Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is ducking accusations of public corruption and calling out racism ahead of a critical final Florida gubernatorial debate Wednesday.
“There’s absolutely nothing out there that would in any way suggest that I’ve done anything illegal or untoward,” Gillum said in an NBC interview.
Gillum’s opponent, Republican Ron DeSantis, isn’t accepting Gillum’s explanation about how he obtained a free ticket to the Broadway play "Hamilton" in 2016 and, in a Fox News interview, called his opponent's actions “what local corruption looks like.”
Newly revealed emails appear to show Gillum accepted undercover FBI agent Mike Miller’s ticket to the the smash hit play during a trip to New York City. Gillum enjoyed other perks during the visit, such as a Mets game and boat tour.
Gillum has also been accused of corruption related to a 2016 trip to Costa Rica, where he stayed several days in a $1,400 per night villa with his lobbyist friend Adam Corey and other lobbyists. Gillum said he paid cash for his portion of the villa, but Corey has denied receiving any payment from Gillum.
The two trips are under investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics and are likely to dominate Wednesday’s 7 p.m. debate in South Florida.
It’s the final face-off between Gillum and DeSantis ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
DeSantis, a former House lawmaker and Trump supporter, is trailing Gillum by about six points according to the most recent poll. DeSantis is poised to highlight Gillum’s evasive and apparently shifting answers about the New York and Costa Rica trips.
DeSantis asked Gillum about the "Hamilton" ticket at a debate earlier this week.
“The question is, did you pay for the 'Hamilton' ticket or did the undercover FBI agent pay for the ‘Hamilton’ ticket?” DeSantis asked Gillum Sunday. ”Did you pay to stay in the villa in Costa Rica? Where are the receipts? You have not proven that you've paid for anything and that's the problem.”
Gillum dodged a direct response and accused DeSantis of harboring racist views of African-Americans, a tactic that is becoming a central element in his defense.
“I don't take free trips from anybody,” Gillum said. “I’m a hardworking person. I know that may not fit your description of what you think people like me do, but I worked hard for everything that I’ve gotten in my life, and I don't need anybody handing me anything for free.”
Text messages released Monday by Corey’s lawyer show correspondence between Corey and Gillum about the play.
“Mike Miller and the crew have tickets for us for Hamilton tonight at 8 p.m.,” Corey said in a text. “Let me know if you can join us?”
Gillum responded, “I can be free by 6 p.m., but I do have mtgs tomorrow as well. Awesome news about Hamilton.”
Gillum on Tuesday said Republican racism is behind the DeSantis camp’s accusations that he is corrupt.
DeSantis was accused of racism after winning the GOP primary when, during a Fox News interview, he warned voters not to "monkey this up" by electing Gillum because his progressive agenda would hurt the state.
Gillum has continuously responded to DeSantis' attacks against him by suggesting DeSantis is racist and he repeated the claim Tuesday after Republicans touted the newly released text messages as evidence Gillum lied about the ticket.
“The goal is obviously to use my candidacy as a way to reinforce, frankly, stereotypes about black men,” Gillum said during a Facebook Live event.
Gillum said he believed the Hamilton tickets were reserved for him and that his brother Marcus, who was also on the trip, picked up the tab.
“Assumed my brother paid for it and so far as I know, that was the deal,” Andrew Gillum said on Facebook.
But DeSantis said the text messages contradict Andrew Gillum’s response and do not prove Marcus Gillum paid for them.
“Andrew lied to the folks of Florida,” DeSantis said.
On Wednesday, Andrew Gillum posted a new campaign pitch on social media, again suggesting he is a victim of racism.
“This race isn't about the color of my skin or made up controversies,” Andrew Gillum said in a Facebook video. “This race is about making sure Florida works better for all of us.”