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Primary 2018: The Local Ballot

WUWF Public Media

With the August 28 primary looming, candidates for local and statewide offices are ratcheting up their campaigns. In the first of a two-part report, WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody looks at the grassroots races.

Fifty-two candidates are on the ballot for 21 seats in Escambia County government and the judiciary. Much of the attention will be on the higher-profile races – Pensacola Mayor and City Council, along with the Escambia County Commission.

“I’m excited about it; I think we’ve got a lot of really good candidates. I’m hoping that everybody stays on issues, and doesn’t do the personal attacks that have tainted the last couple of years of elections,” says Rick Outzen, founder and publisher of the Independent News Weekly.

Mayor Ashton Hayward is not seeking reelection, opening up the seat on the 7th floor of City Hall. Just after announcing his decision in March, Hayward – who could have run for a third term under the city charter – said it was time to step down.

“Once you set out to accomplish something and set the goals; you do that and it’s time to move on,” said Hayward. “I think it’s good to have new leadership and I think it was important for us to make that decision and I felt good about it.”

Six candidates, says Outzen, are on the August 28th ballot in hopes of succeeding Hayward. 

“Our early polling showed that Grover Robinson had about 40 points of those polled; but Brian Spencer wasn’t in the race yet,” said Outzen. “By the stories I’ve heard and the people I’ve talked to, [Spencer’s] already raised $80,000 in less than a week. Which matches what Grover has in the bank right now.”

Spencer announced a few weeks ago he would not run for reelection to the City Council. While much of the attention is on him and Grover Robinson – who’s leaving the Escambia County Commission – Outzen praises other candidates for what he calls a “pretty good ground game.”

“Drew Buchanan has been strong on social media, he’s come out with a lot of platform issues,” Outzen says. “David Mayo has been doing videos. Lawrence Powell and Jonathan Green have been sort of playing catch-up. This is going to be [a] hotly-contested race, and by the time we get to the general election, over $300,000 is going to be spent in this race.”

Robinson and Buchanan spoke with WUWF earlier this year. Buchanan cited some issues that stick out, as among the reasons he entered the mayor’s race.

“The hatchery project; I think I would have done that differently,” said Buchanan. “Especially when it comes to being as transparent as possible. The balance of infrastructure improvements, and how much we’re spending in each neighborhood. Although we’re doing better, we’re still neglecting many of our West Side neighborhoods.”

As for Robinson, one of his top priorities is economic development with downtown Pensacola the key. Things are happening there, he says, that can be done in other parts of the city.

“What I’d like to see happen downtown [is] to continue to see what we’ve seen, and I think it will,” Robinson said. “I’ve gone out and talked to other people across different parts of the city. The West Side would like to see some of that happening in Brownsville; the North Side would like to see some things off 9th Avenue. That’s one of the things that got me interested in running for mayor.”

Pensacola City Councilwoman Sherri Myers is unopposed for the District-2 seat, but Districts 4 and 6 are up for grabs with nary an incumbent in sight. And Outzen expects a couple of dogfights.

“Chris Phillips, who was originally running for the County Commission, and then Peter Gaddy III has a real good name recognition,” said Outzen. “A lot of young people, fresh faces, which I think is exciting. [In] District-6 are two older candidates, both new to politics. Butch Hansen, who’s the [City] Council’s budget analyst; and Ann Hill, longtime community activist. That one’s a toss-up.”

Moving over to the Escambia County Commission, where Districts 2 and 4 are up this cycle. The biggest logjam is in District-4 with seven candidates. The Republican emerging from the District-2 race in August will meet Democrat Scott Trotter on November 6. One of the District-4 candidates is a write-in, Leigh Bell. Under Florida statute, that closes that part of the primary ballot to all but registered Republican voters.

Now that we’ve met the starting lineups, we turn to the issues. Whomever is elected Pensacola’s second strong mayor will inherit a full plate from the Hayward administration.

“The Port of Pensacola is definitely going to be an issue; we know that has been bleeding deficits over the past 2-3 years,” said Outzen. “I think building trust in City Hall with the recycling, with the Bayview Center and some of the things that have happened; that’s eroded public trust.”

For the City Council, Outzen says it’s a matter of getting on the same page of the songbook.

“We’ve got a jazz band on City Council; everyone’s playing a different tune,” Outzen says. “I think the challenge will be: can they all work with the mayor? It’s been difficult over the last eight years as far as trying to work together on issues. These new people coming in have a fresh set of eyes [and] hopefully have open minds to working with the others.”

The Escambia County Commission, contends Outzen, is much in the same situation as the City Council. Two years ago he says the Commission was harmonious, but that’s fallen apart in the last 18 months.

“Can they get back together on the same page? I think that’s the issue,” said IN Weekly’s Rick Outzen. “[A] lot of infrastructure problems; working with TRIUMPH Gulf Coast, E-CAT, economic development, roundabouts on the beach. They’ve got a lot of issues; cans that they’ve kicked down the road that they’ve got to resolve.”

Also on the ballot are races for seats in three districts on the Escambia County School Board; two districts on the ECUA Board, three groups on the Soil and Water Conservation District, three judgeships, and three seats on the Century Town Council.

More information is available at www.escambiavotes.com.