GRUDGE POLITICS Andrew Jackson brought Pensacola and the Florida territory into the United States. For about nine months in 1821, the general served as the military governor of Florida. His residence was where Blazzues stands today.
I’m convinced that over that brief time, Jackson left an indelible mark on Pensacola politics that has become attached to the very DNA of the city. No one knew better how to hold a grudge than “Old Hickory,” and Pensacola politics has long been based on attacking people, not debating issues.
Jackson’s chief political rival was John Quincy Adams. In the presidential election of 1824, the general won a plurality of electoral votes but failed to get a majority. When the election was sent to the House of Representatives, Speaker Henry Clay despised Jackson and supported Adams, leading to Adams being elected President. Adams rewarded Clay by naming him his Secretary of State, which Jackson later called a “corrupt bargain.”
The rematch in 1828 was vicious. The mud was slung in every direction, and no one went unscathed. Adams’ supporters attacked Jackson’s wife, who wasn’t legally divorced from her first husband when she married Jackson, and his military career, which included the execution of deserters and massacres of Indian villages.
Jackson’s supporters fired back with an accusation that Adams had pimped out his American maid to the Czar when Adams was the Minister to Russia. Adams was accused of bringing gambling into the White House, which turned out to be a billiards table and chess set.
The election was won by Jackson, 178 electoral votes to Adams’ 83, but the strain of the campaign was too much for Rachel Jackson, who died before he was sworn into office. Was the victory worth the loss?
Andrew Jackson is the patron saint for Pensacola politics. Facts don’t matter when it comes to Pensacola issues. It’s the whisper campaign, the half-truths and attacks on some misstep that happened long ago that is used to win. The unlucky ones are those who didn’t have a family lawyer expunge their adolescent misdeeds or a friendly deputy or judge who looked the other way.
And, of course, the trick is to do it anonymously and do it before the other side comes after your candidate. It’s grade school tactics. You punch first and count on the teacher seeing your target strike back. The target gets punished, while the instigator laughs.
Fortunately, the power of the personal attack has waned over the past six years. Incumbent Ron McNesby’s dirty tricks brigade tried to smear upstart David Morgan in the 2008 Escambia County sheriff’s race, just as the McNesby crew had done in 2004 against John Powell. Morgan prevailed.
Voters are smarter. They actually care about issues and want answers. In the world of attack dog politics, issues never get discussed and nothing ever changes.
Since the Community Maritime Park referendum vote in September 2006, Pensacola voters have shown that they aren’t happy with the status quo. The mud slinging politics of the past two centuries is no longer acceptable.
It’s the letting go of the politics of our past that’s the greatest sign that Pensacola is ready to be a leader along the Gulf Coast. There are too many casualties with too few results when we follow Jackson’s example.