What Comes Next for Andrew Gillum's 'Second or Third Act' After His Political Rise & Fall
This is not, it seems safe to say, ever where Andrew Gillum hoped he would be: Sitting on a talk show this week opening up about his personal life under a cloud of scandal — discussing some intimate things and carefully stepping around others.
The former Florida political star and mayor of Tallahassee, who came within thousands of votes of being the state's most recent governor, was interviewed in a Monday episode of Tamron Hall's show.
It was his first since a drunken incident in a hotel room in March which derailed his life and career.
The seedier details of that encounter, when Gillum was found inebriated and vomiting in a room with a man reportedly identified as an escort who had possibly overdosed, fueled questions about his judgment at the exact moment he was working on his next act after losing the governor's race. (Gillum told Hall the other man was a "friend.")
The police said suspected meth was found in the room, though Gillum denied using it and said he only had too much to drink and soon went to rehab for alcoholism.
Speaking with Hall, Gillum, 41, gave new details about his private life.
He said that he struggled with alcoholism after losing the 2018 gubernatorial race by half a percentage point, hiding his addiction even from wife R. Jai, who also spoke to Hall.
"I took to drinking at a level that I had never done before," Gillum said. "In the morning when I would have my coffee cup, somebody might think coffee was in it, but it was really whiskey.”
He entered rehab this summer and told Hall he’s working on himself and his marriage.
"To be very honest with you, when you didn't ask the question, you put it out there, is whether or not I identify as gay. And the answer is, I don't identify as gay, but I do identify as bisexual," he told Hall. "And that is something that I have never shared publicly before."
When Hall asked if he saw himself returning to politics one day, Gillum replied: “I do — if I put my mind to that.”
In his mind, his scandals — in March, as well as earlier troubles including an ethics violation and the taint of a federal investigation — did not deter him.
“There is not a thing that has happened in my life, scandalous or not, to cause me to believe that if I have service to give in elected office as a means in order to render that, that I couldn't do that,” Gillum said. “Now, would it be hard? Absolutely. But Donald Trump is president.”
'A Star' Since His 20s
Gillum debuted on the political stage at 23 years old, becoming a Tallahassee city commissioner while he was still a political science student at Florida A&M University, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Fresh out of school, the young lawmaker was re-elected to the commission three times before he became the mayor of Tallahassee in 2014.
Gillum made a name for himself as an advocate for a number of youth projects, from bolstering school programs to encouraging businesses to invest in community projects supporting children and families.
"Andrew has been a star from the day he walked on the scene,” former Florida state Rep. Loranne Ausley told the Democrat in 2014 after he won the mayoral primary that year.
That was a familiar refrain about him over the years — a belief that seemed confirmed by his history-making gubernatorial bid in 2018, when he made national headlines on a number of occasions, from quick-witted and fiery responses to then-Rep. Ron DeSantis over comments on race to a viral tree-chopping moment in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.
Gillum was the first Black Democratic nominee for governor in Florida and would have been the state's first Black governor.
But he ended up losing to DeSantis. And as his spotlight grew bigger, so too did his problems.
Public Scrutiny & a Narrow Race
As a city commissioner in Tallahassee in 2005, Gillum faced backlash along with other commissioners after they voted to give themselves a new retirement benefit through deferred compensation.
The city ended the program following criticism and the Democrat later reported in 2018 that Gillum had $81,989 in the account. (He told the paper then that he would donate the money once he left office.)
Years later into his career, however, Gillum became linked in convoluted style to a local ethics investigation and a federal investigation.
The outcome of the latter probe, which involved a grand jury subpoena of his campaign and political action committee records going back to 2015, is less clear, according to the Democrat.
Reporters, however, have noted that the subpoena covers some of Gillum's time as Tallahassee mayor and that the FBI had been conducting a corruption investigation of city leadership that has led to charges and guilty pleas.
While DeSantis, his gubernatorial opponent, accused him of being involved, Gillum has not been charged with a crime in that case and has said he wasn't being investigated by authorities.
Gillum also faced scrutiny after more than $2 million in public money in Tallahassee helped fund a restaurant co-owned by his former campaign treasurer, Adam Corey, the Democrat previously reported.
Critics at the time said they suspected “cronyism,” because it was unclear who was investing in the venture, according to the Democrat. Gillum had disclosed the personal connection in his votes in support of Corey's business.
Corey was also involved in a trip Gillum took in 2016 that violated the ethics laws, leading to Gillum's fine from the state commission last year. The two have reportedly cut ties.
All together, Gillum's legal troubles have been a drain on what has been his other major political project: the group Forward Florida — which aims help register Democratic voters — had spent more than $1 million on lawyers' fees out of some $39 million in total funds raise, the Democrat reported in January.
The group had also spent $1.5 million on voter registration and engagement, a spokesman said then, according to the Democrat.
(Gillum is no longer directly involved with the group though his name remains on the paperwork.)
Carol Weissert, a Florida State University political science professor, told The Tampa Bay Times that the investigation caused voters to shy away from Gillum in the 2018 race.
"Floridians — or really any voters — don't want to put a 'tainted' candidate in office," Weissert told the paper. "Gillum isn't well-known among voters which means he doesn't have a reservoir of goodwill to draw down on against tough corruption allegations."
He went on to lose the election to DeSantis by about 32,000 votes — a 49.6 percent to 49.2 percent margin.
What Comes Next?
The Tamba Bay Times surveyed 160 Florida political “insiders” about Gillum’s future after the March hotel scandal. Some said the former candidate’s political career was over, while others predicted a dramatic comeback story.
“You only get so many chances,” one Republican told the Times.
Another source however, wasn't so sure: “America loves a good redemption story and so when he completes rehab and comes back to public life after a year or two he will be able to run again should he choose to do so.”
In Gillum’s own words on Tamron Hall, he said he was prepared for either future, telling Hall that he was “open to the possibility that my contributions may take a completely different form” going forward.
“I lived, you know, the first 20 years of my adulthood serving everybody else,” he said, adding later, “I firmly believe that in the years to come — whatever the second or third act will look like — that it's going to move me closer to what my destiny, what my contribution, is supposed to be.”
For now, Gillum said he was focused on personal growth rather than thinking about politics, only recently having been through rehab and opening up publicly about his private life.
“Should have, could have, would have — you know, meeting everybody else's expectations, that's Andrew of March 11,” he said. “It's not Andrew of today.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.