Darren Soto

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Puerto Rican Parade Takes Over Downtown Orlando

 

The Puerto Rican Parade marched through the heart of downtown Orlando, ending with a festival on the grounds of the Dr. Phillips Center. /Maria Padilla

A newly revitalized Puerto Rican parade, led by Cong. Darren Soto (D) and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and his black labradoodle, packed the heart of downtown Orlando Saturday with hundreds of Puerto Ricans waving their treasured flag.

The parade, in its second year, ended at the public plaza at the Dr. Phillips Center, where an outdoor festival continued through the afternoon and evening filled with live music, food and other vendors.

The parade capped a week of activities in the local Puerto Rican community, including a Puerto Rico Day in Tallahassee that drew two busloads of attendees in what has become an annual outing.

Orlando has hosted Puerto Rican parades going back more than 20 years but some of the wheels fell off the event after the death of Mildred Zapata in 2015, who for many years coordinated the parade and its affiliated events.

Current parade organizers Ralph Morales and Mike Moreno are said to once have been connected to the New York City National Puerto Rican Day Parade held in June, considered the largest Puerto Rican parade in the U.S.

Morales and Moreno last November pulled together a team of local activists and organizers to plan the parade, which promoted the achievements made by Puerto Ricans in business, health, music, science, arts and government.

Rival New York?

Florida’s Puerto Rican population has skyrocketed in the past 10 years as an economic crisis has gripped the island and Puerto Ricans from other states migrate to the Sunshine State. Today, over 1 million Puerto Ricans reside in Florida, and the expectation is that Orlando’s Puerto Rican parade could one day rival the New York original.

Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz./ Maria Padilla

“We finally made it official,” said Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz, who also sang Puerto Rico’s national hymn “La Borinqueña.” The Puerto Rico-born commissioner added that the community must push to make the parade an annual event, a sentiment echoed by Morales.

“It was not easy but the important thing is to continue,” said Morales.

This was the second Orlando parade for the organizers and, according to some attendees, it was much larger than the 2016 parade.

“There weren’t that many floats” in 2016, said an employee of Orange County who didn’t want to give her name.

From Marching Bands to Bomba y Plena

This year’s parade included 10 floats, including floats representing Costa Rica and Mexico. But there were many more participants, including marching bands from University, Evans and Edgewater high schools; a classic Toyota club of Orlando; beauty queens, motorcyclists, military veterans and bomba y plena dancers. Elected officials such as Cong. Soto, the first Puerto Rican in Congress from Florida, who was honored at a banquet earlier in the week.  Puerto State Sen. Victor Torres (D), State Rep. Amy Mercado (D) and State Rep. Carlos Smith (D) also took part. 

Bomba y plena dancers at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. / Maria Padilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was no shortage of Puerto Rican flags at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. /Maria Padilla

 

Puerto Rican Parade attendees along Orange Avenue show off their Puerto Rico colors. /Maria Padilla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Puerto Ricans in Congress to Boycott Inauguration

Puerto Ricans in Congress are boycotting Trump’s inauguration, joining scores of mostly Democrats whose seats will be empty. / Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies

Three of four Puerto Ricans – all Democrats – in Congress plan to boycott the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump.

Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois, and Nydia Velázquez and José Serrano of New York have stated publicly they won’t be at the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. Central Florida’s freshman congressman Darren Soto also added his voice to the growing boycott of the ceremony.

Raúl Labrador, the Republican Congressman from Idaho and a Trump supporter, is likely to attend the event.

“Looking forward to a productive partnership with . We must change business as usual,” Labrador tweeted earlier.

Growing Boycott

Most of the inauguration rejections – numbering about 40 mostly Democrats and still growing, as of this writing – came after Trump insulted veteran civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis on Twitter right before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, stating Lewis was all talk, no action.

Gutiérrez, who attended George W. Bush‘s inauguration, made a floor speech which he posted on YouTube explaining that “this is different.”     

