New Mount Olive Bap­tist Church has been a cen­ter­piece of life in Fort Lauderdale’s African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity. With more than 10,000 mem­bers it remains in­te­gral to the neigh­bor­hood around Sistrunk Boule­vard.

That puts it at the heart of the most Demo­cratic-leaning de­mo­graphic in the most Demo­cratic-leaning county in Florida. With their back against the wall, Demo­cratic politi­cians have often come to the New Mount Olive Bap­tist Church to rally the black com­mu­nity in Broward County. Hil­lary Clin­ton stopped by just be­fore the 2016 elec­tion, af­ter a late an­nounce­ment by then-FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey put her email servers back into head­lines. An­drew Gil­lum stopped in af­ter his own cam­paign, dur­ing the re­count process.

And on Fri­day, Scott Is­rael held his news con­fer­ence there af­ter be­ing sus­pended from of­fice by Repub­li­can Gov. Ron DeSan­tis.

Lead­ers in Broward’s black com­mu­nity took the choice of venue as a sign of both Is­rael’s sup­port of and sup­port by black vot­ers.

“I’m not sur­prised that the press con­fer­ence is hap­pen­ing there,” said state Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park. “It just shows that sup­port for the sher­iff. They’re ral­ly­ing around what they know, they’re ral­ly­ing around who sup­ports them.”

Jones added that the show of sup­port for Is­rael wasn’t a slight against Gre­gory Tony, DeSan­tis’ choice to re­place Is­rael, who would be the county’s first African Amer­i­can sher­iff. “It’s just that [Tony] is an un­known for many peo­ple,” he said.

On the other hand, state Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, did think hold­ing the news con­fer­ence at Mount Olive was in­dica­tive of the black com­mu­nity’s sup­port for Is­rael over DeSan­tis, re­gard­less of their be­ing un­aware of Tony.

“From ev­ery­thing that I see, [Is­rael] has a di­verse staff, so him leaning on the com­mu­nity he has a strong re­la­tion­ship with and a long-term re­la­tion­ship with would have more weight than some­one who’s had prob­lems with the African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity,” DuBose said.

Dur­ing the 2018 gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign, DeSan­tis took se­vere crit­i­cism from Gil­lum and his sup­port­ers over ap­pear­ances at far­right con­fer­ences and the racist lan­guage of some of DeSan­tis’ sup­port­ers, capped off by Gil­lum declar­ing in the fi­nal gu­ber­na­to­rial de­bate, “I’m not call­ing Mr. DeSan­tis a racist. I’m sim­ply say­ing the racists be­lieve he is a racist.”

Hear­ing that Broward was about to get its first African-Amer­i­can sher­iff, Coral Springs City Com­mis­sioner Joshua Sim­mons came to DeSan­tis’ Fort Lauderdale ap­pear­ance, which took place less than an hour be­fore Is­rael’s re­sponse at Mount Olive, to see his­tory made.

“[It] would be his­toric since we’ve never had an African-Amer­i­can sher­iff here in Broward County,” he said. “In our po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, see­ing a per­son of color be­ing in a po­si­tion of au­thor­ity ... it’s im­por­tant for chil­dren to see that.”

DeSan­tis re­placed Is­rael with Tony on the same day he and the rest of the Florida Clemency Board — Repub­li­can Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer Jimmy Pa­tro­nis, Repub­li­can At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ashley Moody and Demo­cratic Agri­cul­ture Com­mis­sioner Nikki Fried — voted to grant a post­hu­mous par­don to the Grov­e­land Four. The four black men had been falsely ac­cused of rap­ing a white woman in 1949. Two were sub­se­quently shot to death, while the other two were given lengthy prison terms.

Black law­mak­ers greeted the day’s news — the par­don and the new black sher­iff — with a mix of cyn­i­cism and hope.

“Pol­i­tics is a lot of what’s go­ing on, in my opin­ion,” said DuBose, who was driv­ing back to Fort Lauderdale from the clemency hear­ing in Tallahassee. “I don’t know if the gov­er­nor’s try­ing to right a ship. We do Grov­e­land to­day, you leave and you go to South Florida and make this an­nounce­ment — I want to hear ex­actly why he’s do­ing what he’s do­ing.”

Jones of­fered the more op­ti­mistic re­sponse.

“The gov­er­nor has sur­prised me with some of the ac­tions he’s taken. Gov. Scott showed the black com­mu­nity no love — none at all,” he said. “Now, I am a huge Demo­crat, but give credit where credit’s due. Some of the move’s he’s mak­ing are ex­actly what Florida needs.”

MIKE STOCKER/SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SEN­TINEL

Gre­gory Tony speaks to the me­dia at the Ron Cochran Pub­lic Safety Com­plex af­ter he was named sher­iff by Gov. Ron DeSan­tis.

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