By Alec Larson
Prominent members of the Union League of Philadelphia have expressed dismay in response to news that the club intends to present embattled Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with one of its most prestigious honors, the Gold Award.
According to the organization’s website, the Union League is a city club “founded in 1862 as a patriotic society to support the Union and the policies of President Abraham Lincoln” such as abolition. The League is described as having been founded on the “values of freedom and free enterprise.”
DeSantis, meanwhile, has recently come under fire from lawmakers and liberal pundits for his actions involving using government funds to relocate migrants from Texas to Massachusetts, allegedly under false pretenses. Democratic lawmakers in Massachusetts are reportedly urging Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to launch a federal investigation into DeSantis’ actions.
Thomas McGill, a partner at the firm Kenny, Burns & McGill who has been a member of the Union League for nearly a decade, said he feels extremely dismayed at the organization’s decision.
“It’s reprehensible for the Union League to involve themselves: first because of all the negatives surrounding DeSantis, that he somehow is eligible for an award. But secondly, they’re interfering in an election,” he said. “DeSantis is running for governor and he has an opponent, and they’re essentially endorsing his candidacy by giving him an award without polling the rest of the members of the Union League. It is reprehensible.”
“There are a whole host of people who are extremely upset that … this was even thought of, let alone to award something to DeSantis when you have people in Florida calling for him to be indicted. And the Union League feels that it should give him an award.”
In expressing his disappointment in the news, McGill explained that he disagrees with “all that DeSantis stands for.”
“He is about as close to MAGA and Trump as you’re going to get, and anyone who is endorsing candidates that are running on Donald Trump’s MAGA philosophy are just plain wrong and anti-democratic. (Which is) everything that the Union League is supposed to stand for.”
Kemel Dawkins, longtime Union League member and the former vice president for strategic infrastructure planning and facilities at Michigan State University, said he was “very disappointed” to hear news of the League’s decision to honor DeSantis. Dawkins added that he, similarly to McGill, felt that the timing of the news frames it as a political action by the League.
“I thought the timing of this award, and the award itself, were inappropriate … I think at this particular time it would feel like a political endorsement. I think that would be unwise for the League to do.”
Another member of the Union League, Dr. Vaughan Graves, also expressed his disapproval.
“Obviously, I don’t think it’s appropriate. We’re having some meetings about it, so I don’t have a lot to say (as far as) a consensus. I’m not happy about it. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. And we do have a table at the Union League, the Frederick Douglass table. A bunch of us are meeting and having discussions regarding that at this point in time. So I could give you a later, more detailed response, but just to say right now that I think it’s not a good move on their part at this point.”
Graves explained that there were a variety of reasons for his disappointment in the League’s choice to honor DeSantis.
“Well I think based on his stances, which we all know about, regarding several things: regarding what he’s doing with the immigrants, what he’s doing in terms of comments that are basically, I think, generally suggestive of a racist, I think that he’s not a good person to get such an award at this time.”
Graves said that he has heard that the news has become a point of discussion internally between club members and expects that there will soon be a public response.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of comments going across the internet from various pretty high-profile African American members, and we’re meeting about it, and I’m sure we’re going to have some discussions about what the next steps (will) be,” he said. “I have no idea at this point in time, but somebody will be commenting about that in the very near future.”
According to multiple Union League members, there is expected to be a meeting Friday that will allow members to address the organization’s decision to honor DeSantis.
The Union League of Philadelphia declined a request for comment by The Philadelphia Tribune regarding the matter.
Alec Larson is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.