October 19, 2018

Joe Biden is hitting the stump for Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson next week. Here are the details.

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Former Vice President Joe Biden endorses New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for reelection at opening day of the New York State Democratic Convention at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Thursday, May 24, 2018. In a forceful rebuke to President Donald Trump and other Washington Republicans, Biden told fellow Democrats that the GOP has abandoned traditional American values in the name of "phony populism" and "fake nationalism." [Howard Schnapp | Newsday via AP]

Former Vice President Joe Biden is coming to Florida next week for three rallies for Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, just in time for the start of early voting.

Biden, one of the biggest names in Democratic politics and a potential presidential contender in 2020, is hosting rallies in Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville Monday and Tuesday. Gillum and Nelson are both locked in tight races for governor and senate, respectively.

Early voting begins Monday in several of Florida's large urban counties, including Hillsborough, Pinellas and Duval counties.

Here are the details on Biden's visit:

1. Monday in Tampa:

Where: University of South Florida's East Gym, 12301 USF Maple Drive, Tampa

When: Noon (doors open at 10:30 a.m.)

Who: Biden, Nelson, Gillum, Congressman Charlie Crist, Attorney General nominee Sean Shaw

2. Monday in Jacksonville:

Where:  University of North Florida Field House, 11852 University of North Florida Drive, Jacksonville

When: 3:45 p.m. (doors open at 2:15 p.m.)

Who: Biden, Gillum, Nelson, Congressional Candidate Nancy Soderberg

3. Tuesday in Orlando:

Where: Cheyenne Saloon, 128 W Church St, Orlando

When: 4:30 p.m. (doors open at 3 p.m.)

Who: Biden, Nelson, Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer

October 12, 2018

Tallahassee is aiming for 90 percent of power restored by Sunday, likely helping Andrew Gillum

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Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum speaks to a local reporter on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, while workers from Kissimmee repair a power pole damaged from Hurricane Michael. (Lawrence Mower / Tampa Bay Times)

The City of Tallahassee is aiming for 90 percent of its customers to have power by the end of the weekend, a pace following the devastation of Hurricane Michael that could quell criticism of its mayor in the final weeks of his race for governor.

If the city meets its goal, four days after the Category 4 storm made landfall about 75 miles away, it will match the pace of recovery from Hurricane Hermine, for which Mayor Andrew Gillum continues to be criticized.

Hermine, a Category 1 storm that did less damage, knocked out power to 80 percent of the city's customers and also took the city four days to restore power to 90 percent, the Tallahassee Democrat reported at the time.

More than 92 percent of city customers have lost power from Hurricane Michael.

In the aftermath of Hermine, many Tallahasseeans were furious with how long it took the city to recover.

County Commissioner John Daily, who is now running to replace Gillum as mayor, was livid five days after the storm. He was part of the 10 percent who still didn't have power.

"We don't have power," Dailey said at the time. "We're frustrated. We're angry. We want answers. We're not getting answers. This is ridiculous."

Gillum, who publicly sparred with Gov. Rick Scott about the city's recovery from that storm, pushed back against criticism but acknowledged there were problems.

"Without a doubt, we've not been perfect in this process," Gillum told the Tallahassee Democrat at the time.

Gillum's opponent for governor, Republican Ron DeSantis has used Tallahassee's response to Hermine to question whether Gillum is fit for governor. The Republican Party of Florida has aired ads about Gillum's response to the hurricane even as Hurricane Michael bore down on the coast.

"Utility companies lined up trucks to restore power," one RPOF ad says. "But as mayor, Andrew Gillum refused help from workers. The trucks just sat, while people suffered."

Politifact called the ads "mostly false."

The city did turn down some help from Florida Power & Light after Hermine, but as mayor, Gillum had little control over that decision. Tallahassee's city manager runs the city and oversees the head of its electric utility.

This year, Gillum said the city was able to call on hundreds more electrical workers from as far away as Nebraska, thanks to new agreements with private utility companies.

Gillum has been frenetic in the days before and after Hurricane Michael, making more than a dozen national TV appearances, filling and delivering sandbags and using a chainsaw to chop up downed branches — sometimes with a cameraman from a company employed by his campaign shadowing him.

