Bernie Sanders Hires Local Hispanic Organizer

Bernie in Kissimmee

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee last week. /Facebook

Bernie Sanders’ campaign recently announced that it had hired long-time Central Florida community organizer Betsy Franceschini as its regional Latino outreach director, sending shock waves through the Hispanic community.

Franceschini, previously the head of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration office in Kissimmee, is a local leader and Democrat, having once worked for the Florida Democratic Party and Congressman Alan Grayson’s office. She was considering a run for State House District 49, which leans Democrat, but was convinced to stand down in favor of Carlos Smith, who is running unopposed. Reports are that she was a Hillary Clinton supporter until recently, attending the January opening of Clinton’s Orlando office.

Franceschini couldn’t be reached for comment.

Betsy Franceschini

Betsy Franceschini / Facebook

The fact that Franceschini is now firmly in Sanders’ camp indicates the Vermont senator’s growing appeal among Latinos, specifically Puerto Ricans in the Orlando area, who make up 50 percent of all Hispanics. About 4,000 people last week attended a Sanders rally in Kissimmee, according to the Orlando Sentinel (see “Bernie Sanders Talks of Revolution…”). Kissimmee, with 50 percent or more Hispanics – the great majority Puerto Rican– is the heart of the Puerto Rican community in Central Florida.

On a post I pinned on Facebook, people were quick to support Franceschini, some saying they were “feeling the Bern” as well.

“You have helped many in the Hispanic community with your work, and especially our migrating sisters and brothers from Puerto Rico. I’ve seen it first-hand. Raw, hard and many times unappreciated work, but you’ve done it with grace and effectively,” wrote Sami Haiman-Marrero, a respected local organizer. “Cuenta conmigo…yo voy a invertir mi voto con Sanders. And I’m sure many you’ve helped and respect you will follow suit.”

Estoy contigo” wrote Julio Zayas, another local organizer.

“Congratulations!!!!!!! I’m feeling the Bern too!!!!!” wrote Mayra Martínez.

Too Late?

It’s unclear, however, what effect Franceschini’s defection may have on local Puerto Rican voters or the Clinton campaign.

First, the change comes very late in the Florida primary season, and many people have already voted early. The move might have made a bigger difference if it had come, say, last November, when there was time for local organizing.

Second, although Franceschini is a long-time Orlando activist, the  Puerto Rican community is rapidly changing as thousands move to Central Florida annually. Franceschini had direct contact with more than 3,000 people a year through the PRFAA office, but many migrants initially do not vote upon moving to Florida, to the frustration of political organizers.

Third, the Latino community, and Puerto Ricans specifically, have shown a great deal of loyalty to Clinton, who last December held a rally in heavily Hispanic Meadow Woods, in south Orlando (see “Hillary on the Hustings for Hispanic Vote“), attracting about 600 people. At that rally, the Clinton spoke directly to the issue of Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, a subject much on the minds of Puerto Ricans everywhere.

Franceschini spoke of the island debt crisis in the Sanders’ announcement. “From the beginning Sanders has said he will not give his back to Puerto Rico in this moment of crisis. …  I am convinced that Sanders is a leader of action and not rhetoric,” she declared.

Hillary Clinton likely still holds the advantage in the final Florida primary vote count, but it’s increasingly evident that Bernie Sanders is reaching beyond nonHispanic white liberals – and Hispanics are listening.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

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