Monthly Archives: January 2016

6 posts

Orlando Could Elect First Father-Daughter Legislators in 2016


State Rep. Víctor Torres with stepdaughter Amy Mercado, who is running to replace him in District 48. Torres is campaigning for the state Senate, and if each wins they could be the first father-daughter Florida state legislators. /photo courtesy of Amy Mercado

Central Florida this year may elect its first father-daughter duo to the Florida Legislature and they also would happen to be Latino, a sign of the growing politicization of Orlando-area Hispanics.

Amy Mercado got the ball rolling recently when she tossed her candidacy in the ring for Florida House District 48, potentially succeeding her stepdad Víctor Torres. In what looks like political dominoes falling, Torres is running for Senate District 15. He aims to replace Darren Soto, who is campaigning for Congress.

All are Democrats, and all the districts will be newly redrawn but remain favorable to Democrats following a contentious state redistricting battle.

“There was always the potential I would run,” said Mercado, 42. “I know the job and I know what it takes,” she added.

Mercado is no stranger to politics. She ran for state House unsuccessfully about five years ago, challenging then House Speaker Dean Cannon. She has managed each of Torres’ state House campaigns and did all the field work for Tiffany Moore Russell, elected Orange County Clerk of the Court in 2014. Moore Russell was the only local Democrat to win office that year.

The father-daughter political duo would be new to the region, potentially joining Panhandle Republican Dan Gaetz, who serves in the state Senate alongside his son Matt Gaetz in the House.

As of 2015, there were only 21 Hispanics in the Florida Legislature, according to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), which tracks Hispanic political engagement and elected officials.

Of Florida’s 21, about five are from Central Florida, including Torres, Soto and John Cortés (Osceola), Bob Cortés (Orange-Seminole and no relation to John) and René Plasencia (Orange-Osceola). Nearly all were elected to their posts in the last two years and are running for second terms, underscoring growing Hispanic political activism in Central Florida.

Florida ranks fifth in the nation for Latino state elected officials, behind New York.

Political outcomes are hard to predict, but Mercado stands a very strong chance of being elected to replace her stepdad, whom she considers her dad, no “step” needed. First, District 48 is about 60 percent Hispanic, of which half are Puerto Rican, as are Mercado and Torres.

Plus, Torres was twice elected to the House without opposition, which is unusual but unfortunately not so rare in Florida. Mercado has no opposition at this time, but the qualifying deadline for candidate petitions is not until May.

Said Mercado: “I’m focused like I’m running against the president of the United States. We’re going to plan for it and focus. One thing I’ve learned in politics is nothing is guaranteed.”

˜˜María Padilla, Editor 

Hispanic School Superintendent Is Out the Door

Melba Luciano
Osceola County schools superintendent Melba Luciano standing with her back to the wall during a school board meeting last year that discussed firing her. / photo by Maria Padilla

It’s not surprising that Osceola County schools has hired a new superintendent.

Melba Luciano, the first Hispanic to hold a top education post in Central Florida, is leaving the district effective July 31. The Osceola County School Board has been looking to “retire” Luciano for a while.

It was almost a year ago that I sat in on a school board meeting that considered firing Luciano due to mixed results.

“If you look at all of our data there are a lot of issues going on in our schools,” school board member Jay Wheeler said at the time, perhaps Luciano’s harshest critic. “We’re falling farther faster than Orange County and Seminole County.”

Luciano was spared in February 2015 in part because she had just returned to the district after having “six titanium tubes put in my back.” She wore a large black back brace to the meeting and stood occasionally during the meeting to relieve her pain.

She defended her professional performance, stating “I want to be able to bring to the board data,” adding that the state continued to move the goal posts on test scores and that teachers continually have to learn new goals and assessments.

Many Latino supporters packed the meeting to support Luciano, some speaking during the public comment period.

“She just got the superintendent job in 2012,” said Vivian Rodrígruez, president of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida.

But six months later the search was on for a new superintendent, continuing the revolving door of school superintendents in Osceola County. A new superintendent will make three in six years.

At issue is a 59,000-student school district that’s nearly 60 percent Hispanic. About 25 percent of students is considered to have limited English language proficiency and 74 percent qualify for free or reduced school lunch, which is a measure of poverty. In addition, the district has a high mobility rate – all big challenges for any superintendent.

