September 26, 2018

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

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 25, 2018

Andrew Gillum's Costa Rica trip: Did he get a sweet deal, as Ron DeSantis implies?

Democrat Andrew Gillum (L) and Republican Ron DeSantis

On Monday, Ron DeSantis doubled down on criticism that Andrew Gillum got a sweet deal during a trip to Costa Rica with lobbyists, accusing the Tallahassee mayor of "crony socialism."

"Finally, he produced a bank statement about the Costa Rica trip," DeSantis said during a news conference in Oldsmar. "He's like, 'Oh, I stayed in this luxury villa for four nights, and here's a $400 withdrawal I'm showing on the bank. I withdrew cash and that's how I paid for it.'

"Well, I don't know how that works, because I looked to see how much the Holiday Inn Express would cost right down the street from here, and four nights was like $650," the former congressman continued. "So you tell me how you're able to get a luxury Costa Rica villa for $400. I want to know who your travel agent is."

Did Gillum get a sweet deal on the four-night vacation? That question is now part of a state ethics investigation into that trip and another one he took months later in New York. On both trips, Gillum met up with his longtime friend and lobbyist Adam Corey, and in New York, Gillum also met up with two men now believed to be undercover FBI agents.

Gillum has described the Costa Rica trip as a vacation for his wife's birthday.  Between May 4 and May 8 that year, Gillum, his wife and about 10 other people stayed at a luxury villa overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

The trip was arranged by Corey, and other lobbyists and friends joined them, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. Corey's lawyer said he won the lodging during a silent charity auction.

According to Gillum's campaign, the villa went for $1,400 a night, and Gillum paid someone $400 in cash for his and his wife's share of their four-night stay.  The villa does go for $1,400 a night, according to its website. It has five bedrooms, sleeps a dozen people and features an infinity pool overlooking the ocean.

Gillum' campaign released a bank statement earlier this month showing a $400 cash withdrawal the day before the trip as evidence that Gillum paid his way. (Corey's attorney has said that Corey did not receive any money from Gillum.)

Doing simple math, if 12 people were on the trip, each person's share would have been $116 a night. For Gillum and his wife, that would mean they would have owed $928 after the four nights.

However, If the villa was won on a deep discount during the auction, it could possibly have reduced the value of the trip.

A spokeswoman for Gillum's campaign said Tuesday that Gillum and his wife "paid for their lodging with the $400 withdrawal and the cash the mayor and his wife had on hand."

She did not say how much they spent in total on the lodging, or who they gave the money to.

But the appearance and timing of the trip - at the height of the FBI's investigation into city corruption - have raised questions. And DeSantis' campaign has used them to paint the mayor as untrustworthy.

"I think it's just, he's not being honest with the folks," DeSantis said Monday. "So there's huge problems when you govern that way, when you're on junkets with FBI agents, when you're the subject of a major investigation involving pay to play and involving corruption."

There has been no indication that the Costa Rica trip is tied to the FBI probe, which has yet to bring charges against anyone. Gillum has said he's been assured by agents that he's neither a focus nor a target of the probe.

However, the Democrat did find one FBI tie during the Costa Rica trip: On May 5, the day after Gillum arrived, Corey sent Gillum a calendar invitation for a May 16 meeting with two businessmen. After Gillum returned from the trip, he told his staff he was accepting the invitation.

The two businessmen later turned out to be undercover agents.

September 24, 2018

Andrew Gillum's former chief of staff: "We must do better" to combat Tallahassee's crime rate


Within hours of his nomination for governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was getting hammered by Republicans for his city's high crime rate.

But now Gillum's former chief of staff is making it a campaign platform, admitting the city "must do better" to combat crime.

Dustin Daniels is running to replace Gillum as the city's mayor, and in one of his recent campaign mailers, Daniels says, "We can't move our city forward without ensuring that children and families are safe."

"Tallahassee had the highest number of murders in history last year, and we top the state for the highest crime rate," the mailer states, according to Tallahassee Reports, a local newspaper.

Daniels was Gillum's chief of staff from 2014 until April this year, when he decided to run for mayor.

The Republican Party of Florida seized on it Monday, sending out a press release linking to the Tallahassee Reports story about Daniels' flier.

"Even Andrew Gillum’s former chief of staff is admitting his boss’s failure to keep people safe," Meredith Beatrice, communications director for the Republican Party of Florida, said in the release. "How can Gillum expect to keep Florida safe when he has allowed Tallahassee to become one of the most crime-ridden cities in Florida?"