October 09, 2018

Hurricane Michael a reminder that Andrew Gillum, as city's mayor, is more messenger than manager

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Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum talks to the media outside the Leon County Emergency Management headquarters in advance of Hurricane Michael on Oct. 9, 2018. (Lawrence Mower - Tampa Bay Times)

As Hurricane Michael bears down on Tallahassee, how the city recovers from the storm could be used against its mayor, Andrew Gillum, during the final month of Gillum's campaign for governor.

But the storm is a reminder that the city's mayor is mostly a figurehead, with no real management powers, like his colleagues on the city council.

Over the last 48 hours, Gillum been giving briefings to the press, bagging sand and appearing on The Weather Channel to reassure residents and encourage them to stay safe.

He has not spent the time managing the city and directing staff.

When asked Tuesday what his responsibilities were this week, he said he's been giving updates to Gov. Rick Scott and meeting regularly with the city manager and giving advice.

"He and I are hand in glove in this, as we have been in previous storms," Gillum said of his relationship with the city manager.

But he's also "being the best messenger that we can, as an elected official that has the trust of people in our community to communicate directly to citizens what we need them to do," Gillum said.

Gillum's Republican opponent, former Congressman Ron DeSantis, has spent the last week blasting Gillum for how the city recovered from 2016's Hurricane Hermine. The city turned down help from Florida Power & Light following the storm, a criticism that Gillum said Tuesday was "unwarranted."

The decision was made by the city's utilities manager, and the problem that caused it in 2016 has now been cleared up, Gillum assured. He said at least 125 additional linemen, including some from Tampa Electric, were already in the city to deal with the expected downed power lines. The city has also asked for several hundred other linemen to help after the storm.

"When it comes to the management of our electric utility, obviously that comes up to the city manager level," Gillum said. "Rob McGarrah is our manager, who is making those day-to-day, moment-to-moment decisions. We of course give them our advice and input, but the manager dictates down to staff."

October 08, 2018

Tallahassee has asked for hundreds more linemen for Hurricane Michael, Andrew Gillum says

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Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum speaks to the media in advance of Hurricane Michael on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. (Lawrence Mower - Tampa Bay Times)

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum says the city has asked for hundreds more linemen in advance of Hurricane Michael's landfall, addressing one of the chief criticisms in his campaign for governor.

Gillum said the city has asked for between 500 and 600 more linemen, six times what the city's electric utility normally has on staff. He said the city expects at least 100 linemen to be ready before Michael makes landfall Tuesday night.

The city manager is responsible for running the city, while the mayor's position is mostly ceremonial. But Gillum touted the efforts of the city following Hurricane Hermine in 2016, which left the vast majority of the city's residents without power for days.

Gillum has been criticized for not accepting help from Florida Power and Light utility crews after that storm.  The decision was made by the city's utilities director.

After Hermine, Gillum said the city started signing mutual aid agreements with private utility companies, something that he said did not exist in 2016.

"We broke that wall down following Hermine, where you now get much more quick coordination between the public and the private utilities," Gillum said following a Monday afternoon press conference.

He said that the city is still a second-tier priority to private utility companies like FPL.

"The privates (utilities) have to first respond to other privates," Gillum said. "Once those supports are exhausted ... they then become available to us. We're still secondary in support.

Michael appears to be a much more menacing storm than Hermine, which was a Category 1 when it made landfall in 2016, the first storm to hit the area in three decades. Michael is already a Category 1, with projections that it could become a Category 3 before it hits the Florida Panhandle.

October 04, 2018

Chris King defends Gillum plan to raise corporate tax rate, calls RGA "desperate"

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Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor Chris King speaks to the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg on Thursday, Sept. 27.

Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Chris King didn't wait a day before responding to the latest ad by the Republican Governors Association, which has blasted his running mate Andrew Gillum's plan to raise the corporate tax rate.

"When I saw the new ad for the RGA yesterday, I think the first word that hit my mind was 'desperate,'" King said on a conference call with reporters this morning.

