Bob Graham, Former Florida Governor and Senator, Dies at 87

Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat who as a little-known state senator mucked out stables and waited on tables in a clever populist strategy that helped to boost him into the governorship, the United States Senate and a run for the presidency, has died. He was 87.

His daughter Gwen Graham posted a family statement announcing his death on social media on Tuesday night. It did not say where or when he died or provide a cause. Mr. Graham was disabled by a stroke in May 2020.

The son of a Florida state senator, Mr. Graham had gained little political traction after 13 years in the State Legislature. He seemed destined to rise no higher than his father. Then he had an idea. Besides his official duties, he resolved to work eight hours a day in hundreds of mostly entry-level jobs to bond with his constituents. He performed what he called “Workdays” off and on for the rest of his career.

He was, for a day, a short-order cook, a bellhop, a social work aide, a plumber. He saw a murder victim on a night riding with cops. He was a department store Santa, a citrus packer, an office temp and applied for food stamps. He picked tomatoes under a broiling sun, filled potholes, collected garbage, cut down broken tree limbs after a storm and was a circus clown.

U.S. Sen. Bob Graham unloading bags from a USAir jet on the tarmac at Tampa International Airport in 2001. He often worked regular jobs for a day as a way to commune with his constituents.Credit…Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

Voters and the press, especially television news programs, loved it, and he limited reporters’ access to show he was seeking insights into working lives, not pulling stunts. Whatever his motives, “Workdays” became a campaign staple, enabling Mr. Graham to win two terms as governor (1979-1987), three terms in the Senate (1987-2005) and a heady but hopeless run for the White House in 2003.

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