Our nation's politicians are a detached group of individuals.
In the minds of the electorate, they are increasingly viewed as pompous, vain, and motivated by greed.
Jameel McCline, running for office in the 20th Congressional District of Florida, said that his grassroots campaign emphasizing the triumph of the human condition is anything but politics as usual.
"All of the campaign issues I believe in fall under the idea of uplifting and moving forward the human condition," said McCline, 44. "That is why I will fight for education, gay rights, workers' right, prison reform, education over incarceration, and fight for the enfranchisement of the alienated, black, white, or purple."
McCline's aim is to become a "common sense democrat" who can "work with everyone to create jobs from within" and "promote the common good of the human condition."
With just seven weeks left before the August 26 primary, McCline is confident that voters in his district are ready to start anew and that his campaign is attractive enough to send Alcee Hastings, in office since 1993, packing.
His effort is luring away even some of Hastings' most longtime supporters.
"Jameel is a bright young man, with a lot on the ball," said Dan Calloway, a Riviera Beach resident. "I'm 76, and Alcee is older than me. Alcee is a close friend, but I love the idea of term limits. We need a young person in the seat. Jameel has new ideas, new energy. He will bring his energy, insight, and vision to congress."
Calloway said that he admires McCline's personal resilience.
"He shows that when you fall, you have to get off the canvas," said Calloway. "You have to respond and get back up. To get himself out of the penal system and to get done what he's done is remarkable. That's why I think he will be sensitive to different programs. He has a lot of respect from ex-law enforcement personnel like me and organizations such as Mothers against Murders Association."
Indeed, Hastings' political track record gives McCline enough ammunition to broach the issue of integrity.
Hastings was impeached as a judge after being embroiled in a bribery scandal; he was ranked No. 1 out of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives for paying salaries and fees to family members. He has also been sued for alleged sexual harassment. (Phone calls to Hastings' office were not returned.)
Last week, Hastings sent a letter to supporters urging them to donate to his campaign and cautioning, "Upsets don't just happen."
Clearly, Hastings is no longer dismissing the formidability of McCline. Hastings walked over his opponent in his most recent reelection bid with approximately eighty-seven percent of the vote.
"Hastings is now finally acknowledging that this is a race," said McCline. "He is finally acknowledging that a street-smart reformed criminal plans to protect against a career politician who isn't reformed, who thinks he's untouchable."
Education is at the heart of McCline's message. He talks passionately about starting vocational programs and addressing the socioeconomic needs of the underserved communities of southeastern Florida. (The 20th Congressional District includes portions of Hendry, Palm Beach and Broward counties.)
"Tonight, I was looking at so many of these mothers who had lost their children to violence," said McCline. "I met with the Mothers against Murder Association. One mother lost two kids. There were ten mothers who lost kids. This type of violence is the result of a lack of educational programs, a lack of outlets. This violence is happening now under our congressman's watch. How is this okay to continue? It's time for some young new blood to get in there and figure out a way."
McCline stresses the need for affordable, high-quality housing in the most blighted areas. He has been visiting some of his district's most impoverished sections, including Belle Glade, where a startling sense of crime and human insecurity pervades.
"Here in our district, there is something called 'Walk Time,' something that a resident put together to protect girls. They've got to have people walking young girls to the bathrooms to prevent them from being sexually assaulted because they are alone. How is it that people are allowed to live in abject poverty in that region? Why is Alcee Hastings allowing this to continue to happen? These people are desperate and want help."
A veteran of more than 50 professional bouts, McCline retired from boxing in 2012. Boxing was McCline's antidote to self-doubt and despair. Following years in foster care and five years' incarceration for gun possession, the Harlem-born McCline decided to detonate his energy in the boxing ring. He never went into a fight believing that he couldn't win.
"There was one time that I fought Shannon Briggs at Madison Square Garden, and he pulled a great tactic. He covered up all week in the press conferences and appearances. He got on the scale with a full outfit and boots. He didn't take his shirt off until he was in the middle of the ring. In the pre-fight, he looks at me, shaking his head back and forth, in amazing shape, and he says, 'you knew I was going to bring it, right?'"
"The look, the voice, the intimidation, it totally threw me off. It took me into the second round, about five minutes, to refocus and calm down. Between the first and the second, my trainer said, 'Everything that we've worked on, forget it.' He said, 'you have to box him. Use your jab and move. Don't sit there and fight with him.' I ended up dominating the fight."
McCline sees parallels between his battle with Briggs (4/27/02) and his existing political challenge. And in this David vs. Goliath contest for the hearts of voters in the 20th Congressional District, the 6"6, 285-pounder, is the underdog.
"Like the Briggs fight, you have to adjust on the fly to make things work. In boxing and politics, you have to have a true belief in yourself. I believe that Alcee is - to use a boxing term - on his heels."
Thomas Jefferson once said that "when a man assumes a public trust he should consider himself a public property." This estimation by our third president is clearly not lost on McCline.
"Look, I've paid my debt to society for a mistake I made as an underprivileged kid," said McCline. "Has Hastings repented for betraying the public's trust as a public servant? Has he even asked for forgiveness?"
Photos Courtesy Eduardo Schneider