UPDATE: The Graham campaign says the Gwen 'Shecky' Graham was "comparing the wasps swarming outside to the infestation of special interests in the Capitol."
First of all, we should stipulate that addressing the annual Associated Press pre-session planning day is a tough gig for politicians. Unlike partisan events, the crowd at these gatherings is largely stone faced, non-clapping reporters and editors from across the state and, especially after lunch, pretty low energy.
So Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham faced a tough room when she showed up on the 22nd floor of the Capitol Building. But she sure did not help herself with two weird jokes that fell utterly flat before the quizzical reporters looking on.
Right off the bat: “The burning question of the day – I know, right? I’m wearing black heels, high heels. And I can go backwards in the high heels. For those of you who have the shoe question, that’s the answer to my shoes.”
Confused silence ensued. No one had a question about her shoes, nor any idea what she was talking about. Thankfully, the Times Union’s intrepid Tia Mitchell later asked what the heck she was talking about. Graham said it had something to do with Philip Levine announcing his gubernatorial candidacy in white tennis shoes.
A few minutes later, Graham noted the ominous End Times-like swarm of wasps gathering outside the windows.
“Do you think the wasps are symbolic of something in this building? Because it’s a concern. We need to get rid of all the wasps, human and otherwise.”
Presumably the joke was about WASPS, as in White Anglo Saxon Protestants (like herself and unlike three of her current or prospective Democratic rivals, African-American Andrew Gillum, Jewish Philip Levine, and Catholic John Morgan). No one laughed.
Suffice it to say, this was not Graham’s best day on the stump. She also showed off her Charlie Crist-like fondness for constantly mentioning the names of everybody she knows in the room.
When someone asked her about the sexual harassment issue that had dominated much of the AP session prior to her arrival, she noted her fondness for hugging most everyone she sees.
“I laid in bed last night sort of thinking, ‘Do I have to change?’ ” she said. “If anyone doesn’t want me to hug them, just tell me and I won’t.”
Much of the rest of Graham’s remarks focused on her priorities of ending the “culture of high stakes testing” in Florida, raising the minimum wage, and protecting the environment.
“This place represents 20 years of a stranglehold that has hurt the people of Florida,” she said of the GOP dominated capital.
She singled out likely gubernatorial candidate Richard Corcoran, the Republican Florida House speaker for much of her criticism.
“Shame on Richard Corcoran. I think we talk a lot about integrity and ethical rules. You should not be able to propose a piece of legislation and be personally benefitting from that piece of legislation,” said Graham, referring to Corcoran’s wife, Anne, the founder of a charter school.
“I know she alleges that she doesn’t make any profit off it. But the reality is for profit charter schools should be evaluated and regulated in the same way that any other public school is in this state,” Graham said. “There is a desire and a goal to privatize public schools in the state, and Richard Corcoran is at the lead of that, He’s the leader of the band, and it is wrong to be the leader if the band when your family is playing in the percussion section.”