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Robinson Enters Pensacola Mayoral Race

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

In a somewhat-anticipated move, an outgoing Escambia County Commissioner is seeking the Pensacola mayor’s office in 2018.

Grover Robinson announced eleven months ago that his fourth term on the Commission would be his last. While he had no concrete plans at the time, he did say that he wasn’t ready to give up on public service.

“I still have a passion for this community, and I spent about six months talking to people across the city of Pensacola, and what they thought and wanted for the community,” said Robinson. “The consensus I got is that I think there was a desire to look at some leadership issues.”

Robinson pre-filed Monday at the Escambia County Supervisor of Elections Office, and said this stokes his passion for local government.

“People keep telling me ‘do you want to go to the state, you want to do federal?’ And I said no,” Robinson says. “What I like is northwest Florida.”

Ashton Hayward was elected Pensacola’s first “Strong Mayor” in 2010, under the 2009 city charter, and won a second term with 65 percent of the vote in 2014. He has yet to file seeking a third and final term under the charter. Robinson concedes that Hayward has had some rough patches as the first strong mayor, but….

“There are things I would have definitely done in the process,” said Robinson. “I certainly would have engaged more with the City Council, made it more collaborative. I think that’s what people are challenged by. They see success in downtown [Pensacola] but they don’t feel like the success has been inclusive of all the neighborhoods across the city, and where it’s going.”

An Independent News Weekly poll last March of 506 most likely voters showed Hayward on top at about 28 percent; Robinson was second with 20 percent.

Brian Williams, a political scientist at the University of West Florida, said at the time – 20 months from the 2018 vote -- that the cost of running for elected office is a major reason for early starts to campaigns.

“If we look at the 2014 mayoral race, Hayward raised approximately $140,000,” Williams said. “There is a strong incentive to begin campaigning early on to generate to claim credit for policy achievements that have been acquired.”

When Deepwater Horizon exploded in 2010, sending oil onto Escambia County Beaches; Grover Robinson was Commission chairman. That level of involvement in that disaster could prove to be an advantage in a mayor’s race, but he insists it was a team effort.

“It was really about building a coalition of counties that really began to get their state representatives, their senators on board, and continue to make that push along the way,” said Robinson. “I think that’s what I have the opportunity to bring. I think that’s one of the skill sets that I have, and that’s why I think I can do that in local government.”

Now that the campaign paperwork – or at least some of it – has been filed, Robinson says moving forward he plans more of what’s he’s already doing – getting out and talking with the residents of Pensacola.

“If you think City Hall is the place with all the answers, that’s not where it should be,” says Robinson. “I want to be the conduit that makes those things happen. If we have seven strong districts we are going to have a strong Pensacola; I’m convinced of that.”

In a statement released late Monday, Mayor Ashton Hayward said his family and he are “prayerfully” considering his next political steps, and an announcement will be made sometime after the holidays.