Democrat Gillum offers a new explanation for”Hamilton” tickets provided by undercover FBI agent
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
DAVIE, Florida (CFP) – On a day when bombs arrived at the doors of political leaders across America, the two candidates vying to be Florida’s next governor made little effort to cool the political temperature, engaging in a personal, verbal slugfest that included allegations of lying, corruption and was capped off by the spelling out of a racial slur on statewide television.
In their second and final debate at Broward College, Democrat Andrew Gillum was forced to explain how he wound up accepting a pricey Broadway ticket from an undercover FBI agent investigating corruption in a community redevelopment agency in Tallahassee, where he is the mayor.
Republican Ron DeSantis later got into an argument with the debate’s moderator when he tried to ask a question about appearances DeSantis made before a conservative group whose members have expressed anti-Muslim and racist views.
“How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement somebody makes?” DeSantis snapped, drawing boos from the crowd. “I am not going to bow down to the altar of political correctness. I’m not going to let the media smear me like they like to do with so many other people.”
At that, Gillum pounced.
“(DeSantis) has spoken at racist conferences. He has accepted a contribution and would not return it from someone who referred to the former president of the United States as a Muslim n-i-g-g-e-r,” Gillum said. “Now I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”
DeSantis responded in kind: “I’m not going to sit here and take this nonsense from a guy like Andrew Gillum, who always plays the victim … who’s aligning himself with groups who attack our men and women in law enforcement, attack our military.”
During a previous debate on Sunday, Gillum refused to answer DeSantis’s repeated questions about who paid for his ticket to the hit musical “Hamilton.”
He attended the play in New York in 2016 while traveling with an undercover FBI agent posing as a developer as part of an investigation into alleged kickbacks at Tallahassee’s community redevelopment agency.
Before the second debate, emails released as part of an ethics probe showed that Gillum had been told that the tickets had been arranged by the FBI agent – a revelation which DeSantis said showed that Gillum had lied during the first debate.
“He wouldn’t accept responsibility from getting a $1,000 ticket from an FBI agent at the last debate. We now know that he lied about that,” DeSantis said. “At some point, you’ve got to demonstrate leadership and accept responsibility for what you’ve done.”
While Gillum’s campaign had previously said that he thought his brother had paid for their tickets, he told the debate audience that he was aware that the agent and a lobbyist friend who was also on the trip had arranged for the tickets.
However, he said his brother repaid the men who arranged the “Hamilton” tickets with tickets to an upcoming Jay-Z/Beyoncé concert.
“I understood that to have solved whatever the issue was with regard to the expenses associated with it,” Gillum said. “I take responsibility for not having asked more questions.”
After insisting that he is not under FBI investigation, Gillum sought to downplay the “Hamilton” issue by saying it was a distraction from the real issues in the campaign.
“In the state of Florida, we got a lot of issues. In fact, we have 99 issues, and ‘Hamilton’ ain’t one of them,” he said.
DeSantis was also asked by the moderator, Todd McDermott of WPBF-TV in West Palm Beach, about how he could maintain that Gillum was unfit to be governor due to the FBI investigation in Tallahassee while remaining a strong supporter of President Donald Trump, who is the subject of investigations with the FBI, special counsel Robert Mueller and Congress.
DeSantis did not answer the question, choosing instead to defend his role in efforts by House Republicans to investigate FBI agents for alleged improprieties in the Russia probe.
As he did in the first debate, DeSantis continued to hammer Gillum on immigration, saying that his unwillingness to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement if he is elected governor would put Floridians at risk to indulge his “hate” of Trump.
“Say you’re convicted of child molestation. You’re here illegally. You’ve served your sentence, state prison. Are you going to hand them over to ICE or not?” he said. “He will not commit to doing that. That means that child molester convicted gets released back on the streets after serving the sentence. And guess what? That child molester will re-offend, and someone’s son or daughter in Florida will end up paying the price.”
At that point, the audience booed, and Gillum replied, “Shame on you.”
At another point in the debate, after DeSantis criticized Gillum for not doing more to bring down Tallahassee’s murder rate, Gillum retorted, “I would suggest the congressmen might want to reconsider whether he wants to be governor. The governor’s mansion is in Tallahassee. I’d hate for you to be hurt.”
The debate in Davie is the last scheduled face-to-face meeting for the candidates before the November 6 vote.
DeSantis, 40, served six years in the U.S. House representing a Jacksonville-area district. Gillum, 39, has been mayor of Tallahassee since 2014.
Recent public polling has put the race within the margin of error, which means neither man has a statistically significant lead. However, the most recent poll has shown some movement toward Gillum in the race.
Democrats have not won a governor’s race in Florida since 1994.