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Robinson leaves Mayor's office, but remains ready to serve elsewhere

Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media

There’s a changing of the guard at Pensacola City Hall, as D.C. Reeves prepares to take the mayor’s chair from Grover Robinson.

“I'm announcing that I will not be seeking reelection in 2022. There's no doubt that the last year certainly has been more than trying. It's been probably five years combined into one,” said Robinson in March of last year.

Fast forward to an interview last week, in which he said a myriad factors went into his decision including his total time holding elected office.

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“After 16 years, I’d known I’d had enough and at that point made the announcement,” Robinson said. “I think it was finally just dealing with the hurricane, that final blow of just all the things going on and the challenges we had had. I said, ‘Hey, I'm gonna get us through this.' My whole goal is to get everything back up to normal, back up and running, and I can go do different things.”

Besides Hurricane Sally, the other major issue was that 800 pound virus in the room. The COVID-19 pandemic that hit in late 2019, and spread in 2020. Robinson says even some aspects of protecting the public became politicized.

“At that point, we did institute a mask mandate. I thought it was the responsible thing to do,” said the mayor. “We had no other way to fight the virus. We didn't want to close businesses. And I will remind everybody, yes, we had a mask mandate but we didn't ask anybody to close. We allow people to stay open, but we wanted to do it safely.”

As he looks back at his lone term, Robinson points to accomplishing one of his first goals upon taking office in 2018 — changing the culture at Pensacola City Hall.

“We've put together some really talented people, some of them we've promoted from inside the city, but a lot of them we got in other places,” he said. “It's a mixture, but I think it's a good team. And we focused very much on a culture that was going to work to create energized and engaged employees, and I think we've done that.”

To that end, the mayor points to a recent engagement employee survey. At the start of his administration it was around 40%. The latest has the figure at 67% satisfaction.

Another accomplishment high on the list are the advances in economic development for both Pensacola and Northwest Florida. One example is the growth of ST Engineering, which repairs and refurbishes jetliners.
“Four years ago, they immediately came to me and said, 'hey, you're $50 million short and you have 90 days to get it done,'” recalled Robinson. “And we went immediately and did that. We're finishing hanger two, and we're about to start hangers three and four. We were in adversity even before we took office. We were in the middle of dealing with it, and we found those things and made it happen.”

Two of the major challenges that new mayor D.C. Reeves will inherit from the outgoing administration are joined at the hip: homelessness and affordable housing. The Robinson administration, many feel, was the first to get serious about addressing both.

Mayor Grover Robinson
Listen to Dave Dunwoody's interview with outgoing Mayor Grover Robinson

“Of course, in the interim, we sort of worked with some things under the Interstate 110 bridge, obviously without any other shelters or anything else," said the outgoing mayor. “There was something we had to do. We felt like that was probably the right place. We finally got there and we implemented and moved everybody out and found ways to get people shelter.”

As he leaves City Hall’s 7th floor, Robinson says his desire to serve the community remains, but his time in elected office is likely over.

“I feel like the time when Forest Gump was in the desert,” he said. “If you remember when he was running, he'd run all over the place and just got the desert, and he said, ‘I don't want to run anymore.’ That's kind of where I've gotten to in my life. There are certain things where I've decided I've done it, I've enjoyed it, but I'm ready to go do something else.”

At 38, D.C. Reeves becomes the youngest Pensacola mayor in more than a century — and perhaps ever. Robinson, who was 36 when he joined the County Commission, urges younger residents to consider serving their community either in an elected position or otherwise.

“Having young people involved in those positions is good,” he said. “It helps the vitality of what we are. We started Entrecon, which has been a great thing about building entrepreneurship. If communities are going to survive and grow, they've got to be on the cutting edge of entrepreneurship.”

Looking ahead, Robinson is still hopeful for the city and it's leadership.

“I'm very bullish on what happens with Pensacola and northwest Florida," he said. "I had my time. I feel like we made those transitions. "And if you look back to when the community went from where it was to what it could be, was definitely in that time. And we might not have totally arrived. We might be like Moses out there, still wondering. We haven't gotten to the promised land yet, but I'm confident that somebody in the future is going to get there. I'm just proud to have been a part at least getting to sit on that journey.”