June 1, 2021 by David Silverberg
–Updated June 2 with inclusion of Golden Gate in district description
Last year Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) ran for re-election unopposed and—no surprise—won.
That jolted lawyer Adam Gentle.
“He’s an active threat to democracy,” Gentle says of the sitting congressman. “He voted to overturn the election. He’s not even protecting the fundamental form of our government. Having him run unopposed is unacceptable.”
On Monday, May 24, Gentle announced he was challenging Diaz-Balart to represent the 25th District in Congress.
At stake, says Gentle, is nothing less than the fate of democracy.
“This is an inflection point in our history,” he stated in his campaign announcement, issued in both English and Spanish. “Our failure to act now to address the causes of the January 6th insurrection will lead this nation down the same path as Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.”
The 25th’s constituency knows whereof he speaks.
The 25th District stretches from roughly Route 75 in Collier County and Golden Gate in the west, includes all of Hendry County and the towns of LaBelle, Clewiston, Immokalee and Ave Maria in its center to Hialeah and Doral in the east.
Of the 796,422 people in the District, 76 percent are Hispanic. While there are communities of immigrants from Nicaragua and Venezuela, 44 percent are Cuban-American, the highest percentage in the country. It’s one reason Diaz-Balart has held the seat since he took office in 2003.
But that doesn’t faze Gentle. “The vast majority of voters are bilingual,” he says. “I take it as an opportunity to connect.” He said he had good results when he addressed a group of Cuban American students. They were open to his message and moreover, “they told me that in their lives they had never had a Democratic candidate open a street office in Hialeah,” (104 Hialeah Dr.) where most Cuban-Americans are concentrated.
Gentle also believes that “kitchen-table issues” count for much more than ethnicity, particularly healthcare. As he puts it, “one party is doing much more for healthcare, while the other one just wants to get rid of it.”
The 25th District has a very high number of enrollees in the Affordable Care Act, according to Gentle. It’s a program that was particularly important to people during the worst months of the COVID pandemic—and as Gentle points out, “meanwhile, the current representative tried to eliminate it. Under this administration [the Biden administration] he’s tried to do it.”
Gentle believes that healthcare is a fundamental human right and no one should be forced to choose between paying for medications and affording food. Good healthcare is also important for safeguarding the people of the district from COVID and ensuring that everyone gets vaccinated.
Especially after the COVID pandemic he sees health as important for much more than just a basic commitment to wellbeing because, in his view, “healthy people create healthy democracies.”
But only the living can stay healthy and with the spate of gun violence in the country, life is at risk from random shootings. It all came home to the 25th District shortly after midnight on Saturday, May 29. Hialeah was rocked when three gunmen blasted a gathering there, killing two people and wounding over 20.
“After hearing the news out of Hialeah this morning, my heart is breaking for the families of those involved,” Gentle said when the news broke. “I’m praying for a swift recovery for those in the hospital. We must do more to help protect our communities from these needless acts of violence.”
As part of his platform Gentle was already calling for common-sense background checks for gun purchases and red flag laws to prevent the unfit from accessing guns. He supports a 14-day waiting period before gun purchases, investing in mental health care services and banning assault weapons with high capacity magazines.
As of this writing, Diaz-Balart hadn’t issued a statement on the shooting of any kind or even a tweet.
Originally hailing from Essexville, Mich., Gentle is a 39-year-old lawyer whose career has taken him all over the world.
A graduate of Columbia University in New York and George Washington University in Washington, DC, where he earned his juris doctor degree, he worked for four years with the law firm of Baker Mackenzie in Washington.
Initially, Gentle pursued a career in the arts, traveling to Los Angeles, Calif., within days of his high school graduation and working with The Young Americans, a charitable group that seeks to promote international goodwill and understanding through music and the performance. It was an experience, he says, that exposed him to numerous cultures and peoples.