Tallahassee does have one of the highest crime rates in the state, although police experts and the FBI, which compiles crime data, caution against comparing rates with other cities.

Last year, Gillum proposed activating the county's emergency operations center to help combat violent crime, but it was rejected by county officials and some city leaders.

In 2018, Gillum's campaign has touted the fact that violent crime has fallen 24 percent in the first months of the year, compared to the same period last year. 

We've reached out to Daniels for comment but haven't heard back yet.

September 12, 2018

Republican-leaning poll: Andrew Gillum leads Ron DeSantis by 4 in Florida governor’s race

Gillum-DeSantis (1)

via @kirbywtweets

A new Florida Chamber of Commerce poll shows Democrat Andrew Gillum leading Republican Ron DeSantis among likely voters in the Florida governor's race.

The poll, which was conducted from Sept. 6 through Sept. 9, asked 514 likely voters who they would vote for in the November gubernatorial election. 47 percent said Gillum, and 43 percent said DeSantis, with eight percent undecided.

The poll's margin of error is plus/minus 4.4 percent, so even though he's down by four points, DeSantis is technically statistically tied with Gillum.

The poll's relatively small number of respondents also means you should take it with a grain of salt. Still, it's noteworthy that the Chamber, which leans Republican, put out a poll that shows the Democrat, Gillum, ahead.

It's not the only recent poll that's shown Gillum with a slight lead. A Democratic polling firm had Gillum up five points two weeks ago, and a Quinnipiac poll last week had the Tallahassee mayor ahead by three points.

September 11, 2018

Bill Nelson not on board with Andrew Gillum’s progressive proposals


via @scontorno

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is excited about the energy that Andrew Gillum brings to the Democratic ticket as the party's nominee for governor.

He is less enthusiastic about some of the ideas Gillum ran on to win his primary.

Take Gillum's call to abolish the agency known as ICE, or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, "in its current form." Nelson isn't on board.

"I don't want to abolish ICE. I want to abolish Trump," Nelson said in a sit-down Monday with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board. "ICE is merely the administrative agency. It's the policies in that agency that is problem."

What about Gillum's support for universal healthcare, often called Medicare for all? "I've got enough trouble just trying to save Obamacare," Nelson said. "I'm into results."

A $15 minimum wage?

"I have supported a $12 minimum wage," Nelson said, "but I am certainly open to suggesting anything that will improve the lot of the average working man."

Nelson has staked his political career — and, perhaps, the Democratic Party's chances at winning the U.S. Senate — on the assumption that a purple state prefers a moderate politician with a penchant for crossing the aisle. "One of America's most independent senators," a recent ad touted.

But his party received a jolt last month when Democratic voters picked Gillum in the gubernatorial primary over a more moderate choice, Gwen Graham, and three others. Suddenly, Nelson, 75, is sharing the spotlight with a 39-year-old, African American mayor backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders who ran and won on an unapologetically progressive agenda.

After his stunning victory, Gillum declared a "political revolution" was afoot.

The coming months will determine: Is Nelson out of step with this movement?

"He's bringing a lot of new energy to the table and I think it's going to produce more African Americans, I think it's going to produce more young people," Nelson said. "And hopefully I might have some value that I bring to the ballot as well."

Gillum has advocated for many of the liberal policies en vogue among new age Democrats — some of which Nelson has tried to disassociate himself from as he battles for Florida's middle.

Gillum contends he has given Democratic voters a reason to show up on election day.

"Some of the people in this race for governor believe we've got to run as Republican flight in order to win Florida," Gillum said at an August rally with Sanders. "Our voters are going to stay home if they have choose between someone pretending to be a Republican and someone who is a real Republican."

Nelson's opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, has already tried to lump the two together. Scott, like Gillum opponent Ron DeSantis, has thrown around the word "socialist" around a lot to describe the Democratic ticket.

"This election offers Floridians a clear choice: continue the success of the last 8 years, or embrace the job-killing socialist policies of Senator Nelson and Andrew Gillum," Scott tweeted last week.

Independent fact-checking website PolitiFact deemed it False to call Gillum's agenda socialist.

For his part, Nelson has certainly embraced Gillum while maintaining his distance on contentious issues. Marijuana is one of them. Gillum wants to legalize marijuana, still considered a Schedule 1 drug by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Nelson backs medical marijuana, including in smokable form. This week he unveiled a bill that allows the Department of Veteran Affairs to prescribe marijuana for its patients. But he doesn't support full legalization.

Gillum has also advocated for Trump's impeachment. Nelson won't go that far.

