It’s the political edition of trading places: In July, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker traveled to Tampa to headline an event for the Florida Democratic Party. Tuesday, it was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who came to Illinois, as the headliner for an event supporting police.
The Chicago area was DeSantis’ third stop after visiting New York and Philadelphia, so the tour will certainly be cast as part of his early exploration of a White House run, but the official reason he came to suburban Elmhurst was for a pro-police event his camp titled “Law and Order: Florida Leading the Way.”
DeSantis largely stuck to that theme during his speech.
“No jurisdiction in Florida is going to be able to defund police. If you do it we’re putting the money back in,” he said to cheers from the crowd of about 250. “We’re not going to put these people at risk because you’re going on some type of ideological joyride. Not on our dime.”
It was a message that resonated with the crowd like Joan McCarthy, who said her brother is with the Chicago Police Department.
McCarthy said she’s upset with Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx for allowing “heinous” criminals to go loose.
“We’ve got to support law and order. Our society, if we don’t have law and order, then we’re total chaos,” McCarthy said. “I totally back the blue and I think that police have been getting kind of a raw deal in Illinois, and I came to support and to hear what another governor from another state is going.”
McCarthy says by the end of the speech everyone around her was ready to move to Florida, enticed by signing bonuses for qualified members of law enforcement and in-state university tuition for students whose grandparents have Florida residency.
Not everyone is on that same page.
Jill Brady, a retired law enforcement employee from Elgin, said she “loved” DeSantis’ message on the law enforcement front, but she won’t vote for him because of his abortion stance.
Another person who won’t back DeSantis should he run for GOP nomination for president: former Illinois nominee for governor Darren Bailey.
Bailey said he thought DeSantis was spot on with what Bailey described as a pro-America message, but that he will back former President Donald Trump in a GOP primary should both Trump and DeSantis run.
“I still support President Trump and we’ll just have to see what the future brings,” Bailey said. “I’ve given President Trump my word that I will support him because he supported me.”
Trump’s endorsement and an anti-crime focus didn’t help Bailey win his 2022 race against Pritzker. Bailey told WTTW News it was because Pritzker so massively outspent him.
But violence is the central issue in the next week’s race for mayor of Chicago, as DeSantis appeared to know.
“The reason why you have crime that has spiraled out of control in so many of these different areas is because you have politicians putting woke ideology ahead of public safety,” DeSantis said. “You see it now, I know that in Chicago you have all these candidates, they’re all trying to out-woke each other, the left of the left is where they run. And then they end up running on these platforms that destroy the communities they’re elected to represent.”
The candidates for mayor denounced DeSantis’ visit, including Paul Vallas, who accepted the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police endorsement.
Chicago FOP President John Catanzara was not at the DeSantis event; Catanzara said he was out of town for a seminar.
The highest-ranking member of law enforcement to take the stage, introducing DeSantis, was Richland County Sheriff Andrew Hires, who is serving as president of the Illinois Sheriff’s Association.
“What Gov. DeSantis is doing for state of Florida law enforcement is in stark contrast to what is occurring in the state of Illinois,” Hires said, where police are demoralized and leaving the profession, citing policies like vaccine mandates and Illinois’ law that eliminates cash bail.
While DeSantis’ supporters were energized, so too was a crowd led by Equality Illinois outside the hall.
“Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay; Ron DeSantis, go away,” protestors changed.
A five-minutes drive away, local residents gathered at the Brewpoint Coffee shop downtown.
Organizers with the Elmhurst Pride Collective said they purposefully held their event away from the DeSantis one so as to not draw more attention to him and his policies, and to focus attention on support for LBGTQ youth.
“When somebody comes to town and brings hate and division, I think it’s really important to stand up in whatever way feels comfortable to you,” said president of the collective Stephanie Wargin. “For us it was really important to create a counter-event where people could have a safe place to go.”
Brewpoint and the Elmhurst Pride Collective collected money for Equality Florida, the state’s largest LBGTQ advocacy group, and participants wrote letters to and for LBGTQ youth that the shop will temporarily display as a sign of support.
Former Illinois Congressman Rodney Davis said the DeSantis he knows is no harbinger of hate.
Davis and DeSantis were in the same 2012 freshman Congressional class, and Davis said DeSantis is a determined man who says what he means, means what he says, and acts on it.
“There’s no better state in the nation to look at its success when it comes to reducing the crime rate than the state of Florida,” Davis said. “Criminal activity should not be incentivized and unfortunately what we’ve seen out of policy makers here in Illinois, be it in the city or be it in Springfield, they have put forth policies that value the criminals more than punish the criminals. Ron DeSantis isn’t going to stand for no cash bail.”
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky