I was saddened when Ileana-Ros Lehtinen announced that she would not be running for reelection in 2018. After all, she’s been a political fixture in South Florida since 1982 when she was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives.
She didn’t stop there. She was elected to the Florida Senate in 1986, becoming the first Hispanic woman to sit in either chamber. And when Claude Pepper died in 1989, she won a special election to fill his seat and became the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress.
In her 30 years in Congress, she was both a stalwart opponent of the spread of Communism and a progressive on social issues, most notably on matters affecting the LGBT community. She was a strong supporter of the Head Start program for the very young and to increase the availability of federal student financial aid. And on top of that, she rose to chair the House Foreign Affairs committee.
Ileana is a product of South Florida. Although her family fled the Communist Cuban regime when she was eight, she attended Southside Elementary School in Little Havana, West Miami Junior High, and Southwest High School. She has an AA from Miami-Dade, a bachelor’s and master’s degree from FIU, and got a doctorate in education from UM in 2004 while serving in Congress.
She may have hoped to retire to the balmy shade of South Florida, but her work is not done yet. That’s why I am endorsing Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for President… of Miami-Dade College.
Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón, the current President of Miami-Dade College announced that he was stepping down after holding the office since 1995. Under Dr. Padrón’s tenure, MDC has grown to the largest higher educational institution in America with nine campuses and an enrollment of more than 130,000 students, almost as large as the University of Central Florida, Texas A&M, and Ohio State combined.
Under Dr. Padrón, the trope that MDC is a “high school with ashtrays” has been buried deep underground. The college has become an economic engine for South Florida whose alumni include actors Sylvester Stallone and Oscar Issac, Pulitzer Prize winners Liz Balmeseda and Mirta Ojito, Children’s Trust Chair Modesto Abety, scores of business and banking CEOs and too many local politicians to count. Dr. Padrón’s legacy should continue.
MDC is a serious educational institution. It deserves a serious President.
Should a politician run a major educational institution? Ask the University of Miami. Donna Shalala was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Health and Human Services when she was appointed to the presidency of UM. She served as the college’s President for 14 years, raising over $1.6 billion for the UM endowment and raising the prestige of UM while at it.
Ileana left Congress with favorable ratings among voters and, in spite of the blue tide that swept Congress in 2018, would likely have won reelection. She is well respected by members of the public on both sides of the political aisle.
I haven’t spoken to Ileana about this. I don’t know if she’s interested. I don’t know if she’s keen to toss her hat into the ring in what promises to be a wide search for the next MDC President.
But if she is interested, if the call to public service can capture her imagination once more, if the thought of new challenges and new horizons swiftens her heartbeat, we could find no better champion for the students of Miami-Dade College or the people of South Florida.