Candidates for Florida State House Woo Voters in Hispanic-Heavy Palm Beach District

Jun 21, 2016

Voters in a Central Palm Beach County will be choosing a new State House representative this year for the newly drawn, majority-Democratic District 87. It’s also a majority Latino district — so much so that the local Publix on Southern Boulevard has a Cuban coffee shop inside.

Palm Beach County’s Hispanic population spiked by 78 percent between 2000 and 2010. Two years later, in 2012, the Florida House of Representatives created this new majority-Hispanic District 87.

“But we do not have Hispanic representation,” says Virginia Savietto, who’s running for the state House seat because the incumbent, Rep. Dave Kerner (D-Lake Worth) isn’t seeking re-election.

Savietto is originally from Argentina and a single mom of a 5-year-old boy. She moved to a working class neighborhood in the district almost 30 years ago.

These days, she’s been walking door to door trying to get voters excited about her proposals, which can be tough in a primary election.

“Hi, I’m just introducing myself. I’m Virginia Savietto, how are you? I’m running for State House District 87, and I’m just walking the neighborhoods introducing myself because District 87 is an open seat and it’s very important that we keep the district local,” she said to a woman standing outside her house, watching her daughter play outside as wind chimes clattered.

This is Savietto’s first stab at winning public office, and she’s concerned that Hispanics traditionally have low voter turnout and civic engagement. 

“If we have an elected official that is not from the area, that does not relate to the Hispanic community and cannot even speak the language, the Hispanics are gonna still be in the dark because they’re not going to see somebody like them, so they’re not going to participate,” she says.

Savietto has raised a little more than $5,000 for her campaign. Her main opponent, fellow Democrat David Silvers, has a little more than $144,000. She put in $600 of her money, he put in $100,000.

Silvers ran in 2014 to represent another district, 89 — a coastal, wealthier area — but he lost to a Republican.

“Unfortunately when I previously ran, I wasn’t able to…a Democrat isn’t able to win that district,” Silvers says. “And that’s why I chose…and also the districts are right next to one another, so the issues carry over. Issues are borderless, they carry over from town to town.”

Savietto claims Silvers -- who recently bought a house here -- wants to buy District 87 as a consolation prize. 

“If that were the case, like you mention, then I wouldn’t be engaging the voters,” Silvers says. “I am engaging the voters. I go out on an almost daily basis and knock on doors and reach out to the voters. I want to be the voters sounding…I want to be their sounding block.”

In Early May, Silvers stopped by a 90th anniversary celebration of Greenacres — a city in District 87.

Students in a John I. Leonard High School band practiced as people walked around Community Park on Jog Road.

Amid the hubub of the event, Silvers spoke with Jorel Beache, who’s worried that kids don’t have the best environment here.

“Right when you reach Lake Worth Ave., there's another liquor store on that street leading to the Middle School,” Beach said.

“So one suggestion would be more libraries, right?” Silvers said.

After they spoke he approached a few others there, too.

“I’m David Silvers, I’m running for the State Legislature,” he said to one passerby.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak English very well,” the man said.

“Oh, OK, here’s my card,” Silvers said.

He stayed at the event a short while. Later on, as pianist Daniel Mattos walked in the park with his wife and daughters, he stopped to talk about the importance of voting to him. He’s originally from Puerto Rico and lives in this district. He hasn’t heard of Virginia Savietto or David Silvers. He says, though, that Latinos need to go out and vote.

“They have to go out and vote,” he said, in Spanish. “If you look at how many Hispanic people there are in the Legislature for every Anglo…How many do we have? Very few. We need higher numbers, more representation.”

He says there are few Hispanic lawmakers in the Legislature for every Anglo and he wants to see more even representation. If Hispanics don’t go out to vote, however, they’ll remain on the sidelines.

Election Day is Aug. 30, 2016.