Voters in Pensacola will select the city’s second “strong mayor” on November 6. In a two-part report, WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody sat down with both candidates. First up, Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson.
A record number – more than 16,000 – turned out to vote in the six-candidate race. Robinson, who’s leaving the Commission after two terms, got a plurality of the vote at 34 percent. He’ll meet City Councilman Brian Spencer in the runoff.
“We’re out there trying to consolidate other people who voted for other candidates who are no longer in the race,” said Robinson. “We all believe that there will be significantly more voters who come to the polls for the gubernatorial race.”
The run for mayor, in many ways, is different from a campaign for County Commission; but on the other hand, says Robinson, some areas can be strikingly the same.
“The difference has really been the challenge of a ‘two-layer’ race and moving forward; that’s a little bit different for us -- the whole nonpartisan setup,” Robinson says. “But it all works out pretty well. We feel like the message we’ve got is the one that will actually move our community forward.”
The Robinson campaign’s mantra since it began about a year ago – after Mayor Ashton Hayward announced he would not seek a third term -- has centered around three verbs: “participate, collaborate, and advocate.”
“The idea of ‘strong mayor’ is executive – the executive is supposed to execute,” Robinson says. “What you want is somebody who will figure out ways to take action, and the action they need to take is with the citizens. They’ve got to engage the citizens; collaborate with the citizens and the City Council, and then they’ve got to go advocate those things to make them happen.”
One of the major issues in the mayor’s race from day one has been economic development. Robinson cites the Navy Federal Credit Union expansion and the opening of ST Engineering as examples of the progress made over the past few years. But he adds that much more remains on the plate.
“I think the sky’s the limit on what we do; we’ve just got to be out there, participating in a wide variety of different things,” said Robinson. “And then what we’ve got to be doing is working with our local businesses. We’ve got to be doing a better job of making sure that our local citizens participate, and not just one segment of our community.”
Robinson concedes that Pensacola – population 58,000 – is relatively small. But he adds that its mayor has the ability to be the executive for a whole region – not just the 320,000 in Escambia County, but the 450,000 in the metropolitan statistical area, or MSA.
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Robinson has picked up a pair of high-profile endorsements over the past couple of weeks, from former mayoral candidate Drew Buchanan, and from Sherri Myers – who ran unopposed for another term on the District-2 seat on the Pensacola City Council.
“I think that both candidates bring something to the table, but I believe that Grover brings the experience it will take to be responsive to all of the citizens and the City of Pensacola,” says Myers.
One of the criteria Myers uses as a reason for her endorsement is Robinson’s support for various improvement projects inside District-2, including sidewalks along Sanders Street – a major walking route for students at three nearby schools.
“The city was not interested to safe routes to school for those children,” Myers said. “Grover stepped up to the plate. Grover’s [also] been supportive of Carpenter’s Creek; he selected Carpenter’s Creek to receive RESTORE funds.”
If elected, Grover Robinson says he’ll work on a number of issues leftover from the Ashton Hayward administration. The first on that list appears to be patching up the relationship between the mayor’s office and the city council.
“One of the challenges I think has happened in the current administration is that it’s failed to allow us to capitalize and what we need to do as a community,” Robinson says. “We would change that overnight. We would begin to actively participate with the Council, and engage the Council, with the Council engaged with staff. Then the other big issue we’d do is we’d get out there and engage with citizens.”
In our next installment, we’ll chat with the other candidate in the mayor’s race, City Councilman Brian Spencer.