Pensacola Magazine

Ashton Hayward: The Exit Interview

By Kelly Oden

In 2010, a fresh face with a hip perspective and an even hipper wardrobe hit the political landscape of Pensacola with a bang. After advocating for a strong mayor form of government, Ashton Hayward decided to throw his hat into the ring and run for the office himself. A newcomer to politics, many citizens were won over by Hayward’s charming personality and genuine interest in making Pensacola a better place. Through the years, he faced triumphs and criticisms—big wins and missteps as he might say. All things considered, however, it’s evident that Hayward is leaving the city a better place than he found it. His enthusiasm for our town combined with his passion for urban planning and design undoubtedly played a pivotal role in the renaissance currently booming in downtown Pensacola. Additionally, his charisma and willingness to sell Pensacola has helped to bring unique industries and plenty of good jobs to a city that desperately needed them.

In late November, one week before he handed the keys to the city over to new mayor Grover Robinson, I sat down with Ashton Hayward for one final interview with Pensacola’s first strong mayor. Over his eight years in public service, I’ve interviewed Hayward many times and he was always prepared, personable and thorough in his responses. This time was no different, but as we ran through his many accomplishments there was also an acknowledgment of the bittersweet nature that comes with the end of his time as mayor. Although he chose not to seek reelection, it’s clear that this journey meant much more to him than self-promotion or political ladder climbing. As Pensacola’s first strong mayor prepares to leave office, he leaves proud of his contributions to the economy, infrastructure and cultural growth of our town, but undoubtedly he is even prouder of the opportunities he had to impact the lives of his constituents.

PM: As the city’s first strong mayor there was no blueprint for how to govern or what exactly the position should look like. How did you navigate that?

AH: I knew what I wanted for the City of Pensacola in part because I had the good fortune and privilege to move away. When I moved away, it wasn’t about wanting to move out of my hometown. It was about wanting to get educated outside of traditional academia. I wanted to explore the world and see the diversity in the world. That was very important to me and it helped me be a better person. When I moved back, we started a small company and we were very successful. I don’t think anyone anticipated the Great Recession coming on in 2008 and that was a big hit for the global economy, for America and for every small town including Pensacola. So, timing is everything in life and I think the community was ready for someone to be the CEO—to take over the reins, to tell the story and to be accountable. I knew we had so much potential and people always talked about it. Pensacola is just such an easy place to live and the access to I-10 makes it so accessible. I moved home with this energy to really make an impact in my community—never thinking I was going to be the mayor. I was so fortunate growing up in Pensacola and meeting a lot of our business leaders. I loved Vince Whibbs. His daughter was my second-grade school teacher, Kathy Whibbs. Mike Wiggins is a great guy, too. Mike was very instrumental in helping me get on a lot of boards here in the community, whether it was the Architectural Review Board or the Zoning Board or the Planning Board. A lot of these people are people that I really looked up to and had a lot of respect for.

I also felt like our community was kind of stuck in its own way. We had all these assets and we weren’t exploiting them for the right reasons. When some of us in the community got together to talk about a strong mayor form of government, that really sparked my interest. I campaigned for the strong mayor form of government because I believed in it. I was fortunate to work with bosses that were accountable for results. I think in a town with 50,000 people, you have to have someone at the top that is going to make these decisions—good, bad or indifferent.

I also think when you don’t tell your story and try to grow your community, you die. From Okaloosa down to Walton County, they were beating us out on growth—whether it was tourism or development or population growth. And so were our friends to the west—in Mobile, Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. That really kind of drove me internally to say, ‘Hey, listen, we’re better than them.’ I mean in a fun way. I’m a very competitive person. I was doing business in both those places, but I felt like Pensacola was the hub. We were the driver, but we really weren’t telling that story and so I got behind the campaign.

