Dave Kerner, a Palm Beach County Democrat, backs Republican DeSantis’ re-election. What’s behind it?

Dave Kerner, a Democrat elected four times in heavily Democratic Palm Beach County, delivered an effusive endorsement Tuesday for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ re-election.

And Kerner — a former police officer widely seen as hoping to someday become Palm Beach County sheriff — repeated the Republican allegation that Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist favors defunding the police.

Kerner and DeSantis heaped effusive praise on each other at a rally at the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, called solely for the purpose of the endorsement announcement.

“We are a state on the rise, and I give a lot of credit to our governor for the trajectory of our state,” Kerner said.

“I have never been beholden to the rigid and disingenuous confines of partisan politics,” he said. “This was not a difficult choice for me. This was not the proverbial lesser of two evils. Gov. DeSantis has demonstrated himself beyond worthy of the humbling duties of his office. And he has done so with the level of dignity, purpose and respect that is lost in the public sphere today.”

Dave Kerner, at the time serving a turn as Palm Beach County mayor speaks at a news conference on COVID-19 with Gov Ron DeSantis behind him at a drive-through testing site at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on March 30, 2020. Kerner, a Democrat, is endorsing the Republican governor’s 2022 re-election. (Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Kerner said DeSantis has the backs of law enforcement officers. “Everybody says it. But you do it. You have their six. You have their back,” Kerner said. “I haven’t experienced that from a governor when I was a police officer. But it sure is a hell of a thing to have now.”

Kerner was a city of Alachua police officer from 2004-2007. For most of that time, Republican Jeb Bush was governor, before he was succeeded by Crist in 2007.

Kerner said Crist supports “reallocation, which to me by the way is a code word for taking resources away from the men and women that protect us. It’s a code word for defunding the police.”

RELATED: LGBTQ groups decry DeSantis as a threat, and rally behind Crist for governor ]

The nonpartisan fact-checking website Politifact concluded that, “No, Charlie Crist doesn’t support an agenda to ‘defund the police’” after examining a Republican TV ad against Crist that started running the day after he won the Democratic nomination in August.

Terrie Rizzo, chairwoman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, said the endorsement would “absolutely not” carry any weight among Democrats “because Democrats know who Ron DeSantis is. Democrats know what kind of governor he is and what he’s done. And Democrats will vote for Charlie Crist. The reaction I’m hearing from rank-and-file Democrats is this is outrageous.”

“I am totally and completely shocked by Dave Kerner, and incredibly disappointed — it’s not a strong enough word — that Dave Kerner could support Gov. Ron DeSantis,” Rizzo said.

RELATED: Dave Kerner re-elected to Palm Beach County commission ]

Rizzo said Democrats would respond “not well” to a future Kerner candidacy.

About 40% of the county’s registered voters are Democrats, 31% are no party affiliation-independents or registered in minor parties, and 29% are Republicans.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, from left, grabs some food with Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner, who was then county mayor, and Commissioners Mack Bernard and Maria Sachs at the opening of Delray Beach Market on April 24, 2021. The commissioners received criticism for not wearing masks at the event. (@GovRonDeSantis on Twitter)

Kerner, a lawyer, served two terms in the Florida House of Representatives before his 2016 election to the County Commission. Re-elected to the commission in 2020, term limits prevent him from running again in 2024.

Kerner, 39, has long been seen as a likely candidate for sheriff when Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who is serving in his fifth term, retires. The next election for sheriff is in 2024.

Bradshaw has had health issues this year. In May, the Sheriff’s Office announced he had a heart procedure, and was away from work for an extended period.

In a July 18 video posted to the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page — featuring Bradshaw’s voice and a collage of past photographs — the sheriff said he “would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their prayers and thoughts during the past few weeks while I was dealing with a health issue. Despite all the rumors and misinformation regarding my health, I am out of the hospital at home and continue to recover. I’m feeling good and look forward to returning to the office very soon.”

If Bradshaw were to leave office before the end of his term, the governor would appoint a replacement.

Kerner, who was serving in the rotating job of Palm Beach County mayor in the early days of COVID-19, praised DeSantis’ pandemic performance.

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“I worked with him not to just protect our physical health but our mental health, our economic health. I stood with him as we made sure our schools were open and our businesses were open,” he said.

DeSantis said he found in Kerner something different from many politicians.

“So much of what we see now is performative outrage and just typical nonsense day after day … and Dave Kerner never really fell into that. He saw he had a county to look after. He wanted to do what he could to get things done on behalf of the people of Palm Beach. So we were able to work with them a lot,” DeSantis said.

RELATED: Deerfield Democrats ban state legislator for endorsing Charlie Crist ]

County Commissioner Maria Sachs said Crist has lots of support in Palm Beach County, even though he was a Republican during his previous term as governor from 2007 to 2011.

“I support Charlie Crist, not just because he’s a Democrat today, but I think he’s always been a Democrat, just without the title. Because he cares and he’s compassionate. And those are the hallmarks of a Democrat,” Sachs said.

“He’s always had a very close relationship with Palm Beach County,” she said. “When we had the six named storms, he was here to help us out. When we had our mortgage foreclosure crisis, it was Charlie who came here for our workshops to help the working-class people. That’s when he was a Republican. Imagine what he could do as a Democrat.”

Anthony Man can be reached at aman@sunsentinel.com or on Twitter @browardpolitics

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