Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward could face his biggest political challenge, if he decides to seek a third term next year. That’s according to a recent survey commissioned by the Independent News.
The poll of 506 most likely voters conducted by Political Matrix shows Hayward on top with just under 28 percent. Two Escambia County Commissioners,Grover Robinson are Lumon May, are second and third at 20 and 18 percent, respectively.
“We’re getting close to the election for mayor; it’s about a year and half out; so we wanted to see who might do well against Mayor Ashton Hayward,” said Duwayne Escobedo, who wrote the story about the poll that appeared in the IN Weekly.
Hayward was re-elected in 2014 with 65 percent of the vote, but Escobedo says the low polling number could indicate some vulnerability.
“Gaffe, after gaffe after gaffe, going back to his first term when he spent over a million dollars in taxpayer money to re-brand the city,” Escobedo said. “He doesn’t hold press conferences; he did at first but he doesn’t now. If you want to get in contact with the Mayor, good luck.”
At this early juncture neither Hayward, nor anyone else, has said whether or not they plan to run. Hayward would be seeking his third and final term under the city’s 2009 charter, and he’s speaking like that third campaign is upcoming.
“Obviously I’m going to keep my options open and strong consider it,” said the Mayor. “We love what we’re doing, I think the citizenry knows that every morning I get up, I’m extremely focused on the city of Pensacola. I take public service very, very serious (sic).”
As the first “Strong Mayor” elected under the new charter in 2010, Hayward has broken new political ground in Pensacola. He points to that as one reason for some of the criticism that has come with the turf.
“The incumbent was a very dear friend of my family’s and a great man, Mike Wiggins, so I was very blessed and fortunate to win. And I knew I had to deliver results. It’s not easy, public service, but I feel like we’ve had some serious wins, and we’ve also had some challenges. And I don’t think you serve the public without challenges.”
At this early juncture none of the potential candidates, including Mayor Hayward, have said whether or not they’ll run Hayward would be seeking his third and final term under the city’s 2009 charter. But rumors are swirling around Grover Robinson after he announced he would not seek a fourth term on the County Commission.
Now set to leave the Commission in November, 2018, Robinson didn’t rule out another political campaign. He said he’s rejected calls to run for Congress or the Florida Senate, saying he wants to stay local. But for now he’s non-committal.
“I’d say no determination one way or the other,” said Robinson. “From my standpoint I’m still a county commissioner and that’s what I’ll continue to do, to serve the people of the county.”
Others mentioned in the poll include pro golfer Bubba Watson; former state representative Dee Dee Davis, and City Councilman Brian Spencer. Nine percent of respondents were undecided.
Observing all of this is Brian Williams, a political scientist at the University of West Florida. He says the cost of running for office is a major reason campaigns are begun earlier and earlier.
“If we look at the 2014 mayoral race, [Ashton] Hayward raised approximately $140,000, in contrast to about $30,000 for [challenger] Donna Clark,” said Williams. “There is a strong incentive to begin campaigning early on to generate funds.”
And then there’s former state Senator Don Gaetz of Niceville, who’s not listed in the survey but seems to be mentioned in almost every instance of political speculation. For those who insist on linking Gaetz to the mayoral race, his response leaves little, if any, gray area.
“I have no interest, and no intention, of running for mayor of Pensacola,” said Gaetz, who is eligible because he owns a business in the city. Perhaps I can put it in these terms: ‘No, no, hell no.’”
Remember: this is only March, 2017. And for the next 20 months, we can expect a lot of jockeying for position, ins and outs and twists and turns, and maybe a surprise or two, on the trek to November 6, 2018.