One Man, One Vote

Haitian immigrants like Gerlyn Cadet know in their marrow that a ballot is a precious thing. But this election leaves them feeling robbed.

At one point a Gore partisan, not understanding what Cestone is saying, shouts back at her, "No, Bush is the whiner!"

Though such antics prove harmless, watching politics play out on the streets brings back bad memories for Cadet. "This kind of thing makes me anxious," he says. "This is why I left Haiti, this kind of stuff. If this happened in Haiti, this would be a bloody mess."

Soon Cadet and Francois leave the hoopla for nearby St. Mary's Hospital. Cadet's father figure, Jean Hyppolite, who moved to South Florida ten years ago, is a patient there. Hyppolite suffers from kidney failure and acute heart problems. Cadet, who is taking care of Hyppolite's affairs, says the doctors believe Hyppolite may not make it. When Cadet walks into Hyppolite's small hospital room, which has a window and a chair, the sick, gray-haired man is sleeping soundly. He seems at peace but for an occasional light shudder that runs through him. His body is emaciated, the ribs visible through his gown in this dim late afternoon. Cadet decides not to wake him.

Cadet helped Joan Haire to the voting booth (above), then soon returned to work in his cab
Colby Katz
Cadet helped Joan Haire to the voting booth (above), then soon returned to work in his cab

They leave the hospital at 4:30 p.m. Francois is scheduled to speak on WHSR-AM (980), a popular Haitian radio station in Boca Raton, in 30 minutes. Radio provides a cultural and economic base for the Haitian population in South Florida. Many Haitians, especially those lacking higher education, get all their news from Creole-language radio shows rather than newspapers or TV. Francois is in a hurry: He has bought a half-hour to talk about social services available to Haitians -- and the election, of course. If he doesn't make it by 5 p.m., he will lose both the time and the $130 he paid for it. He realizes the scope of the problem when he drives back onto I-95 south. The traffic is jammed. For the next 50 minutes, the normally cautious Francois drives too fast in the tight traffic. Cars honk at him as he quickly shifts lanes, trying to make time.

When they finally reach the station, which is located on the second floor of a small office building in Boca Raton, it is 5:20. Francois can salvage ten minutes of air time. Speaking in his place before he arrived was Barry Silver, a lawyer and former Democratic state representative. Silver is there to alert Haitians to a lawsuit he's planning specifically on behalf of Haitian voters over the Palm Beach butterfly ballot. He claims an inordinate number of Haitians were cheated out of their vote by the ballot, or worse, accidentally voted for Pat Buchanan. "The Haitian community had extreme difficulty understanding the ballot; 99.9 percent of Haitians [intended to vote] for Gore," Silver says, "and there was no one at the voting precincts to help them or give them answers to their questions."

After Francois' time is up, Silver, who is getting free time, gets back on the air to promote a Haitian political rally in Delray Beach scheduled for two days later, on the post-election Saturday. When Cadet hears about the rally, he knows one thing: He's going to be there.

One of the epicenters of Haitian politics can be found in an unusual place: the taxi holding yard near Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. There Cadet cut his teeth on political organizing and continues to fight the kind of battle he couldn't wage in his native Haiti. The taxi business in Broward County, he says, is a microcosm of old Haiti, complete with a dictator and the suffering common people.

On the Saturday following the election, Broward County's taxi holding yard is alive with political fervor. A half-dozen Haitian drivers seem to dance as they excitedly discuss the presidential election in the large paved lot, which is hidden behind a rental-car agency east of the airport. Some of the drivers, however, don't seem quite so concerned. They eat, play dominoes, or simply rest nearby. The thick and sweet smell of Haitian cooking, of boiled chicken and grease, black beans and rice, plantains, and yams, fills the air. Two raccoons knock around a soda can nearby, trying to get the sugary remains inside.

Most of the men belong to the American Professional Cab Drivers Association of Broward County, which was formed in 1997 by Cadet. Roughly half of the county's 800 Haitian cab drivers belong to Cadet's association, which he formed to help him fight a man named Jesse Gaddis, the owner of the Yellow Cab company.

Gaddis, by and large, controls Broward's taxi industry. He has the exclusive contract to provide taxi service at the airport. Gaddis also owns the county's taxi dispatch system, holds roughly half of the county's taxi permits, and until recently owned the company that insures his cab drivers. (He sold the company to his partner, Phil Morgaman.) Gaddis packages all those services into one Yellow Cab contract, which ends up forcing each starting driver to pay his company some $450 a week -- or about $22,000 a year -- just to get on the road.

Cadet, who owns his own cab and holds his own permit, pays less than half that amount to drive for Yellow Cab. But he says too many of his fellow Haitian cabbies are suffering under Gaddis' system and complains that many cabbies work six days a week and make only $10,000 to $15,000 a year after paying Gaddis. With his association backing him up, Cadet has tried in vain to negotiate with Gaddis, one of the top political contributors in Broward County, to improve working conditions for drivers. "Mr. Gaddis uses his political muscle to do everything," Cadet says. "I find out that money and politics are two things that keep this country moving. Seeing the monopoly here, it reminds me of back home in Haiti."

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