If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum must be somewhere blushing.
That’s because the Tallahassee mayor’s former chief of staff, Dustin Daniels, appears to be taking several pages from his mentor’s handbook as he campaigns to be the next mayor of Tallahassee.
While it seems Daniels may be hoping to ride Gillum’s wave to win the mayor’s race on Nov. 6. Daniels has a clear message to voters: to judge him by his own merit and experience and not his endorsements.
“Look at my background, don’t vote for me because Andrew Gillum endorsed me,” Daniels said. “I think my lived experience is extremely important.”
He added, “I think a person’s lived experience informs the kind of leader they are when they run for public office.”
There are many visible similarities between the 29-year-old former Florida State University student body president and his close friend Gillum.
According to www.dustindaniels.com, Daniels plans to lower crime rates by investing in underrepresented communities, education, “re-entry” and “diversion” programs. These platforms go hand and hand with some of the initiatives Gillum has put forth.
Both candidates have often referred specifically to their “lived experience” and backgrounds in their speeches as an indicator of the job they will do if elected. Daniels attributes many of these similarities to the close work he and Gillum have done together.
“I think my emphasis is similar to his in the last four years because this is what I have seen to work,” Daniels said. “I was the chief architect of a number of the policies that he was able to put forward as mayor.”
Both began the campaign season as underdogs. Gillum was an upset winner in the Democratic primary, becoming the first African American representing a major party in a Florida statewide contest. Daniels is regarded as an underdog in his battle with current County Commission John Dailey, who is also a former FSU SGA president.
Daniels and Gillum have attended many campaign and social events together. Just recently Gillum was all smiles at Daniels’ fundraising event on Sept. 26.
While these two seem to be joined at the political hip. Daniels sets himself apart in very strategic ways. He believes his uniqueness comes from his approach toward fixing many of the economic challenges the city faces.
“The difference is probably more associated with our lived experience and academic background,” Daniels said. “I’m a little more work-force oriented. I’m a little bit more of a policy wonk. I would really like to see us change the way that we promote economic development.”
Daniels also has no qualms with admitting the circumstances of his childhood, having grown up in a lower working-class family and becoming a juvenile delinquent. He is the first in his family to even graduate high school.
He believes this helps him understand the challenges of communities in Tallahassee like Florida A&M University.
Daniels’ emphasis on representing the historically black university may help him get over the hump come November.
FAMU history Professor Reginald Ellis says that is what he is looking for in a candidate.
“I’m unapologetic about support for Florida A&M University,” Ellis said. “A candidate who has a platform that can be realized in its support of Florida A&M University in general, but it’s programs and it’s students in particular. That’s someone that I would vote for.”
Daniels addressed FAMU students on Sept. 17 in the university’s senate chambers. Student body chief of staff Jabari Knox says the speech was well thought out and related to the students.
“He’s also trying outreach to focus not only on the FSU side but also on the FAMU side,” Knox said. “He’s thinking of new ideas, he‘s thinking of things that nobody is talking about yet.”
Perhaps Daniels’ platform and youthful energy will be enough to win the mayoral election. An endorsement from his mentor, the trail blazing Tallahassee mayor, shouldn’t hurt.