The Gillum-King plan would increase the corporate tax rate on the state's largest companies from 5.5 percent to 7.75 percent. According to the campaign, the tax would only apply to the largest 2-3 percent of the state's companies.

"98% of businesses would still pay no corporate income tax," said King, a Winter Park entrepreneur.

The plan would generate $1 billion in revenue for the state, and Gillum wants to spend the money raising teachers' salaries and investing in programs like early childhood education.

READ MORE: Politifact: $1 billion Florida tax hike? Andrew Gillum proposes increasing state corporate tax

On Wednesday, the RGA released another ad attacking the plan, comparing it to a car wreck that would bring the state's economy "to a sudden stop."

On Thursday's call, two businessmen said the plan to improve schools was critical to attracting new businesses to the state.

Ken LaRoe, the founder of First GREEN Bank, said his Orlando-based company would make $10 million in net profit next year. Under Gillum's plan, his company would pay an additional $200,000 in corporate taxes, he said.

He called that "a very, very small sacrifice to make" to build a good school system.

"Florida’s a sh--hole," he said, repeating how it's a "sh--hole" in its programs, including programs for the developmentally disabled. LaRoe said he has a developmentally disabled child.

LaRoe later apologized for his language, expressing his frustration with the last two decades of Republican leadership in the state. He said his comments were referring to how other people perceive Florida.

"I’ve entered a very profane stage of life," LaRoe said. "I love this state, and in my travels around the country and the world on business, the rest of the country, especially, is looked at disdain at the state of Florida. ... I’m just sickened by what’s happened in this state."

When asked about LaRoe's comments, King said he disagreed with them.

"Mayor Gillum and I don’t share that view," he said. "I love Florida. Mayor Gillum loves Florida."

September 26, 2018

Leon County sheriff says Ron DeSantis is 'disrespectful' to police for criticizing Tallahassee's crime rate

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Democratc Andrew Gillum, left, and Republican Ron DeSantis

The Leon County Sheriff is coming to the defense of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum's record on crime, saying that he's made the city safer and that criticism over the city's high crime rate is "disrespectful" to police.

"Under Mayor Andrew Gillum's leadership, violent crime is down 24 percent, and overall crime is down 10 percent with crime at a five-year low in Tallahassee," Sheriff Walt McNeil said in the statement released by Gillum's campaign on Wednesday. "Mayor Gillum's investments into more police officers, restorative justice, and community policing have made Tallahassee safer than when he became Mayor, period.

McNeil also took a shot at Gillum's Republican opponent in the race, Ron DeSantis, who has hammered Gillum for the city's crime rate, which is one of the highest in the state.

"The political fear mongering from his opponent is false, dangerous, and disrespectful to the law enforcement officers on the front lines fighting crime every day," McNeil said.

But it's a message that is apparently resonating - in Tallahassee, at least. Gillum's former chief of staff, who is running to replace him as mayor, is sending out mailers saying the city "must do better" to combat crime.

McNeil was Tallahassee police chief for 10 years before being elected sheriff in 2016. During that run, he, too, campaigned on the area's high crime rate.

In one dramatic television ad, McNeil showed a model home getting blown away by an apparent shotgun blast.

"Rick Scott's sheriff, Mike Wood, isn't working," the ad said. "Make Leon County safe again. Vote Chief Walt McNeil for sheriff."

Herald/Times staff writer Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report.

September 05, 2018

DeSantis picks Miami state legislator Jeanette Nuñez as running mate

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@newsbysmiley @alextdaugherty

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis has picked Miami Rep. Jeanette Nuñez as his running mate, the Miami Herald has confirmed.

Nuñez, a Kendall-area politician who was first elected to the state House in 2010, would be the first Cuban-American woman to serve as the state’s second in command if she and DeSantis are elected in November. She recently served as Speaker pro tempore under House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Nuñez’s selection was first reported by Politico. The Herald confirmed her selection through a source familiar with the campaign’s vetting process.

Nuñez, 46, was hesitant to agree, but was swayed by an 11th hour pitch from U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, according to Politico.

