By J.A. Jones, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – In what can only be described as an upset, Andrew Gillum soared to victory over establishment favorite Gwen Graham in a historic primary win on Tuesday night.
By 10:30 p.m., with 94 percent of the precincts in, Gillum made history, becoming Florida’s first African- American Democratic nominee for governor.
At 11:30 p.m., with 99 percent of precincts reporting, Democrats had cast 1,494,225 votes with Gillum taking 511, 918 votes (34.35 of precincts), Gwen Graham taking 468, 621 (31.4 percent), and Philip Levine coming in third with 303, 164 (20.3 percent).
Gillum took the greatest number of votes in large counties including Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Orange, Hillsborough, Duval and Leon.
But in Pinellas, it was Graham who took the largest number of votes, and there were many thoughts about the voting differences in Tampa Bay’s two largest cities.
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) organizer Jabaar Edmond noted, “I think what held Gillum back is the same thing that held Hillary Clinton back – Pinellas is extremely conservative, although St. Pete is liberal. Gwen Graham spoke to the more conservative Democrats.”
Edmond felt that Gillum’s visits to Pinellas did energize the younger voters and millennials, but he also asserted that Hillsborough has led the way in being more racially progressive than Pinellas in many areas for the last several years, and noted that no small amount of that could be attributed to Pinellas’ latent and not-so-latent racism.
“The Democratic establishment in Pinellas is older women of all racial demographics. Gillum needs to connect with them. He’s got the younger people on tap, but the establishment hasn’t understood why he’s a good pick yet,” said activist and community leader Kofi Hunt.
“This is a retirement community with individuals who are more likely to vote for a familiar name. Graham had a familiar name, and the elderly went with someone who was comfortable. We have more senior citizens than Hillsborough,” said a reliable source who worked as a canvassing field manager.
“Also, there are a large number of African-American felons who could not vote,” said the source, referring to Pinellas’ share of the 21.3 percent of African-American felons in Florida who are currently disenfranchised.
Others also attributed it to simply numbers, stating Pinellas has a 10 percent African-American population, while Hillsborough’s is 15 percent.
Educator Denise Ford, a registered Independent, said it pointed to a flaw in the system that she could not vote in the primary election. “I want to be an Independent, and I want to be able to vote for anyone I want regardless of party affiliation,” shared Ford in a Facebook post.
Although she knows she’ll be able to vote in the General Election, she wondered how many Independents are similarly impacted. “This is the time when it matters most,” she added.
Some Independents choose to vacillate during primaries, like Patty Sriram–who also said that some Independents don’t even realize they aren’t able to cast a ballot until general elections.
“I am amazed at how many people don’t realize that Florida primaries are closed. I’m an Independent, but until we have open primaries I will continue to register as a Democrat for the primary so that I can vote,” stated Sriram.
Now that Gillum has won the Democratic nomination, Edmond asserted it’s even more vital to get people registered and to the polls in Nov.
At Rush Hour Restaurant and Lounge, Edmond and Brother John Muhammad of CDAT joined with the Pinellas County Urban League Young Professionals to hold a “Millennials Voters Primary Watch Party,” which is part of an ongoing effort to get millennials to the polls.
Edmond said there would be more such events moving towards the General Elections on Nov. 6, and said they still need people to help with the Amendment 4 campaign to restore rights to nonviolent felons who have served their time, as well as phone banking to turn out African American and low-propensity voters.
“Having a black man run for governor of Florida is revolutionary – most people can’t even fathom that,’ declared Edmond. “Florida still has the Confederate flag inside its flag – we have some skeletons in our closet.”
“I think it’s going to be a very, very, very, heated race because we have some very racist people in the state who will come out to vote against a black candidate,” stated Edmond, asserting the upcoming election will be a time to rally all the people.
“This is not the time to sit home – we need an avalanche of voters,” he added.
For more information on how to help with the campaign, call Jabaar Edmond at (727) 320-6264.
To reach J.A. Jones, email firstname.lastname@example.org.