Pensacola, Florida
Friday December 15th 2017

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A ‘First’ in the ’18 Governor’s Race

By Sammi Sontag

Our country once cherished pioneers that strove to be first. However, in this age of cynicism and polarized politics, the “firsts” have lost some of their luster.

That may change in the 2018 Florida gubernatorial election.

Tallahassee’s Mayor Andrew Gillum is a quintessential “first.” He was the first person in his family to graduate high school, the first to attend and graduate college and plans to make history and be the first black Governor of Florida.

“My parents never ever put limitations on any of my siblings or me about what was possible,” he said. “You know, if we could dream it, we could imagine it, we could achieve it.”

Gillum shared that his grandmother had a saying, “It’s not enough to be good, you gotta do some good, too.”

“I try to do that in a way that would make my family proud, but also do good for my community,” the Tallahassee mayor told Inweekly in a phone interview last week.

Gillum, 37, a Miami native, attended Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). There, he served as the president of FAMU Student Government Association and became the first student member of FAMU Board of Trustees.

He was recognized as an “Emerging Leader for 2003″ by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. That same year, at age 23, he became the youngest person ever elected to the Tallahassee City Commission and later became the Mayor of Tallahassee in 2014. Last summer at the Democratic National Convention he was among the featured speakers.

The politician described himself as a family man with a deep love for his wife, twins and new baby.

Family Man
“I’m first a believer, a God-fearing man. I am husband to R. Jai and father to Jackson and Caroline and Davis,” he said. “I think I’m kind of the manifestation of the American dream, which can be described as it doesn’t matter where you start in life, it’s how you travel that journey and where you end up.”

He added, “I am the son to two of the hardest working people I know. My mother was a school bus driver growing up. And my daddy was a construction worker. I’m one of seven kids, all boys and one girl. I’m number five of seven.”

Growing up in Miami, he said, every one of his older brothers had a criminal history. On any given night, there could be a knock on the door, and it would be a police officer telling his mom one of his brothers got into trouble.

“I distinctly remember watching my mother close the door and seeing tears well up in her face,” Gillum said in his campaign video for Governor. “I remember making the promise to myself that I wasn’t going to make my mom cry like that.”

His life wasn’t easy. But his promise to himself, “to do good,” continues to be the driving force for his success.

Adding Passion to the Party
In February, Gillum was the first major Democrat to announce his candidacy. Since then, he has traveled statewide and had the opportunity to visit Pensacola.

He is one of the youngest and is the only African-American candidate in an already crowded race.

His biographical campaign video captures his voice and desire to create a brighter future.

“You know, I have to tell you the truth, passion is what our party has been lacking,” he said. “When it comes to competing for the governorship, people don’t understand what it is we as politicians stand for.”

Gillum believes he is more in touch with the people’s issues than other politicians because “I’ve lived it.”

“I understand what it was like to be on food stamps at different points in my life,” he said. “I understood what it meant to see my parents work their backs off, and still not have anything to show for it. And unfortunately, that is still the lived experience of far too many people in this state, and nobody’s talking about it.”

Being the first person in his family to receive a college degree had a lasting impression on the young leader. He has worked hard as mayor to improve education in Tallahassee and is ready to make a statewide change. During his recent visit to Pensacola, Gillum was impressed by the early learning initiative launched by the Studer Community Institute.

“I take particular pride in the emphasis I put on early learning in Tallahassee,” he said. “And I have to compliment Pensacola because when I was there, there wasn’t a meeting I had that did not include some conversation about early learning. ”

Gillum added, “It sounds to me like you all are a community that gets that, that understands that. Now we need a state that understands it.”

Healthcare, Guns and the Environment
The proposed Republican healthcare bill is another issue Gillum is trying to combat in Florida. He thinks the bill is moving quickly through the Senate back to the House and fears the effect it could have on citizens with pre-existing conditions.

“Middle-class families, working class families in our state, are literally terrified, that the rug is going to be pulled out from underneath them because they or their kids can’t afford to get sick,” he said. “I propose that in Florida we say that you cannot do business if you refuse to write policies for folks with pre-existing conditions.”

Gillum told Inweekly he is researching what other states are doing to lower costs and increase access to badly needed healthcare.

In a conservative state, gun laws are a touchy topic, but he is prepared to fight for restrictions. After the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, the politician said he knew something had to change with gun laws.

“I believe there are common sense ways to deal with gun reform, without threatening anyone’s second amendment rights,” he said. “I mean we’re sitting here [right] after a deranged gunman decided to wage an attack on members of Congress, and other citizens, on a public baseball field, in Virginia.”

He added, “This idea that what you’ve got to do in order to prevent these things is give everybody a gun doesn’t ring true for me.”

Gillum also wants to stand with states like California and New York to invest in green infrastructure and a clean environment, in response to Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the Paris climate accord.

“My frustration level has peaked,” he said. “We’ve got a climate denier not only in the White House but also in the State House. Governor Rick Scott said he’s not a scientist, and therefore has done nothing to stem the impacts of climate change, and the sea level rise in Florida. When the reality is, this is a huge issue facing the state.”

Gillum wants to be a “first” who changes how Florida government operates.

“What we’ve had these last several years, frankly, is an absence of leadership,” he said. “We shrunk from the opportunity to lead. And we shrunk from the opportunity to rise to these challenges.”

To learn more about Gillum’s campaign, visit andrewgillum.com.