Mayor Ashton Hayward wants us to be optimistic.
“Now is the time to use the positive momentum of our successes to push forward – reach upward” are the words he used to open his State of the City address.
His address was well produced, done on a scale that one might expect for much larger city. It was in the Saenger Theater and opened with a video of Peter Rubardt of the Pensacola Symphony, Dr. Ken Ford of IHMC and Quint Studer talking about what a great place is to work, live and play and that closed with Debbie Calder thanking Mayor Hayward for his efforts.
The lights stayed off when the mayor walked on to the stage and began his speech, standing under a spotlight and before a clear plexiglass podium surrounded with “swave” banners.
Mayor Hayward said that economic development would be his top priority. That effort has eight components, according to the mayor:
• Supporting job creation and job creators in our targeted industries,
• Ensuring we get back our share of the tax dollars we send to Tallahassee and Washington,
• Promoting workforce education in our targeted industries,
• Pushing transparent streamlined business processes,
• Maximizing existing city assets and exploiting Pensacola International Airport as an Economic Development engine,
• Reducing crime, and
• Taking our shared prosperity West.
“If we work together and focus our efforts across these dimensions, we will create a city where everyone has an opportunity to be successful,” said Hayward. “Everyone will have optimism. “
Hayward spoke of using a regional approach to attracting targeted businesses and thanked Navy Federal Credit Union for the jobs that the company has brought to Escambia County. “Thank you for the optimism you create in our community.”
He talked about the relationships that he has developed in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. and claimed to have obtained over $40 million of state and federal dollars for the city.
Hayward said the he would focus on workforce education. “I pledge to push Workforce Education forward by collaborating with businesses, The Chamber, Community- County and State agencies- and Educational Facilities to implement training that puts our citizens to work. I pledge to support Workforce Education and to work diligently to recruit employers and jobs in these targeted industries.”
At the press conference after he address, he gave few details on what the role of city government would be in this area.
Hayward also talked about entrepreneurs and thanked Quint and Rishy Studer “for choosing to make Pensacola your home.”
He gave a not-too-subtle reference to his current fight over the airport food services contract: “Our government’s business processes must present a level playing field and must be blind to favoritism, sentiment, and status. We must protect and honor the level playing field our processes establish. There is optimism in fairness.”
He said that he was working to increasing non- airline revenues. “Remember, every dollar we make at the airport is a dollar less Pensacola International Airport has to charge airlines, who then charge the customer. There is a dollar for dollar relationship.”
Hayward appeared ready to get back to some of the issues that got him elected in 2010. It was the west side of Pensacola that put him office. In the next two months, the city will open community centers in Woodland Heights and Legion Field.
“In addition to this investment, we will awaken The Westside Redevelopment Plan,” he told the audience of about 100 people. “More landscaping, sidewalks, street lights, and traffic calmers will be added to the West Side.”
Hayward said that he plans to make the west side neighborhoods safer. He praised the efforts of Police Chief Chip Simmons and the joint gun task force formed by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office for recovering over 350 illegal guns and making 175 arrests.
“We will not allow crime to keep our community hostage. This is not an insurmountable problem. It can be overcome. We need to be cautious about negativity. Negativity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We don’t want to sweep the crime conversation under the carpet, but our community needs to hear more about the successful people living and working on our West Side. “
He said that he will be instituting a round table to address violence. At the press conference, he said he plans to walk the neighborhoods with Commissioner Lumon May and “engage in open and frank dialogue and look for ideas and strategies that can create a clear direction for the future.”
He ended his 20-minute address: “We will move forward with respect for each other and a shared vision of prosperity and safety for all our citizens. Optimism will take us upward. Goodnight and God bless Pensacola.”
While our August poll showed that more than 31 percent of city voters believe that the city is on the wrong track and another 25 percent aren’t sure which direction the city is headed, I believe that most people are optimistic about the future of Pensacola, but they aren’t so sure about their city government. The public trust has been damaged by the mayor’s miscues this year–The Zimmerman Agency contract, YMCA debacle, State Attorney’s Investigation, etc.
People are getting tired of rhetoric and want to see more action.
His standing in the African-American community isn’t as strong as it was three years ago. The optimism on the west side has turned to skepticism, once again. If he follows through with the commitments he made in his speech, he could win them back to his camp.
Time will tell.