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Broward County Commissioner and former mayor Dale V.C. Holness announced a run for the open congressional seat after the death of longtime Rep. Alcee Hastings last week, and Hastings’ son was on hand to back Holness at a kickoff event Monday evening.
Holness, 64, a Democrat who currently represents Broward District 9 after also serving as county mayor from November 2019 to November 2020, joins what is likely to be a crowded field for a congressional seat that hasn’t been open since 1993. Hastings represented Florida’s 20th Congressional District, which includes majority Black portions of Broward and Palm Beach counties, for 28 years. The eventual winner of the Democratic primary will be heavily favored to win in a district where Republicans are not competitive.
Nearly 100 people, many wearing bright orange “Team Holness” shirts, gathered Monday evening at Hastings’ former campaign office in Plantation where the Broward commissioner officially announced his plans to run for Congress.
A few held yard signs reminding onlookers to reelect Hastings in November 2020, perhaps a way to show the unified support among the former U.S. representative’s family and Holness.
Flanked by a host of elected officials including Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, Holness repeatedly referenced Hastings when he addressed the crowd just after 7:30 p.m.
“Hastings’ memory is an inspiration to all who knew him, serving as a true champion for the historically underserved and leaving behind an everlasting legacy,” said Holness, who wore a Hastings for Congress mask. “I’m humbled by the opportunity to follow in his shadow.”
Alcee Hastings II, the late congressman’s son, doubled down on his father’s relationship with Holness, saying that his family stands “firmly behind Dale.”
“My dad would even say this if he were alive today: Dale has the grit, the perseverance, the determination, the compassion to continue his legacy of fighting for justice and fighting for equality for all,” Hastings II told the audience.
In an interview with the Miami Herald ahead of the event, Holness said he and Hastings had “a longstanding, close relationship for a number of years.”
Holness said he and Hastings, who died April 6 at the age of 84 following a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer, had conversations with each other about Holness succeeding Hastings in the House of Representatives. They were supposed to meet in-person early this year, but Hastings’ health deteriorated and the pair were only able to speak by phone, Holness said.
“He wanted me to be the person to succeed him, and I said, ‘Let me know when we’re ready to go live,’ ” Holness said. “I anticipate that I would not have gone and opened a campaign account prior to me getting his word. With his passing, I’m deciding to go out and declare my candidacy this evening.”
Holness first won elected office in 2004, serving as Lauderhill City Commissioner before joining the Broward County Commission in 2010. Mayors in Broward County are appointed by the county commission and are not elected. Holness is originally from Jamaica.
If elected, Holness said he wants to continue Hastings’ work on international issues, particularly international trade. He’s also interested in additional federal investment in Black communities and Black-owned small businesses.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has the power to schedule a special election to fill Hastings’ seat, which has implications for Democrats in Washington as they currently hold a slim majority in the House of Representatives. Holness said his preferred timeline for an election is to hold a primary in August and a general election in November, to offset the expected decline in turnout for an off-year election.
“I think that is practical and would give people in this district the power to have their voice heard,” Holness said.
Three other candidates have already filed paperwork to run. Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief and Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, who ran against Hastings in 2020 and received 30.7% of the vote in the Democratic primary, filed to run as Democrats before Hastings’ death. Marlon Onias, an attorney in Fort Lauderdale, filed paperwork to run as a Democrat for the seat in the last week.
Sharief’s federal campaign finance report shows she raised $13,230 from donors and loaned herself $100,000 from January 2021 through March 31, a small sum that doesn’t give her much of a head start. Cherfilus-McCormick has yet to file campaign finance paperwork.
Other candidates are expected to join the race or are considering a run, including state Sens. Perry Thurston and Shevrin Jones, former state Sen. Chris Smith and Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam.
On policy, Holness said he’s most proud of sponsoring a resolution in December creating a racial equity task force in Broward County to combat systemic racism, a problem he says costs the nation about $1 trillion a year.
And while Holness has mostly represented parts of Fort Lauderdale, Lauderdale Lakes, Lauderhill, North Lauderdale, Oakland Park, Sunrise, Tamarac, and Plantation during his political career, he says he’ll have the resources and support to win votes in a district that extends from the southern part of Broward to Palm Beach County.
“I intend to reach out to every community, every different ethnic group and every different racial group because we’re all in this together,” Holness said.
Alex Daugherty reported from Washington, D.C.; C. Isaiah Smalls II reported from Plantation.