Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Politics

Bowen: A little revisionist history from ex-Pasco Sheriff Jim Gillum

Jim Gillum is 72 now with a full head of gray hair he refuses to dye. He is a great-grandfather, and he says he is in good health with low blood pressure five years after smoking his last cigarette.

He is married to wife No. 4. "I got a good one this time," he says while his spouse of four years is within earshot. (He blames wife No. 2 for his career spiraling downward.)

Gillum does what Florida retirees do. He has a boat, parks it on a river and fishes. He makes lures. He paints landscapes he hopes are good enough to show off on the Internet. He is tech savvy enough to assemble his own website. He uses his green thumb for plant propagation. He drives to the Eagles Club to drink cranberry juice and croon Neil Diamond songs on karaoke night. Cracklin' Rosie and Sweet Caroline are his staples.

What he doesn't do anymore is police work. But he hopes to change that soon.

Gillum, a two-term Pasco County sheriff who lost his re-election bid 24 years ago after a scandalous second term in office, has surfaced as a candidate for Volusia County sheriff.

"When I was sheriff in Pasco County, I liked putting bad guys in jail, and I miss it. I really miss it," he said in a telephone interview.

He misses it enough to try to capture an open seat where he won't have to face an incumbent, although retiring Volusia Sheriff Ben Johnson is backing another candidate. Right now, it could be a crowded ballot. Six candidates have pre-qualified in the nonpartisan race.

Gillum looks at the field and says, "I don't see any real competition, nobody that's had experience as a sheriff. It depends on what the people see and what the public wants."

He adds, "If you'll remember, none of the newspapers ever ran stories that I was incompetent or not capable. It was the personal stuff where I got attacked."

Perhaps Gillum has selective memory. The "personal stuff'' included accepting a 1984 campaign contribution from a drug trafficker, and, during his second term, hiring his girlfriend for an unadvertised job in the legal department and later promoting her to staff attorney. It's the kind of "personal stuff" that rightfully raised questions about his judgment.

There also were performance issues within the department that cast aspersions on Gillum's leadership capabilities. Detectives botched the interrogation of a murder suspect named Jeffrey Crouch, whose wife was found dead at Green Key Beach in 1987. Crouch was set free after a judge tossed out his incriminating statements. The personnel office mishandled the background checks on potential employees in advance of the Land O'Lakes jail opening in 1990. It brought a state investigation of records tampering. The late Cindy Kuhn, who had been fired from her lieutenant's job in 1989, sued the agency for sexual discrimination and accepted a $200,000 settlement a year after Gillum rejected her offer to end the lawsuit for $60,000.

Voters ousted Gillum in the 1992 primary, and he ran again unsuccessfully in 1996 and 2000. Gillum has blamed his 1991 divorce from his second wife, Patti, for his '92 electoral loss.

He moved to DeLand about a decade ago. Less crowded than Pasco County, he says, and no U.S. 19 to navigate. Nice people in Volusia, he says. And when Johnson announced his retirement as sheriff, Gillum decided, "I wouldn't mind doing that again."

His campaign website, jimgillumforsheriff.com, includes a section called "The Dirt," in which Gillum also details his 2007 arrest for failure to appear on a worthless check charge, which prosecutors later dropped.

When asked whether he would be double-dipping, he said he isn't drawing a state pension. He didn't qualify for the Florida retirement system after eight years in office.

"That's not why I'm running. No. It would be part of the benefit, but I'm not doing it for that. I'm not doing it for the hospitalization. I'm not doing it for a free car, and I'm not doing it for a free gun."

Gillum's top asset just might be his personal charm. He turned it on during a candidates night last week. Asked about someone running for office at his age, the ex-sheriff paraphrased President Ronald Reagan.

I won't hold my opponents' inexperience against them, he told the gathering.

And he doesn't plan on age slowing him down. His mother lived until she was 93, and his great-grandmother reached 96. He said he hopes he got enough of their genes to match their longevity. But, physical exercise apparently isn't a big part of the plan.

"The treadmill is still folded up, and I look at it once in a while," he said. "Hey, I'm lucky. A lot of people don't have a folded-up treadmill to look at."

No, he doesn't need gym equipment for a workout. For the duration of this political campaign, at least, Gillum will get plenty of exercise hauling around baggage.

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