We won the citizens of Pensacola who supported the strong mayor form of government. The folks that were in office before really didn’t support that. I did and it wasn’t personal. You know, there were plenty of people that were smarter than I were in that room and probably knew more about local government, but I felt like I could be that person to drive the community. Maybe it was bigger than I anticipated, but the citizens got behind us and they took a risk. I think that we’ve delivered more than I could have ever anticipated. We created jobs, we worked on beautification, improved stormwater and drainage, lowered taxes, increased the general fund, took on pension reform—we did all those things. But, I think it was also about culture and behavior. When I look back at what we’ve done I’m really proud of changing the culture and behavior in Pensacola. They knew that we could be winners and we could succeed and we could we could feel good about our community. I’m out in the county all the time and people believe in our community. They come up to me and chat and share their opinions and their beliefs. They say thank you a lot and they believe in us now, and that that was an important shift in culture.

PM: What did you learn in your time in office about leadership, team building and vision?

AH: There was a visionary that I worked for in Pensacola as a teenager—Charles Woodbury. He was a Marine aviator and he owned Transworld and American Fidelity life insurance companies as well as First Navy Bank, Bank of the South and Warrenton Banking. I worked as a bank teller. I looked up to this guy. He just really believed the big picture and it was inspiring to see. I also worked for my dad and he would always say, ‘Ashton you need to get out there in the lumber yard and meet the folks that are doing the hard work. You need to get out there and learn from people that didn’t have the same opportunities that you’ve had.’ So, I always knew for me to be successful in city hall, I had to get buy-in from the people that are doing the smallest to the largest jobs—from our sanitation and public works crews to our gas company crew, digging ditches and laying pipe. I had to really get their buy-in to let them know that I cared. They had to believe in me. I think human capital is the most important thing in any business because people have to believe in what you’re doing. People have different skill sets that you need to apply to different roles. I had to make sure the team was behind me running the city because I needed to make sure the gaskets get turned on, the lights get turned on, your garbage gets picked up, your roads get paved—those things are important because the taxpayers are busy with their own lives, but they want to know that those essential services like the police department and the fire department are going to show up.

We all have to work together and collaborate and communicate. Leaders need to put people first. That will help them be better leaders and that has helped me because it wasn’t about Ashton Hayward. It was about the community.

PM: So how much of the job was administrative and how was it about being an advocate for the city?

AH: Really, the mayor’s job is not to run the day-to-day operations of the city. The mayor’s job is to go out and set the policy, set the vision and execute it. I think we can look back on Ashton Hayward and what we’ve done in eight years—I know that we’ve executed in a very positive way for the citizens and the taxpayers of Pensacola. A big part of that was advocating for the city. I think if you’re a pastor of a church, you’re selling your church. If you’re the university president, you’re selling your university. If you’re the chairman of the hospital, you’re selling your hospital. That’s a big part of what you have to do.

I also think the administrative side is very important. My CFO Dick Barker has done an incredible job. I had an incredible transition team that worked for me as well. We assessed the organization and looked at the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and we made a lot of big decisions.

PM: That brings us to your proudest moment in office. What is it?

AH: We’ve been fortunate to create an aerospace industry in Pensacola. One of the first places I ever visited in an official capacity was the Pentagon to meet Ray Mabus who was the Secretary of the Navy at the time. I went over there with Sam Jones, who was the mayor of Mobile. We wanted to collaborate and work together to create the I-10 Aerospace Corridor. Airbus had just come into Mobile and that was inspiring. We wanted to recreate that in Pensacola—the Cradle of Naval Aviation. We’re a proud military town. We wear it on our sleeve. I did a lot of reading and saw what the trends were in terms of people coming out of the military and where job training was going in America. I knew that the traditional trend of going to get a four-year degree was starting to change and I knew that more people were going to trade schools. So there was a great company in Mobile, which was ST Engineering and I knew they were looking for a new home. We got together and I said, ‘Hey, we can really achieve something great if we create that industry in Pensacola because we have the resources to do it.’ We have the airport, which is a huge economic asset. I actually got UPS to come over Pensacola. That was one of my first wins was to get their sorting facilities. Now, we have two Airbus 300 flying in and out every day. I knew the industry was small and I knew that everyone kind of talks to each other. When we were able to really get STE engaged, we really started moving in and we put the right team together here locally to really push that. Scott Luth and my consultant Dave Penzone and myself—we really made it intimate. We got laser focused on what they wanted to do and what we wanted to do. I looked out 10, 20, 30 years from now and I how we could help young people build their skill set and be able to have a quality job.

