(SS) Broward voters made history Tuesday, both in how we vote, and in who will likely lead the criminal justice system in this Democratic-rich, majority-minority county.
Contrary to elections of yore, when Broward became a national laughingstock for its untimely election results, appointed Elections Supervisor Pete Antonacci delivered a seemingly seamless election under the most trying of pandemic conditions.
Nothing speaks louder on election night than numbers. People want the results, quickly and accurately. And Antonacci’s office delivered the rolling tallies without delays, far before Palm Beach County did. It also live-streamed its vote-counting and canvassing board’s work.
Also for the history books, almost 75% of Broward voters made clear that they prefer to vote by mail, which could lead to a record turnout in November’s presidential election. This election proves that when the government makes it easier and safer for people to vote, and people take sensible precautions, a lot more people will vote. About 25% of Broward voters turned out for this primary, up from 16% four years ago. That’s a healthy sign for democracy.
And what’s that about not trusting the Postal Service? The USPS delivered.
Speaking of results, the night’s big surprise was Sheriff Gregory Tony’s victory over former Sheriff Scott Israel in the tense battle for the county’s most powerful political office.
Tony’s win is a powerful statement by voters that the sheriff they want is the one who talked the most about holding police accountable. It shows voters did not want Israel back. It also shows they were willing to overlook Tony’s temper and transgressions because they liked his message of bringing policing reforms to the agency. Still, in a race with six candidates, 63% of voters voted for someone other than Tony.
While Tony will face a Republican challenger in November, it’s time for him to step up as a leader. He should talk to the union and talk to his critics. It’s also time for the union to meet him halfway, should Tony make the first move. He’s no longer the accidental sheriff.
Tony’s advantage — and preliminary results in other major races — suggest the Black Lives Matter movement is having a powerful impact on Broward’s power structure.
Harold Pryor, who ran as a proud African American attorney, father and husband, also held a narrow lead in the race for state attorney in an eight-candidate donnybrook. He overcame Josh Rydell, a Coconut Creek commissioner, who had raised much more money; and Sarahnell Murphy, an assistant state attorney who had much more experience and the support of outgoing State Attorney Mike Satz, who’s retiring after 44 years in office.
If Pryor secures the win, look for a major change in this powerful office, which decides if or when to seek the death penalty, when to accept plea deals, when juveniles should be charged as adults, when to prosecute police officers for overuse of force, and so much more. Pryor faces a Republican and No Party Affiliation candidate on the November election, but given Broward’s Democratic leanings, his presumed victory on Tuesday portends great changes in Broward’s criminal justice system.
Likewise, Gordon Weekes, who has been the chief deputy in Broward’s Public Defender Office, was the runaway winner in the Democratic primary and is poised to be the first Black attorney to hold that key post.
Meanwhile, a fourth Black candidate, Joe Scott, was neck-and-neck with Chad Klitzman in the six-way Democratic primary for supervisor of elections. If Scott’s lead holds, then relatively young Black men will be Broward’s sheriff, state attorney, elections supervisor and public defender — all jobs previously held by relatively older white men.
And a fifth Black candidate, Brenda Forman, Broward’s controversial Clerk of Courts, was poised to win her re-election race, with two white candidates having split a majority of the vote.
In the school board races, the teacher’s union flexed its muscle, playing a large part in ousting incumbent school board member Heather Brinkworth in favor of the union’s preferred candidate, Sarah Leonardi, who favors higher pay raises. The young high school teacher — Teacher of the Year in 2016, according to her bio — was another example, as in several of the countywide races, of a younger, change-driven candidate upsetting the order.
The other school board seat still isn’t set. Debra Hixon will face a runoff against Jeff Holness in November.
While the forces of youth and change seemed on the march at the local level, the power of incumbency at the federal level proved too much.
Three of the four Democratic congresspeople that represent parts of Broward County — Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson — all faced young, progressive challengers. But there would be no Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez-style upsets in South Florida.
The incumbents all beat back the insurgents by 40 or more points. Both Hastings and Wasserman Schultz — along with our fourth Democratic congressman, Ted Deutch — face Republican opposition in November, but the odds are incredibly long that their Republican challengers can win.
The same is true in Palm Beach County, where Laura Loomer, who has been kicked off Twitter and Facebook for anti-Muslim statements and accused students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School of being puppets for shadowy anti-gun forces, won a Republican primary and will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel in November.
Along with youth and minority power, we also saw the flagging power of the purse. Well-moneyed candidates for supervisor of elections and state attorney went down in defeat. And in the state legislative races, former state Rep. Irv Slosberg poured almost $1.5 million of his own fortune into his state Senate race, only to lose to state Rep. Tina Polsky by about two-to-one, though Polsky had raised only about $290,000.
We also saw two incumbent Democratic state representatives who voted for a controversial anti-abortion law see potential upsets. State Rep. Al Jacquet went down in defeat to Lake Worth Beach City Commissioner Omari Hardy. However, by late evening, Rep. Anika Omphroy appeared headed for a narrow victory over community organizer Jasmen Rogers-Shaw.