In the city of North Miami, a third of the population is of Haitian descent, and Creole-language radio is vital. During the lead-up to Tuesday’s runoff for city council and mayor, all kinds of election drama played out over the airwaves.
In North Miami, anyone running for office has no choice but to keep up with the latest chatter on the radio, regardless of whether they speak Creole. Many of the city’s Haitian residents rely on radio for their news and often take as gospel what radio hosts tell them—even when it’s not true.
Lesly Prudent hosts a show on Radio Lespri, on WLQY 1320 AM (Prudent is also North Miami’s Community and Redevelopment Agency coordinator). Last week -- the week leading up to the runoff election, he and his co-hosts were discussing Carol Keys, a white candidate for city council.
Someone asked, in Creole, "Isn’t Carol Keys the one who called us pigs?”
Lesly Prudent replied, “She’s the one.”
And someone jokes, “We’ll teach her how to make griot [a popular Haitian dish made of fried pork]."
She won the city council seat in spite of the accusation. And she didn't actually call Haitians pigs. That came from a campaign flier during her bid for North Miami mayor two years ago. The flier showed photos of pigs, meant to depict special interest groups. Instead, Keys was accused of calling the Haitian community pigs.
She lost that election.
No One Is Spared
Campaign finance reports show council hopefuls in North Miami spent $36,000 for coveted airtime on stations like WLQY and Radio Mega 1700 AM. But that doesn’t tell the full story.
When candidates appear on Haitian radio, it’s as much for damage control as for self-promotion. During this election, like every recent election in North Miami, there were many personal attacks.
Mayor-elect Lucie Tondreau, herself a Haitian radio host, wasn’t spared after she was secretly recorded using explicit Creole slang in discussing how men are attracted to her sexual allure. Haitian radio hosts broadcast the recording, in which she is heard saying, “If I can have as many men that I want, it’s because I still have something to offer. ... And if you think you’re going to denigrate, if you think a woman with a lot of men is an insult, it’s a good thing because it’s not given to all women to have many men.”
Near the end, she uses a graphic Creole term to describe a part of her “sweet” female anatomy. Tondreau does not deny making the comments but says the recording was leaked as a dirty campaign trick -- one that didn’t work, she points out. On Tuesday, she won her bid for mayor of North Miami with 55 percent of the vote.
Divisive Ethnic Politics
At its best, Haitian radio programming can be genuinely informative. The problem is during election season, the discourse often disintegrates into divisive ethnic politics.
On the day before the run-offs, Nelson Voltaire -- better known as Piman Bouk -- invoked a recurring theme on Haitian radio during these elections: vote Haitian. “You have to vote for the Haitians,” he told listeners in Creole. “You have to walk with the Haitians. Home is home. Don’t forget we are boat people, we are boat people. Brothers don’t betray brothers. We will vote the Haitians.”
On election night, mayor-elect Lucy Tondreau said now that the election’s over,“it’s time for the city to be united.”
Nadege Green covers the city of North Miami for the Miami Herald.