Protesters gather as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis touts commitment to 'law and order' at Elmhurst event

Eric Horng Image
Tuesday, February 21, 2023
Protesters gather as Ron DeSantis speaks at west suburban event
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in Elmhurst, IL spoke before law enforcement officials at Knights of Columbus Hall as protesters gathered outside.

ELMHURST, Ill. (WLS) -- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a possible presidential candidate, spoke before a crowd of law enforcement officials in west suburban Elmhurst on Monday evening.

DeSantis touted what he says is his state's plummeting crime rate.

RELATED | Florida high school sports group plans to not require female athletes to disclose menstrual history

"There's no way Florida could have done what we've done if it wasn't for our commitment to law and order," DeSantis said.

DeSantis, 44, who is widely seen as a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, is a darling of staunch conservatives. The GOP firebrand's appearance garnered applause, but also opposition from dozens protesting his stance on abortion, education and LGBTQ+ issues.

Protesters gathered across the street from the Knights of Columbus Hall, where that invite-only event was held, accusing DeSantis of divisiveness. There was a large police presence in the area.

READ MORE | Florida says rejected AP African American Studies course 'lacks educational value'

"He is an extremist, and does not represent where the majority of this country is, and we want to make sure that he hears this loud and clearly, as well as his supporters," said Equality Illinois Deputy Director Mony Ruiz-Velasco. "I mean, the message is that hate has no home in Illinois, and neither does he nor his politics."

Supporters of the Florida governor were gathered outside as well.

DeSantis's visit, which was billed as a pro-police, "back the blue" event, made waves in the Chicago mayor's race just over a week before Election Day. That was in part because of the Chicago FOP's endorsement of Paul Vallas, who sought to distance himself from the possible presidential hopeful.

"At the end of the day, DeSantis is a diversion. You know, I'm going to continue to focus on the issues. I'm not paying any attention to DeSantis," Vallas said.

Vallas, who has put crime at the center of his platform, has had to fend off accusations that's he's a Republican. Some of his mayoral rivals have tried to tie him to the outspoken DeSantis.

"Well, I'm glad he doesn't get a vote in the city election. Let's start there, because clearly he would be voting for Paul Vallas," Brandon Johnson said of DeSantis.

SEE ALSO | Who is running for president in 2024?

Mayor Lori Lightfoot also weighed in.

"If you reject the right wing, and people like Ron DeSantis, then you've got to reject Paul Vallas," Lightfoot said.

Vallas, who is polling at or near the top of the race, released a lengthy statement on Friday, criticizing DeSantis and calling him a "right wing extremist."

DeSantis has yet to announce a run for the White House, but at least for now, he appears focused on the crime issue, and seems to see suburban America as the key battleground.