The New York Times Has a Problem With An Ambitious Black Politician

Less than three weeks before Floridians decide who their next governor is going to be, the New York Times published an article by Matt Flegenheimer and Patricia Mazze that can only be described as a hit piece on the Democratic candidate, Andrew Gillum, who also happens to be the first African American nominee for the position.

Reminiscent of some of the articles that newspaper ran about Hillary Clinton in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, there are no direct accusations about Gillum. They simply throw around a bunch of anecdotes that are designed to raise questions. This seems to be the point the authors are trying to make:

Mr. Gillum’s admirers see in him a hybrid of Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama — an authentic progressive who supports higher corporate taxes and greater gun control, calls for the impeachment of President Trump and Medicare for all, and can inspire young and minority voters in a state that last elected a Democratic governor in 1994…

Yet an examination of Mr. Gillum’s record lays bare the central contradiction of his political life: Self-styled as an activist-minded populist, with a lunch-pail upbringing in south Miami-Dade County, he is also an avatar of the capital city he runs — a town powered by ambition, horse-trading and alliances with well-placed power players.

Ahhh…so Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama are “authentic progressives,” but Gillum is ambitious and knows how to play the political game. In attempting to make the case that those attributes are a bad thing, the authors tell us that Gillum:

  • wanted a party for his swearing in as mayor,
  • has friends who are lobbyists,
  • has earned the label, “career politician” after first running for a seat on the Tallahassee city commission at age 23,
  • was known as “the principal” during his time as vice president of the student body in high school because he always had the agenda for meetings,
  • orchestrated a student march at Florida A&M in response to then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s effort to turn back racial preferences in public university admissions,
  • was an early supporter of Barack Obama in 2008,
  • supported Hillary Clinton in 2016,

There’s more, but perhaps you get the idea. I doubt any right wingers who still read the New York Times will miss the fact that the authors also worked in a reference to the number one villain in their conspiracy theories, George Soros, who has provided financial support to Gillum’s campaign.

What I find most interesting about this piece is that the authors obviously didn’t set out to do a profile of the Democratic candidate for governor in Florida. If that had been their purpose, they would have included some of the more significant stories about Gillum’s time in office—like the fact that he was personally sued by gun rights groups for enforcing a law that prohibited residents from discharging firearms in public parks after the state preempted local governments from passing any ordinances that regulate guns. In response, Gillum launched the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, a nonpartisan coalition of mayors, commissioners, and council members working to protect local government interests against state legislative interference. A story like that wouldn’t have advanced the agenda the authors were trying to promote about Gillum.

This is one of those times when it is impossible to know what motivated Flegenheimer and Mazze to write a piece like this or why the New York Times would publish it. The whole thing seems to be an attempt to hint at the possibility that Gillum is corrupt. But the best they can come up with is that he’s ambitious and knows how to play the game of politics. Since that is true of pretty much every successful politician, it is hard to avoid the subtle message emanating from this piece that it is not OK for black politicians to posses those qualities.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.