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Pensacola Mayors: Jerry Maygarden

Jerry Maygarden at the UWF Endowed Scholarship Luncheon in the University Commons Conference Center in 2019.
Bernard Leonard Wilchusky Jr.
Jerry Maygarden at the UWF Endowed Scholarship Luncheon in the University Commons Conference Center in 2019.

As Pensacolians celebrate the 200th anniversary of Florida becoming a United States territory — the changeover occurring in the now-downtown area — WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody recently spoke with the current and four former mayors of the city. First up, Jerry Maygarden.

Maygarden, a Republican, began his political career on the Pensacola City Council in 1985. After two years as mayor pro tem, he served as Pensacola’s 55th mayor from 1991 to 94. He then served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1994 to 2002. Maygarden was named mayor after Vince Whibbs’ retirement.

“He came to me and asked me if I would consider serving as mayor,” said Maygarden. “We were going through some pretty bumpy times, and the [city] council thought it would be good to have the stability of somebody who had been working on board the council to be in that role, at least for a period of time. I agreed to do it, and it was a very rewarding position.”

That rough time for the city, says Maygarden, stemmed from the Reagan White House – which in the interest of a smaller federal government, foisted a number of costs onto its state and local counterparts.

“And it was piling up expenses on local government that we could not fund; in fact, we had a lot of infrastructure — like fire trucks that were 35 years old,” the former mayor said. “We had fire houses that had to be replaced; we had a ramshackle of an airport that needed to be replaced. Just a lot of expenses for a fairly small government.”

Maygarden says they did manage to do some good things, to the point where Pensacola was awarded the All-American City designation in 1987 by President Reagan.

“I’m very proud that we rebuilt the airport at that time; the airport was in a terrible shape – it was not a very good gateway to our community,” Maygarden said. “We negotiated the first-ever union contract with our firefighters – that was a difficult chore but I think we did it in a way that was very productive for both firefighters and the citizens of Pensacola.”

On the other side of the ledger, the Navy’s decision to move the Naval Depot – NADEP -- from NAS Pensacola to Cherry Point, North Carolina was especially painful, as well as the failure to bring in the aircraft carrier Lexington as a floating museum.

“The Naval Aviation Museum opposed that in a big way, and it became apparent that we weren’t going to be able to solidify that operation in Pensacola,” said Maygarden. “I wish I had gone to the Legislature sooner, and asked them to help fund that. Texas put up $2 million a year and took the Lexington out of Pensacola and put it in Corpus Christi.”

While that was a pretty painful ordeal, Maygarden says the silver lining was that they were spared a great deal of cost, which enabled the city to fund other museum projects in Pensacola and aboard the naval base.

Moving up to today, Maygarden keeps up with the activities at city hall. He says he’s “super pleased” with what’s going on in the downtown area, where he and his wife Rhonda lived for a number of years on Zaragoza Street. He credits businessman Quint Studer and his wife Rishy for leading the transformation.

“They serve as a real foundational base for attracting people into our downtown area; they put their money where their mouth is, and they’ve done a yeoman’s job,” Maygarden said. “I think the city is doing fairly well right now.”

“The city of Pensacola is far more expensive than it should be,” added Maygarden. “There’s a lot of challenges for Pensacola, but overall, I give it a very good rating because it’s becoming the kind of place that attracts people to come here, put their business here and to live here. And I think that’s a wonderful step forward.”

There will a new mayor in 2022. Grover Robinson is not seeking a second term, and Maygarden was asked what Robinson’s successor needs to bring to the table. The big challenge, he says, is know-how.

“How do you recruit the talent necessary to run the various aspects of any community,” Maygarden says. “Experts in fire, you’ve got to have experts in police, experts in recreation, engineering, infrastructure, parks. There’s a lot of diverse needs that the city has in terms of management.”

Maygarden adds that he’s surprised at the turnover rate among city employees going back the last eight years. The key, he says, is stability in leadership roles.

“Even Grover’s departure, which came as somewhat of a surprise to me, I knew he had some people out there who were detractors, [and] he was thinking about having to go through another campaign,” Maygarden said. “But even his turnover surprised me, because I thought he was doing a fairly good job. And he was trying to move the city in a good, positive direction.”

While retired after long concurrent business and political careers, Jerry Maygarden, at 72, stays busy. Among other things, he’s Chairman of the Board of Advisers for the Maygarden Center for Financial Literacy at the University of West Florida.

And during the 2000 presidential vote fiasco in Florida – where hanging chads became a household phrase — he famously told a rally that election officials could — “kiss my chad."