Perry Thurston kicks off congressional campaign in heart of Fort Lauderdale’s Black community

South Florida Sun Sentinel

May 01, 2021 7:00 PM

State Sen. Perry Thurston showed off his longtime, deep roots in Broward County on Saturday as he formally kicked off the biggest campaign of his political career — a race for Congress.

“With your help, we’re going to move into a new era, a new era that’s going to lead to Broward County being that beacon shining across the nation, saying that it is a new day, a new day in Congress and a new day in Broward County,” he said.

If elected to fill the vacancy created by the April 6 death of Congressman Alcee Hastings, Thurston promised to advocate for Democratic goals in Washington, D.C. “We can fight against voter suppression. We can fight against individuals trying to chill our First Amendment rights. We can fight for health care for all our citizens. We can fight for quality education.”

Thurston said about two weeks ago that he was running for Congress. On Saturday, the day after the annual legislative session finished its work, about 90 supporters gathered to help him begin the public part of the campaign.

A range people spoke on his behalf outside the campaign office on Sistrunk Boulevard, the unofficial main street of the Black community in northwest Fort Lauderdale, including four pastors, two prominent lawyers, and six current and former elected officials.

One, Lauderhill Mayor Ken Thurston, declared his nephew “the best candidate — and I have seen the list of those who are running.”

Chris Smith, who preceded Thurston in the Florida Senate and in the Florida House, said in an era of “politics of personal destruction” Thurston demonstrates increasingly rare qualities: “A person that can disagree but can still work with you. A person that will work with anyone for the betterment of the community.”

Smith knows firsthand. He and Thurston once ran against each other for the same office but are now political allies. Like many leaders in the Black community, he’s in an awkward situation. Smith’s best friend, state Rep. Bobby DuBose, has also decided to run for the congressional seat.

Pompano Beach Mayor Rex Hardin said Thurston has a “unique mix” of qualities. “He knows when to draw a line in the sand and when to fight. He also knows how to reach across the aisle and get things done.” Hardin and Thurston were in the same graduating class at Pompano Beach High School.

State Sen. Perry Thurston, a Broward Democrat, formally kicked off his campaign for Congress at his campaign office on Sistrunk Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale on May 1, 2021.

State Sen. Perry Thurston, a Broward Democrat, formally kicked off his campaign for Congress at his campaign office on Sistrunk Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale on May 1, 2021. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel)

Johnny L. McCray, a prominent Broward lawyer, said he’s been “in the trenches with Perry on multiple occasions. I don’t feel comfortable with anyone as I do with Perry Thurston at my side. Perry’s a fighter. He is a critical thinker. When he believes in something, he’s going to work for it.”

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The 20th Congressional District includes most of the African American and Caribbean American neighborhoods in Broward and Palm Beach counties. There are already 10 Democratic candidates — including six current or former elected officials — who’ve declared their candidacies.

Most of the district is in Broward County, but Thurston, 60, has ties in the legal and political communities in Palm Beach County, home to about 30% of the district’s voters.

The district is so overwhelmingly Democratic that the winner of the party’s primary is virtually guaranteed to become its next member of Congress.

Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn’t yet set a date for special primary and general elections to pick Hastings’ successor. Thurston said the Republican governor is dragging his feet on setting election dates because he wants to keep the Democratic seat open as long as possible.

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