During the 2016 presidential primary, Nuñez, who was supporting Rubio, said Donald Trump supports the Klu Klux Klan on Twitter. DeSantis won his primary after Trump made an aggressive pitch to Republican voters to support the congressman over agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam.

“Wake up Florida voters, Trump is the biggest con-man there is,” Nuñez tweeted. “#nosubstance #anti-Israel #supportsKKK VOTE Marco Rubio #RUBIO.”

Neither the DeSantis campaign nor Nuñez would comment Wednesday evening.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a loyal DeSantis supporter throughout the primary, said Nuñez would make a great choice on the ticket with DeSantis.

“I served with Jeanette Nuñez for 6 years in the State House. I have long extolled her her virtues, and I think she would make a great pick for lieutenant governor,” Gaetz said, adding that he could not confirm himself that the pick is official.

Nuñez’s selection is expected to be announced at a GOP unity rally in Orlando on Thursday. DeSantis is scheduled to visit Little Havana later in the day to discuss his push in Congress to indict Cuban leader Raul Castro for the shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996.

“I think tomorrow is going to be a big day,” Gaetz said.

Read more here.

August 22, 2018

Florida NAACP criticizes Florida governor candidates after only one shows up to Hillsborough forum

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A Saturday morning NAACP forum where Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was the only candidate to show up. (From the Hillsborough NAACP's Facebook page)

The stark image of a lone Democratic candidate for governor and four empty seats at an NAACP candidate forum has the organization's leaders furious and warning not to take black voters for granted this year.

"I wanted it to be laid very clear across the state that we in the NAACP find it very unacceptable to play those games with us," said Adora Obi Nweze, president of the state chapter of the NAACP. "They will not treat the black community like our votes don’t count."

The NAACP's Hillsborough chapter organized Saturday's event, which was supposed to feature all four Democrats running for governor.

But chapter President Yvette Lewis said the campaigns of Gwen Graham, Jeff GreeneChris King and Philip Levine all backed out in the week leading up to Friday's event.

It left Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum sitting alone on a stage next to four empty seats.

"I felt like they took us for granted," Lewis said.

She said Greene's campaign waited until 10:59 a.m. Saturday - one minute before the forum was supposed to start - to say in a text message that he wasn't showing up.

"Technically, he canceled the minute before," Lewis said.

All four campaigns say they never confirmed their candidates were attending the event, however.

"We apologize for any misunderstanding, but the scheduling team did not confirm Greene’s attendance," said campaign spokeswoman Claire VanSusteren.

King campaign spokesman Avery Jaffe also said they hadn't confirmed, but that King "deeply understands the stakes of this election for communities of color." Jaffe said King met with NAACP leaders in Hernando County last week.

Lewis said she would not have announced and held the event had the campaigns not confirmed ahead of time.

Levine's senior advisor, Christian Ulvert, said the former Miami Beach Mayor was supportive of the event, but never confirmed they were attending.

Ulvert noted, "This past week, Mayor Levine was only candidate to attend a forum with the Lakeland NAACP — he was the only gubernatorial candidate there, and the only gubernatorial candidate to ever attend one of their forums."

Levine was in South Florida that morning, but was in St. Petersburg that evening.

Graham and Levine attended the Hillsborough NAACP's dinner last year, and Graham's campaign said she called and spoke to Lewis after the event.

Graham was in Tampa two days earlier, to tout the endorsement of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. On Saturday, she was in South Florida for a get-out-the-vote tour.

Black voters make up 13 percent of the Florida electorate, but nearly a third of the state's Democrats. And the party has struggled to muster enthusiasm from them in years when Barack Obama wasn't on the ballot.

"For those of us who are black to be treated differently is not acceptable," Nweze said. "And we will fight with all we have … in order to make sure we’re respected."

Lewis said their failure to attend reinforced the perception that Democrats just assume that black voters will automatically vote for them.

"They just assume they’ll vote 'D' all the way down," she said.

Although Gillum was the only candidate to show up to the forum, she said people in the audience were far from making up their minds about whom to vote for in the primary. (The NAACP does not endorse candidates.)

"We’re not just going to vote for Andrew because he’s black," she said. "He needs to give us a reason to vote for him."

