BY BUDDY NEVINS
One of Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie’s toughest critics has a re-election opponent.
The challenge to School Board member Nora Rupert of Coconut Creek by a Haitian American activist suggests a 2018 August primary that could degenerate into a nasty ethnic fight.
Rupert’s frequent target is Runcie, who is arguably the leading black face in Broward public life.
Rupert is white. Her new challenger Mikelange “Mr. Mike” Olbel is black.
Olbel filed papers with the county elections office to open his campaign last week.
The challenger is the founder and chief executive of Team Saving Our Youth, a local organizations that helps underprivileged youths.
On the group’s website, Olbel is called Mr. Mike. He is described as having “successfully coached and trained many individuals in the area of life skills planning across the US. Mr. Mike happens to be the most sought after youngest CEO in South Florida for his expertise to assist with preventing crime in the community.”
Mikelange “Mr. Mike” Olbel
It is not known at this early date how Olbel’s campaign will be waged. Whatever he does, his ethnicity will influence the election.
Identity politics is not new in Broward or anywhere in the United States.
For years when Jewish retirees dominated elections here, politicians made naked appeals to Jews. Candidates who never saw the inside of a synagogue suddenly were donning yarmulkes and bragging about their ties to the Jewish community.
The latest wrinkle in ethnic appeals has been to protect Runcie, an African American. Some of his supporters have beat back any criticism the superintendent by using blatant ethnic appeals to the black community.
Whether Runcie is behind these black identity pressure tactics is not known.
What is known is that using Runcie‘s blackness is politically clever. The strategy has made the white Democrats on the School Board, who all view themselves as liberals on racial issues, very uncomfortable.
Although she may be uncomfortable, Rupert has not backed down. She has continued to question Runcie’s policies despite the significant number of black voters in her north Broward School Board District 7.
Rupert joined members Heather Brinkworth and Robin Bartleman in writing that Runcie “needs improvement” in his evaluation last September.
The three Board members have questioned Runcie‘s hiring practices. They blame Runcie for the failure to get school construction started more than two years after passage of the $800 bond issue. They blame him for the lack of notable improvements in student achievement.
Bartleman is elected countywide, diminishing black anger aimed at her in any election. Brinkworth’s Fort Lauderdale-based School Board district has five times more white voters than black voters.
But Rupert is much more potentially vulnerable to the ire of black voters. Her district has many, many black voters.
Rupert’s School Board District 7 stretches over heavily white enclaves of North Broward like Margate and Coconut Creek to the black-dominated precincts of west Deerfield Beach and Pompano Beach.
There were 88,878 white voters in the district at the beginning of the year, compared with 34,068 blacks, 20,199 Hispanics and 12,199 who classify themselves as “other.”
Those figures are not the whole story.
Although School Board races are non-partisan, many other contests on the primary ballot contain party labels.
There are 75,269 Democrats in District 7, compared to 36,581 Republicans and 40,994 no party or independents.
Since independents can only vote in Florida in non-partisan primary races, they tend vote less in primaries. So in District 7, Democrats will dominate the primary.
A big hunk of those registered Democrats are blacks.
Blacks can have an oversized influence on the District 7 primary….if they turnout and vote as a bloc.
That’s a big “If.”
It will be black versus white in School Board District 7.
Haitian-American Olbel is challenging Rupert, a School Board member who gets the most notoriety for criticizing Broward’s first black school superintendent — Runcie.
This one is about to get interesting.