2010 Top Political Stories: Election of Ashton Hayward

Note: Over the next few days, I will analyze what I see as this area’s top political stories for 2010.

Election of Ashton Hayward

By far this is the top political story of 2010, but it is a story with many layers. In the Pensacola mayoral election, the political power of the city was wrestled away from those 60 years and old–in both the white and African-American communities–that have dominated Pensacola politics for the last 15 years.

Mike Wiggins had been a good city councilman for nearly 14 years. He was a good mayor under the old system. Wiggins protected the values and core beliefs of his age group and rarely took a controversial stand that hurt his base constituency. He is universally liked and respected.

Plus, he held the office of mayor which gave him a huge advantage in campaigning. He could move budget items to garner support, delay controversial votes until after the election and, in the case of the stormwater tax hike, vote down tax increases. In an election year in which few incumbents lost, Wiggins appeared to be a solid bet for re-election.

In the African-American community, the older black leaders came out early for Wiggins. For decades, few had ever challenged their political power. When a caucus didn’t go their way, they changed the rules.

In 2007 when the Escambia County Black Caucus voted to support Rev. Lutimothy May for House seat vacated by Holly Benson. The older leaders instead went against the caucus and backed John Wyche, forcing May to drop out.

The consistent, persistent message from the older black leaders to the younger ones has been “It’s not your time.” The older leaders delivered the black precincts to Wiggins in the August primary and few doubted they couldn’t do it again in November.

What happened on November 2 was Hayward and Wiggins split the white vote and the African-American voters rebelled from their older leaders–John Jerralds, Ronald Townsend, Jewel Cannada-Wynn, Georgia Blackmon and Gerald McKenzie–and overwhelmingly voted for the 41-year-old Hayward. The complete turnaround in the African-American community was led by a group of pastors–Bernard Yates, Lonnie Wesley, Lutimothy May, Charles Morris and others–and Lumon May and coaches from his sports association.

The election of Hayward was the culmination of a four-year transition of political power from the 60-somethings to younger leadership.
The transition began in 2006 with the Community Maritime Park referendum and the formation of the Pensacola Young Professionals. When the city council and 60-somethings failed to deliver the maritime park within two years, those who worked so passionately for the park referendum became frustrated and saw the need to change not only city leadership, but the city’s form of government.

In 2008, four major political events took place. The Pensacola City Council gained four new members: Maren DeWeese, Larry Johnson, Jr., Diane Mack and Megan Pratt. Three of them were under the age of 50. The Pensacola City Charter began to meet with attorney Crystal Spencer as the chairman. The campaign of Lumon May for House District 3 gathered young people from all segments of Pensacola. Though he lost, many of the younger leaders saw how to run a citywide campaign.

And, lastly, the city staff successfully pushed through modifications to port leases and an airport hotel lease during the two lame-duck months before the new council took office. An independent audit of the airport hotel lease would later find several problems with it. Both the airport manager and assistant city manager who negotiated the lease would be gone before the audit report was issued. This heavy-handed approach to governing further motivated those seeking change.

In 2009, the new city charter was passed, establishing a strong-mayor form of government. Wiggins and the old guard–in both the white and black communities–opposed the new charter. Their political action committee, No Boss Mayor, failed to scare voters into holding to the old system with the city manager in charge.

All these events fed the political groundswell that elected Ashton Hayward. Wiggins’s message of “Good to Great” didn’t ring true for those under 60. They were wanted change, had been wanting since 2006.

And by electing Hayward the hope they will see it in 2011.