FL-20: Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings, a veteran congressman who has represented a safely blue South Florida seat since 1993, died Tuesday at the age of 84. Hastings, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018, was the most senior member of Florida’s 27-person House delegation, as well as one of the first African Americans to represent the state in Congress since Reconstruction.
Hastings first rose to prominence in the mid-1960s when, just six months after he finished law school, he sued a Fort Lauderdale Holiday Inn that had denied him a room: Weeks later, the state Division of Hotels and Restaurants agreed to outlaw racial segregation in hotels across Broward County. Hastings and his law partner would spend the next several years filing lawsuits against racial segregation in local restaurant and schools.
Hastings ran for office at the age of 29 in 1970 in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate. Hastings, who received death threats during the contest, would acknowledge he didn’t think he could win, but said that he wanted to demonstrate that a Black candidate could run for this post. Hastings ended up taking fourth with 13% of the vote in the five-way field. Hastings would go on to become a Broward Circuit Court judge in 1977 and two years later, Jimmy Carter chose him to be the first African American to serve as a federal judge in Florida.
In 1981, though, Hastings was indicted for allegedly soliciting a $150,000 bribe. A jury found Hastings not guilty in 1983, but that wasn’t the end of his legal troubles. An appeals court committee eventually ruled that he had lied and tampered with evidence and recommended that Congress remove him from office. The House voted 413-3 to impeach him in 1988, and the Senate ousted him 69-26. Hastings, who always maintained his innocence, announced minutes later that he would run for governor in 1990, declaring that his mother “did not have anybody that was afraid of the system.”
Hastings instead ran for secretary of state that year, though. Florida at the time required a runoff in primaries where no candidate won a majority of the vote, a rule that would eventually be abolished in 2005: Hastings made it to the second round, but he lost by a lopsided 67-33. He was hardly deterred, though, and in 1992 he sought to join the body that had overwhelmingly voted to remove him from the bench by campaigning for what was then numbered Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, a heavily Black and safely Democratic seat in South Florida.
State Rep. Lois Frankel led the Democratic primary with 35% of the vote, while Hastings edged out state Rep. Bill Clark 28-27 for the second runoff spot. The second round was an ugly affair, with Hastings saying of his opponent, “The bitch is a racist.” Hastings himself would say of Frankel’s commercials, “She called me a crook, and I have no record anywhere in America of having a felony conviction.” He added, “I was removed administratively from my job, so how dare she call me a crook?”
Hastings got some welcome news weeks before the runoff when a federal judge ruled that the Senate had acted improperly by trying him before a panel of 12 members rather than the full Senate. Hastings went on to win the Democratic nomination 58-42, saying the ruling had allowed him “to catapult me beyond my opponent.”
That November, Hastings, along with fellow Democrats Corrine Brown and Carrie Meek, became the first African Americans elected to represent Florida in Congress since Reconstruction. Hastings, who never faced a close re-election campaign during his nearly three decades in Congress, would even go on to endorse Frankel in 2012 in her successful primary bid for a different House seat. Hastings said of their 1992 contest, “We buried the hatchet. That's what grown people do.”