On Saturday, March 11th, members and guests of The Villages Democratic Club overflowed the 350-person auditorium at Colony Cottage Regional Recreation Center to hear the gubernatorial candidate, Andrew Gillum.
The current Mayor of Tallahassee began his campaign speech with personal stories of his childhood in a working-class, Miami neighborhood. He shared about his Grandmother’s faith and his older brothers’ struggles. He explained how his personal history of success through family support, hard work and quality education helped form his political perspectives.
His views appeared to be well-aligned with those in the audience, who responded with frequent raucous applause and a standing ovation. Gillum pledged to support effective, public education for all students, not just those who are college-bound. He announced plans to focus job-growth efforts away from minimum-wage, service positions and toward higher-paying positions. He wants to make the Sunshine State a leader in solar energy production.
Gillum recounted some of his successes as Mayor, such as implementing criminal justice programs that reduced recidivism and introducing a ” Longest Table” initiative to strengthen relationships across diverse communities. He also discussed challenges he’s faced; he is currently being sued by gun rights groups over a city ordinance that bans the shooting of guns in public parks.
This was one of the earliest campaign speeches by Gillum; who officially began his run for office the prior week. For an aspiring candidate who seeks to be the first Democrat elected to the office in over 25 years, as well as the first-ever Black governor, The Villages Democratic Club might seem like an unlikely launch pad but the 1,900-member, volunteer-run organization, is the largest Democratic Club in the state, according to acting President, Bob Jansen. And, when an audience member asked, “Is Florida ready for a Black Governor?” the crowd responded enthusiastically as if to say, “Yes, we are!”
Of course, The Villages Democratic Club can’t speak for the entire state, but they are a strong group that has been steadily growing. Bob Jansen explained, “When I joined 8 years ago, it was just 300 people. It grew to about 1,700 by last year. And a couple hundred more have joined since the [presidential] election.” Gillum is the first major gubernatorial candidate to declare for the 2018 race, as well as the first to make a campaign visit to the Villages. The club plans to invite each of their party’s candidates to speak, but the positive atmosphere in the room suggested that many agreed with Wildwood Resident Deanna Dean’s assessment that “He’ll be a hard act to follow!”
Andrew Gillum, age 37, has been in public service since he became the youngest person ever elected to the Tallahassee City Commission in 2003. He won the mayoral race in 2014, with 76% of the vote.