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Florida gubernatorial nominee and former Yale baseball captain U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis ’01, R-Fla. faced backlash this week for warning residents not to “monkey this up” by supporting black Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum in the upcoming election — phrasing some interpreted as racist.

“[DeSantis] doesn’t need to apologize to me, he needs to apologize to Florida voters,” Gillum said in an interview with MSNBC. “Because if he thinks that those kind of shenanigans are going to be persuasive enough in this midterm election to turn this their way, I think he’s badly mistaken.”

Appearing on Fox News, DeSantis said that what he said “has zero to do with race … It has everything to do with whether we want Florida to go in a good direction.” DeSantis’ spokesperson Stephen Lawson told Reuters that the comment was intended only with reference to his Democratic opponent’s policies. “To characterize it as anything else is absurd,” Lawson told Reuters.

The term “monkey” has a history of being used as a racial slur against people of African descent. In common usage, “to monkey with” can also mean “to make a mistake.”

DeSantis launched his political career in 2012 when he was elected to represent Florida’s 6th district in the House of Representatives. He announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination for governor in January. On Aug. 28, DeSantis captured nearly 57 percent of the vote in an 8-way Republican primary.

“I think DeSantis’ comment clearly can be understood as being problematic … whether he intended it with racist implications or not is difficult to tell, but, obviously, it is a poor choice of words,” said Jordan Farenhem ’21, who is from Pembroke Pines, Florida. Farenhem said that what was most revealing about DeSantis was that many people were not surprised by such allegations of racism and could believe them.

“[This] indicates a clear distrust coming from communities of color, a sign that regardless of this one instance, DeSantis clearly has a problematic record,” Farenhem said.

As a congressman, DeSantis has maintained a thoroughly conservative record, opposing abortion rights, gun control measures and the Affordable Care Act. On his campaign website, DeSantis describes himself as the “#1 conservative in FL.”

At Yale, DeSantis was an esteemed outfielder for the Bulldogs. As a first year, he earned the team’s Rookie of the Year honors. Four years later, DeSantis, leading the team as captain and as one of its most talented players, was described by one then-first year in a 2001 interview with the News as “a true leader on and off the field.” In 2014, he received the Yale Baseball Man of the Year award, recognizing his contributions on Yale Field and since his playing days.

“He is truly a man of the people,” Yale Baseball Coach John Stuper said at the dinner where DeSantis received the award, according to a press release from Yale Athletics. “I’m so proud to call him a former player of mine, but I’m even prouder to call him my friend.”

Stuper could not be reached for comment.

After leaving New Haven, DeSantis attended Harvard Law School and served in the Navy. As a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps, the Navy’s military legal office, he was assigned to work for Joint Task Force Guantanamo. He also worked as the legal advisor to the commander of the Navy SEALs in Iraq, receiving medals for his service in that capacity.

Citizens across the country have watched the race for Florida’s top office, as DeSantis squares off against Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee. President Donald Trump has publically backed DeSantis to fill Rick Scott’s position in the fall.

“Not only did Congressman Ron DeSantis easily win the Republican Primary, but his opponent in November is his biggest dream….a failed Socialist Mayor named Andrew Gillum who has allowed crime & many other problems to flourish in his city. This is not what Florida wants or needs!” Trump wrote on his personal Twitter account on Thursday.

Yale students have also been keeping an eye on the gubernatorial contest. President of the Yale College Democrats Jordan Cozby ’20 said that the group is very excited about the prospect of flipping the state’s top elected office in favor of the Democrats. He characterized Gillum as a strong candidate who can connect to a wide variety of voters.

“From our perspective it is really abhorrent that any person, particularly an elected official and aspiring statewide office holder, would use that terminology,” Cozby told the News. “And in many ways, it illustrates the uphill battle that a lot of people face in trying to get into office.”

The 2018 Florida gubernatorial election will be held on Nov. 6.

Keshav Raghavan | keshav.raghavan@yale.edu

Isabel Bysiewicz | isabel.bysiewicz@yale.edu

  • CharlieWalls

    “That terminology” was described correctly in a media piece as: “Not a dog whistle but a foghorn.”

  • Nancy Morris

    And now there’s something else for the mainstream media and Democrats to ignore:

    A story from Tallahassee Reports published Thursday offers details about an FBI investigation into possible corruption in the city of Tallahassee while Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee in Florida’s upcoming gubernatorial election, was mayor.

    According to the story by Steve Stewart, FBI agents posing as developers made payments to Andrew Gillum’s brother, Marcus Gillum, as part of an effort to show they were seeking business with the city of Tallahassee.

    “The payments were said to be in the thousands of dollars per month,” Stewart wrote. “The length of the engagement was not known.”

    “Marcus Gillum’s name has surfaced in relation to the federal investigation several times,” he added. “Most notably he was mentioned in public reports as part of a group that vacationed in New York in August 2016. The group included FBI agents posing as developers, Adam Corey, and Mayor Andrew Gillum. Adam Corey, the former campaign treasurer to Mayor Andrew Gillum, is a central figure in the federal investigation and, at the time of the New York Trip, was a city [lobbyist] and a city vendor.”

