The cloud of corruption finally lifted from Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum with the release on Wednesday of an FBI report on its probe of city officials. It confirmed Gillum’s denial of wrongdoing and showed that his Republican rival for Florida governor Ron DeSantis exploited the investigation to win the election.
Gillum’s name was not listed among those indicted by federal authorities in an investigation into whether businessmen were able to influence Tallahassee development projects, Politico reported.
DeSantis led a racist campaign that poured millions of dollars into painting Gillum, who was running to become the state’s first African-American governor, as corrupt—even though Gillum had always said he was not a target of the probe. Republicans spent at least $7 million on TV ads to connect Gillum to the investigation. It paid off, with DeSantis winning a narrow victory.
“If the FBI had something on Gillum, they would have brought it by now or it would be in this indictment. They got nothing on Gillum. He got screwed,” said Steven R. Andrews, a Republican strategist who is also a criminal defense attorney representing one of the defendants in the case.
Gillum’s connection to the investigation was reportedly centered on his relationship with local businessman and lobbyist Adam Corey, a college friend who was previously Gillum’s campaign treasurer. Corey had reportedly set up meetings between undercover FBI agents, posing as land developers, and Tallahassee officials—including Gillum.
The FBI investigation was just one of the tools in DeSantis’ arsenal that included racist attacks. DeSantis has a long history of associating with white nationalists. Less than 24 hours after winning the GOP nomination in August, DeSantis blew a racist dog whistle when he warned Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for Gillum. Soon after, white supremacists answered the whistle by sending out racist robocalls. Another series of robocalls attacking Gillum went out during their first debate.
Gillum decidedly out-dueled DeSantis in the first debate through his mastery of the issues. But the Trump-backed candidate often used allegations of corruption to score points against Gillum.