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Nancy Smith

Come on, FDP, Black Women in Florida Deserve a Voice

September 2, 2014 - 6:00pm

If ever there was an opportunity for Democratic black women to launch their own caucus in Florida, it's now, when the party's nominee for governor desperately needs their vote to win.

Yes, I said desperately. The Charlie Crist campaign team has acknowledged Crist needs 93 percent of the African-American vote to win in November, and by all accounts, African-American women make up nearly 70 percent of that 93.

So, shouldn't the Florida Democratic Party be oozing over the new Democratic African-American Women's Caucus (DAAWC) like syrup on a stack of flapjacks?

One would think. But it's not.

Could the reason be Leslie Wimes? Is it because the party holds a grudge against the outspoken Wimes, the DAAWC's founder? Remember, it was Wimes, president of the Palm Beach County-based networking group Women on the Move, who worked hard through primary day on behalf of Crist's opponent, Nan Rich.

The party tried but couldn't bring her to heel. Leaders and surrogates went toe to toe with her, belittled her in blogs and in comments on stories and accused her of secretly working for Gov. Rick Scott -- all because she didn't trust "Chain Gang Charlie," an ideological eunuch, to represent traditional Democratic values.

But if Wimes thinks her caucus is getting the bum treatment because she's being punished, that's not what she said to me. Seems to me she thinks it's worse than a personal punishment. She thinks the Democratic Party is telling black women -- women who vote, who stay involved, who have their own businesses, their own health issues, their own need for party attention and support -- that they're incapable of leadership, they're unimportant and in the end, there's no place for them under the big blue tent.

"They want our vote but they don't want to hear what we have to say," she said.

One by one, party leaders have shown Wimes that they've ignored the 1,200 "Likes" she gathered on her website and Facebook page when she discussed formation of the new caucus for black women. Wimes told me this:

-- Maureen McKenna, president of the Democratic Womens Club of Florida, opposes a separate caucus and instead wants Wimes to create a task force for African-American women from within McKenna's own club.

-- The FDP's Nick Pelitto likes that idea -- yeah, work with another group.

-- Henry Crespo, president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida, agreed -- African-American women don't need to do their own thing.

-- What about Ken Evans, state committeeman from the Broward Democratic Party and chair of the state party's clubs and caucuses committee? Not interested. He's "too busy" working with (Congresswoman) Lois Frankels campaign to get involved.

"They want to relegate us to a task force or a committee? "Come on," Wimes said. "African-American women have a voice that deserves to be heard. We deserve a seat at the table.

Wimes points to recent current events -- the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the trials of Marissa Alexander, the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. "We have a point of view," she said. "We have concerns, ideas. We can be part of the solution. But look around. When you look at all the party leaders talking about Stand Your Ground, for instance, or making decisions on who we should vote for, do you see a single black woman's face? You do not."

"Do you know how many black women die of diabetes?," Wimes asks. "Do you know how unequal a black woman's pay is, compared to anybody else doing the same job? Do you know how many have started successful businesses, graduated from college and are preparing for careers their parents could only dream about?

"I ask you, should these women be isolated and silent? Should they only speak when spoken to and relegated to a task force? They have issues, they have answers, they want to be included in the conversation."

The DAAWC has a Facebook group, as well as a Facebook page. The website is currently under construction, Wimes said, but look for it soon.

Wimes spent part of the Labor Day holiday talking with Republican state Rep. Neil Combee from Auburndale, who is drafting a public safety bill aimed at making sure the kind of police shooting that happened in Ferguson, Mo., doesn't happen in any town in Florida. "I'm talking to (Democratic) Sen. Dwight Bullard, too. This can be a really important bill, a bipartisan effort -- a win-win for everybody.

"It's all about community and sensitivity training for police," she said. "And about body cameras, too." Police officials have said cameras in general can add certainty to events when the facts are in dispute, and can change the course of events because they can influence the behavior of those involved in an incident.

"I think some in the party are afraid to let black women come any closer. I don't think they understand," she said. "We don't want power. We want to empower."

I don't have to be black to get a real sense of how isolated African-American women feel. I grew up, came up, started my career at a time when women -- I'm talking about white women, God knows how bad it must have been for black women -- were expected to fall in line behind men for jobs, for pay, for credibility, for respect and hey, you don't like it? Tough, go have babies and leave the rest to us.

White women are still behind in many respects (ask any woman who ever served in the Florida House), but they've made enormous strides during my lifetime. Black women, not so many. Especially in the Sunshine State. They deserve a voice. They have a perspective and a depth of knowledge of American society that we've been missing in this country perhaps forever.

The Democratic Party is lucky to have Leslie Wimes, primary bad feelings or not. This is a remarkable woman, as I've said before, who wants nothing more than to aid her party, her state, her country by helping African-American women open the door.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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