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John Zarrella: Florida, melting pot of the bizarre and outrageous

John Zarrella
John Zarrella  

CNN Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella reflects upon Florida’s role during this historic presidential election.

Q: Florida has now endured the two biggest media blitzes of 2000: the Elian Gonzalez story and the presidential election. Does the state have a ‘Scarlet A’ and where does it go from here?

ZARRELLA: I think we can expect more of the same from the state of Florida in the future. It never disappoints when it comes to the bizarre, the outrageous, the unbelievable and the tragic.

I’ve been here for nearly 20 years in this bureau. If you look back historically, you look at things like the Challenger accident, the Manuel Noriega case and the William Kennedy Smith case. It’s one after the other after the other. It could be a Hurricane Andrew.

Florida, it seems, is always at the focal point of anything and everything of major significance that hits the United States.

It’s very interesting to look back historically at this state. It seems as if Florida in many regards is kind of the litmus test for the rest of the nation. It is a tremendous melting pot. One part of the state doesn’t resemble another part of the state when it comes to demographics.

Florida is very, very unique in its makeup. It’s a state that is constantly in the limelight and at the forefront for so many different reasons. … In some degree, I think people down here relish that notion: If you want some excitement in your life, just come to Florida.

There was a tourism slogan many years ago in Florida that went: The rules are different here. It certainly does apply, doesn’t it?

Q: Are people glad that this presidential story has come to an end? At the same time, are Floridians mad that their votes may not have gotten counted properly?

ZARRELLA: That’s an interesting point. From the people who we talked with over the course of the last several weeks, the man on the street – every man and woman out there – is glad. People were tired of the story. They wanted it over. People believed the U.S Supreme Court would make it end. And, in fact, the U.S. Supreme Court did put an end to it.

From the people we talked to, whether the results were what they wanted, they were glad the story came to an end.

On the other side of the coin, is there anger; is there a feeling of disenfranchisement among certain elements and certain voters? Yes, certainly.

Will there be repercussions? Probably so. After the first of the year, the Civil Rights Commission is expected to hold hearings in South Florida on the undervotes and overvotes and whether there were problems with antiquated voting equipment in poorer neighborhoods.

So, as far as the election goes and what happened in the state of Florida, as we move into 2001 and beyond, there will without doubt be a focus on Florida and what the state is doing to make sure something like this never happens again.

There’s no question there will be a tremendous amount of focus on that.

As you move into the off-year elections in 2002, I think there’s going to be a tremendous amount of focus on what happens to elected officials and what happens to the Florida Supreme Court justices and those on the canvassing boards.


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Monday, December 18, 2000

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