Donna Shalala will be part of the Democrats new majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, after rolling to easy victory over Republican opponent Maria Elvira Salazar.
A watch party at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club saw anxious supporters and campaign staff erupt in shouts, jumps for joy and hugs as poll numbers came in showing the former University of Miami president won by nearly six percentage points, 51.7 to 45.9 percent, and nearly 128,000 votes, about 15,000 more than her opponent.
“Bringing us together is absolutely critical for the future,” Shalala said, addressing her supporters, “not simply for the Democratic Party but for everyone that lives in our community and lives in our country and lives around the world.”
The new congresswoman reiterated her support for the country’s diversity.
“Some people would like to divide us, whether it’s from the language we speak, by our country of origin, by our race, by our religion, by our disability, and we can’t just let that happen because its un-American,” she said. “Whether it was my grandparents or any of you and your parents, all of us came from somewhere, and that’s what we have to remember as we go forward.”
Salazar, meanwhile, conceded defeat in both English and Spanish just two hours after the polls closed at 7 p.m.
Despite the loss, she remained positive.
“The results obviously are not what we expected or what you expected,” she said.” But thank God we live in a free country where people can make their own decisions and vote their hearts with no fear. I congratulate Mrs. Shalala and wish her the very best in serving this community.”
Shalala, 77, served as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services from 1993 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton.
She was president of Hunter College in New York and chancellor at the University of Wisconsin before taking a position in the Clinton administration. After leaving her post, she served as president of the University of Miami until 2015.
Her campaign focused on job creation, health care, the environment and education. She was endorsed by the Miami Herald, Miami’s Community Newspapers, along with some three dozen Democratic and progressive organizations, and such luminaries as former Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Salazar, 57, worked as a reporter and anchor for the Univision Network, Channel 23, Telemundo, MEGA TV and CNN en Español for more than three decades. She was the only U.S. Spanish-language TV journalist to have a one-on-one interview with Fidel Castro while he was in power.
Salazar, who focused on border security and helping undocumented immigrants achieve legal status, said her background in journalism made her value transparency and communication