Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum stepped onto the next rung of the political ladder Wednesday night, urging unity at the Democratic National Convention.
Gillum is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party and his performance did nothing to dim the impression.
Gillum alluded to the three Dallas police officers who died in a hail of sniper fire at a recent protest rally. And he managed to incorporate the outrage of protesters at the police-involved deaths of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota.
“Every day in this country black parents send their sons out with a deep sense of anxiety, hoping that they will return home to them safely. And every day, police officers kiss their loved ones, heading to work, to protect and to serve, and they hold that same sense of hope and fear in their hearts.”
An early Hillary Clinton supporter, Gillum also took a swipe at her Republican Rival, Donald Trump, but without naming him.
“You know what, you all. The world can seem scary enough without so called leaders leading with fear for political gain.”
University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus watched from the hall in Philadelphia. She called it warm, inviting, and on point.
“It was a message that resonated well, and I think it was a good first step onto the national stage.”
It was above all a safe speech from a young politician full of ambition. MacManus says Gillum’s appearance after several members of Congress signaled the party’s hopes for his future.
In the past, Gillum might have a more predictable trajectory from City Hall, like the Legislature, then U.S. House, then governor or U.S. Senate. But in the days of Donald Trump, neophytes can swing for the fences, MacManus says.
“The idea that there’s this sort of progressive ambition ladder that you have to climb to make it big is no longer true.”
Gillum was more of an attack dog earlier in the day addressing the Florida delegation. He took shots at high-profile Republicans, Governor Rick Scott, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Democratic political consultant Kevin Cate, who advises Gillum, says the even-tempered but energetic mayor was given the spotlight for a good reason.
“A lot of eyes are on Mayor Gillum, not just because he’s a rising political star but because of the accomplishments he’s had ever since coming out of college and being a true public servant.”
Gillum became the youngest Tallahassee Commissioner in 2003 when he was elected at the age of 23. He served as Florida A&M University student body president and was the first student appointed to the school’s board of trustees.
His appearance at the convention drew the inevitable comparison to President Barack Obama. Obama was running for the U.S. Senate in Illinois when he delivered the keynote address in 2004. Obama stressed his improbable rise.
“Tonight is a particular honor for me, because, let’s face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats.”
Obama was running for a statewide office when he took the stage, but like Gillum, he cut his political teeth protesting. Obama was a community organizer. When former Governor Jeb Bush abolished affirmative action in state policy, Gillum led a protest that shut down his Capitol office.