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Nancy Smith

After a Botched Hurricane Hermine Performance, Mayor Gillum's about to Get a Do-Over

October 9, 2018 - 6:00am
Hurricane Hermine/credit: Tallahassee Democrat
Hurricane Hermine/credit: Tallahassee Democrat

You wait. Michael will go down as the most political hurricane in Florida history.

Rick Scott and Andrew Gillum watchers are already on the edge of their seats.

Remember Hurricane Hermine in September 2016? In Hermine's wake, Gillum clashed with Gov. Scott and struggled to coordinate an effort to restore power to the city. Competency as an emergency manager is always a crucial issue in a gubernatorial election. Specifically, an 80-mph, Category 1 storm and the governor had to step in to help restore power to 18,000 of Mayor Gillum's Tallahassee constituents after five days without power. 

I Beg to DifferHere we are now as Panhandle and Big Bend residents gird for a life-threatening Category 3 storm due within the next 24 hours. Yet the thing that consumes so many in the capital is whether Michael will turn Tallahassee into another Hermine.

High drama less than a month from the general election.

Unless Michael veers off before it reaches Tally, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gillum will at least get a do-over. And GOP senatorial candidate Scott gets to do what he's done better than any other governor since I've been in Florida -- command big-picture hurricane cleanup.

In spite of the gloss-over the leftstream media have given Gillum's Hermine performance, capital city residents remember the 2016 storm well. By the hundreds, they pleaded for Scott's help, and for days after, the governor "got to work" pushing local officials to get the lights back on in Tallahassee.

Hurricane Hermine/credit: Tallahassee Democrat
Hurricane Hermine/credit: Tallahassee Democrat

Reported the News Service of Florida at the time, "Even if the state hadn't gone a decade between direct hits, Big Bend residents are perhaps not as hurricane-hardened as the denizens of the southern part of the state. And when the initial indication from Tallahassee officials was that it might take a week to get power fully restored, the reaction was not kind.

"Scott decided to bore in," wrote NSF. "He called for Tallahassee and Leon County to bring in private contractors he had identified to help remove remaining downed trees and limbs."

In a news release, Scott said Tallahassee and Leon County declined further state Department of Transportation "cut and toss" assistance to clear fallen trees and limbs.

But city and Leon County officials were quick to deny they had ever declined assistance from the state. Instead, they had moved on to the next phase in the cleanup process --- debris removal --- which they said was being done with the collaboration of the state.

"With respect to the city of Tallahassee declining 'cut-and-toss' assistance, that's absolutely not where we are," Mayor Andrew Gillum told Scott during a showdown at the state Emergency Operations Center. "As far as we're concerned, the city of Tallahassee has no intentions, nor have we given any signal -- certainly not myself or the city manager -- that we wish to disrupt that process."

Hermine hit early on a Friday morning. By Tuesday afternoon, power had been restored to more than 90 percent of residents who had lost it statewide. That included 94 percent of Leon County.

Not good enough, said Scott, who claimed he considered himself a resident whose job it was  to help his neighbors as quickly as he could.

Residents took to social media to post their first-hand accounts of conversations with power crews who had made the journey to come to their rescue, but were left waiting in front of neighborhoods for hours for the go-ahead from the mayor. 

“These gentlemen just said to me, ‘I’ve never been in a city where the mayor won’t let us help get power back to the people...he won’t let us work because we’re not union [workers],” said Frankie Higginbotham of Tallahassee.

Even the Miami Herald quoted from an open letter to Gillum from Gus Corbella, a Tallahassee lobbyist for Greenberg Traurig. Corbella suggested that Gillum's handling of Hermine would be his legacy. 

“I believe the source of many Tallahasseeans’ frustration has been your unwillingness, Sir, to answer this simple question: when private utility companies (FPL, Duke, TECO, etc) offered to help our city by sending trucks, crews and expertise, did you turn down their offers and, if so, why?’’ Corbella wrote it on Facebook, where it received more than 250 shares.

And Daryl McLaughlin, a former deputy commissioner at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, wrote on the mayor's Facebook page on Sunday, "Questions are being asked of a mayor who doesn't seem to be leading."

With more some 18,000 people still without power five days after the storm, Scott dispatched to Leon County 15 additional Florida Department of Transportation crews, totaling more than 250 people, to remove debris and help restore power.

The clashes between Scott and the city had eased by then, but the governor remained laser-focused on restoring every last resident's power and every day issued complete lists of neighborhoods still without it.

"You have to be frustrated," Scott said, referring to local residents, while speaking to the media outside the state Emergency Operations Center on Tuesday. "Five days. Five days without power, and you actually don't know when you're going to get power."

Gillum essentially pleaded for patience, saying his city workers weren't being lazy, they were working hard but he had to be careful not to offend them. Nevertheless, during an emergency meeting Tuesday of the Tallahassee City Commission, Gillum said significant damage to large trees and major power lines meant the recovery process would take time, and he admitted the response could have been better.

"Without a doubt, we have not been perfect in this process," Gillum said, "and now is not the time to talk about whatever imperfections, because our staff morale needs to remain at the highest level possible."

It wasn't until the end of the week following the storm that power was restored to the last few parts of the city. 

Gillum didn't appreciate the interference and Scott was disgusted with the mayor's foot-dragging at a time the city needed a leader. 

Of the two, Gillum had more to live down -- and never completely did. He will be looking for redemption as Michael blows through, and so will his campaign team. Scott will be looking for a smooth recovery farther afield.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

Comments

The Broward nursing home was alone in their incompetence and shut down after. Every other nursing home knew what to do. How is it Gov. Scott’s fault when Dem Broward can’t govern their own corrupt healthcare facilities?

That nursing home called Rick Scott's phone, the number he gave them, to beg for help. He received $500,000 in donations from FPL, and has a "strong relationship" with them, apparently pushing a decision regarding their regulation until after the election. One call from him and FPL would have prioritized restoration to the nursing home. He refused to return those phone calls from the nursing home. 12 people died. He erased the phone messages. Storms used to be managed by the emergency management staff and the meteorologists. The politicians stayed in the background. Not anymore. BTW, after the storm, our own Rep county mayor accused the governor of price gouging with regard to the fiasco he created out of our clean up. Don't turn disaster relief into pay to play politics. Good luck people of the panhandle.

Oh other than being investigated by the FBI when his own police chief asked for additional officers to keep up with the City’s population, Mayor Gillum said “No”. For the next four years Tallahasseee became the murder and violent crime Capitol of the State of Florida. FACT!

Provide one shred of proof that shows GILLUM is being investigated by the FBI. Just one. You are entitled to your own opinion, not your own fact.

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