I think the biggest thing about STE is potentially the job creation. Politicians don’t create jobs. We create the environment and the support mechanisms and advocate for them to bring their company to Pensacola. Initially, STE produced 400 jobs and we’re in talks right now that could add another 1,300 jobs. So, at the end of the day, we’ll have two thousand jobs in Pensacola at our airport and we’ll build a whole maintenance and repair operator campus. We’ll have maintenance and repair operators out there working on all the major airlines that we fly as consumers. Another great thing is that this company also invests in other businesses and we have the opportunity to bring them to Pensacola as well. They’re in the trucking business, robotics and artificial intelligence and marine enterprises. So, there are big opportunities here. I always like to peel the onion back to see if there are other opportunities—not just one-offs because we have to build this relationship to last long after I’m gone.

I’m also proud that my administration had an incredibly diverse staff. I appointed the first female fire chief, the first female port director, the first African American female city attorney and the first African American police chief. Inclusion is really important to me and I’m proud to have made the 7th floor more diverse than ever before.

One decision I’m also proud of is that very early on in the debate, I decided to remove all Confederate flags from city property. I may have been one of the first mayors in the state to do so. While the county floundered, I acted—and I did it because it was the right thing to do.

PM: You’ve also had some criticism—early on for not attending City Council meetings and later for the recycling debacle and Bayview Park construction costs, among others. What do you see as your biggest misstep? Is there anything that you would like to do-over?

AH: To be honest, one of the smartest decisions I feel like I made was not going to City Council meetings. Government was my favorite subject growing up and one thing I understood is that I ran for the executive branch. I did not run for a legislative role. I don’t vote in city council meetings. The President of the United States doesn’t vote in legislative meetings. I wasn’t going to go to these meetings and tie them up or start trying to run the meetings. I respect the legislative branch because I understand that I have no vote. I went to the meetings when I needed to advocate for policy that needed to be passed and that was very important.

Now, I never received any public criticism. There are a couple of folks in the media who thought it was a good story to write about, but the public is smart and they didn’t ever bite. They’ll never look back in history and say the mayor didn’t go to meetings. The mayor went to the critical meetings. And here’s the punchline—the majority of what we’ve done needed city council approval. You know what? They voted for me almost every time. I can’t sit here today and even tell you what they didn’t vote with me on because we’ve had so many wins and the relationship has been very good.

As far as things I might do differently, I think you can always improve. I’m probably the harshest critic of myself, excluding the media and being in the public eye. I would have probably relaxed a little bit and not been as intense. You know, I think it’s a marathon—it’s not a sprint. I had a lot of success early on and I was very fortunate.   I was so determined to put Pensacola out there in a good light that sometimes I could have made better decisions. There’s a few that I wish I would have made better. You know, it’s a small town—as much as we’ve grown. It’s one of those things where you should probably just get the two principal players in the room and kick everybody out and kind of just hash it out yourselves instead of having these intermediaries. But, that’s life and you learn from your failures. I think success is truly how we handle our failures.

PM: In your statement announcing that you wouldn’t run for reelection, you mentioned your 20 Solutions and you said that most of them have been completed or are in progress. What is still in progress and which of those will not be achieved by the time you leave office?

