Andrew Gillum visits Broward’s Public Defender Office
By Nichole Richards
Candidate for Florida Governor Andrew Gillum’s six-minute campaign video opens with a tranquil morning scene of a father prepping a pair of well-behaved, quiet toddlers for the day. The video is fascinating for a number of reasons: the calm morning routine counters the chaos and clamor one would expect when two toddlers are involved, it is a stark reminder of the strategic value of family imagery in political campaigns (thank you, Obamas), and Gillum is Black.
That fact may excite some, but it will enflame others; we are in the Age of Trump, after all, and the racial resentment that bubbled beneath the surface for eight years floods the halls of the White House now. However, according to Gillum, he is determination and dedication in the flesh, ideals that speak to the very foundation of our nation and to the most American of Americans.
The challenge is to appeal to all and unite a state that mirrors the racial, economic, and party-affiliated fracture of the larger country.
And this is what Gillum seems prepared to do. Just two weeks into his campaign, the current Mayor of Tallahassee has commenced an “introduction tour” across the State of Florida, connecting name to face and emphasizing issues important to Floridians. On March 16, Gillum visited Broward’s Public Defender Office and linked his dynamic life story to his platform.
Born in Miami, Gillum watched his single mother bare the pain of her sons’ constant interactions with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. It was enough to move her to tears.
“I wasn’t going to make my mom cry like that,” Gillum told the audience, “If she was going to cry it was because she’s happy.”
Motivated by his mom’s anguish, Gillum was determined to plot a different course in life, graduating from FAMU and becoming the first to graduate from college in his family. At the impressive age of 23, Gillum was elected to the Tallahassee City Commission in 2003, earning the nickname “The Kid”. He continued the climb up Tallahassee’s political ladder, eventually winning the mayoral election in 2014.
Gillum’s March 16 talk touched on the need to put Floridians to work, but centered around two important failing systems: criminal justice and education. Gillum’s observation of his brothers’ difficulties re-entering public life upon completion of their time served, a problem pervasive in the Black community, is a motivating factor in his work in criminal justice reformation. He is a proponent of the Ban the Box legislation that would make it illegal for employers to request candidates to divulge their criminal history.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Gillum emphasized, “ I believe if you make a mistake you ought to pay the penalty, but you should not spend a lifetime paying for it.”
Gillum also addressed the over-policing of Black and Brown communities and the over-representation of minorities standing before judges and crammed into prison, mostly for victimless crimes. The audience erupted in discussion on implicit bias.
“Intentional bias,” shouted a white audience member, “There’s nothing implicit about it.”
As a product of the public education system, Gillum’s passion for strengthening it across the State of Florida was palpable. He focused primarily on the thankless hard work of Florida’s educators.
“I don’t believe our teachers are evil,” he said addressing the heavy burden of accountability placed on them, adding, “They ought to be paid for what they do and the sacrifices they make.”
It is clear Gillum is an advocate for the need of the public sector, stressing that the tactic to delegitimize the public system is an attempt to usher in the privatization of goods and services. The strategy is to breed distrust, which is something Gillum has addressed head on through community initiatives, such as the City of Tallahassee’s “The Longest Table” event, a gathering of nearly 400 citizens around a makeshift table in downtown Tallahassee in order to encourage conversation across diverse communities.
“We need to replace judgment with curiosity,” Gillum argued.
As Gillum continues to move about Florida, he invites all to collaborate with him in setting an agenda on his policy table set to launch over the summer and encourages community in-put on his website at www.andrewgillum.com.
“This man is a Man of God and he cares about the people we care about,” said Public Defender of Broward County, Howard Finkelstein, “He has my vote.”
“Broward County will be pivotal in this election,” Gillum expressed after the event, “As a South Florida native, I have a great affinity and love for this area and its people.”