Pensacola stumbled that last decade. We lost our iconic leaders: M. J. Menge, Jack Fetterman and Vince Whibbs, Sr. We took direct hits from hurricanes Ivan and Dennis and had a near-miss from Katrina. Our economy was rocked by the 9/11 tragedy, the collapse of the real estate boom and the Wall Street and credit crisis. County government was decimated when four commissioners were removed from office.
The voters revolted replacing all the county commissioners. The city got a new charter, a half dozen new council members and its first strong mayor, Ashton Hayward. Economic development was completely revamped and a leadership team was hired at the chamber that dropped the magnetic circles for a fish/jet logo and is now called the “Greater Pensacola Chamber.”
The centuries-old barriers between the white and black communities are slowly dissolving as the older black and white leaders who grew up in segregated schools and neighborhoods hand over the leadership reins. The average age of the African-American elected officials and heads of their organization is well into the late 60s. They lost touch with the younger generations—proposing youth curfews instead of after-school programs, wanting to build community centers without gyms and no youth programs.
The transition has been far from smooth. One only has to look at the Community Maritime Park for proof at how difficult it is to accomplish most anything here. Fortunately for every seven years it takes the City of Pensacola to accomplish something, other entities can do it in three—think ECUA and the relocation of its Main Street plant.
The transition has brought about a dramatic shift in power and influence. The old white guys still have their wealth, but they can’t control votes or the flow of information. Contributions are still critical to elections, but it’s the door-to-door ground game that has proven to be more vital, especially in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles.
In the old days, one only needed relationships with the daily newspaper’s executive editor and the general manager of WEAR TV. Today, this paper, Rick’s Blog, Facebook and Twitter can push ideas and issues as effectively, if not better, than those media dinosaurs. If we had their ad dollars, there’s no telling what havoc we could create.
The 2012 IN Power List reflects this transition. For the first time a female tops the list—University of West Florida President Judy Bense. Dr. Bense joins an impressive list of past number ones: Fred Levin (2007), Collier Merrill (2008), Lewis Bear Jr. (2009), Quint Studer (2010) and Mayor Ashton Hayward (2011).
The list continues to get younger and more diverse. The mythical glass ceiling is cracking. Five women are in the top 20 honorees. The African-American community is also well represented placing seven in the top 50.
There is no exact science to creating this list and ranking the honorees. We asked readers, friends and foes for their opinions. The degrees of separation are admittedly subjective, which is part of the fun.
So enjoy and let us know how well we did. If you’re upset, please send an email. My landlords don’t want to fix another broken office window.