AH: I’ve thought a lot about that. We ran on a platform of creating jobs, restoring trust, taking action and improving neighborhoods. We did a lot. We improved our natural gas company. That was big. I mean, we built three natural gas fueling stations and brought a lot of attention to Pensacola—more than was really reported here locally, but it was reported all around the United States. Other municipalities were taking notice and asking, ‘Who’s this young mayor building three natural gas fueling stations and converting vehicles to natural gas?”

We just recently announced the Garden Street Cottages on the Blunt School property—that’s a public/private partnership. I was hoping that we would get that finished quicker than then we did. I would like to see more affordable housing in our community. I think that’s a trend across America and I think if we can get creative as a community, we can do more market-rate housing—which is a better term. A lot of folks that have a passion to teach school or be nurses. These are real heroes and they don’t get paid a lot. We need to make sure there’s really cool market-rate housing for them that can be creative. I think there are other cities in America that are doing that. We have so many people that want to live in our city now. The walkability, the density—all those things I talked about when I was running. I knew that people liked to have that human and social interaction. That’s why big cities are dense—people like to be around a lot of other people. I think now we have that, so we have to do creative things with housing. I wish I would have been able to do more, but the private sector was able to fill some of that in. Southtowne is an incredible development and kudos to Quint and Rishy Studer for taking on the project. We’ve been fortunate to have a really good relationship with Quint Studer. You know that didn’t get reported on a lot. Southtowne is big and these single-family cottages on the Blunt School property are going to be big as well.

All those things are going to be important, but I think we need to do more and we can’t forget about the part of the community that doesn’t have the same opportunities. That’s why a big part of what we did in the first term was to focus on the west side of our community. We did a lot of things to bring the citizens in the west side into the conversation. Community centers are important, but people really want to have a seat at the table and be part of the conversation.

PM: You focused a lot on infrastructure and you accomplished a lot in that arena. What’s left to be done in terms of roads and drainage?

AH: I knew when we got in office, we had to up our game on stormwater. We actually made quite a few important improvements. Then it was just a perfect storm with the 2014 flood. None of us in Pensacola thought that we were going to have that much rain in 24 hours. The neighborhood that I grew up in was wiped out. That morning, I was down there with Governor Scott and we could have swam down Piedmont. We knew we had to get intelligent because a lot of times we would build stormwater ponds for 25-year floods instead of 100-year floods. We upped our game and we started doing it far more intelligently. We received over $200 million in grant funding alone from 2011 to 2017—that’s phenomenal. We need to do more of it, to answer your question. You can really never stop doing stormwater development or doing it more intelligently. I wanted to focus on quality. So when I’m long gone, they might say, “Well, Ashton did this or didn’t do that, but what we did do is quality’—whether that was stormwater or making sure the amphitheater was done correctly or narrowing Main Street to create more of an urban environment.

PM: Since you came into office, this town has transformed—particularly the downtown area. What part do you think you played in that transformation?

AH: Well, it definitely hasn’t been one person’s show, but I feel like I brought the leadership to the office. The citizens overwhelmingly spoke—they wanted a CEO Mayor and they wanted to move the city forward. I think I did that. Vision without action is a daydream and action without vision is a nightmare. I felt like I had the vision. I was the only candidate in 2010 that talked about creating an urban environment—creating a downtown where people wanted to be, where they want to socialize. I talked about the need to beautify our community and to focus on growth and create that density downtown. I was one of these folks that just loved reading about downtowns—how they were revitalizing themselves, what was important, what good development looked like. I was always chatting about that when I was on the campaign trail and I knew that’s where our growth had to be. The east side of Pensacola was already built out, so I knew it had to be downtown. I knew it had to be west of City Hall and I knew we had to tie all these areas together. I wanted us to be a community that walked, a community that got healthier and smarter.

I feel like I’ve had a big part of telling that story. I’ve built a great relationship with our governor. That’s very important. No matter if the governor is Republican or Democrat; I knew that we had to have his ear in Pensacola. You have to develop relationships that can help our community and the taxpayers. I felt like I always work for the taxpayers every day. They were paying the freight and I had better deliver. I’m always one of these that are scared to fail, so I like to work extra hard.

