Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward strolled the near-empty city council chambers a half-hour before his first State of the City address. He shook hands and offered warm embraces to the early arrivals.
Hayward was to use the occasion to outline his vision for the city, which included restructuring and belt-tightening in Pensacola’s future.
“Which side is the supporters’ side?” a woman asked the Mayor upon entering the room.
“All y’all are my people,” Hayward laughed.
The Mayor appeared to be beaming with confidence prior to the big address. He casually worked the room in a deep, dark suit, leaving a trail of positive energy in his wake. Surely, there was a gleaming white unicorn waiting just out of sight so that Hayward could saddle up for laps around the gallery.
Once members of the Pensacola City Council entered the chambers, Mayor Hayward handed over a thick binder containing his proposed budget, before launching into the address. The binder was handed to Councilman Ronald Townsend, who chaired the meeting.
“Today is an exciting day for our city,” Hayward began.
The Mayor went on to talk about “opportunity” and “responsibility.” He said that he was not merely presenting a budget, but rather “a plan, a statement of our priorities, and a covenant with our citizens.”
The major aspects of Hayward’s vision for Pensacola included creating economic opportunity, improving neighborhoods, cleaning the environment and restoring confidence in the city government.
The Mayor also talked about restructuring local government, including the combining of departments and the new position of Chief of Neighborhoods. The city’s pension fund contributions, lack of employee raises and best possible use of the port were also addressed.
The overwhelmingly supportive crowd of about 150 people responded to the Mayor’s address with a standing ovation. The city council also seemed impressed.
Councilwoman Sherri Myers called Hayward’s address “very inspiring.” Councilman Brian Spencer said it was “laced with realism and optimism.”
Council members Larry Johnson, P.C. Wu, John Jerralds and Maren DeWeese were not present for the Mayor’s address. Council President DeWeese sent out an e-mail earlier explaining she would be busy, although she was at city hall later in the day when the IN was meeting with staff for a briefing on the budget.
Townsend invited the crowd to attend next week’s budget workshops, when the Council will delve into the nit and the grit of Hayward’s math. The Mayor’s office just released the proposed budget, so council members are largely unfamiliar with the specifics.
“I would encourage all of you to come and listen to the squabbling and the wrangling we may have,” Townsend said.
Following the Mayor’s address, there was a punch-and-cookies gathering upstairs in City Hall. Attendees discussed Hayward’s proposed “bold step towards a better future” while enjoying fruit and macaroons.
“It was a good talk,” Roger MacDonald, who served on the city council in the 1960s, said of the Mayor’s speech. “I’d like to know a lot of the details.”
As one might expect, a mostly supportive crowd made the trek upstairs for the after-party. Like many in attendance at the August 8 event, Derek Cosson expressed enthusiastic support for Hayward.
“I’ve just been excited about the direction he’s moving in,” Cosson said, adding that he felt the address was the first official opportunity the Mayor has had to lay out his plan for the city.
Townsend enjoyed a cup of coffee and expressed guarded optimism about Hayward’s plans. He said he thought there would be some amount of compromise but felt sure a “meeting of the minds” could prevail.
“I don’t see anything conflicting with the Council’s aspirations,” Townsend said.