Published On: Mon, Apr 26th, 2021

House District 20 voters to choose successor to late U.S. Rep. Hastings

By: Dale King

Voters in Florida’s 20th Congressional District will get the chance, at a future, yet-unspecified date, to elect a successor to the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, the powerful liberal Democratic Black congressman who held that seat for nearly 30 years.

Hastings, 84, died April 6. Two years earlier, the congressman revealed he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer but continued to serve his constituency into early 2021 while receiving treatment.

The congressman served the 23rd District from 1993 to 2013 and continued his term in the redrawn 20th District until his death.  His constituency was made up of the mainly Black region in and around Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.  He had district offices in Tamarac and West Palm, which his staff is continuing to operate.  They will handle office business until a successor is chosen.

To date, four people have announced their candidacy for the late congressman’s office: Former Broward County Mayor and current Broward County Commissioner in District 9 Dale Holness; District 8 Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief; former Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor and state Sen. Perry Thurston, a Broward County attorney.

During his lengthy tenure, Hastings was known as an advocate for minorities, a defender of Israel and a voice for gays, immigrants and minorities. The area he represented surrounded Boca Raton on the south, north and west, but he often worked with U.S. House members from his neighboring districts, most recently, Lois Frankel, Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

According to the rules of the U.S. House, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis will pick a date for the special election to fill the vacant seat. As of mid-week, no date had been set, according to the governor’s media office.

The long-serving congressman was often involved in controversial circumstances, but none appeared to draw more attention than his impeachment from his position as a federal court judge.

According to an account by the Associated Press, Hastings, who began practicing law in the early 1960s, was named to a seat on the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. He was the first Black person to hold a federal judgeship in Florida since the days of Reconstruction following the Civil War.

It wasn’t long, said the AP, until Hastings’ judicial career was upended when he became the first sitting U.S. judge tried on criminal charges.

The AP said that Hastings, along with Washington lawyer William Borders Jr., were accused of allegedly soliciting a $150,000 bribe from two convicted racketeers seeking to shorten their sentences. Hastings contended Borders acted without his knowledge in soliciting the alleged bribe.

Borders was convicted and sentenced to five years. Hastings was acquitted, but it didn’t end the questions about his ethics. A judicial panel accused him of fabricating his defense. Though Hastings contended Congress’ actions amounted to double jeopardy, the House impeached him in 1988 and the Senate convicted him in 1989.

A federal judge later reversed the impeachment, saying Hastings was improperly tried by a 12-member panel instead of the full Senate, but his exoneration was short-lived. Ruling later in the case of another ousted judge, the Supreme Court decided 7-2 that courts could not second-guess the Senate’s power to remove federal officials from office.

By then, however, Hastings had already won a seat in Congress and had been sworn in.

According to Wikipedia, Hastings was born in Altamonte Springs, Fla., a  son of the late Mildred L. and Julius “J. C.” Hastings. He attended Crooms Academy in Florida and later was educated at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. He received his juris doctor degree from Florida A&M University College of Law in 1963.

As Congressman Hastings had requested, no funeral has been scheduled. He had asked to be cremated, said his chief of staff.

There will be a congressional memorial in Washington, D.C., but no date has been set. Also, the Congressional Black Caucus will schedule its own ceremonial memorialization, but arrangements have not been made.

At the time of the congressman’s passing, President Joe Biden issued the following statement: “I had the privilege of getting to know Alcee Hastings during the years when he served in the House of Representatives and I served in the United States Senate and later as vice president. I greatly admired him for his singular sense of humor, and for always speaking the truth bluntly and without reservation.”

“A trailblazing lawyer who grew up in the Jim Crow South,” said President Biden, “Alcee was outspoken because he was passionate about helping our nation live up to its full promise for all Americans. It was a passion he forged as a pioneering civil rights lawyer in the 1960s, fighting tirelessly to desegregate hotels, restaurants, and public spaces in south Florida — a trailblazing spirit to advocate for what is right that guided him throughout his life.”

“Across his long career of public service, Alcee always stood up to fight for equality, and always showed up for the working people he represented. And even in his final battle with cancer, he simply never gave up.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) also offered these comments: “Our congressional community has been devastated by the passing of a cherished colleague, the dean of the Florida Delegation — Congressman Alcee Hastings. Congressman Hastings was a beloved son of Florida, a respected leader in our Democratic Caucus and in the Congress. As an icon of the Congressional Black Caucus, he was an historic force in our nation’s politics.  His passing is a great loss for America.”

“Congressman Hastings leaves behind a powerful legacy of activism and action on behalf of Floridians and all Americans,” the House Speaker added. “His leadership and friendship will be missed by his many friends in Congress.”

She also offered condolences to Hasting’s wife, Patricia Williams, and his three children.

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