Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday December 18th 2018

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Outtakes—BOC Time Capsule

Our first Best of the Coast was published Aug. 31, 2000. We were struggling to find our way in the newspaper business, and our advertising revenue needed a shot in the arm.  People warned us that reader polls were tricky, and we would probably upset more business owners than the few that won the four dozen categories.

Being hardheaded, we stepped off the ledge and created what has become an annual tradition and our most popular issue. I pulled out the inaugural Best of the Coast and found that it is a perfect time capsule of Pensacola politics in 2000.

Fifteen years ago, the most popular politicians were Congressman Joe Scarborough, State Representatives Dee Dee Ritchie (Davis) and Jerry Maygarden, and former State Senator W.D. Childers, who was running for the Escambia County Commission.

Scarborough and his political machine had backed Republican candidates who were challenging for Superintendent of Schools and Escambia County Sheriff. Two months later, Jim Paul and Ron McNesby were swept into office along with Scarborough, who immediately had to work to win Florida’s electoral votes for George W. Bush away from Al Gore.

Joe is now a political pundit on NBC and hosts “Morning Joe” on MSNBC. Dee Dee and Jerry have retired from politics but are still active in the community. Childers was found guilty of two charges of bribery and unlawful compensation in 2003 and served nearly three years of a 42-month prison sentence.

The biggest scandal in 2000 involved the antics of the Escambia County School Board.  Vanette Webb, who had been elected to the school board in 1996, had been removed from office in 1999 following her conviction for withholding public records. Her conviction was overturned later in the year when Judge William White ruled the state had failed to identify any specific public record that had been withheld.

Webb, the darling of Luke McCoy’s “Pensacola Speaks,” was reinstated and filed to run for a second term.  A week after the Best of the Coast was published, she lost in the primary, receiving only 17 percent of the votes. Linda Finkelstein would beat George White in the run-off.

Webb later filed bankruptcy, claiming her legal fees forced it.  She tried to get the Escambia School District to pay for her legal expenses, totaling $200,000, but the courts ruled against her.

The political landscape has changed significantly since August 2000, but the events of that year set the tone for the following decade. It will be interesting to see how we look back on 2015.