Another Broward politician announces bid for Alcee Hastings’ former seat in Congress

Alex Daugherty
·4 min read

State Sen. Perry Thurston announced his campaign Monday for the open congressional seat after the death of longtime Congressman Alcee Hastings, the third sitting lawmaker to enter the Democratic primary.

Thurston, 60, represents parts of Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach in the Florida Senate, a district that largely overlaps with territory covered by Hastings’ former seat, which includes majority Black portions of Broward and Palm Beach counties. The winner of the Democratic primary is essentially assured the seat in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.

In an interview, Thurston said he’s the most prepared candidate to represent Florida’s 20th Congressional District in Washington, noting that he’s held elected office in Tallahassee since 2006 with a stint as House Minority Leader from 2012 to 2014. He’s also in line to lead Democrats in the Florida Senate from 2022 to 2024.

“I supported Congressman Hastings while he was in office and quite frankly I’ve prepared myself for this position by my activism in the community,” Thurston said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “I think I’m the person who is most qualified to represent this district.”

Thurston was considered a near-certain candidate when Hastings died earlier this month after a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He has the longest political résumé of any declared candidate.

Thurston joins Broward County Commissioners Dale V.C. Holness and Barbara Sharief in the Democratic primary. Holness announced his candidacy last week with the backing of Hastings’ son and a slew of Broward County elected officials while Sharief was running for the seat before Hastings’ death on April 6. Former state representative and 2019 West Palm Beach mayoral candidate Priscilla Taylor also filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run for the seat.

There’s also a group of candidates who haven’t held office previously: Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, a healthcare executive from Hollywood who ran against Hastings in 2020 and received 30.7% of the vote in the Democratic primary; Marlon Onias, a Fort Lauderdale attorney; Elvin Dowling, a public speaker and author from Broward County; and Matt Boswell, a Fort Lauderdale resident running on a left-leaning platform. All filed paperwork to run.

Republican Greg Musselwhite, who ran against Hastings in the 2020 general election and received just 21% of the vote, also filed paperwork to run in 2022.

Thurston said his biggest priorities during the special election will be healthcare and criminal justice reform and cited South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn as someone he would emulate if elected to Congress. Clyburn, a former Congressional Black Caucus chairman, was seen as an instrumental figure in President Joe Biden’s successful Democratic primary campaign.

Thurston also hinted that he won’t be among the most left-leaning Democrats in Congress if elected, saying that slogans like “Defund the Police” and “Medicare for All” are too simple to address complex issues.

“You have to go down into detail and not take slogans,” Thurston said. “There were some people who were upset about the ‘Defund the Police’ strategy. I take a Clyburn-like approach to that. We don’t want to defund the police; what we’re really talking about is being smart on criminal justice. If there’s a need for more services, like mental health, we can do that.”

On healthcare, Thurston said his first priority is to convince states like Florida to expand Medicaid, but he’s also open to other ideas.

“When we look at ways of providing healthcare for all citizens we have to look at all the other industrialized nations. We are the worst,” Thurston said. “Am I going to be on this team or that team? Not really, but I’ll certainly be joining the conversation on these issues.”

Thurston said he’s confident that Gov. Ron DeSantis will schedule a special election soon and that he will be able to get his base to the polls. Florida’s 20th Congressional District is split into three population centers: southern Broward County around Miramar, central Broward around Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. Thurston’s base of support will likely come from central Broward.

“I think that the challenge is to get your base out and get your supporters out,” Thurston said. “They’ll show up and vote.”