PM: More recently you advocated for the fish hatchery project on the Bruce Beach property. But when that was taken off the table, you quickly refocused and pushed hard for public beach access at Bruce Beach. Why was that important to you?

AH: Well, you’ve got to know when to fold them. We’ve been here eight years, but right out of the gate, I got $30 million out of a $100 million pot of money. I was able to get that for Project Green Shores and for the fish hatchery, which was more research. My vision was to bring research to the waterfront from an ecology standpoint and from a water quality standpoint. I visited Rick Baker, who was the first strong mayor in St. Petersburg. They have research on the water; they have the Coast Guard and the University of North Florida on the water. So they were combining these assets that were beneficial to the community. For me, it wasn’t really about a hatchery—it was about the environment and research on the water. It was about teaching young people and getting them engaged. Having Florida Fish and Wildlife does a lot for our community from the environmental and educational standpoints. I knew that and we were awarded $20 million for the project, but listen, things change and you’ve got to readjust. I got after it immediately and I said, ‘Let’s get it open to the public so that the public can enjoy this asset.’ Our team at City Hall knew how I visualize things and they got after it. They didn’t want me to visit Bruce Beach until the last week before we opened it. I just said keep it natural and keep it rugged. I didn’t want this to look like an institutional park. I wanted it to be more rugged—a place to throw the kayak in. So for me, did I want $20 million for Pensacola? Sure, because we got it, but we’ve also got a great relationship with the Fish and Wildlife Department and maybe we can work with them in the future. But this is still a big win. The turnout was tremendous on opening day. I love seeing all the people down there. Now you have access to the waterfront again. We turned it into a positive and we’re just getting started with Bruce Beach.

PM: You ran on fiscal responsibility, but you’ve also faced some criticism for creating the largest budget yet. In what ways were you fiscally responsible and to what extent are budget increases beneficial to the citizens?

AH: When we got into office, we reduced the millage rate by .25 mills, which was a savings of $6 million to the taxpayers. We increased the general fund by $5.8 million, which I think is huge. That’s a story that really doesn’t get talked about. To your question on the budget, we cut the budget many times and then the budget has increased, which is basically to fund the city. We have three businesses that run on their own—the gas company, the airport and the sanitation company. Those three enterprises are self-sustaining and that’s a big deal for us. Another thing we wanted to do is put money back into the community. It’s the taxpayer’s money and values have increased since I’ve been in office, so I’ve had more money to do things. When you have more money to do things, the budget does increase a little bit because we want to put money back into the community. I mean if you look at the infrastructure projects— that we’ve done from paving roads to stormwater—its added value. We’ve put more money into the airport. That’s one of the big stories—ST Engineering and UPS are important stories, but the direct flights that we’ve got now are huge as well. We want to put more money into our assets because a government is good at building assets, but we have to maintain those assets. Thankfully we’ve been on a booming economy and the timing has been good. But at the same time we’ve had a vision that’s paid off—more people have moved into the city limits and property values have gone up. We also consolidated all our departments from 17 down to nine and we went from overall city employee positions of 875 to 774. That’s a hundred positions. That’s shrinking government, which is tremendous because we ran on that.

PM: You mentioned renegotiating multiple city employee pension plans. Why was that such a priority and how difficult was it coming to terms with those unions and organizations?

