Speaking with the tone of a rabbi giving a sermon, Andrew Gillum stood at the lectern of a Century Village Jewish Center Sunday in Pembroke Pines and decreed that, despite what's been said about him on the campaign trail, his relationship with the Jewish community needs no repairing.
"There are some who would like to misconstrue what my relationship is with the Jewish community," Gillum, the Democratic nominee for Florida governor, stated in front of a standing-room only crowd at Century Pines Jewish Center. "But they don't know the stories I can tell about that relationship."
Flanked by one of the most prominent Jewish members of Congress in Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Gillum — cast for weeks by Republicans as anti-Israel — said his bonds with Florida's substantial Jewish community need no defending.
He has been attacked by Republicans and GOP nominee Ron DeSantis as "anti-Israel," and criticized for surrounding himself with what opponents describe as anti-Semitic forces. DeSantis has also blasted Gillum's running mate, Chris King, for a quote he gave 20 years ago following a failed bid for student government at Harvard University in which he criticized the Jewish members of the student newspaper's editorial staff. King apologized Sunday in a taped segment with WPLG Channel 10 and stressed no ill intent.
So, before heading back to the Panhandle to prepare for an oncoming storm, the mayor of Tallahassee walked into one of the most dependable voting precincts in South Florida wearing a yarmulke and touted his ties to Florida's Jewish community. In the company of the Jewish former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gillum delivered a short speech in which he spoke about his three trips to Israel during his time in office in Tallahassee and his family's history.
"I don't have to stand up and defend my credentials with the Jewish community any more than Michael Bloomberg would need to do up here, except for maybe our last names," Gillum said.
Florida's Jewish community is approximately 630,000 strong, and primarily located in South Florida. The community votes heavily Democratic.
Wasserman Schultz, whose district includes the Jewish Center, called the attacks against Gillum "revolting and insulting to listen to."
"It is our responsibility as Jews to stand up and push back on the criticism that is unwarranted, unacceptable and that we know that we shoulder and have shouldered as a people for thousands of years," she said. "We've watched over the course of the last nearly two years what happens when real anti-Semitism rears its ugly head. And that's why need a governor like Andrew Gillum."
To help emphasize the point, Gillum explained that his grandfather, J.T. Gillum, came to live in South Florida because he used to drive a Cadillac down from Chicago to Miami Beach every winter for a Jewish employer. After the family patriarch died and left money to the Gillums, they bought an ice cream truck and drove it around Liberty City, Miami Beach and North Miami, with Charles Gillum, the candidate's father, in tow.
That's how Gillum's mother met his father, he said.
"Were it not for a Jewish couple from Chicago, Illinois, I might not be here today," he said.
Gillum also credited Allan Katz, a former Jewish Tallahassee commissioner and ambassador to Portugal, for helping him win his seat on the Tallahassee city commission when Gillum was 23.
With absentee ballots already hitting mailboxes, Gillum said he needs more help from South Florida's Jewish community to win. But he said he expects both will happen.
"That friendship is strong," he said Sunday. "That friendship is enduring."