  • Nancy Morris

    My, how standards shift. During a campaign speech at Kent State University in New Philadelphia, Ohio, on September 3, 2008, then-Senator Obama (D-IL) said:

    “I come from Chicago. It’s not as if it’s just Republicans who have monkeyed around with elections in the past. Sometimes Democrats have, too. You know, whenever people are in power, they have this tendency to try to tilt things in their direction.”

    Rich Weinstein of Philadelphia, whose Twitter handle is @phillyrich1, tweeted videos of liberals using the phrase, even on the floor of the U.S. Senate and at the press secretary’s podium in the White House press room. They include Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York (“monkeying around with health care”), Sen. Dick Durbin (“there’s no monkeying around with numbers here”), Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland (“so we can avoid any monkey business with slush funds”), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, former Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, former Obama press secretaries Jay Carney and Josh Earnest, and former Clinton White House press secretary Mike McCurry.

    Despite all the contrary evidence, some Democratic media hyperbolically described DeSantis’ “monkey” comment as not a dog whistle but a “foghorn,” but the “foghorn” seems blown by the Democratic media mostly so the public can’t hear about rampant corruption under Gillum. Just how close will an FBI corruption probe come to Gillum? It’s pretty darned close already, as Andrew Gillum himself noted two months before Florida Democrats high-fived themselves this week for nominating the full-throated progressive to contend in the gubernatorial contest in November. They may have to switch those to facepalms if Republican nominee Ron DeSantis makes corruption in Gillum’s mayoral tenure in Tallahassee a campaign issue. …The FBI has spent three years investigating Tallahassee city government for corruption, although so far it’s not clear that Gillum himself is a target.

    Gillum says he’s not, but in an interview two months ago with the Washington Post, Gillum acknowledged that the FBI’s interest has reached far into city governance:

    “I have zero tolerance for corruption and inappropriate or illegal behavior, and the last several months there appears to be an FBI investigation into something we thought was writ large in our government, the CRA, which I am chair of,” Gillum said during a six-minute conversation on the subject.
    But an FBI search warrant released publicly by accident in February was “fairly telling,” he said. The search warrant names [commissioner Scott] Maddox and Downtown Improvement Authority Executive Director Paige-Carter Smith, his former chief of staff, and Governance, the consulting firm Maddox founded but sold to Carter-Smith.

    The search warrant detailed an alleged bribery scheme involving Carter-Smith, Maddox and Governance. In it, the FBI alleged Maddox took official acts to benefit clients of Governance in exchange for payments.
    “We pulled that document down and it showed at least an accusation of one of my colleagues having taken money potentially in exchange for a set of votes on something that came before the commission,” Gillum said. “This is the government’s argument and we have yet to hear the other side of the argument and he is entitled to that.”

    That doesn’t exactly sound like “zero tolerance,” especially three years into the investigation. So far the FBI has remained rather close-lipped about the probe but the subpoenas that have leaked don’t show Gillum as one of the targets — yet. That’s not to say that the FBI hasn’t tried to get Gillum in line for prosecution. According to the Tallahassee Democrat’s reporting last year, investigators offered a few enticements on a 2017 trip to New York, and Gillum still hasn’t said whether they worked:

    The FBI may have tried to entice Mayor Andrew Gillum through one of his close friends to see a Broadway show, catch a Mets game and stay at a hotel in New York City as part of its investigation into alleged public corruption in Tallahassee.

    Gillum, who had room reservations elsewhere, won’t say if he stayed at or visited the Millennium Hotel in downtown Manhattan, where an FBI agent posing as a developer had arranged rooms for him and others. He also won’t say if he attended the Broadway blockbuster “Hamilton” or went to the baseball game.

    Gillum’s responses to the Tallahassee Democrat on the trip have evolved over the past week. Acting on information from sources close to the investigation, the Democrat asked Gillum on Aug. 19 about the “Hamilton” show and Mets game and specifically who paid for the tickets.
    “I have no knowledge of any of that,” Gillum replied.

    Gillum since has refused to give a yes or no answer on whether he took part in any of the outings, claiming that his time spent with undercover FBI agents was “personal.”

    The newspaper noted that Gillum had not reported any gifts during the trip as he would have been required to do. The statute governing such reporting specifically includes lodging and tickets to entertainment venues that have a value over $100, which in New York City would be all but the seediest hotels. Perhaps he didn’t receive any such gifts, but if that’s the case, why not just say so?

    For now, however, the FBI hasn’t painted a public target on Gillum’s back, and his Democratic primary opponents didn’t either. That will change in the next two months, Politico’s Arek Sarkissian notes, as Ron DeSantis will make Gillum’s record as mayor a key part of his attack strategy — and not just on this FBI probe.