State Politics

Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum to announce for Florida governor

Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. AP

Andrew Gillum, the young African-American Democratic Tallahassee mayor who took on the gun lobby, will formally announce his 2018 bid for Florida governor on Wednesday.

Gillum, 37, has been viewed as a rising star in a party that is clamoring for relevance after Donald Trump’s win in November.

Gillum, who was born in Miami, plans to announce in a biographical video, which he released early to the Miami Herald. The video focuses on Gillum’s hardscrabble upbringing — he was one of seven children raised by a mother who was a city bus driver.

“We’d get up at 4 o’clock, 4:30 in the morning to make sure my mom could be on time to driving the bus,” Gillum says in an announcement video. “We would ride the bus for two or so hours before we would transfer and get on our bus for school.”

It’s no secret that Gillum was expected to announce a bid. On Feb. 24, Gillum spoke at Central Florida Urban League’s Cornerstone Awards in Orlando, where he announced that he was “seriously considering running for governor.” He has raised his profile in the past year with a speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Other Democrats who have all but announced include Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, former Tallahassee Congresswoman Gwen Graham and Orlando trial attorney/medical marijuana advocate John Morgan.

On the Republican side, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes and Senate budget chairman Jack Latvala of Clearwater are potential candidates. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is term-limited.

Gillum is the only one in the group who is African American. Daryl Jones was the first African American to make a serious bid for governor in Florida, losing a primary in 2002.

The Democratic Party has failed to produce a statewide candidate who has inspired South Florida voters to turn out when the president isn’t on the ballot. Sagging South Florida turnout helped Scott win statewide twice.

Registered Democrats lead registered Republicans by about 330,000 in Florida, but the only statewide Democratic officeholder is U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who faces re-election in 2018.

Gillum was born in the Richmond Heights area in Miami and went to Frank C. Martin Elementary before his family moved to Gainesville. His parents were poor — his father was a construction worker and struggled with alcoholism.

In the video, he says that his older brothers had interactions with the criminal justice system and recounts how his mother would receive a knock on the door from a police officer.

“I remember very distinctly my mother closing the door, watching the tears well up in her face,” Gillum says. “I made a promise to myself I wasn’t going to make my mom cry like that.”

While a senior at Florida A&M University at age 23, Gillum became the youngest person ever elected to the Tallahassee City Commission. He was elected mayor in August 2014.

Gun rights groups sued Gillum and other Tallahassee officials after city leaders declined in 2014 to repeal a ban on guns in public parks. The ordinance was null and void based on state law, but gun rights advocates wanted it stricken from city law. The First District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the city earlier this month.

Gillum’s wife, R. Jai, is director of foundation affairs at the Florida Dental Association, and they have twin 3-year-old children, Caroline and Jackson.

The video provides no specifics about his platform but speaks broadly about his goals to provide quality public education and jobs.

“Were it not for a good public education, caring and loving parents, a grandmother who prayed for me and quite frankly people who believed enough in me to say that I could, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today,” he said in the video. “It is my firm belief that every single young person ought to have that same opportunity.”

Miami Herald staff writer Kristen Clark and researcher Monika Leal contributed to this article.