TALLAHASSEE — Andrew Gillum said he would withdraw from public life, closing a chapter in his career that took him from the peak of Florida power to a Miami Beach hotel room where he was found inebriated with a man suspected of overdosing on crystal meth.
“This has been a wake-up call for me,” the former Tallahassee mayor said in a written statement Sunday. “Since my race for governor ended, I fell into a depression that has led to alcohol abuse. I witnessed my father suffer from alcoholism and I know the damaging effects it can have when untreated. I also know that alcoholism is often a symptom of deeper struggles.“
“I will be stepping down from all public facing roles for the foreseeable future,” he wrote.
Gillum said he would enter a rehabilitation facility. He apologized and asked for privacy.
The one-time gubernatorial candidate will give up the reins of Forward Florida, a political committee he founded to register and motivate voters to defeat President Donald Trump in the battleground state.
He also is stepping back from CNN, where he was paid commentator, a gig that made him a familiar face in the living rooms of voters.
Gillum’s friends say he’s been withdrawn from them, too, as he grapples with the destruction of his career and the challenge to his marriage.
The husband and father of three young children was found early Friday by Miami Beach Police in a Mondrian South Beach hotel room with an apparent overdose victim, a man who, according to local media reports, claimed to be a “pornstar performer” and advertised his services as a gay male escort.
Police found three bags of suspected crystal meth in the room. Gillum, 40, said he’d had too much to drink but hadn’t been using drugs.
He told officers that he was in town for a wedding. Friends said he was supposed to officiate at the celebration but was a no-show.
The eulogies began coming in over the weekend after Gillum issued an apology Friday morning.
His personal collapse disappointed some progressives who felt he let down the cause, a sentiment he addressed in his apology Friday.
And Democrats said they were pained to see the loss of a dynamic leader who could rouse white progressives and black church-goers alike with his soaring rhetoric.
“He spoke to the issues better than anyone we’ve had,” said Susan Smith, former president of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida. “The way he spoke and the knowledge he had about working people and the most vulnerable will be sorely missed.”
Gillum lost to Gov. Ron DeSantis by less than a half percentage point in the 2018 gubernatorial race, but quickly became a national figure. In addition to his work at CNN, he made frequent appearances across the nation and on television talk shows such as “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
He was determined to play a key role in the 2020 elections, setting up a political committee and nonprofit organization to help register or “re-engage” a million Democratic-leaning voters in the battleground state.
As of the end of February, Gillum’s committee had close to $2 million still unspent.
After Gillum lost the gubernatorial race by a nose, some Democrats were furious to learn that he still had nearly $3 million in unspent campaign funds.
Florida trial attorney and political donor John Morgan, who backed a successful initiative to legalize medical marijuana that year, picked a public feud with Gillum, accusing him of mismanaging his campaign.
“I don’t live on your plantation,” said Gillum, who is black, in response to Morgan’s criticism.
On Friday, after word spread of Gillum’s encounter with police, Morgan said he “took no joy” in the news.
“At moments like this I prefer mercy. My prayers are @AndrewGillum & his family. And yes it’s time the money’s returned,” Morgan said.
“There is only one of us who gets methed-out in hotel rooms with guys in Miami…..YOU!!!,” Gaetz tweeted.
Gillum looked destined for political stardom at a young age.
The Gainesville Sun named him person of the year for his activism when he was only 19. In his senior year at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, he won a seat on the Tallahassee City Commission, becoming the youngest person to ever hold the title.
He went on to become mayor, burnishing his credentials as a progressive leader along the way.
But as he prepared to leave office, scandal hit Tallahassee City Hall. An FBI investigation touched on a former college friend who had lobbied the city and taken out-of-state trips with Gillum.
Gillum was never charged in the case, but the investigation damaged his candidacy against DeSantis. Gillum later admitted to improperly accepting gifts from the lobbyist.
Though Gillum lost his first statewide bid for office, he came closer than any Democrat had in 20 years to beating a Republican in a gubernatorial race. The party hailed him as a star and he rubbed elbows with top financiers and former president Barack Obama.
Friends and admirers hope for a comeback. But they feel it’ll be a long time coming.
“We’re just sad,” Smith said. “This is a time for him and his family.”