Board members passed over another local Latina, Anna Díaz, an area superintendent for Orange County schools, in favor of Debra Pace, associate superintendent for human resources services in Brevard County schools.

Orlando Economy: Overcast with Bright Spots

The Orlando area’s economy still looks bright relative to the rest of the state and nation. / photo by Maria Padilla

The watchword for 2016 economic growth in Central Florida is “deceleration.” The latest forecast by University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith calls for mostly less growth, compared with 2015, but with a few bright spots.

Snaith’s report, delivered at the annual Orange County Economic Summit, stated it’s likely that in Florida:

  • Personal income growth will slow to 4.8 percent in 2016, compared with 5 percent in 2014. However, the outlook looks much better for 2017 and 2018.
  • Payroll job growth will “ease” over the next three years to 2.3 percent in 2016 versus 3.2 percent in 2015. It slows to an anemic 1.7 percent in 2018.

The good news comes in the form of lower gas prices, which directly translates to money in consumers’ pocket. Lower fuel prices – gas costs around $1.72 a gallon in the Orlando area, less in a few  competitive pumping stations – tend to help low income people the most by conserving limited disposable income, which can be spent on other things.

If you’re looking for a job, Orlando is still a good place to be, since its 2.9 percent job growth is the highest in the state. Unemployment is forecasted to remain under 5 percent, according to Snaith, moving it closer to a job seeker’s market, which will help those Hispanic newcomers who possess the skills to step right into a job.

In addition, when workers become scarcer it tends to push up wages – an important issue in a low-wage, tourism-dependent state like Florida. Don’t forget: Walt Disney World is still the region’s largest employer by a very large margin – nearly 70,000 workers compared with 22,000 for the Orange County Public Schools, the next largest employer.

Construction jobs will grow the strongest at 6.6 percent, the economist said. That sector usually hires a lot of Latino laborers. That is followed by professional and business services (4.2 percent) and educational and health services (2.6 percent).

˜˜ María Padilla – Editor

In a New York State of Mind about Ted Cruz

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Donald Trump smacked down Ted Cruz for his insult about “New York values.” / Fox Business photo

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz will never live down his insult to fellow candidate Donald Trump for “embodying New York values” and then doubling down adding, “Everybody knows what that means.”

The next day the New York Daily News gave Cruz the Statue of Liberty’s middle finger on its front page, a cover that immediately became iconic. During the Republican debate in South Carolina, native New Yorker Trump looked genuinely hurt, no trompe l’oeil for Trump. He gave a thoroughly appropriate response, reminding the country of 9-11.

Cruz wants to have it both ways. He visits New York with grubby hands out looking for campaign cash; his wife worked for Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs. But he can do without the rest of “liberal” New York, whatever that is.

To paraphrase the title of Cruz’s book, it’s time for a little truth about his statement: There are lots of people in the U.S. just like Cruz. They love the New York that took a giant bullet for the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, a fall day so beautiful and bright that it belied anything horrible was amiss.

The world knows two jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center, turning them into towering infernos that caused the buildings to collapse with nearly 3,000 innocent people inside, including more than 400 first responders, and blanketing the financial district in toxic smoke and dust. First responders continue to deal with the aftermath of their heroic efforts to keep New York alive. Police and firefighter deaths due to cancer are expected to eventually outnumber the immediate casualties of 9-11.

That’s the sacrificial New York that most people in the United States know and, yes, love: New York offered on a burning cross, paying for everyone’s sins. Privately, quietly, people thank God it wasn’t Chicago. Thank God it wasn’t Los Angeles or Miami. Thank God it wasn’t Denver or Dallas.

Nearly all else people “know” about New York is stereotype – the loud New Yorker, the rude New Yorker, the always-in-a-hurry New Yorker, the New Yorker with a funny accent, the huddled stinky masses in subway cars, to say nothing of the abhorrent sly references to New Yorkers as a bunch of Shylocks or to New York as “Hymietown,” as Jesse Jackson said in 1984 when he ran for president.

Must be something about running for president that brings out the crass in people. In Cruz’s case, he’s cranky, crass, crude and uncouth all the time – candidate, campaign or not.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor and New York-born Floridian