Nelson rightfully points out that nearly all these topics are federal in nature, meaning likely outside of the next governor's purview. When it comes to areas Gillum could affect, Nelson said he thinks they are more closely aligned.

"Look at the things that we agree on and look at the things that he has jurisdiction on that we agree," Nelson said. "Take for example, health care. Andrew certainly agrees that we ought to expand Medicaid for the 800,000 (would-be eligible Floridians)."

Though Nelson won't get behind some of Gillum's proposals, he has already shown a willingness to cede where the future of the party may be headed. At last month's post-election unity rally in Orlando, the elder statesman offered to speak first, leaving the headlining slot for the fresh face of the Democratic Party.

"I'm entirely comfortable with Andrew," Nelson said Monday. "And he with me."

August 30, 2018

How race became the dominating theme of the campaign for Florida governor on Day One

Gillum-DeSantis (1)

@newsbysmiley @alextdaugherty

When Democrats made Andrew Gillum the first black candidate ever to win a major party nomination to seek the office of Florida governor, they all but guaranteed that race would be a factor in the coming campaign.

But who knew it would become a national storyline in less than 24 hours?

Before the final vote could be certified from Tuesday’s primary elections, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis thrust issues of race to the fore Wednesday morning when he said on Fox News that voters would “monkey this up” if they embraced Gillum’s “far-left” platform. The comment, coming in a state where confederate monuments still litter the landscape, was widely slammed — and opened up a rift that isn’t likely to close until after November.

“He is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views. And he’s a charismatic candidate,” DeSantis said of Gillum. “I watched those Democratic debates. None of that is my cup of tea but he performed better than the other people there so we’ve got to work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction. Let’s build off the success we’ve had with Gov. [Rick] Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.”

Descriptions of black people as “articulate” have long been interpreted as a condescending reference to education in the black community, and the NAACP characterized the candidate’s “monkey this up” phrase as part of a history of “racist references to African Americans in our national folklore” as monkeys and apes.

“Its only equal in racial semantics [is] the “n-word,” the organization said, while calling on the Palm Coast congressman to apologize.

But DeSantis’ communications director, Stephen Lawson, says there was nothing racial about DeSantis’ interview. The comments were strictly about Gillum’s politics, he said, in contrast to DeSantis’ own conservative views on taxes and spending.

“Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses. To characterize it as anything else is absurd,” Lawson said.

If DeSantis was hoping to highlight his ideological differences with Gillum, he instead seemed to ensure that racial tensions would overshadow them.

Read more here.

Curbelo says DeSantis should apologize

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Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo thinks GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis should apologize for his “monkey this up” comment made while talking about Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum.

“That was just a stupid comment to make, one that was offensive to a lot of people,” Curbelo said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. "I know Ron has clarified that it was no way intended to be racist but I think he should apologize.” 

Curbelo said he did not find the comment racist and that he’s never heard DeSantis say anything disparaging about any race during their time in Congress.

Democrats have jumped on DeSantis’ comment, made Wednesday morning on Fox News, arguing that it’s racist.

“He is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views. And he’s a charismatic candidate,” DeSantis said of Gillum. “I watched those debates. None of that is my cup of tea but, he performed better than the other people there so we’ve got to work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction. Let’s build off the success we’ve had with Gov. [Rick] Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state. That’s not going to work. That’s not going to be good for Florida.”

Curbelo is running for re-election against Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in a Miami-to-Key West district that both parties are trying to win in November. Mucarsel-Powell called on DeSantis to apologize yesterday.

Watch the video below:

August 29, 2018

Gillum says he’s ‘not getting into the gutter’ with DeSantis’ ‘monkey’ comment


@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum said he’s “not getting into the gutter” with Republican opponent Ron DeSantis hours after the Trump-supported GOP nominee said he hoped Florida voters would not “monkey this up” if they elect Gillum, who is black.

“That part wasn’t lost on me. It’s very clear that Mr. DeSantis is taking a page directly from the campaign manual of Donald Trump,” Gillum said on Fox News on Wednesday afternoon, hours after DeSantis made the monkey comment on the same cable news network. “He thinks that in today’s day and age Florida’s voters are going to respond to that level of division. But I think he’s got another thing coming to him.”

Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, was pressed by host Shepard Smith to say if he thought DeSantis’ comments were explicitly racist. Gillum did not directly answer if he thought DeSantis' comments were racist, but he insinuated it.

“Well, in the handbook of Donald Trump they no longer do full whistle calls, they do full bullhorns,” Gillum said. “I’m not going to go down in the gutter.” 

