By Steve Schneider
Marie Woodson’s dad wanted her to become a medical doctor. But her family didn’t have the right government connections in Haiti to get her admitted to medical school.
So, without speaking a word of English, Woodson came to South Florida, setting her on a career path in public service. Woodson has lived in a house in West Hollywood for 26 years. She started her government-service career in her early 20’s, retiring after 35 years.
The Hollywood resident is now competing with two other candidates in the August Democratic primary to represent District 101 in the Florida House of Representatives.
Her district covers swaths of Pembroke Pines, Miramar, Hallandale, West Park and Pembroke Park. Hollywood, though, comprises 40% of the district. The candidate who wins the primary will most likely be the next representative in Tallahassee because the area is heavily Democratic.
Woodson started her campaign by knocking on doors, speaking with friends, family and neighbors and attending community events to meet voters face to face and gather support.
Covid-19, the virus killing people around the world, has only forced Woodson to adjust, much like the lack of connections in her homeland didn’t stop her from moving forward with her life.
This interview tells the story of someone who came here with nothing and worked her way up.
Woodson, with two children, a husband and an elderly dad who taught her to give back, explains why she continues to campaign for a political position for the first time in her life.
Q: This is your first campaign for political office. What do you want voters to know about your background and experiences? And how does this background and these experiences prepare you for a new line of work?
Woodson: I was born and raised in Haiti. I migrated to the USA at the age of 21, after I was denied an opportunity to attend the only medical school in Port-au-Prince.
Growing up, during the summer my father used to make me teach the children whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to school. As well, he would give me $5.00 and would tell me to spend $2.00, save $2.00 and share one with others who didn’t have. He would always tell me that when I make it to the top, always remember to take others with me and give back to my community. This was the beginning of my public service career because medical school was not part of God’s plan for me. Well, I have lived my life with these aforementioned guiding principles.
Coming to the USA was a privilege. I got a little job in county government right after I began school at Miami-Dade College. While earning a Bachelor and Master’s degrees, I was fortunate to move up the ladder in county government. I was responsible for the operations of several major programs, including, but not limited to Social Services, Senior Services, Domestic Violence, Greater Miami Service Corps, Psychological services with a prior position of Division Director overseeing the disbursement of 18 million dollars monthly. I have also worked in the Juvenile and Adult Courts programs as Court Counselors.
While working in the county, I had the opportunity to sit on several Boards and Committees, including serving as the Chairwoman of two organizations: the Miami-Dade Commission for Women and the Family Action Network Movement. I am also a long-standing member of the Legislative Committee.
Q: In retirement, in your 50’s, you are running for office for the first time. Why?
Woodson: I had to raise my children first. I made a commitment to my family that I would not run for office until my youngest child goes to College. I believe that running for office or being an elected official requires personal sacrifices and extracts a toll not just on you; but, on your family and as a mother, I had an obligation to be there for my family while working in county government full-time.
Now that my youngest is in college, I decide to throw my hat in the ring and continue to serve my community on a larger scale. As a leader In my community, I want to continue to bring about change and create a positive impact.
My rich and diverse background and my professional and advocacy experiences have greatly prepared me to the path that I currently choose to follow. Public service is in my DNA and as a former county executive, a statewide and local volunteer, a long-time Hollywood resident, I know the challenges voters face. I want to craft solutions to these challenges and I am ready to represent well the residents of District 101 and the State of Florida as a whole.
Q: Ok, but what do you want to do if you win?
Woodson: I believe in fairness and equality for all and want our State and specifically the residents of District 101 to fare better.
I would like to work for a better public education system where our children, teachers and parents fare well and attain a more prosperous future. The people in District 101 also need a better healthcare system that is more affordable to all.
I also want to see that mental health is given the priority it deserves in order for our children and families to function at their full potential. We need the state to support a system where college graduates or those who took a trade from a technical school can afford to rent an AFFORDABLE apartment and are not strangled with students loans, an economy where we have jobs and that families don’t have to work two jobs to make ends meet, a safer community where our children and families are not subjected to so much gun violence or violent crimes, a community where our seniors and veterans can live a more dignified life. I want to bring the resources down to our district and be able to effect change.
Q: What has surprised you about running for political office?
Woodson: I have had several surprises during this campaign. A few are more alarming than others with the first one being the COVID-19 pandemic. No one was ready for this nightmare and it took our community, our state, our nation and the world by surprise. People are fighting for their lives and it has become impossible for candidates to continue with canvassing or to move along with fundraising activities. It is really surprising how unprepared we were as a State, as a Country to deal with the pandemic; but, our community is strong and people are there for each other..
Another surprise is the fact that the need in our district is even greater than expected. We have a lot of work ahead of us to address some of the issues plaguing our community. The good thing is we are ready and committed to collaboratively do the work for the betterment of our district and our State as a whole.
Q: How many days a week were you working on your campaign before the Coronavirus was declared a pandemic? How many hours a day?
Woodson: Campaigning is a 24/7 job. I was living and breathing the campaign; but with the pandemic I am still engaged 24/7, but more so through social media without the personal contacts. The pandemic has hindered the one-on-one contacts with the residents which is priceless in connecting with people and finding out the real needs or underlying issues.
Q: How did potential voters react to you when you started campaigning? Did the reactions change as news about the Coronavirus became more serious?
Woodson: When I started campaigning, the reaction of the voters was so positive and warm. I really felt rejuvenated and inspired every time I met and engaged in a conversation with a voter. Once the news became more serious about COVID-19, people were disengaged, distant and politics were the last thing on their minds. Their priorities changed and every one was and is in a survival state which is expected.
I fully understand this. I hope that we continue to be there for each other and hopefully, get through this nightmare together. We will, and I believe a new day will come because we are resilient people.
Q: Is there anything I didn’t give you a chance to discuss?
Woodson: We are living during some very hard times and we need to be there for each other. We need to collectively understand the magnitude of what is taking place in our community, in our world and elect people who represent our interests and not those with self-interests.
I have been in the community and I know the issues and I am willing to do something about them.
When we look around we see that something is wrong with our system. We see seniors who cannot afford to eat; nor pay for their medications. We see that our educational system is failing our students as well as our teachers.
We see, and hear about, and experience economic and health disparities in our community. We can’t ignore what we see when we look at our veterans who have sacrificed so much for our freedom and we are not taken care them and their families.
We are not blind when we look at the so-called affordable housing that our families cannot afford; when we look at the mental health crisis plaguing our community and how it correlates with homelessness.
Further, we can’t ignore our children dying of gun violence or violent crimes and their families who suffer so much whenever it happens. We can not in good conscience leave this earth with such major problems for our children if we turn a blind eye to the climate change phenomenon.
I am not pretending that I will save the world or cure our ills; but I am definitely committed to do my very best to move the needle in the right direction. If the residents of District 101 and my supporters stand with me and give me an opportunity, I promise to work hard and smart to represent them well in the state Legislature.
Together, WE WILL MAKE IT HAPPEN!
Learn more at www.mariewoodson2020.com or by calling her at (954) 696-7428.