Andrew Gillum came to Broward County on Friday to raise money and talk about guns.
Sheriff Scott Israel helped him with one, but not so much the other.
Appearing outside his campaign's Plantation office to unveil an endorsement from gun-control group Every Town for Gun Safety Action Front, the Democratic nominee for governor parried questions about whether he has confidence in the embattled sheriff and softly deflected criticisms from the father of a slain Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student who ripped his appearance at a morning fundraiser with Israel.
Gillum said he's focused on trying to expand gun-control legislation that "fell short" following the Feb. 14 massacre at the Parkland high school. Everything else, he said, is a distraction.
"It's unnecessary to pin individuals, families, victims or law enforcement against each other," Gillum told reporters in Plantation. 'We have to put our attention on the kind of gun reform that will prevent these kinds of incidents from happening."
Gillum, whose campaign also scheduled a public appearance at Borinquen Health Care Center in Miami on Friday, kicked off his morning at a fundraiser in Fort Lauderdale organized by Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness. The event, which was closed to the press, was attended by several county commissioners and Sheriff Israel — followed later by a small group of protesters.
Israel has been a lightning rod for criticism since the shooting at Parkland. Multiple inquiries are underway into the law enforcement response and the handling of previous calls for service regarding shooter Nikolas Cruz. Gillum's opponent, Republican Ron DeSantis, has said he would remove Israel from office if he were governor.
After news of the fundraiser was reported early this week, Parkland father Andrew Pollack issued a statement through the Republican Party of Florida saying Israel is "partially responsible" for the death of his daughter, Meadow Pollack. Pollack called Gillum's decision to accept support from Israel "absolutely disgraceful."
The Broward Sheriff's Office directed an emailed request for comment to Israel's political consultant, who did not respond. Israel declined an interview with a Sun Sentinel reporter posted outside the fundraiser, which was hosted in the atrium of the Spectrum Office Park near Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.
Holness, whose real estate office is the site of Gillum's Broward campaign office, called the noise over Israel's participation in the fundraiser "nonsense." Heather Chapman, a Parkland mother and Moms Demand Action member whose daughter is a senior at the school, said she's more concerned with Gov. Rick Scott than Scott Israel.
"It's on his watch," she said of the governor.
During his stop in Plantation, Gillum criticized Scott's handling of the legislation crafted following the shooting in Parkland, saying the law — which raised the minimum age to 21 to buy a rifle or shotgun and banned automatic firing attachments called bump stocks — fell short. He also said DeSantis, who previously said he would have vetoed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act due to his objection to those gun-control measures, "believes in guns anywhere, even if they're issued without any responsibility, no background checks."
But Gillum made a point not to attack Pollack.
"I'm never going to push back on a grieving father. You have family members who are still very much trying to understand, and are grieving the loss of their children," he said. "They ought to be given space to do that outside of a political show."
As for Israel, Gillum didn't answer questions about whether he "has confidence" in the sheriff. Gillum has vociferously defended Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, perhaps second only to Israel in terms of Broward public officials scrutinized after the shooting, stating last month, "I want to say here unapologetically that I have the back of the superintendent."
But he declined to offer that same sentiment for Israel.
"Sheriff Israel is the elected Democratic sheriff of this town," Gillum said. "I'm happy to accept support from individuals who mean our communities good, mean them well. Anything short of that is simply a distraction."