Hollywood elects first Black commissioner in city’s 95-year history

Susannah Bryan, South Florida Sun Sentinel
·4 min read

Black candidates have run for office in Hollywood, but they never got elected. Not until Tuesday, that is.

Linda Anderson, a doting grandmother and soft-spoken activist, has the historic honor of being the first Black candidate elected to the commission of a city founded 95 years ago.

It’s about time, she said Wednesday.

“We have children and future generations and they are looking at Hollywood,” Anderson said. “The world has changed. We are a diverse world. And I think it’s time we have someone of color sitting up there. People are looking for a change.”

Anderson, 68, will be sworn into office Nov. 18 alongside political newcomer Adam Gruber and Linda Sherwood, the only incumbent to retain her commission seat in Tuesday’s election.

“The 2020 election gave me an opportunity of a lifelong dream of serving in public office,” Anderson said of her first-time run. “I stand on the shoulders of giants and sought to make history as the first Black commissioner to sit on the dais in Hollywood. There are many who traveled this journey but did not make it this far.”

Hollywood activist Laurie Schecter, a friend of Anderson’s who helped her campaign, was not surprised to see her win.

“The people know her,” Schecter said. “They’ve seen her work hard for them through the years.”

Schecter said Anderson is just what the city needs, especially in today’s times.

“We need her perspective,” Schecter said. “We have not had a very diverse group on our commission so we have been missing voices that are important. We’ve never had an African American in a decision-making role on the dais at City Hall.”

Anderson scored the most votes in a four-way race that knocked longtime Commissioner Peter Hernandez out of office.

“I think there is a movement for more African Americans to be in political office, and I am OK with that,” Hernandez said. “At the end of the day, I respect the voters' wishes. I know I worked very hard for the city. I’m not a career politician. I got involved because the city needed my help.”

Hernandez, who has represented District 2 since 2012, wasn’t the only longtime commissioner to lose his seat Tuesday.

Dick Blattner, the District 4 commissioner for 19 out of the past 26 years, lost to Gruber, a divorced father of three making his first run for office.

“I think it’s just people saying, ‘Okay, been there long enough. Time for a change,’” said Blattner, who has no plans to run again.

“In 2024, I’ll be 90 years old,” Blattner said. “I’m happy with what I was able to accomplish. So I’m OK. I’ll get to chauffeur my wife more often.”

Gruber, 46, runs a security company and is raising three teenagers but says he still has the time and energy for public office.

“I just felt I could do some good for the community,” he said. “Our sidewalks are in really bad shape. That needs to be tackled immediately. Sea level rise needs to be tackled head on. Downtown has such potential. We need more arts and culture. We need to activate the Arts Park and get some traffic down there.”

Sherwood, 78, held onto her District 6 seat despite a challenge from second-time candidate Jack Izzo.

Anderson was still pinching herself on Wednesday.

“I’m the first Black elected in the city and the first woman to serve District 2,” she said. “I’m kind of numb right now. It’s really surreal. My phone has not stopped from 8 p.m. last night through today. And someone came to my door at 6 a.m. to congratulate me.”

Anderson, who worked for 42 years as a trainer and staff developer with the Broward County School System, will be stepping down from her longtime role as president of the Liberia Civic Association.

A widow whose husband died in 2016, Anderson says she’s used to getting calls at 2 a.m. from neighbors needing her help.

“They’d call about everything, from loud music to loud parties,” she said. “People would just come to my door and I would try to help them out."

Anderson grew up in Liberia, Hollywood’s historic Black neighborhood.

Three years ago, she joined a yearslong effort to purge the names of Confederate war generals from city street signs.

The commission eventually agreed to rechristen streets honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest, John Bell Hood and Robert E. Lee, renaming them Freedom, Hope and Liberty.

Two of those streets — Freedom and Hope — run through Liberia.

Anderson’s 85-year-old mother lives on what is now Hope Street in the same home Anderson grew up in.

“Living in one place for over 60 years, you watch children grow and you watch their children grow,” Anderson said. “I think people trust me, and I want them to continue to trust me. I want it to be a better community for them. My boots are going to be on the ground, ready to go.”

Susannah Bryan can be reached at sbryan@sunsentinel.com or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan.

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