Fox distanced themselves from DeSantis’ comment, made about 12 hours after Gillum pulled off a historic upset to become Florida’s first black major party gubernatorial nominee. Sandra Smith, the Fox host who conducted the interview with DeSantis, later said that the station does not condone his choice of words.

“During the interview, he made what some are calling an inappropriate comment about his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum,” Smith said. “We do not condone this language and wanted to make our viewers aware that he has since clarified his statement.”

Stephen Lawson, communications director for the DeSantis campaign, said it was “absurd” to call DeSantis’ comments racist.

“He is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views. And he’s a charismatic candidate,” DeSantis said of Gillum on Wednesday morning. “I watched those Democratic debates. None of that is my cup of tea but he performed better than the other people there so we’ve got to work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction. Let’s build off the success we’ve had with Gov. [Rick] Scott. The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state. That’s not going to work. That’s not going to be good for Florida.”

DeSantis made the comment about 9:36 a.m. while appearing on Fox News following his victory in the Republican primary. He was speaking about Gillum, who won the Democratic primary after being endorsed by Democratic Socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. 

Read more here.

August 26, 2018

The man who would be Florida’s first black governor looks for a soul surge in Miami


@newsbysmiley @alextdaugherty @martinvassolo

At one of Miami’s best-known black churches, Pastor Arthur Jackson III delivered a message before the Sunday sermon.

“This is a critical election,” he said, speaking from the pulpit as the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church flock fluttered fans bearing the likeness of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. “We have to make it happen.”

The people nodded, and repeated his words. And Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign hoped that it was good.

If the only African American candidate in Florida’s Democratic primary for governor is going to make history, he’ll need the help of the state’s black community to get through Tuesday’s primary election. Significantly out-spent by his four opponents, Gillum’s ability to connect with a staunchly Democratic and somewhat disenfranchised voting population remains one of his biggest advantages.

And if his campaign’s talk of a last-minute “surge” from the middle of the pack is to become more than just hype, then Sunday was a likely tipping point for Gillum. The final day of early voting — known as “Souls to the Polls” due to the tradition of faith-based politicking in the black community — had the potential to make or break his upset bid, as black pastors around the state urged their parishioners to cast their ballots.

“We’re right where we want to be,” said Gillum spokesman Geoff Burgan, pegging the African American electorate at just shy of a quarter of the 700,000 votes cast so far by Democrats heading into Sunday morning..

Gillum, who is running for the Democratic nomination against Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Chris King and Philip Levine, has made clear that his campaign is not tailored exclusively to black voters. His message as “the only non-millionaire” in the race is more appropriately described as a call to the lower and middle class.

But while most of the field spent the weekend in north and Central Florida, Gillum, 39, bounced around South Florida’s historically black neighborhoods, traveling from Deerfield Beach to Richmond Heights, where he grew up as a child. He attended Jackson’s church Sunday morning, and was given time to make a direct plea to parishioners.

“We can create more of that opportunity for all people. But we can’t do it, y’all, unless we vote. We can’t do it unless we get out there and let our voices be heard. We can’t do it unless we put some respect back on our vote and on our community by showing up and voting like our lives depend on it,” he said. “When we win, all of us are going to Tallahassee.”

Read more here.

August 01, 2018

Bernie Sanders endorses Andrew Gillum for governor


via @kirbywtweets

Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who's come to personify the left flank of mainstream American politics, has endorsed Andrew Gillum for governor.

In a statement Wednesday morning, Sanders said he is backing Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, because of Gillum's stances on health care, the minimum wage, immigration and the environment.

"Andrew has never backed down from a fight, including beating the NRA and standing up against xenophobic politicians," Sanders said in the statement. "Andrew Gillum will set a new course for Florida — a governor who represents all the people and not just powerful special interests."

Gillum already had the endorsement of Our Revolution, the group that spun off of Sanders' unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign, so it's not too surprising that Sanders would also throw his support behind Gillum. It's also unclear just how much Sanders' support will mean in Florida, where Sanders lost the 2016 Democratic presidential primary to Hillary Clinton by more than 30 points. (Gillum endorsed Clinton relatively early on in 2016.)

But Sanders remains a major figure in progressive politics. His support could make the difference in the wide open Democratic gubernatorial primary, which pits Gillum against Gwen Graham, Philip Levine, Jeff Greene and Chris King.

"It's an honor to have Senator Bernie Sanders' endorsement in this campaign," Gillum said in a statement Wednesday. "He has been an unapologetic fighter for everyday working people standing up to the special interests. From Medicare-for-All, to a $15 minimum wage, his ideas and platform have become the Democratic Party's north star on economic justice for those who need it most."