FLICKER OF HOPE The most fragile of all virtues may be hope. It’s that flicker of light at the end of a long dark tunnel, or the whiff of fried bacon that drifts into your bedroom which just may signal today will be a good day. Hope is what a mother has for her children as she sends them off to school. It is what helps us cope with the misfortunes that cross our paths.
Pensacola came into this century filled with hope. For the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans controlled the White House, Congress and our state government. Escambia County had a Republican sheriff and superintendent of schools. The dean of the Florida Senate, W.D. Childers, had returned home and had taken control of the Escambia County Commission. Pensacola elected its first mayor, John Fogg, in over 70 years.
For a conservative area like Escambia County, life couldn’t be any better. Then dominoes began to fall. Congressman Joe Scarborough, who at one point appeared positioned to be one of the leaders of the Republican Party and future presidential candidate, resigned. Terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers and attacked the Pentagon and our tourism took a nosedive as a new fear gripped the nation.
Scandal wrecked the Escambia County Commission with four commissioners, including Childers, indicted and removed from office. The City of Pensacola was hamstrung by a series of petition drives led by one of its councilmen.
Four hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast, two of which, Ivan and Dennis, were direct hits on our area. The blinders finally fell off the white leadership and people saw the deep-seated poverty in this community as Rebuild Northwest Florida tried to repair over 7,000 homes damaged by the storms.
The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office became “Good Ol’ Boy” headquarters. Favors and gadgets were the hallmarks of Sheriff Ron McNesby’s administration, along with Taser abuses and jail deaths. Gangs proliferated under the noses of “The Tower” on Leonard Street.
The public schools did improve under Superintendent Jim Paul, but the pressure got to him and he slipped up on a trip to Tampa. His DUI arrest derailed his bid for a third term, handing the school system to an untested politician who has mistaken micromanagement for leadership.
And six years of Republican control of Washington, D.C., unfettered spending and relaxed regulations gave us the Enron implosion, recession and a $248 billion deficit. The real estate boom that carried this community for nearly two decades crashed, leaving the staunchest conservatives begging for government handouts.
Despite all these tribulations, hope remains. It has worn thin in some places, particularly with young adults, and it may be on life support in the African-American community, whose elected officials continue to stifle new leadership and meaningful efforts to improve their districts.
The Community Maritime Park and the redevelopment of the Main Street plant site fuel the hope of these groups and many others. Plus, we have new leaders at the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce (Jim Hizer) and in Escambia County government (Randy Oliver), and Pensacola will eventually have its first strong mayor.
Yes, hope still exists here, just as it has for the past 451 years. Maybe this will be the decade we reward it with tangible successes. I hope so.