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Andrew Gillum: A sad end for a once-bright political career | Bill Cotterell

Tallahassee Democrat logoTallahassee Democrat 3/18/2020 Bill Cotterell, Capital Curmudgeon

Let’s be clear right up front: Andrew Gillum’s political career is over. 

There’s no need for his partisan enemies to pile on. Nor is there cause for hope among his many admirers.

It must be a symptom of how bitterly divided we’ve become, that some who don’t like the former Tallahassee mayor’s politics take such an ugly schadenfreude in his fall. And some ardent supporters of Gillum’s near-miss 2018 campaign for governor, or those inspired by the “Forward Florida” voter-registration effort he has conducted since then, cling to a wistful hope that this will all blow over.  

Andrew Gillum holding a sign: Floirida Democratic gubernational candidate Andrew Gillum made one of his final campaign stops in Crawfordville on Monday, meeting with supporters the day before the Election. © Andrew Salinero/Democrat Floirida Democratic gubernational candidate Andrew Gillum made one of his final campaign stops in Crawfordville on Monday, meeting with supporters the day before the Election.

Gillum said last weekend he is leaving public life and seeking treatment for alcoholism and depression. He was in a Miami Beach hotel room with two men early Friday when emergency responders were summoned to revive one of the men, who apparently sustained a drug overdose. Three plastic bags thought to contain meth amphetamine were found in the room.

Police said Gillum was too drunk to answer questions. He denied using illegal drugs but admitted to drinking too much. He was not arrested — nobody was — and they let him leave when he was able. 

Excruciating embarrassment became disaster when several news outlets identified the passed-out man as a male escort. That's South Beach, meth and male escort – the trifecta of a political perfect storm.

The smart response to such a situation was framed by Thumper, the little bunny in Disney’s "Bambi": “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” 

But Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, is not a "Bambi" kind of guy. 

He tweeted at Gillum, “There is only one of us who gets methed-out in hotel rooms with guys in Miami … YOU!!!”

Gaetz added a few crocodile tears, tweeting, “Everyone should respect @AndrewGillum’s privacy as he explains why he was one of three men in a hotel room w 3 bags of meth, too impaired to talk to first responders. I know what you’re all thinking — this is not very COVID-19 hygienic.”

But as Gaetz was overly harsh, some Gillum fans were starry-eyed kind.

Liberal activist Barbara DeVane, a lobbyist for the National Organization for Women and friend of Gillum, told Tallahassee Democrat reporter TaMaryn Waters in a Sunday reaction story that people sometimes forget “politicians are not perfect.”

Well, yes, you could say that.

Waters quoted Tallahassee attorney Chuck Hobbs, “History has shown many politicians have bounced back from bad acts they actually did commit.” Hobbs noted that Gillum had done “nothing criminal.” 

Uh-uh. There’s no political redemption for something like this. Gillum, who also stepped away from his role as a CNN political commentator, has a long and difficult road ahead in regaining his sobriety and healing with his wife and children. Even his most partisan critics should wish him well, although some seemed to think he’s faking the alcoholism thing to gain sympathy.

Oh yeah, right, announce you’re going into rehab — a great way for a politician to start over.

Like embarrassed politicians from Bill Clinton to the occasional Florida legislator caught in some scandal, Gillum requested privacy in this painful time. But you don’t get privacy in politics. 

They want everybody watching when they announce their campaigns, when they make big speeches and have important debates — but that means the cameras and microphones will be there when attention is the last thing they want. Sorry, part of the game.

Gillum was often mentioned as a candidate for the U.S. Senate or a rematch for governor — even vice president — but he wasn’t the rising star some hoped he'd be.

There was that $5,000 Ethics Commission settlement last year, the vacation trips to New York and Costa Rica with lobbyist friends. Even without the South Beach thing, attack ads with words like “ethics fine” and “lobbyist junkets” would not be helpful in a future campaign.

Gillum has a lot of political skill and people love redemption stories. He can be the warm-up act for rallies, the guy introducing candidates, who will seek his support. 

But as a candidate, he is no threat. His critics can quit beating up on him now, and let him deal with his troubles.

Bill Cotterell is a retired Tallahassee Democrat capitol reporter who writes a twice-weekly column. He can be reached at bcotterell@tallahassee.com.

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Andrew Gillum: A sad end for a once-bright political career | Bill Cotterell

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