J.R. Gaillot, one of two leading candidates for the Democratic nomination, is accusing high-ranking staff members on each of his opponents’ campaigns of leveling insensitive personal attacks against him.
With less than a week to go until the Primary Election, tensions are running high among Democratic candidates in the already-turbulent campaign for Agriculture Commissioner. Much of the three-way Primary has been fought on Twitter, and that played out again Wednesday, when Gaillot shared posts made by staff of his opponents, Naomi Blemur and Ryan Morales.
In a tweet Wednesday afternoon, Morales’ communications director, Travis Henville, was continuing the campaign’s criticism that many aspects of Gaillot’s platform — including implementing a rent hike cap — are beyond the powers of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). In arguing his case, Henville made a World War II-era comparison.
“JR’s ‘plans’ are great if you depart from reality for a moment and pretend the office of FDACS has the power of the Reich Chancellery. Meanwhile, in realityland, Ryan has ideas about how the office can ACTUALLY be used to benefit Floridians,” Henville tweeted.
The Reich Chancellery is the traditional name of the office occupied by the Chancellor of Germany during the German Reich. Adolf Hitler served as Chancellor from 1933 until his death in 1945.
Gaillot also shared a screenshot of an Instagram comment by Sandra Saint-Hilaire, Blemur’s campaign Treasurer. Several of Saint-Hilaire’s comments question Gaillot’s Haitian claim to a heritage and refer to his campaign manager, Adam Christensen, as his “campaign master.” Both Blemur and Gaillot are Black and Haitian American, with Blemur being a first-generation Haitian American.
“I’m actually pissed JR had a master at his big age considering who his father was. That’s so sad for our ancestors to fight for freedom just for JR to get back in bondage,” Saint-Hilaire wrote in one comment more than a week ago.
Henville’s tweet prompted Gaillot to comment on both campaign’s social media activity.
“In 2012, when I was Democratic nominee for Congress, I had to have sheriffs deputy’s escort me into parts of Florida because of death threats. I never expected running in 2022 I would be called a ‘slave’ and a ‘Nazi’ by staffers of my Democratic opponents,” Gaillot tweeted.
Gaillot told Florida Politics the lines of attack came because he is the only candidate “with real policies,” meaning his opponents must go after him personally.
“When people are losing, they get desperate, but this is something else,” he said.
Blemur and Saint-Hilaire did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Additionally, Florida Politics has tried unsuccessfully to reach Blemur for more than a week, after she was accused of a history of anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ remarks that prompted several South Florida Democrats to rescind their endorsements of her. At the time, she was perceived as the Primary front-runner, and Gaillot and Morales issued a joint statement demanding she drop out of the race.
Morales dismissed Gaillot’s complaint about Henville, telling Florida Politics he had no comment on Henville’s tweets. The tweets weren’t made in association with the campaign, he continued.
“He can go eff himself. He’s trying to smear my name because he’s desperate at this point,” Morales said of Gaillot, repeating his self-censored sentiment.
After Democrats rescinded their endorsements of Blemur earlier this month, establishment support appeared to coalesce around Morales, who received support from Sen. Jason Pizzo and a cold endorsement from the Miami Herald editorial board, who called the Democratic field “disappointing.”
However, controversy struck the Agriculture Commissioner race again last week when the West Orlando News, the site that first published Blemur’s past remarks, accused Morales of violating campaign finance laws, labor laws and Florida criminal statutes, including by committing domestic abuse.
Morales denies the accusations, and he and his wife, Tammy, have issued statements linking an incident from five years ago to her then-untreated postpartum depression. In his statement, Morales said he was saddened to see the media and his “opponent,” referring to Gaillot, “stoop so low.”
“I’m out here doing what needs to be done instead of slandering somebody’s name,” Morales told Florida Politics on Wednesday.
Morales is a cannabis activist who lost the 2020 Democratic Primary for Florida House District 32 by 3 points. Morales, who has also been involved in cybersecurity, keeps an active, personal and fiery social media account, and his campaign website includes a way to donate with cryptocurrency. For more than a year, he was the only Democratic candidate in the Agriculture Commissioner race.
Gaillot, who filed his candidacy in June, is a New York-born Haitian American who has worked as a legislative director and adviser for multiple national and international companies. He ran for Congress in 2012, losing to would-be U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho by 32 percentage points in Florida’s 3rd Congressional District.
Gaillot ran for the Florida House in 2016, taking only 4% of the vote in the Democratic Primary for House District 13.
Blemur is a pastor and a businesswoman who has touted her ties to the Miami-Dade Democratic Party. Her husband, who once shared a field for state Senate with Pizzo, is currently serving a seven-year sentence in federal prison on fraud charges.
The Democratic campaign for Agriculture Commissioner has not garnered much scrutiny, with Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson considered a shoo-in for the General Election in November. Still, Democrats are holding out hope for the seat.
The current Agriculture Commissioner, Nikki Fried, won her race by less than one-tenth of a percentage point in 2018, becoming the first Democrat elected in a statewide race since then-President Barack Obama and then-U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson were re-elected in 2012.
However, Fried is not running for re-election, instead opting to challenge U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist for the Democratic nomination to run against Gov. Ron DeSantis.