Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Democrats Pick Black Leader House Caucus Addresses Rift

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Democrats Pick Black Leader House Caucus Addresses Rift

Article excerpt

TALLAHASSEE -- House Democrats seeking to smooth a racial rift

within the party named an African-American lawmaker from Tampa as

their leader for the 1998-2000 legislative term.

Rep. Les Miller of Tampa was the unanimous choice for

speaker-designate of the 35 Democrats at the caucus, but the

absence of a majority of black House members was a sign that the

party remained divided.

"This is the beginning of putting it back together," said Lt.

Gov. Buddy MacKay, the Democratic nominee for governor. "We're

on our way."

Only five of 15 black House members were present during the

third attempt to fill the leadership position.

The House Democrats have been in turmoil since they voted in

January to remove Rep. Willie Logan, an African-American from

Opa-locka, as the designated leader and replace him with Rep.

Anne Mackenzie, a white legislator from Fort Lauderdale.

The Democrats said Logan was not an effective fund-raiser and

was not spending enough time on party duties. But black

legislators rebelled and Logan began making overtures to

Republican leaders.

Faced with a bitterly split party, Mackenzie decided not to

seek re-election this fall, leaving the House Democrats

leaderless once again.

Miller quickly emerged as the compromise candidate with backing

from whites and some African-Americans.

Rep. Willye Dennis of Jacksonville, who is black, nominated

Miller, saying he had performed well under pressure.

"When a person is under pressure, you discover his or her

character," Dennis said.

Rep. Doug Wiles of St. Augustine, who is white, said in a

seconding speech that Miller was an honest and hard-working

legislator who had shown him the ropes when he was first elected

to the Legislature two years ago. …

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