Corcoran, Gillum get nasty at immigration debate


TALLAHASSEE — In a production filled with political theater, a Democratic candidate for governor and a legislative leader who’s toying with a run for the same office took the stage Tuesday night in a debate over immigration and “sanctuary cities.”

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Republican who hasn’t announced whether he’s in the gubernatorial race, came out slugging during the 45-minute debate.

Gillum, who is black, accused Corcoran of race-baiting and trying to turn Florida into a “show-me-your-papers” police state. Corcoran defended his anti-sanctuary position by saying it is intended to keep dangerous criminals from roaming the streets and preying on innocent victims.

It came after Corcoran’s political committee, Watchdog PAC, released a video ad targeting “sanctuary cities.’’ In addition, Corcoran rushed a bill through the House last month to ban sanctuary cities.

Corcoran repeatedly defended the bill and his video Tuesday evening, saying the House measure merely requires local law enforcement officials to hold illegal immigrants for 48 hours after notifying federal officials.

“Is it OK for an illegal immigrant who’s engaged in criminal behavior to be allowed out to roam free?” Corcoran asked. “That’s just crazy liberal logic. Nobody believes that.”

But Gillum said local law enforcement officials are divided on the issue, and many believe the anti-sanctuary policy could be a barrier to witnesses or victims cooperating with criminal investigations.

“If you commit a crime in our communities you ought to be held accountable to the extent of the law,” he said. “What the speaker is arguing is not judicial findings. … What it does is basically turn us into a police state.”

The 30-second video opens by alluding to the high-profile 2015 killing of Kathryn Steinle along Pier 14 in the Embarcadero district of San Francisco. The video depicts a bearded man in a hoodie pointing and firing a handgun directly at a woman walking the sidewalk of a suburban community.

A voice-over by Corcoran states: “A young woman, gunned down by an illegal immigrant who should’ve been deported but was protected by a sanctuary city.”

Gillum on Tuesday took offense at the depiction of the killer in Corcoran’s video, highlighting the significance of the dark-skinned, hoodie-wearing villain, “as if that point would be lost on any of us in the same state where Trayvon Martin was killed, for wearing a hoodie.”

A jury found Jose Ines Garcia Zanate not guilty of second-degree murder charges in Steinle’s death. Garcia Zanate said he found the gun on the pier and that it accidentally went off. Authorities confirmed the bullet ricocheted off the ground before striking Steinle.

“The truth is, this ad is a gross misrepresentation of what took place,” Gillum said.

After the debate, Corcoran told reporters his teenage son’s garb was the inspiration for the hoodie.

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