AH: I think the messaging of the story is important. I looked at the City of Pensacola not just as this little town in Florida. I looked at us as a city in America and I looked at our city as a city that needed to compete and be a place where people wanted to move—where people wanted to live, work and play. I knew that many people were moving out of high tax states and Florida was very advantageous in that way. Cities across America were going bankrupt after the 2008-09 recession and they were upside down when it came to their pensions because the government had to do more with less. I understood that and we had a $125 million dollar unfunded liability. Since I’ve been in office, we’ve decreased that close to $15 million. That’s a big win. We renegotiated all of our fire and police pensions. We got people into the FRS. We closed our pensions for many of them. We got rid of the Civil Service Act since I’ve been in office. Those are big wins when it comes to the efficiency of government. It’s not sexy to talk about, but these are big things that we ran on. We wanted to be very focused on the finances of the city and our CFO Dick Barker has done a great job. Our city was run very well, but we needed to do better in certain areas. That’s why we eliminated a lot of positions. We needed to get our reserves up, which we did. We needed to cut that unfunded liability, which we did. We needed to renegotiate with our fire, our police and our general employees, which we did. All these things are needed to run a government of our size. Pensacola is a very unique town. We’re kind of an anomaly in the United States and the state of Florida. We’re a town of roughly 55,000 people and we have a natural gas company, a port, an airport and a sanitation company—and we run the whole thing. It’s a very unique operation. A lot of towns our size sub out a lot of that work.

But in terms of the negotiations, they were difficult. It was very contentious. It was tough, but I think at the end of the day people will go to battle with you if they really believe you have their best interests at heart. I think my firemen and my police officers knew that I understood how important public safety was and that I cared about their families and their children and that I wanted them to have a good career in the City of Pensacola. I needed them to work with me, too. We always had a great relationship, but it’s been tough. They’ve been mad at me, but I had the interest of 55,000 people to consider as well.

I think once they learned that the mayor really cared about Pensacola and the whole community, their culture changed within their organizations and their mindset changed. I think they knew that I cared about their families and their kids and I wanted them to be successful, but there has to be a give and take, just like in a family.

PM: What lessons do you hope the next mayor, Grover Robinson, will draw from your years in office and do you have any advice for him?

AH: Well for one, he and I grew up together in Cordova Park and we’d pass each other on the way to school on our bikes. We’ve known each other a long time and I supported Grover when I moved home and he ran for County Commissioner. I want Grover to be successful and I want our town to continue to be successful and he knows that. I just want him to know that he’s the chief executive officer now. He’s not a legislative body member anymore. He’s the CEO and he’s the executive branch. You’re running a $200 million organization. You’ve got roughly 55,000 constituents and 774 employees. Their kids are depending on you. Their families are depending on you. You have to have the will to make those difficult decisions and they’re not easy and you’ll have some lonely times. I told Grover that I’d support him in any way I can if he wants me to because I want him to be successful as our next mayor. He’s my mayor now, so that’s important for me.

PM: What do you think is going to be his greatest challenge in terms of what challenges are facing the region?

AH: We’re going to have to continue to sell ourselves to bring businesses here. The bar has been raised and expectations have been raised. Our constituents have higher expectations because they’ve seen the growth and they’ve seen the private investment. He’s going to have to continue to go after businesses and to focus on economic development because the revenues from these businesses help to get revenues into the community to do more things for the taxpayers. Parks, community centers, roads sidewalks, bike lanes—those things are very important to the constituents. So he’s going to have to be the CEO. In terms of challenges, our friends and neighbors to the east and west of us have seen how we’ve upped our game in a big way. Now they’re competing even harder for the same resources we are. At the same time, I try to go to the eight counties to the east of us to talk about Pensacola and about the community and working together and collaborating together. We have to work as a region as well because there’s close to 1.7 million people west of Tallahassee. So, I always like to tell that story—that Pensacola is kind of a leader within that region and we need to own that. We can’t stop beating our drum.

PM: In your role as mayor, you got to meet a lot of interesting people that you didn’t know prior to serving. Who was the most exciting person you were able to meet because of your job?

