As northern Florida recovers from Hurricane Michael, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., portrayed Democrat Andrew Gillum as ineffective in helping his city of Tallahassee recover from a hurricane in 2016.
Rubio leveled his charges in front of a group of supporters of Gillum’s rival for governor, Republican Ron DeSantis, in West Miami on Oct. 15.
"When they had a hurricane up there, they didn’t have power for weeks because he stood in the way of crews being able to come in and restore power, because they weren’t members of the right union or something," Politico reported Rubio as saying.
Javier Manjarres, a conservative writer, captured Rubio’s comments on video.
Rubio’s claims are inaccurate, and we’ll explain why one by one. Rubio’s spokeswoman did not respond.
Rubio exaggerated the length of the power outage.
The Sept. 1, 2016, storm took out the vast majority of Tallahassee’s power. The outage left more than 75,000 customers of the city's municipal electric system and 20,000 customers of the nearby cooperative electric company, Talquin Electric.
Tallahassee residents complained about the restoration pace on social media.
But a nearly 400-page Leon County report about Hurricane Hermine response months later showed most people received power within one week.
The report stated that by Sept. 7 "electrical service was restored to approximately 90 percent of city customers and nearly all Talquin customers in Leon County, significantly ahead of the estimated schedule that both agencies communicated to the public."
The county report stated that nearly all city customers were restored by Sept. 9, "with remaining outages generally associated with damage to customers’ service lines that connect an individual meter to the pole."
The state emergency response team tweeted that 2 percent of Tallahassee customers had no power as of Sept. 8, 2016.
This statement by Rubio echoes a Mostly False claim by the Republican Party of Florida. It isn’t true that Gillum blocked utilities from assisting with the storm recovery.
After the storm hit, Eric Silagy, Florida Power and Light CEO, said he had 575 personnel ready to help.
But Rob McGarrah, the city’s general manager of utilities, was confident the city had engaged enough assistance from eight other utilities, the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald reported after the storm. He did not immediately jump on the offer by FPL and said that coordination with the visiting crews was important to "make sure what we're doing is safe."
The city of Tallahassee is not a strong mayor form of government in which a mayor operates much like a CEO of a company. It wasn’t up to Gillum or city commissioners to accept or reject help from various utilities; that decision was in McGarrah’s hands.
There is no evidence that the city based any decisions about utilities based on union affiliation, despite what Rubio and DeSantis have claimed.
Rubio’s suggestion that Gillum, a Democrat, only wanted union help makes no sense based on what actually happened.
City workers helping to restore power were not unionized — and they still aren’t, Jamie Van Pelt, chief of staff of Gillum’s mayoral office, told PolitiFact.
Meanwhile, Florida Power & Light employs unionized crews and also works with both union and non-union contract personnel, said company spokesman Mark Bubriski.
Barry Moline, who coordinated with other utilities at the time in his role as the head of the Florida Municipal Electrical Association, said he didn’t know about the union status of Tallahassee electric lineworkers, either then or now.
"It has NEVER been an issue when I have chosen lineworkers to assist utilities for any restoration, including the Hermine restoration in Tallahassee," Moline told PolitiFact. "I never took that information into consideration and no one ever asked me to do so."
In a Facebook post days after the 2016 storm, Gillum addressed rumors that the city was turning down help based on political motivations.
"It appears that the heat has driven some to speculate wildly about what help I have accepted or rejected on behalf of the City in our effort to recuperate from this storm. Some have suggested that I have refused help from any company that is not unionized. Others have stated that I have refused help offered by any Republicans. And still others have suggested a machiavellian attempt by me to surrender residents to my will by prolonging suffering and delaying any power from being restored - rendering them utterly helpless to my liberal agenda," he said, adding in an emoji with a frown.
Gillum continued: "Let me be clear. 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."
Rubio said after Hurricane Hermine in 2016, Tallahassee "didn’t have power for weeks because (Gillum) stood in the way of crews being able to come in and restore power, because they weren’t members of the right union or something."
The vast majority of Tallahassee customers had power within a week, according to a county report, a state office and media reports at the time.
There is no evidence that Gillum rejected an offer of help to restore power based on union or political concerns. The decision about whether to accept help from various utilities was in the hands of the city’s general manager of utilities.
Rubio’s storm of concern does not have the facts to back it up.
We rate this statement False.