Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward’s decision to step down after two terms is drawing mixed reaction at City Hall, and leading to a number of "what ifs" in the run up to the June 22 candidate filing deadline.
Mayor Hayward announced a week ago that he would forego a third and final term as allowed by the 2009 city charter. The following day he said it would be business as usual for his remaining nine and a half months in office.
“So we’re going to continue to work hard,” said Hayward. “I was excited to get up this morning; I didn’t feel much different [after the announcement] to be quite honest. Mayors are out setting the vision, setting the tone, going after business [and] creating awareness for your city.”
City Councilman Larry B. Johnson is a close friend of the Mayor’s and a longtime supporter. He credits Hayward for the resurgence of downtown Pensacola, compared to a decade ago.
“I was visiting downtown over the weekend, and the vibrancy, and the people downtown enjoying downtown; the enthusiasm and the optimism about our city,” Johnson said. “We definitely got a lot of momentum, we’re heading in the right direction. And I think we can attribute a lot of that to Mayor Hayward’s leadership.”
While disappointed, Johnson says he “totally understands” Hayward’s decision, adding he’s known for a while that last week’s announcement was upcoming.
“I do agree that the Council has been dysfunctional,” says Pensacola City Councilwoman Sherri Myers, who holds the District-2 seat and is Council Vice-President. She contends that Hayward is the reason for some of that dysfunction.
“Under the [Strong Mayor] form of government we have, the mayor has tried to keep the Council from being every effective,” Myers said. “By, for instance, firing our Council Executive for no reason.”
Myers is referring to the firing of City Council executive Lila Cox in 2014, which led to the Council passing a charter amendment, which opened the door for that body to hire its own staff.
Councilman Larry B. Johnson announced earlier this month he would not seek reelection to the District-4 seat and had indicated he’s been thinking of a run for mayor.
“I have gone down and picked up the paperwork at the [Supervisor of Elections] office to file to run for mayor,” Johnson said. “Everything’s on the table. I’ve had people talk to me about County Commission, and the state House seat that Frank White is moving on to run for Attorney General.”
But, he says any such announcement, for now, remains somewhere on the horizon.
“Right now I’m just not ready to announce that, and it might not be this time,” said Johnson. “It might be four years down the road.”
So far, two candidates have pre-filed to succeed Ashton Hayward in the non-partisan mayor’s office. Grover Robinson is giving up his Escambia County Commission seat to run, along with entrepreneur and political newcomer Drew Buchanan.