A virtually unheard-of mayor in Florida is seriously considering running for president, and he’s getting help from former staffers who helped launched former Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum’s campaign for governor.
Wayne Messam, 44, is the owner of a construction firm and serves as the mostly ceremonial mayor of Miramar, a South Florida city of 140,000. He told BuzzFeed News that while he’s largely focused on his mayoral reelection campaign, he’s seriously started considering launching a presidential campaign.
“The way I’ve been able to communicate with my peers across the country, and leadership positions that I’ve been fortunate enough to serve in on the national level. It’s sparked some inquiries like 'What’s next for you, mayor? We really see an opportunity for you to go even higher, and perhaps serve at a national level,’” Messam said in an interview. “I’m just taking those comments and those urgings to really push and to seriously consider the prospects of perhaps running for president.”
Messam was an early supporter of Gillum’s campaign for governor and served as a campaign surrogate for Hillary Clinton in South Carolina during the 2016 presidential election. In 2018, he joined a group of Florida mayors who sued then-governor Rick Scott over a 2011 bill that created a $5,000 fine for cities and mayors who enacted gun control regulations.
At least two former Gillum staffers have been talking with Messam about what a potential bid might look like. Brice Barnes, who served as the Gillum campaign's first finance director, has had conversations with Messam about his fundraising lane. Phillip Thompson, who helped recruit and launch Gillum’s campaign, has said that he’d be “more than happy” to join Messam’s campaign if he does decide to run. Gillum narrowly lost his race for governor against Republican Ron DeSantis in 2018.
“Florida just went through this with Gillum becoming the Democratic Party nominee,” said Barnes. “He was definitely the dark horse candidate who ended up becoming the nominee and who came so close to be becoming the governor. So nontraditional candidates like Wayne are starting to look at these opportunities. He took a look at the field and many potential candidates like him haven’t seen themselves represented in the current group that’s declared.”
Messam is hoping that his clean slate and low visibility could help him break out in the already crowded Democratic primary. His advisers say his campaign would focus heavily on Southern states.
BuzzFeed News confirmed that Messam met with with political operatives from early states like South Carolina during the US Conference of Mayors in Washington, DC, last month.
“He and I had dinner the first night of the conference,” said Cory Alpert, a South Carolina political consultant who worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “This is just such a wild field, and there are tons of groups running in large numbers that haven’t done so before. That includes women and African Americans, but there are so many mayors running now too.”
Alpert said that he provided Messam with a list of South Carolina–based operatives, as he’s done with other campaigns that have reached out to him as they start building out their operations in the state.
“Our conversation focused mostly on his vision for a campaign and he sees himself, bringing in underrepresented communities. He’s the son of immigrants. He’s representing an area in the South. And he’s a black man,” Alpert added. ”He’s looking at finding a lane with rural black voters who want to be engaged, and he sees a space for another legitimate black candidate alongside Sens. Harris and Booker.”
His campaign would be a long shot but as he and his advisers weigh their options they’ve looked to Gillum’s gubernatorial bid, Florida’s swing state status, and Messam’s Broward County locality as keys to launching a campaign.
Messam’s supporters are quick to point to another mayor to boost their case for running: Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to run for president. There’s also New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio who is traveling to New Hampshire later this week as he contemplates a presidential campaign. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was floated as a potential candidate before ultimately deciding against running.
“If a mayor from South Bend can do it, then why not a mayor from Miramar?” an aide to Messam recently told BuzzFeed News.
“There is no Hillary Clinton in this race. There’s not exactly a frontrunner,” said Thompson. “The future of the Democratic Party is young and diverse, and I think there’s an opportunity for someone who can catch fire. Here’s the son of an immigrant sugarcane cutter who literally pulled himself up by his bootstraps to become mayor and own a successful business.
“When’s the last time you’ve seen someone so young and dynamic?”