Who was Congressman Alcee Hastings, and what did his legacy teach us?

Longtime Florida U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings left behind a legacy of greatness, poise and civil service

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United States Representative Alcee Hastings died at the age of 84 this April after a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer. Hastings left behind a legacy of greatness, poise and civil service. He is survived by his three children and wife Patricia Williams.

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., speaks during a House Rules Committee hearing on the impeachment against President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

But who was Congressman Hastings, and why was his presence so important within the United States Congress?

Congressman Hastings represented the 20th Congressional District since 1993, winning 14 consecutive elections and serving as the longest-standing Congressman from the state of Florida. Representative Hastings served in his seat for 28 years.

Read More: US Congressman Alcee Hastings dies at 84

The 20th district spans two demographically distinct counties of Broward and Palm Beach. While 70% of the voting constituents hail from Broward, 30% are based in Palm Beach. Florida’s Black, Caribbean and Latinx populations converge amongst these counties and Hastings made it a priority to focus on issues like international relations, desegregation and civil rights.

What many don’t realize is that the 20th district was specifically designed to increase the possibilities of a minority member going to Congress. In the 1980s, several revisions to the Civil Rights Act helped to redistrict the area in a way that representation would be a focal point.

Before he was elected to Congress, President Jimmy Carter named Hastings as a federal judge in 1979, becoming one of the first Blacks to hold a federal judgeship in Florida. Hastings — a proud product of HBCUs (Howard University for undergraduate and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University for Law School) was highly regarded as a leader within the Congressional Black Caucus.  

Rep. Alcee Hastings
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) speaks during a debate at a committee meeting July 29, 2014 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Since the late great Congressman’s death, several frontrunners have emerged interested in filling Hastings’ seat. Let’s take a look at them below:

Bobby Dubose. The current minority leader in the Florida House of Representatives and former vice mayor of Fort Lauderdale is seeking to take the reigns as Congressman championing social justice issues just as he had when he first came into politics as a teenager as the president of the NAACP Youth Council.  

Barbara Sharief. Dr. Sharief has served both as a Commissioner as well as the Mayor of Broward County. Her fellow Broward County commissioners Mark Bogen and Lamar Fisher and Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay have endorsed her. Commissioner Sharief has also been active in the Florida Association of Counties where she served as a past president—championing issues like healthcare and criminal justice reform. 

Priscilla Taylor. Well known in Palm Beach Country as a former Florida State Representative and former commissioner, Taylor has been active in politics since 1999. Taylor is well known for bringing the Ballpark of Palm Beaches to fruition—the now training facility for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.   

Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick. Cherfilus-McCormick, a healthcare executive, received statewide attention when she ran against Congressman Hastings in the 2020 primary, attracting 31% of the vote. Cherfilus-McCormick’s interviewed last year with @politicking. 

Perry Thurston. State Senator Thurston has also previously served in the state House of Representatives, where he was elected a Democratic leader. Thurston, the nephew of Lauderhill Mayor Ken Thurston, has been a continual leader on issues like vaccination strategy and economic recovery. 

Marlon Onias. Onais is a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard and a former police detective in New York City. After leaving a career in law enforcement, Onais decided to study law. Also an Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Law alumni, Onais now focuses on civil litigation.  

Dale Holness. Commissioner Holness is widely known in the Caribbean community as the Jamaican-born political savant that previously served as the former mayor of Broward County.  Garnering the support of the Hastings’ family, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony and Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis demonstrates the united message that Holness has been able to make resonate across the 20th district.   

Matt Boswell. Boswell is a businessman who is focused on enacting an Economic Bill of Rights and focusing on healthcare, housing and education as part as America’s social contract with its people. 

Elvin Dowling. Dowling, an author, is known for being the youngest chief of staff of the National Urban League and his Pulitzer nominated book, “Still Invisible?: Examining America’s Black Male Crisis.” As the subject of most of his writings indicate, Dowling has shown himself to be acutely aware of the challenges of African-American men and even served as an intern under the late Congressman Hastings. 

Greg Musselwhite. The Republican candidate of the group joins the race despite the district being heavily Democratic. Musselwhite will run on the campaign slogan “ Get on the BOAT, Building Our America Together.”

Thus far, Governor Ron DeSantis has not yet set a date for the special election that will occur to replace the late Congressman, but understanding Hastings’ impact on the state of Florida this is certainly a race that will affect the future of politics for years to come.  


Wen-Kuni Ceant

Wen-kuni Ceant is the CEO and Co-Founder of Politicking. She is a Fulbright Scholar and through the fellowship she studied health infrastructure in Senegal during the last year. She received her Masters in Public Health in Health Management and Policy in 2016 from Drexel University. Before Drexel, she attended Howard University, in Washington, D.C. where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and with honors with a Bachelors of Science in Biology. 

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