Local pastors show support for Mayor Gillum in midst of storm criticism
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Calling for a community effort to help senior citizens, children and sick people in the recovery from Hurricane Hermine, a group of Black ministers this past Tuesday decried criticism of Tallahassee’s mayor Andrew Gillum.
Gillum has been getting some heat on social media for slow recovery from the storm. More than 10,000 people were without power late Tuesday, down from as many as 90,000 after the storm struck Sept. 1.
In addition to Gillum’s critics, Gov. Rick Scott has expressed displeasure over the pace of the city’s handling of recovery efforts.
But the dozen members of the clergy that gathered for a press conference at Bethel AME church said Gillum was being unfairly singled out.
“We support our may- or 100 percent,” Rev. Julius McAllister, pastor at Bethel AME said. “He has done a herculean job in a short period of time. I ask the question; how prepared can you really be for a ma- jor storm like we experienced the other day.”
Some of the criticism accused Gillum of favoritism by political party and race, while others claimed he had refused assistance from other cities.
“Let me be clear,” Gillum wrote in a response on Facebook. “We are happy to accept any help from any person or organization that is going to accelerate the speed at which we can safely restore power to our residents.
“Citizens should be pleased to know that I have personally received calls from mayors from across the country offering various types of assistance. City and County staff have also been in contact with many companies and other communities offering assistance.”
But despite what has been said about the may- or, McAllister said he was greeted in his church by a standing ovation this past Sunday.
“I think it’s very danger- ous to point fingers,” said Rev. R. B. Holmes, pas- tor at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. “It’s very encouraging to continue to support the mayor. This cannot be about race, zip code or politics. It has to be good citizenship.
Responding to a question about Scott’s reaction over the city’s recovery pace, Holmes said no one should be blamed for an act of nature.
“We think that through this event we are affirming the leadership of our mayor. The criticism from any- one is unjustified because it was not Hurricane Gillum; it was Hurricane Hermine.”
The pastors called for the city to be patient with the recovery and also announced “ Operation Help” to assist people who might be distressed because of the storm. A meeting is planned for Monday night, starting at 6 p.m. at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church to get community involvement in the effort.
“We have to find a way to make sure we leave no senior citizens behind,” Holmes said. “We have to make sure that we help them to buy grocery (and) that they don’t stay in an apartment or a house with- out air.”
Just a few hours before the pastors’ press conference, both city and county governments held separate meetings to assess the dam- age caused by the storm. Almost every section of Tallahassee suffered dam- age from fallen trees to down power lines.
Leon County Commission chairman Bill Proctor said he and Gillum had a meet- ing scheduled for Wednes- day morning to further assess the damage.
One reason for the slow response to the storm, Proc- tor said, is because the city hasn’t had to face a hurricane in more than three decades.
“This was a good wake up call, actually for our storm preparedness,” Proctor said. “We talk about hurricane season; have a big press conference for it and then when it was time for the rubber to meet the road this was a big bust.”
Proctor, who represents a district that includes the south side of Tallahassee, said he found during an assessment of damage that the power outage was costly to grocery stores in his district. Wynne Dix- ie and Save-A-Lot were still closed Tuesday morning, while Piggly Wiggly opened one day after the storm.
Proctor said he would like to speed up normalcy for his constituents and as part of that he’d ask grocery stores in the city to offer a meat sale with deep cuts on the prices.
Piggly Wiggly’s owner Roy Moore said his store had minor losses because of fast action by the government. His store gave away free bottles of water over the weekend.
Moore said his store offered discounted meat prices before the storm and he will do so again this week. “The consumers will be buying meat at pretty much our cost without the 10 percent mark up,” Moore said.