He continued, “The reason I’m not going is that I can’t bring myself to justify morally or intellectually justify the immense power we’re placing in that man’s hands.” Instead, Gutiérrez said he plans to march with women in Washington on January 21.

New York Congresswoman Velázquez tweeted, “@repjohnlewis is a national hero and I stand with him! I also am not attending inauguration given the tone of @realDonaldTrump‘s campaign.”

Serrano also tweeted but didn’t mention Trump by name. “I will not attend the  next week- cannot celebrate the inauguration of a man who has no regard for my constituents. .”

Central Florida Representatives

Central Florida’s Soto sent a text to Nancy Alvarez of WFTV-Channel 9, stating  ““I am deeply disappointed with Trump’s attacks against civil rights hero John Lewis and will not be attending the inauguration as a result.”

Soto, who represents Congressional District 9 which includes Osceola and parts of Orange and Polk counties, got some immediate pushback on Facebook from Myrna Benítez de Vivaldi.

“This is what happens when you serve your own agenda and not the people. Mr. Soto, you were elected to SERVE a community, people from both parties voted for you because they thought you were a better option so do your work and stop acting like a brat. #Please #HeIsOURpresident #SuckItUpButtercup.”

Benítez is married to Peter Vivaldi, who once ran for the congressional seat that Soto now occupies.

Demings and Murphy to Attend

Unlike Soto, fellow freshman Congresswomen Val Demings of Congressional District 10 and Stephanie Murphy plan to attend, according to Channel 9. However, neither Demings nor Murphy have made public statements about the inauguration, as of this writing.

Demings and Soto are in fairly safe districts, in which either African-Americans or Latino voters, respectively, predominate. They are likely to be re-elected two years from now without much of a hitch.

Not so, Murphy, who ousted veteran Republican Congressman John Mica from Congressional District 7, which includes Seminole and parts of Orange and Volusia counties. 

Seminole County is mostly Republican and party supporters have already targeted Murphy,  looking to recruit a viable contender to take back the seat. By not attending, Murphy would be providing Republicans strong ammunition against her come re-election time.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Soto to Push for Presidential Vote for Puerto Rico

Cong. Darren Soto plans to sponsor a bill proposing that Puerto Rico vote for president. /Facebook

Newly sworn Central Florida Congressman Darren Soto (D) plans to push for the presidential vote for Puerto Rico.

It’s the second Puerto Rico-related measure in as many days, as newly elected Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González today filed a fill to admit Puerto Rico as the 51st state.

There is no doubt that Puerto Rico’s status needs fixing and obtaining the presidential vote for Puerto Rico is a worthy cause. And to be fair, Alan Grayson, Soto’s predecessor, last December called for the presidential vote for Puerto Rico, stating American citizens who reside in Puerto Rico suffer from disenfranchisement.

“The contradictions are painfully clear,” he added, comparing Puerto Rico to Washington, D.C., whose residents vote for president although it’s not a state.

However, González’s bill likely is dead on arrival, as will be Soto’s.

“Siéntate a esperar,”  said a Facebook reader in reaction to the news.

“Dream on sister!” wrote another in response to González’s bill.

Not Realistic

Let’s count the ways in which this will fail. First, the representatives are two newbies in Congress, meaning they have no clout. Second, Puerto Rico is in such a financial mess that no one will touch this. And third, neither of the bills is realistic.

Soto, who has said he would be supportive of Puerto Rico, is not backing Gonzalez’s bill, stating that first he’d like to see a clear referendum. He won’t need to wait long. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricky Rosselló is proposing one.

Long Shot

However,  Soto’s presidential vote for Puerto Rico bill would be far more difficult to achieve, requiring two-thirds approval by the House and Senate – and ratification by three-quarters of the states. It’s an often unsuccessful process.

The last amendment was approved in 1992, stipulating that congressional salary increases cannot take effect until the next class of representatives takes office. That amendment took over 200 years to see fruition.

What could Soto be thinking? He is drinking from the cup of status.

