Barbara Muhammad Sharief has become Broward County's first black female mayor. Commissioners selected Sharief, 42, to be county mayor on Tuesday evening.
Sharief, who was raised in the Muslim faith, will be serving for one year in what is mainly a ceremonial role. But as a self-made businesswoman and mother of five children, she hopes she can use her position to bring attention to nonprofits and small businesses in the county.
She was also tagged for overbilling overbilling Medicaid nearly half a million dollars. But that didn't seem to mar the ceremony.
Sharief has plowed through tough times to get to where she is.
Her father, a clothing salesman, was shot and killed by a would-be robber when she was 14. She and her seven siblings grew up fatherless in Miami. Following the tragedy, she was forced to take on the responsibilities of a grownup and got a job to help her mother pay the bills.
But Sharief's father left an impact on her. Well-known in the Muslim community and an active member of the Masjid Al-Ansar Mosque in Miami, Sharief's father had headed a food program for the needy.
This has led her to champion nonprofits and small businesses.
Since being elected to the County Commission in 2010, Sharief has worked on health care and aggressive-dog issues. She was once a Republican but switched parties. As mayor, Sharief's main goal will be to help small business, buoyed by the slogan "Broward means business."
And though she hasn't been in a Muslim mosque since she was a teen, the community has embraced her.
Nezar Hamze, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in South Florida and a spokesman for Broward's 43,000 Muslims, called her appointment as mayor "absolutely fantastic.''
"I think it's just testimony to what Broward County is right now,'' Hamze said. "We're a majority minority community. And just looking at the elections in the last couple of years, we have a Jewish sheriff and now we have a Muslim mayor. So Broward County is really starting to reflect its diversity at the top.''
Sharief also hopes her selection will inspire others, especially little girls.
"In America, we are a culture of tolerance and diversity, and I think that for those people who see me and know my background, I think they'll appreciate that,'' she said.
Of course, it hasn't always been roses and sunshine with Sharief. Sharief's company, South Florida Pediatric Homecare, had been accused of overbilling Medicaid nearly half a million dollars between 2007 and 2011.
She eventually settled, agreeing to pay $588,889, including the amount she was overpaid, as well as almost $100,000 in fines.
An ethics complaint had been fined against Sarief, saying she failed to disclose assets and filed conflicting information about her own income in state and county filings.
Neither Sharief, nor her fellow commissioners, had any comments for any of this during Tuesday's ceremony.
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