Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum received a bunch of free stuff from an undercover agent he thought was a local developer seeking grants from Tallahassee's city government. Is this a really big deal, or a nothing burger?
How big a deal it is politically we don't know yet. How big a deal is it ethically, or legally I should leave to voters and the law enforcement to decide.
I do have a few random thoughts.
- This scandal is a big part of the reason so many of us in the political press corps and his Democratic primary rivals were skeptical of Gillum’s prospects of winning the primary. What seemed obvious to plenty of Democratic donors and other political elites — that Republicans would bludgeon a nominee associated with an ongoing corruption investigation — was widely dismissed by liberal party activists who saw Gillum as the only exciting and genuine candidate in the crowded Democratic field.
Other than strong reporting by The Tallahassee Democrat and Tallahassee Reports, most of the Florida press gave it little attention because Gillum was such an underdog. His Democratic rivals barely mentioned it (publicly) because they assumed for much of the year Gillum would drop out the race. When it was clear he would not, they did not want to antagonize Democratic activists and especially African-American voters by attacking a popular black leader.
As his well-funded Democratic opponents spent millions attacking one another, Gillum ran unscathed straight up the middle to the nomination.
2. This may be merely a bump in the path before Gillum. Floridians have twice elected as governor a former hospital CEO who walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars after his company paid the largest fines ever for Medicare fraud. We have a high tolerance for shadiness in the Sunshine State.
The timing of these new revelations, two weeks before Election Day, is lousy, yes. But it would have been much worse had it come out four or five months ago, before Gillum squeaked to victory in the primary.
We're now at the phase of the general election where voters are so inundated with negative TV, digital, and mail ads that they ignore or shrug off such attacks as predictable and dubious background noise. Republican nominee Ron DeSantis already has called Gillum a corrupt, Socialist, illegal immigrant-loving, crime-promoting, tax-raising dirt bag so this does not necessarily change the narrative.
3. Gillum handled this terribly. For at least a year, he has been evasive, stonewalling, misleading and, perhaps, untruthful about his trips/junkets with a lobbyist pal and undercover FBI investigator.
He says the FBI asked him not to discuss it. So what? If you're running for governor of America's third largest state and you did nothing wrong, get the facts out there. Put it behind you, rather than have to answer questions just as six million people are casting their votes.
And playing the race card when facing legitimate questions makes you look like another cynical pol, when you're running as an optimistic, unifying idealist.
4. Tonight's debate should be interesting.