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Is Andrew Gillum’s political career over? The Florida Insiders think so.

‘If that doesn’t disqualify you for public office I don’t know what does,’ one Democrat said.
Andrew Gillum looks out over Miami from the elevator on his way to a roundtable meeting with members of the Puerto Rican community at the Borinquen Health Care Center, Sept. 21, 2018. Is the Florida Democrat's career over? (Scott McIntyre/The New York Times)
Andrew Gillum looks out over Miami from the elevator on his way to a roundtable meeting with members of the Puerto Rican community at the Borinquen Health Care Center, Sept. 21, 2018. Is the Florida Democrat's career over? (Scott McIntyre/The New York Times)
Published Mar. 22, 2020
Updated Mar. 23, 2020

A police call earlier this month to a Miami Beach hotel room involving methamphetamine and a passed-out man brought to a crashing halt the once-promising political career of Andrew Gillum, the most recognizable face in the Florida Democratic party.

Can Gillum come back from this episode? It’s unlikely, Florida’s political class said.

The Tampa Bay Times surveyed 160 of Florida Insiders about Gillum’s future and 127 — 80 percent — said they don’t expect Gillum to ever run for office again.

“The Andrew Gillum story is a sad one,” one independent said. “None of us, other than Gillum and the parties involved, know what happened in that hotel room. But it is clear that Gillum is not the person he represented himself to be to the voters.”

Related: Read more: The rise and fall of Andrew Gillum

The Insiders are former elected leaders, campaign operatives, activists, lobbyists, fundraisers and other experts of all political stripe. The anonymous answers in these non-scientific surveys encourage honest answers from people, many of whom have worked alongside and against Gillum. Across the board — Democrats, Republicans and others — respondents didn’t see Gillum bouncing back from this.

One Democrat called Gillum’s actions “reprehensible and hypocritical, in additional to being politically fatal.” Another Democrat was flummoxed that anyone in the party would defend Gillum.

“If that doesn’t disqualify you for public office I don’t know what does,” that Democrat wrote. “If Gov. Ron DeSantis, (House Speaker) Jose Oliva or insert any Republican’s name did that, there would be an outright cry from the left.”

Police say there were two men also in the room with Gillum, one who called 9-1-1 and another who had collapsed. The latter had a profile on a website for male escorts. Gillum said he was in town for a wedding and had too much to drink.

This wasn’t the first scandal to rock Gillum’s political prospects, several Insiders noted, making him “already unelectable,” one Democrat said. Questions of cronyism followed Gillum’s time as a Tallahassee councilman and mayor, and a FBI investigation into corruption into the capitol city dogged his campaign for governor. Another federal inquiry into Gillum’s political machine popped up last year.

As one Republican put it, “You only get so many chances.”

Gillum narrowly lost to DeSantis in 2018 in an election decided in a machine recount. It was expected Gillum would launch a bid for a rematch in 2022 or challenge U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. Those options are now in doubt.

The former Tallahassee mayor and married father of three said last Sunday he would seek treatment for alcohol addiction and he asked for privacy for him and his family. Gillum, who police said was too intoxicated to speak to first responders, denied ever using methamphetamine.

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“This has been a wake-up call for me,” Gillum said. “I am committed to doing the personal work to heal fully and show up in the world as a more complete person.”

That announcement came in a carefully crafted statement — sent by a national public relations firm hours after his top advisers and closest allies huddled on a conference call — in which Gillum, a CNN contributor, also said he would step away from “all public facing roles for the foreseeable future.”

Perhaps someday the political world will look back on those words as Gillum’s first steps in laying the groundwork for a return to elected politics. As several Insiders noted, Gillum would be far from the first to attempt a comeback after a fall from grace.

“America loves a good redemption story and so when he completes rehab and comes back to public life after a year or two he will be able to run again should he choose to do so,” one independent said.

A Democrat said the many Floridians energized and captivated by Gillum since 2018 will forgive him because he “understands what it is to not have basic needs. His passion comes from a deep place, and I believe with the right healing, he will come out stronger than who he was before.”

Some Insiders offered political advice to Gillum, from “go away” to "come clean about what really happened."

