ST. PETERSBURG —Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer and Mayor Rick Kriseman led a town hall meeting Friday evening where they advocated for affordable health care, gun control and support of Andrew Gillum's campaign for governor.
Steyer, a high-profile progressive investor, has pledged to spend millions helping elect Gillum and rally young voters across the nation. His stop at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg was part of a nationwide tour to rally voters behind progressive ideas and his own effort to impeach President Donald Trump.
"We need to retake the democracy," Steyer said to a chorus of cheers. "There has been a hostile corporate takeover of our democracy … in the last 40 years. And everybody knows it."
He opened the town hall by commenting on the recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee over U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. He denied an accusation by psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford that he attempted to sexually assault her decades ago while they were in high school.
"We couldn't have a clearer example of injustice," Steyer said of the hearings. "I think it's way past due to end that era in the United States."
His comments were greeted with applause, while the mention of Kavanaugh's name elicited boos and outcries.
Later, Steyer and Kriseman both donned pink hats, courtesy of a member of the audience, in support of women's rights.
Steyer's 90-minute session hit on progressive topics such as funding public education, identity politics, the importance of voter turnout this November and the rights of "average Americans."
Kriseman, who hadn't met Steyer before Friday, also fielded questions, quickly jumping on one aimed at equality, race and education.
"I really do think there's been an effort to dumb down America, and it's been done through our education system," Kriseman said. "I think this Republican party believes a dumb America is an easy-to-control America."
When asked about his efforts to impeach the president, Steyer said he's not just concerned with corruption and obstruction of justice by the administration, but also the mental health of the president himself. More than 5.8 million people have signed Steyer's online petition.
"He's a real threat," Steyer said of the Trump. "He's never going to rebound to normalcy.
"He's never going to have a good day … I really do think this guy is not safe."
While some in the audience expressed concerns over Vice President Mike Pence ascending to the presidency should Trump be removed, Steyer stressed that his efforts are not aimed at selecting a new president but removing a "dangerous" one.
Steyer himself has been the focus of much speculation that he plans to undertake his own presidential run. That question was asked again on Friday. Steyer laughed, said he's heard that a lot and redirected his answer to address the importance of mobilizing young voters.
But this time he left the door open to that possibility — as opposed to the direct "no" he told to a Tampa Bay Times reporter earlier Friday.
Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.