PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Gillum Hosts Fort Myers Town Hall One Week Before Election Day

Rachel Iacovone
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and his running mate Chris King address the crowd outside of Riverside Community Center in Fort Myers on Oct. 30.

With exactly one week left until Election Day, the democratic candidate for Florida governor visited predominantly-purple Southwest Florida on Tuesday.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum arrived at the Riverside Community Center in Fort Myers to a crowd of more than a thousand supporters cheering his name.

As Gillum took the stage, he expressed his surprise at the turnout. It wasn’t what he was expecting, and why would it be? Republicans are the majority in Lee County. They make up 43 percent of registered voters, and it’s not like Democrats are right behind them. In fact, Independents take up 29 percent of the population. Then, the blue wave comes in at more of a blue splash at 27 percent.

Credit Rachel Iacovone / WGCU
A woman in the crowd holds a sign that reads "Bring It Home!" The phrase is the slogan for Andrew Gillum and Chris King's campaign.

The water outside the glass-sided center, though, couldn’t go without mention, as the sun slipped below the horizon.

“I’m telling you. I’d pull up a rocking chair, and it’d just be me and the water all night. I’m telling you," Gillum said. "But, it requires making sure we have a governor that keeps that picturesque view exactly as you see it.”

Over the last year, red tide has plagued the gulf coast, and blue green algae has festered in Southwest Florida’s inland waterways – often, at the same time. Both issues, Gillum says, are, in large part, due to the Republican leadership in Florida over the last two decades.

“We have literally handed over the keys of our environmental protection to some of the biggest polluters in this state," Gillum said.

Credit Rachel Iacovone / WGCU
Andrew Gillum speaks about Southwest Florida's water issues and his plans to address them as Florida's governor at the Riverside Community Center one week before Election Day.

The environmental town hall quickly shifted from prepared speeches to audience-driven discussion.

The first question posed was about expanding solar power, which Gillum says he supports not only “residentially but also for those residences who may not own their own property."

"Many utilities won’t allow you to install photovoltaic unless you own the deed to the property," Gillum said, "and if the landlord isn’t interested in that, then you’re out of luck.”

Gillum’s solution mirrors his experience with the recent solar farm in Tallahassee where one could buy into solar power as a public utility instead of relying on personal residential units.

But, he openly admits he doesn’t have all the answers, especially when it comes to invasive species in the southern half of the state.

“This will be a very short answer," Gillum said. "I don’t know a darn thing about how to get rid of Burmese pythons, and that means we’ve got to rely on the folks in our state, who, quite frankly, have been undermined all the way through – our scientists, our biologists, our marine biologists, even our forestry workers.”

Gillum’s running mate, Chris King, was also in attendance at Tuesday’s town hall, but he said he would have more to say Wednesday when he’d be stumping for the campaign at an anti-MAGA rally in Estero at the same time as Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis’ rally with President Donald Trump across town.

Credit Rachel Iacovone / WGCU
Lt. Gov. candidate Chris King claps along with the enthusiastic crowd outside of Riverside Community Center before the campaign's environmental town hall.

“He’s sending me near the Donald Trump, you know, rally tomorrow in case anyone wants to join me,” King said.

“Put some holy oil on him,” Gillum joked.

Rachel Iacovone is a reporter and associate producer of Gulf Coast Live for WGCU News. Rachel came to WGCU as an intern in 2016, during the presidential race. She went on to cover Florida Gulf Coast University students at President Donald Trump's inauguration on Capitol Hill and Southwest Floridians in attendance at the following day's Women's March on Washington.Rachel was first contacted by WGCU when she was managing editor of FGCU's student-run media group, Eagle News. She helped take Eagle News from a weekly newspaper to a daily online publication with TV and radio branches within two years, winning the 2016 Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award for Best Use of Multimedia in a cross-platform series she led for National Coming Out Day. She also won the Mark of Excellence Award for Feature Writing for her five-month coverage of an FGCU student's transition from male to female.As a WGCU reporter, she produced the first radio story in WGCU's Curious Gulf Coast project, which answered the question: Does SWFL Have More Cases of Pediatric Cancer?Rachel graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.