Cara Hackett

Can Gillum lead Florida?

Cara Hackett
Can Gillum lead Florida?

From being student body president at Florida A&M University to making history at age 23 by becoming the youngest person elected to the Tallahassee City Commission, Gillum, 37, is no stranger to Florida’s political circuit. 

He spent nearly a decade as city commissioner before being elected mayor in 2014. 

If elected, this would make him the first black governor in the state and the first Democrat to hold the position since 1999. 

“Together, we will build the kind of campaign that the entire state can be proud of, that stands up for every Floridian, that gives hope to every person and every family regardless of their background,” said Gillum in a Medium post. 

The Miami native is gaining familiarity nationwide after addressing the Democratic National Convention last summer and being on the short list for Hillary Clinton’s vice president running mate during her presidential campaign. 

Gillum’s youth and grassroots campaign strategies seem to resonate within the Democratic Party and its supporters. Perhaps the first black gubernatorial candidate is not a far cry from the first black president of the United States, in terms of representation. 

“For me, it means something to have a black face as governor, a mayor, and a political figure at any point,” said Tallahassee Community College philosophy student, Cameron Montgomery.

“He (Gillum) is the closest thing, as far as a successful and efficient leader, that can be compared to Obama. He gives a lot of hope and inspiration to black and minority youth.” 

During his time as mayor, Gillum tackled pro-gun lobbyists, climate change and continuously challenges President Donald Trump’s immigration views. As mentioned in a press conference on March 3, improving public education and expanding the state’s economy outside of tourism are two of his top priorities as he begins his quest for the Governor’s Mansion.

However, Gillum’s campaign for governor generated an unexpected buzz after it was discovered campaign emails sent from the mayor’s office used more than $3,000 in taxpayer money to pay for political advertisement software. The Leon County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation on March 9 into the allegation made by Jefferson County grand jury member Paul
Henry. 

In his email to State Attorney Jack Campbell, Henry requested the Leon County Grand Jury investigate the purchases made by the mayor’s office to avoid “any real or perceived conflict of interest.” 

Henry believes Gillum violated Florida statues of grand theft and official misconduct.

Gillum admitted and apologized for the 60 emails sent through the software and returned $4,965 in occurred expenses to the city.  

While reeling from the email setback, Gillum now contends with other gubernatorial hopefuls.  

The competition for current Republican Governor Rick Scott’s seat took a turning point when Orlando democrat and businessman, Chris King, announced his candidacy on the heels of the investigation. 

Former Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando attorney John Morgan have hinted at campaigning for governor. 

Across the aisle, no Republican potentials have officially declared their candidacy with the state. Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam and House Speaker Richard Corcoran interest in leading the state are speculated.

Gillum’s journey for governorship serves as a beacon of political hope for some and others remain dubious, citing failures from previous Tallahassee politicians who attempted to run for statewide positions. 

Former Democratic National Committee member Jon Ausman penned in a Tallahassee Democrat column how Gillum is challenged with raising more than $10 million in campaign funds, tell a “compelling story,” attract north Florida outsiders to his mission and alter negative views about the state capital in order to outpace others vying for governor.  

In contrast to Ausman’s bleak outlook for the race, former Tallahassee Mayor John Marks believes Gillum has the aptitude to lead the state and hopes his popularity in the city reaches the other 67 counties. 

“As he goes along in his campaign, it will be determined whether or not he has the same kind of savvy, acumen and ability that made him successful in city commission, and whether or not that will transfer to statewide office,” said Marks.