MIAMI - A two-day summit for the Black Professionals Network in Miami is taking center stage in the adversarial Florida's gubernatorial contest.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, spoke to members at 2 p.m. on Friday, and his Democratic opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, will be the keynote speaker on Saturday.
DeSantis talked about school choice and economic investment, and he also made an effort to put to bed concerns that he is a racist. Gillum is the first African-American Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
There was some friction at DeSantis event. When Pascale Royal, a Citrix employee and mother from Fort Lauderdale, interrupted to ask him if he had ideas on how to end "the school-to-prison pipeline" affecting black youth disproportionately, Raynard Jackson, a Washington-based Republican political consultant, intervened and didn't allow DeSantis to answer the question.
Most recently, one of DeSantis campaign donors referred to former President Barack Obama on Twitter as a "F____ Muslim N ___." DeSantis also faced criticism when he chose to describe his opponent's economic plans as an effort to "monkey this up" DeSantis and Gillum have also accused each other of anti-Semitism.
"Tensions are high," said Kenasha Paul, an attorney and president of the Black Professionals Network. "Historically, people are already defensive."
With six weeks left before the Florida gubernatorial election, it is a tight race. According to the Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday Gillum is ahead of DeSantis by 9 points, and 6 percent of voters are still undecided.
DeSantis made two other stops in Miami-Dade on Friday.
He also had a meeting with members of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and he criticized Gillum's plan to increase the state's corporate tax rate from 5.5 percent to 7.75 percent. Gillum also wants to raise the minimum wage from $8.25 to $15 an hour.
DeSantis also met with Venezuelan activists in Doral, as he has been trying to paint Gillum as a far-left socialist, which Gillum has denied by saying he shares the Democratic Party values. Gillum supports an expansion of Medicare and funding public education, and he has the backing of Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and supports progressives.
Gillum will be at Ball & Chain in Miami's Little Havana for an event during the busy Viernes Cultural festival on Calle Ocho. He will be campaigning with Hillary Clinton next month.
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