"People will forgive almost anything except dishonesty,” a Democrat said. Another said Gillum may not come back as a candidate, “but Andrew Gillum has a future in Florida politics.” Gillum has spent the year and a half since the 2018 election trying to register voters and help Democrats win state House seats.

One Democrat said any discussion of Gillum’s future was “inappropriate" at this time.

“Addiction is a medical issue. Period. Full stop,” he said. “Let’s all use this time to simply to support him and his family, just as if he had a heart attack or cancer. And let the political chips fall where they may.”

Many Insiders echoed those concerns for Gillum and expressed hope he can emerge from this healed.

“You don’t have to agree with Gillum’s ideology or like him or trust him to see that this is a person who needs help," one Republican wrote. "He is too talented politically for anyone to rule out his future in politics, but clearly he has a lot of work to do on himself.”

This month, 75 Democrats, 71 Republicans and 14 people registered “no party affiliation” or with another party responded to the poll. They were:

Erin Aebel, Tom Alte, Jason Altmire, Gayle Andrews, Peter Antonacci , Scott Arceneaux, Dave Aronberg, Brad Ashwell, Jon M. Ausman, Ryan Banfill, Christina Barker, Scott Barnhart, Patrick Baskette, Geoffrey Becker, Samuel Bell, Allan Bense, Wayne Bertsch, Taylor Patrick Biehl, Greg Blair, Katie Bohnett, Bob Buckhorn, Tim Canova, Alberto Cardenas, Gabriela Castillo, Betty Castor, Mitch Ceasar, Alan Clendenin, Brad Coker, Gus Corbella, Brian Crowley, Husein Cumber, Fred Cunningham, Carlos Curbelo, David Custin, Justin Day, Richard DeNapoli, Pablo Diaz, Tony DiMatteo, Doc Dockery, Bob Doyle, Pete Dunbar, Barry Edwards, Eric Eikenberg, Mike Fasano, Peter Feaman, Mark Ferrulo, Damien Filer, Terry Fleming, Mark Foley, Pamela Burch Fort, Brian Franklin, Keith Frederick, Ellen Freidin, John French, Jack Furnari, Eduardo Gamarra, Wayne Garcia, Stephen Gaskill, Steve Geller, Richard Gentry, Julia Gill Woodward, Susan Goldstein, Cindy Graves, Ron Greenstein, Thomas Grigsby, ralph haben, Mike Hamby, Marion Hammer, Chris Hand, Abel Harding, James Harris, Jeff Hartley, Jack Hebert, Rich Heffley, Cynthia Henderson, Ann Herberger, Laura Hernández , Don Hinkle, Jim Horne, Tyler Hudson , Yolanda Jackson, Aubrey Jewett, Jeff Johnson, Eric Johnson, David Johnson, Stafford Jones, Eric Jotkoff, Doug Kaplan, Fred Karlinsky, Henry Kelley, John Konkus, Chris Korge, Kartik Krishnaiyer, Bill Lee, Jackie Lee, Matt Lettelleir, Jack Levine, Beth Leytham, Shannon Love, Javier Manjarres, Roly Marante, William March, Beth Matuga, Kim McDougal, Nancy McGowan, Kathy Mears, Jamie Miller, Travis Moore, Lucy Morgan, Pat Neal, Samuel Neimeiser, Bridget Nocco, Alex Patton, Darryl Paulson, Jorge Pedraza, Juan Penalosa, Evelyn Perez-Verdia, Joe Perry, Ron Pierce, JC Planas, Evan Power, Nan Rich, George Riley, Jim Rimes, Terrie Rizzo, Jason Rosenberg, Sarah Rumpf, Ron Sachs, Steve Schale, Jack Seiler, Mel Sembler , Stephen Shiver, Bud Shorstein, Kyle Simon, Alex Sink, Patrick Slevin, Adam Smith, Dan Smith, Susan Smith, Eleanor Sobel, John Stemberger, Alan Stonecipher, Phillip Thompson, Greg C. Truax, Frank Tsamoutales, Greg Turbeville, Jason Unger, Karen Unger, Ashley Walker, Peter Wallace, Nancy Watkins, Screven Watson, Andrew Weinstein, Susie Wiles, Jamie Wilson, Rick Wilson, Leslie Wimes, Jon Woodard, Mark Zubaly