The González-Soto proposals are feel-good measures aimed at winning the hearts and minds of constituent’s back home. Soto is the first Puerto Rican from Florida in Congress. His district is over 40 percent Latino, mostly Puerto Rican.

Cruel Play

But it also plays cruelly with the hearts and minds of constituents back home, because the bills aren’t feasible in today’s political climate. They would be extreme long shots even in a favorable Congress.

This is political manipulation of a pueblo down on its luck and in a precarious emotional state of mind.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Fresh Faces Win Central Florida Congressional Races

darren-soto
State Rep. Darren Soto is the first Puerto Rican from Florida to be elected to Congress.

Central Florida will send a number of fresh faces to Congress come January. All are Democrats.

They include State Rep. Darren Soto, who will represent Congressional District 9 and is the first Puerto Rican from Florida to head to Congress, a symbol of the growing Puerto Rican electorate. In addition, former Orlando police chief Val Demings will head Congressional District 10 and newcomer Stephanie Murphy pulled a major upset in Congressional District 7.

It is the most diverse congressional delegation that Central Florida has ever seen – thanks to the Fair Districts constitutional amendment championed by the League of Women Voters and others and that took years of litigation to implement.

Once in place, it changed the gerrymandered district lines away from Republicans to more fairly represent Democrats in those areas.

The Biggest Upset

stephanie-murphy
Stephanie Murphy

The biggest coup belonged to Stephanie Murphy, who won District 7 held by 12-term Republican Cong. John Mica, who complained of millions of dollars of “outside money” being poured into the district to defeat him. Certainly that is true; over $4 million was spent on behalf of Murphy.

But the redrawn district also picked up parts of Orange and Volusia counties, ending Mica’s 22 years of landslide GOP victories. In fact, Mica won Seminole County with 52 percent of the vote, but lost Orange County by about 20,000 votes.

As surprising and just as revealing, Donald Trump won “reliably red” Seminole by just 3,654 votes or 1.6 percentage points.

As political analyst Rick Fogelsong repeated earlier and on Election Night, “Seminole County is turning purple.”

Local Races

In state races:

Mercado-Torres
Víctor Torres and Amy Mercado.

State Rep. Víctor Torres (D) won State Senate District 15, previously held by Soto and which covers Osceola and parts of Orange and Polk counties.

• Amy Mercado (D) was the victor in State House District 48 in Orange County. Mercado and Torres are the first father-daughter and Hispanic team to go to Tallahassee.

• John Cortés (D) was re-elected to State House District 43, representing Osceola County.

• Carlos Guillermo Smith (D) will head up State House District 49, which covers Orange County.

• Bob Cortés (R) retained State House District 30, which includes parts of Orange and Seminole.

• René Plasencia (R) captured State House District 50, covering Brevard and Orange counties.

Orange County

emily-bonilla
Emily Bonilla

Emily Bonilla also pulled a surprise 57 percent upset against incumbent Ted Edwards for a seat on the Orange County Commission, District 5.  Edwards was weakened by his support of a massive housing development east of the Econlockhatchee River, for years considered the line in the sand for protecting east Orange County’s fragile ecosystem.

Bonilla becomes the first Latina – and Puerto Rican – since Mildred Fernández to be on the Orange County Commission. Fernández was convicted on charges of illegal campaign contributions in 2012 and was sent to state prison. She cannot run for public office again.

Osceola County

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José Alvarez

For the first time, Kissimmee’s fast-growing Hispanic population elected a Latino to be its mayor. José Alvarez earned a resounding victory over Art Otero, 63 percent vs. 37 percent, ending a very  contentious campaign that centered on whether Puerto Ricans would elect Cuban-American Alvarez over Puerto Rican Otero. They opted for Alvarez.

And despite being trailed by controversy early in his tenure as Osceola County Clerk of the Court, Armando Ramirez won re-election with 62 percent of the vote.

Watch Orlando Latino for more 2016 elections coverage.  

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor