Lawrence powell

*photo from the Pensacola News Journal

It’s difficult for me to cross the bridge to enter Pensacola, and not think of a city i once lived in called San Diego. I often think of the San Diego my father move to back in the 70’s before San Diego got new  leaders, many of whom were from the outside,  who saw the potential… and slowly with a new set of eyes on the city, transformed San Diego into one of the most beautiful  and prosperous cities in America, with a booming economy which understood the value added by the military and what it brings to the city with regard to investments in technology and research to have attracted tech giants like Solar Turbines, Nokia,  Cubic, Qualcomm, Kyocera and many others. It too has a port, have beaches and universities. Accept for the picturesque mountains of Northern San Diego County, Pensacola has much of the same … but lacks leadership with a vision to see beyond what it has always been. Pensacola could be so much more.

Like many cities, it suffers from an echo chamber of ideas, with communities that still fight the battles of the 60s to remain oddly segregated still.  Perhaps the old fights are comfortable and too familiar to let go. Then, the citizens of Pensacola thought the answer would be to change its charter to now have a strong Mayor system of city government. Yes, it could be the answer. But the selection process made the idea a dud. The city selected a well-meaning young man whose only claim of fame was not anything having to do with government or policy, but of him being a male model. Yes, the kind of guy who looks pretty good in a television commercial or mail piece, but no articulation or vision about governing. Not that models are not deep thinkers deserving of roles in government, but the fact is, this one had a resume completely void of any hint of interest in government or policy.  That Mayor has decided to not seek re-election and the City once again has a great opportunity to claim its rightful future.

Any lessons learned? Well, sort of. Citizens were taught what they DO NOT want in a future Mayor.  The voters would be better off considering their first “Strong Mayor” nothing more than a trial balloon, because what it did was (as stated above) let them know what it is they truly do not want in a Strong Mayor.  So, truth be told, the role of Strong Mayor in the City of Pensacola has not been defined yet. The five candidates running for Mayor are sort of at a lost. Because there was never a vision or agenda from their predecessor, they are left with having no place to start from. So up until the debate hosted by the Pensacola News Journal, on the campaign trail they were left with tracing only the outlines, to not color in the picture, by promising the voters that they  will not be the other guy… that they will do something as novel as… wait, wait for it……. they will  talk to the City Council,  and attend City Council  meetings. No agenda, no vision… just that they will actually talk to the City Council and have a collaborative working relationship with them. Then they are left with what is the closest thing to a vision…the main one being a discussion of what to do with a Port that is bleeding money. The city has infrastructure issues, gentrification that is… pricing out historic residents, a limited and undertrained workforce, an employment base which fails to retain the best and brightest, leaders who are more interested in their own pocket books than that of other citizens, and a skeptical voting population who believes they are trapped by the greed and self-dealing… with them never having a voice.  Not much talk about technology, which is a ripe industry for Pensacola… an industry that connects them to the city’s military presence, and that fact is largely because its leaders interest are mainly real-estate development… their professions.  The PNJ debate has changed the trajectory of the race, because the voters  got to see the candidates address some pretty tough questions. Some of those issues otherwise never mentioned, as referenced above , were touched on

So alas, we see the picture more fully, Pensacola has a great opportunity before it. It can now pick the right Mayor. But first, since the role has never been defined, it may be of benefit to clear some things up. First, the skillset and temperament of a Mayor does not make any current elected official a logical or natural choice. Why? It’s a different skill set. Its leadership, integrity and a fidelity to citizens above oneself. Some cities, like Tallahassee,  has a weak Mayor system. It’s a system whereby the Mayor has a vote on the commission, but has other responsibilities the other commissioners do not have.. mostly as the   ambassador for the city. Other than that, the Mayor is another member of the commission or council. In Pensacola, the Mayor has no voting authority with the council and has an executive office that is completely separate from the council.. with the ability to make some decisions unilaterally without much input. The current cast of characters for the 5 person race in Pensacola is a sitting county commissioner who have served 12 years on the commission, a sitting City Councilman who is completing his second term to serve 8 years, a Christian radio personality, two very thoughtful and engaging millennial’s, and a 20 year retired military vet ( in a military town) who is   retired military veteran Lawrence Powell who returned home to Pensacola in 2006 and immediately got involved In his community to include managing a few local campaigns and creating an at risk program for youth. He is a leader on the ground in the community where it counts, and is involved In  his community in a multitude of ways… mainly serving the least of them .

Powell Ad 1


The Mayor’s race is nonpartisan. But since we are grownups, let’s admit that the idea of non partisanism is a bunch of hooey. The two elected officials are Republican (Robinson and Spencer) , so is the Christian radio host( Mr. Mayo). The only registered Democrat is Lawrence Powell, while Johnathan Green and Drew Buchanan are NPA. Mr. Powell is also an Africa American minister. So you guessed it, the three Republicans are fighting for the same base while a few are trying to pilfer some African America votes by collecting on IOU’s from some. The latter exercise and those acquiescing to such overtures is reminiscent of the phenomena of the many former slaves who did not know slavery was over after the emancipation proclamation. Pensacola actually has a chance to elect an African American military veteran in a military town. Having lived other places before returning to Pensacola, Mr.  Powell has a vision of what Pensacola can be outside of the echo chamber, if only the voters would listen. Perhaps, just maybe the city will pick a leader this time… and not just a politician. Then it can know what it’s so called Strong Mayor is supposed to be. And in doing so, remove the entrenched remnants of the old south to bring Pensacola screaming into the 21st Century. Pensacola does not need a politician, it needs a leader. It does not need anyone whose business portfolio, and personal wealth is enhanced by the decisions that can come out of the Mayor’s office…. which is a recipe for graft.

Full disclosure, Lawrence Powell is my friend. That is how i’ve gotten a measure of the man, and know he’s earned and is deserving of the many medals that has adorned his chest in service to our great country. These opportunities do not come often for a city trying to find its way. Here’s your chance Pensacola.

Michael Dobson is a longtime Tallahassee lobbyist, founder of Dobson, Craig and Associates, publisher of Talking Florida Politics and founder of the Florida Renewable Energy Producers Association. Reach him at Michael@dobsonandcraig.com.



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