That international experience helped him in his law practice where he specialized in helping American companies comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. That law prohibits American companies from engaging in bribery or other forms of corruption when doing business overseas. Gentle gained experience in fighting corruption—and keeping American firms out of trouble—in countries like Russia, China, India and areas like Central Asia.
“Corruption,” he says, “is a force that destroys democracy.”
His experience, from running a paper route as a student to his work as a lawyer, made him a confirmed capitalist and determined to support business in the district. “It’s essential that we take action to protect our small businesses, our environment and our tourism industry,” he stated when he announced his candidacy.
Having seen real socialism overseas he’s dismissive of the favorite Republican tactic of smearing any opponent with the “socialist” label. “They’ve just weaponized words. I’m a capitalist who supports the free market,” he says.
He’s also a democrat with both a small and big D, having seen autocratic governments elsewhere. He was horrified by the mob attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6 and Diaz-Balart’s support for Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of a legally conducted and fairly counted election.
“I won’t stand on the sidelines and watch elected officials repeat proven lies to further their corrupt scheme,” he says. “They’ve tested our Constitution and the will of the American people. No mas.”
Gentle is openly gay and married to a Portuguese-speaking husband. He doesn’t see this as an impediment to his candidacy and he’s unafraid of his opponent trying to use it against him.
“I think if my being gay affects my performance in this race it will say a lot more about the other side’s attitudes than about anyone’s way of voting,” he says. “I was born at a time when I couldn’t imagine the life I have today. I have rights and privileges that I didn’t have when I was born. I think that unites us rather than divides us.”
The road ahead
Like all Florida Democrats, Gentle has a tough path to victory. The district is rated R+8 by the Cook Political Report Partisan Voting Index, meaning that it’s eight times more Republican than the national average.
Moreover, Trump made serious inroads into its population in the last election. In 2016 Trump barely edged out Hillary Clinton in the district, 49.6 percent to 47.4 percent. In 2020 he extended his reach, defeating Biden there by 61.4 percent to 37.9 percent.
But Gentle is determined and he’s not without resources. He is already fundraising for the long race ahead. He has a strong and knowledgeable senior advisor in Evelyn Pervez Vadia, an experienced political consultant and strategist who specializes in combating disinformation and reaching Latino voters.
He is paying attention to the western side of the district, which is often overlooked by Diaz-Balart. In February he attended a black heritage festival in LaBelle, the first time a candidate had appeared there. “Mario Diaz-Balart has never shown up there,” he pointed out. “You have to show people that you care about them.”
He regards the sugar industry with skepticism but not outright hostility: “My main concern with any industry is that taxpayers are not left holding the bag for their practices. If big sugar is polluting then it has to be cleaned up. We do need to make sure that the proper parties are held responsible.”
He supports the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and its funding, which he notes “needs to be reviewed constantly.”
When it comes to immigration, Gentle promotes the idea of American Migration Service Centers to prevent unmanageable migrant influxes. These would be attached to US consulates and embassies so that potential immigrants could be treated in an orderly and legal way. He argues that such centers would provide local jobs while freeing up border security resources so that border agents can concentrate on real threats like smuggling and crime.
Above all, Gentle is convinced that the district’s population is ready for a change, especially given the assault on democracy that he believes Diaz-Balart aided and abetted with his vote.
“It’s a fact that my opportunities and privileges have allowed me to travel all around the world both personally and professionally. I think there’s something awesome about the 25th and I’m excited to engage with different cultures and ways of life,” he says.
“My number one focus in Florida is that we’re protecting people to make sure they have food on the table and they’re treated with dignity and paid a living wage and have access to healthcare. This country has turned away from uncomfortable aspects of its life that we need to address. We need to get really honest, really fast.”
The only promise he makes is one that’s both hard and easy to fulfill at the same time: “I will never vote according to party dictates,” he says. “I will always vote in the interests of the people I represent.”
Liberty lives in light
© 2021 by David Silverberg