Barbara Sharief and Lauren Book battle in Broward state senate race

Barbara Sharief and Lauren Book battle in Broward state senate race

With the Aug. 23 primaries exactly one week away, Lauren Book and Barbara Sharief have entered the final stretch in a very heated race for Florida Senate District 35.

In a series of campaign ads, Sharief accuses Book of being fiscally irresponsible after spending roughly $1 million on her wedding, receiving $350,000 a year through her nonprofit, funding her charity through taxpayer dollars, and gunning for Republican votes despite “hating” them.

Book denies the allegations. She has also put out ads of her own, alleging that Sharief defrauded the government after a Florida Agency for Health Care Administration audit concluded that the latter had overbilled Medicaid for services close to $500,000.

“[Voters] are not worried about an audit or a company that produced calls,” said Sharief, who is suing Book for defamation. “These are all tactics to deflect from the bottom line. Lauren Book bringing this up now is out of desperation.”

Sharief said the issue had already been resolved years ago, after agreeing to pay more than $540,300 to correct her company’s mistake.

“It’s gotten really ugly,” said Book. “I’ve tried very hard since the beginning of the campaign to run an issue-based campaign. … At the end of the day, this is a campaign, it’s a race. And so what do I do? I try to communicate with the voters.”

The Broward County seat is one of Florida’s biggest sources of Democratic voters, according to Florida Politics.

Following personal tragedies, both seemingly qualified candidates were thrust into the political arena by a desire to serve marginalized communities and enact policies to change the society they grew up in. Both have years of experience in public office.

Book, 37, has been in the Florida Legislature for the past six years, where she now serves as District 32 senator and Democratic minority leader. She was unopposed when she first ran for the seat in 2016, and again in 2018.

But now the redrawn Senate District 35 – which consists of Pembroke Pines, Miramar, Cooper City, Davie, Hollywood and Weston – has brought forth a challenger: Broward County’s first Black woman and Muslim mayor.

Barbara Sharief

Sharief was raised by a self-employed clothing salesman and retired educator in both Miami-Dade and Broward counties. She lost her father at age14 when a 15-year-old gunman entered his business and shot him during a robbery.

“That began a period of financial downturn for my family,” she said, explaining that it has been a motivating factor for her strong work ethic. “And I didn’t want to make my being a victim of gun violence be all that my life was, so I decided to fight. And we did that together as a family.”

She worked three jobs to get herself through nursing school and went on to earn a total of six college degrees, including a doctorate in nursing practice with a specialization in family medicine.

Sharief was employed at Jackson Memorial Hospital for some time before founding South Florida Pediatric Homecare nearly two decades ago to provide in-home intensive care for patients with chronic health conditions.

“After I had been in business for a while, people kept saying to me, ‘You should really go into elected office because you advocate so well for everybody.’”

And so began Sharief’s stint as a politician, first as a Miramar commissioner and vice mayor then District 8 Broward County commissioner, Broward County vice mayor, and finally Broward County mayor after a unanimous appointment vote by the commission in 2013.

During her 13 years in office, she has supported programs offering foreclosure assistance to residents, advocated for an overpass in Pembroke Pines, worked with the White House to change TSA laws following the 2017 mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, and pushed for funding for her county’s Homeless Management Information System.

“I wanted to make sure that whatever job in political office that I was given by the people, that I represented them on all levels,” she said.

After an unsuccessful bid for Congress to replace the late Alcee Hastings and in the wake of the redistricting, she’s set her sights on the District 35 Senate seat.

Lauren Book

Sharief’s opponent, Book, knows the legislative process like the back of her hand.

“While a lot of kids were going to Panama City or wherever for spring break, we went to Tallahassee,” explained Book, the daughter of Ron Book, a lobbyist and the chairman of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust. “And so I had the opportunity during my summers and spring break to go to Tallahassee to watch the process.”

All those years spent in the capital, coupled with being a survivor of sexual assault, led her to advocacy work.

“I felt like I was invisible, like I didn’t have a voice” said Book, detailing her harrowing encounter at just 10 years old. “And I knew that once I got out of that situation and was able to heal from it that I was going to do everything and anything in my power to make it different for other children [and] also people who hadn’t found their voice, from marginalized communities to the elderly.”

She launched Lauren’s Kids in 2007 to teach adults and children about sexual abuse prevention and authored “Lauren’s Kingdom,” and “It’s OK to Tell: A Story of Hope and Recovery” to share her story.

“There was never a model for what survivorship looked like or what it meant to come out on the other side” said Book. “Today, I have the ability to show other young people, the 1 in 3 girls and the 1 in 5 boys who will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, that they can survive and they can thrive if they do the work and get the healing they need.”

Her South Florida-based nonprofit started as a hotline for survivors and expanded to include an abuse prevention curriculum currently taught in approximately 65,000 classrooms in Florida and internationally. It is supported by the annual “Walk in My Shoes” awareness walk.

Book taught in Miami-Dade County Public Schools following her graduation from the University of Miami with a degree in elementary education.

During her early years in office, Book filed a bill to remove Confederate Memorial Day from the state’s list of federal holidays, along with the celebration of Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis’ birthdays.

She helped pass legislation for tax exemption on incontinence products for seniors, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, a bill requiring financial literacy in public schools, and authorizing the Agency for Health Care Administration to pay for donor human milk bank services, and also advocated for PTSD coverage for first responders.

“There’s a lot that I still have to accomplish,” said Book, pointing to why she is seeking reelection.

The candidates on policy

As Democrats, both candidates want to see more legislation that supports the environment, gun control, equal justice and a woman’s right to choose.

Sharief’s top issues are health care, job security and human rights, while Book wants to focus on housing affordability, getting more Democrats elected to diminish legislative pushback from Republicans and improving the communication system in prison for families of inmates.

If elected, Sharief wants to push for more incentives in the health care industry to deal with ongoing staffing shortages, promote legislation that would make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors and remove obstacles faced by patients in outpatient programs.

Book pointed to rising housing costs and low-wage jobs as being primary issues burdening families that she plans to address.

Both express an interest in advocating for more programming to support Black and brown business owners through grants, loans and more contracting opportunities.

The absence of a Republican candidate in the district affords all voters in the area, regardless of political party affiliation, a chance to participate in this election.