Lewis then brought up the the second-to-last Democrat to lose the governor's race, who infamously blew off an NAACP candidate forum in Miami in the final weeks of the 2010 race against eventual winner Rick Scott.

"You know the last person who snubbed an NAACP forum?" Lewis asked. "Alex Sink."

July 24, 2018

Adam Putnam's PAC runs negative ad accusing "D.C. DeSantis" of proposing 23 percent sales tax

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A screen grab from the ad | YouTube

As Florida enters the final month before the primary election, the Republican race for governor will feature a brazen new TV and radio ad from the Adam Putnam campaign.

Starting Wednesday, Floridians statewide will see the ad accusing Putnam's opponent, Congressman Ron DeSantis, of proposing a 23 percent sales tax, according to the Putnam campaign spokeswoman, Meredith Beatrice.

"If Congressman DeSantis had his way, everything would cost 23 percent more: groceries, gas, home purchases," the ad's narrator says. "Hurting families, destroying jobs, devastating tourism.

"Washington is full of bad ideas and phony politicians," the ad continues. "Ron DeSantis and his huge tax increase fit right in."

The ad's premise stems from a 2013 bill in Congress, H.R. 25, or the Fair Tax Act, which DeSantis cosponsored. It's true it pitched a 23 percent nationwide sales tax starting in 2015, with "adjustments" in later years.

But what the ad doesn't mention is that the bill would have also repealed all federal income taxes, employment taxes, as well as the estate and gift taxes. It also pitched a monthly rebate for all spending up to the poverty line, which all lawful U.S. residents would receive.

Critics of the proposal, including some conservatives, say it would unfairly impact the middle class and retirees.

All 75 cosponsors of the bill in the House were Republican. The bill never gained any traction, but has been proposed over and over for years.

While it's common for dark money groups to air negative ads, this one was paid for by Putnam's political committee, Florida Grown. It's a sign that the campaign is on the offensive for the last stretch before the primary, as Putnam fights against new polling that shows DeSantis taking the lead with a Trump event in Tampa still to come.

In an apparent reference to the ad on Twitter, DeSantis's campaign manager, Brad Herold, said Putnam was only criticizing DeSantis for being conservative.

June 20, 2018

Gwen Graham's second-biggest donor has been fined nearly $2 million for environmental violations

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Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham.

As Gwen Graham's campaign for governor continues to rack up financial contributors, one of her top money-makers stands out.

It's not her father, Bob Graham, the former governor and senator who's given a quarter-million dollars. Nor is it his old college fraternity brother, a Winter Park developer who's poured in $150,000.

It's actually a Lynn Haven contractor who's been fined nearly $2 million by state and federal authorities for various environmental violations.

James D. Finch, owner of Phoenix Construction Services outside Panama City, has given $290,000 to her campaign so far, making him the second-biggest donor to her campaign. (The top giver is easily Emily's List, the organization giving loads of money to "pro-choice Democratic women" across the country.) 

Over the decades, he's been cited multiple times, none bigger than in 2009, when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection levied a $1.7 fine for environmental permit violations.

Here's what happened, according to Politifact:

Finch, a former NASCAR team owner, has given to Republicans and Democrats over the years, but he's chosen to side with centrist Democrats as of late.

He gave more than $200,000 to then-Democrat Charlie Crist's run for governor four years ago, and got called out by Republicans for flying Crist around in his private plane. They dubbed him a "serial polluter" in campaign commercials.

Check out the extensive Politifact piece on Finch's record here.

Finch didn't respond to a request for comment left with his company, Phoenix Construction.

But a year ago, he told Politico that he thought Graham did a good job during her two years in Congress, citing her 2015 vote in support of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Since that quote, he's poured another $240,000 into her campaign. 

Graham's campaign isn't embarrassed by it, though.

"Yep, Finch has contributed. He obviously admires Gwen's leadership," campaign spokesman Matt Harringer said. "So does the Environmental Defense Fund, which has also given to Gwen — and the more than 20,000 individual supporters who have also contributed to Gwen."

The environmental nonprofit gave $1,000 this month, Harringer said.