Pensacola Mayors: Grover Robinson
In the fifth and final report on Pensacola’s mayors, we hear from the current officeholder, who plans to step down next year after just one term.
Unlike three of his immediate predecessors, Grover Robinson did serve on the Pensacola City Council. Instead, he was elected in 2018 after three terms on the Escambia County Commission.
“I wanted to see at the executive level what it was like and how it was; and I thought there are better ways the mayor and the [city] council could work together,” Robinson said. “We could create better things for the community and move things forward. While it’s only two and a half years, I think we’ve been able to do a lot of that.”
During that time, what started out as the biggest challenges in 2018 were replaced by even larger, unforeseen ones — such as the ongoing pandemic.
“COVID and a variety of other things that have happened in 2019 have made 2020 a year unlike any other; it’s been good but it’s felt like 10 years going at one time,” he said.
As chairman of the Escambia County Commission in 2010, Robinson was the tip of the spear in the county’s response to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill. He was asked if that experience provided an advantage in dealing with COVID-19. Having gone through the spill, he said he felt better about handling the virus.
“I remember in April to May of 2010, we thought there was going to be no more Pensacola Beach — it was just going to be a black sludge pit,” said the mayor. “We kind of realized how to make it work; coming in to COVID, I certainly realized that it definitely looked dreary last March, but ultimately there were things we could do.”
Robinson did understand why the federal and state governments ordered shutdowns in March and April of last year, because nobody knew what everyone was up against with the coronavirus, and there was a shortage of supplies to treat patients.
“By the time we got supplies, we really haven’t shut down since we opened back in May, and it shows what we’ve been able to do,” he said. “My feeling has always been stay open, wear a mask, [and] be safe and smart about what you do. I think when you look as us compared to other places economically, financially — we’re in a much better spot because we did that.”
The emphasis, he says, is now shifting to self-protection — getting that vaccination. COVID, and other issues, have positioned Pensacola to take advantage of some opportunities now making themselves known.
“What you’re going to see is more and more people say, ‘I don’t have to be in a big city,’” said Robinson. “Density issues prove out that these kind of viruses have a much bigger impact in big cities. There are other things that have happened in big cities during this process, dealing with social justice issues and everything else. I think it sets up very well for medium-sized cities to take advantage of that.”
Earlier this year, Robinson announced that this term would be his only term as mayor. He says he made the decision based on a series of events that just happened in an ongoing year. One event was sitting down with his family over the holidays.
“Much of that time I was looking at things, thinking about it,” he said. “We’ve accomplished an incredible amount of stuff, really changing the identity of much of who we are, in creating success here. It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, what else do I want to go do, or do I want to go do something else outside of public service.”
But for now, the mayor’s not going anywhere, until late next year. To paraphrase the poet Robert Frost, Robinson still has miles to go before he sleeps.
“That’s exciting to me as I move forward and look at opportunities,” Robinson said. “But I still have 18 months here and we have a lot of things that we’re trying to get done. Our Hashtag Project, Bruce Beach and some other things that we’ve committed to. So we’ve got a lot of things that we’re still doing here; I’m very proud of the work we were able to do in the time we were here.”
One of the opportunities left on the table for the Robinson administration is increasing walkability and other downtown transformation.
“The more important part is creating the walkability side; it will lead to other eventual development,” the mayor said. “We’re going to need to grow in the downtown core. We already have services, things where it’s easier for us to do stuff without maybe cars; where we can walk, bike, and do those kind of things.”
As for that set of opportunities after the mayor leaves office, he says there are a few – and not necessarily involving his background in real estate.
“I’d like to find a way to use some of the things I’ve done in community service, with perhaps some expertise from real estate; definitely looking forward to taking some time off with family and traveling,” said Robinson. “Like I did this spring and had a chance to go to several national parks and enjoying getting to see the country that we live in.”
As he continues his duties and finishes out his term, Mayor Grover Robinson is hoping his successor brings to the office a way for everyone to continue working in unity and inclusion.
“We have a great community, but we’re only going to go as far as we all go together,” he said. “That was why we put a big focus into how we could try to get council to work with the mayor. So happens you have council members who want to create adversarial, but as the body we should find ways to work together. And I think that works better for the community.”
Robinson also urges his successor to maintain and even strengthen Pensacola’s relationships with its neighbors, such as Milton and Gulf Breeze, along with its ties to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.