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Mayors take to the highway to boost Florida’s African American vote

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A “Souls to the Polls Train” pulled into Tallahassee Saturday, bearing a predominantly African American collection of mayors to encourage Hillary Clinton campaign volunteers and mobilize minority voters for the Nov. 8 general election.

Actually, it was a big blue motor coach that pulled up outside state party headquarters at noon, after participating in Florida A&M University’s homecoming parade. Reinforcing the mayors were members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“It’s all about energizing our base. Going out to energize voters in barbershops, beauty salons and the churches,” said Alvin Brown, former mayor of Jacksonville. “We are making the case — to make sure we take no vote for granted.”

“Without a doubt, Leon County is going to what it has to do for Hillary Clinton. What these folks are here to do is make sure we deliver the entire state of Florida,” Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said. “So goes Florida, so goes the nation.”

The road trip was the brainchild of Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

“For about a year I’ve been saying AAF — all about Florida,” Levine said. “You win Florida, you become president. You don’t win Florida, chances are you may not become president. That’s how important Florida is to this election.”

The expedition began Thursday in Miramar and Miami, proceeding on Friday to St. Petersburg, Tampa and Orlando. Next stop Jacksonville, where the officials planned to encourage churchgoers to vote on Sunday.

They planned to finish Monday in South Florida, to coincide with the first day of early voting.

The group largely represented safe Democratic states.

“I am here because this is where the action is. Seriously. There’s no need in me sitting in Brooklyn twiddling my thumbs,” said U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke of New York. “I’ve got to be somewhere where I can encourage someone who’s going to be the closer. Florida, you are the closer.”

“I’m from Ohio. I have no business being here. And so, after this speech, I’m going home,” U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty said. “But I wanted to be here to support the folks who are here, because that’s how important Florida and Ohio are. Battleground states.”

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Texas voiced a litany of issues important to Democrats and especially African Americans — voter ID restrictions, abortion rights, political redistricting.

“Enough is enough,” Veasey said. “We need to do everything it takes to make sure that Hillary Rodham Clinton is the next president. Just so y’all can give me some relief in Texas.”

U.S. Rep. Al Green, also of Texas, reminded volunteers that Donald Trump asked African Americans who might consider voting for him, “What have you got to lose?”

“Here is the answer,” Green said. “I would have to lose my mind to support a man who denies the citizenship of the first African American president of the United States of America. Never gonna happen.”

Other sitting and former mayors who participated included Dennis Archer of Detroit; Bill Bell of Durham, N.C.; William Bell of Birmingham, Ala.; Steve Benjamin of Columbia, S.C.; Michael Coleman of Columbus, Ohio; Mark Mallory of Cincinnati; and Michael Nutter of Philadelphia.

Also on hand was former Tallahassee Major John Marks and U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey.

Levine relished polls showing Clinton leading in Florida but warned against false confidence.

“Do not be fooled by those polls,” Levine said. “We all know it’s about turnout — it’s about getting to those polls and voting. That’s what the job is.”

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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