AH: I’ve met President Clinton, President Bush and President Trump. I met Governor Bush. It’s interesting how people affect you. Everything that you’ve read about Clinton is true. He captivates you. He listens. He’s an interesting character. George W. Bush was amazingly engaging. I immediately understood why he was a successful politician because it was all about you—‘Why did you run for office,’ etc.… He never talked about himself. That was really interesting to me and I learned a lot from that conversation. Jeb Bush was interesting, too. I mean, he was extremely bright, but he and his brother were polar opposites in terms of the immediate moment of meeting somebody. It was just a different kind of conversation, but then after 10 minutes, you’re like man, this guy’s brilliant.

I was also very fortunate to meet Governor Askew in his later years and I spent some real quality time with him. I asked him what I needed to do to be successful. He kept it real simple. He said, ‘The people are who you need to listen to. Think big and try to always remember to put your constituents first.’ It was that selfless kind of conversation and that always stuck with me.

Rick Scott and I have become good friends. I really enjoyed working with him. I’ve talked to him once a week or so since I’ve been in office and so that was big for me.

What’s interesting though is that all of them wanted to offer something to help me be successful.

PM: What surprised you most about this job?

AH: I guess what surprised me is how fast it went. I think that’s probably life and people say that a lot, but it went by in the blink of an eye. Eight years flew by and I feel like there are still things to do. So, it went by too quickly. And, politics can be visceral. You never know who is angling for power and that was interesting to me. There were times I got sucker-punched just like all of us do–feeling the wind get knocked out of you. I was like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t know it could be like that.’ And so, you have to get tough. Yeah. I had to get used to that.

PM: What will you miss the most?

AH: Probably just the interaction of the employees—getting the team motivated and helping them. I think my employees have been amazing. We all believed in something bigger than us. And I’ll miss the constituents. I’m going to live here so I’ll be one of them. They say the light gets turned out sometimes, but you know, I’m not giving up a run for public office in the future.

PM: What will you be happy to leave behind?

AH: The schedule. I’ll get back to my family on a regular basis. I think every politician tells you that. I mean, Aiden’s growing up. He started this game at six years old. He’s in high school now. He has been amazing, you know, a rock. I’ll be to get back to them more and do more things with my family and my immediate family—my sisters and my parents. You put your friends and your family on hold even though it’s a small town. I mean a lot of these folks are my closest friends and I haven’t been able to visit with or interact with them or my own family as much as I’d like. I think all of us spend more time with our employees and our colleagues than we do with our own families. I like to work all the time, but I’ll be able to do it differently.

PM: You’ve been very successful in your role as mayor and you’ve said there are still things to do. So, why did you decide not to run again?

AH: It’s interesting. I made that decision in my mind probably in August or September of last year. This is the longest job I’ve had out of college and I think it’s important sometimes to leave it all out on the field. I’ve kind of always been one of those people who is always looking for the next challenge. The best thing I can do as an individual is to grow as a person and to learn something different—to use the gifts that I feel like I’ve been given by God and maybe impact someone else or something else. I kind of look at it like that. Where can I be a benefit others? I was so fortunate to win and to get this job and it’s just been incredible.

PM: What do you want your legacy as Pensacola’s first strong mayor to be?

AH: It’s such a big question when you talk about someone’s legacy. For me, I want my legacy to be that people know the time that I served Pensacola—from the time I won in 2010 until 2018—every single day my goal was to improve Pensacola. I focused on how we could be better as a community, how we could grow on different levels. I left it all out on the field and I want Pensacola citizens to know that I really cared about them and I really cared about the success of our city and where we were going as a community. I strongly feel that our best days are still ahead for Pensacola. But, I was willing to take a risk for them and I was focused on how Pensacola could be better. I mean, I obsessed a lot of times on how things could look and how could they feel and what was going to be the better experience for Pensacola’s citizens. So, I guess I’d like my legacy to be that I gave it all I could give and we’re a better place than we were before I was the mayor.

PM: You alluded to this a little bit earlier. What’s next for you?

AH: Well, I’m fortunate to have some opportunities. I’m not ready to announce that right now, but I will in the near future. It’s positive. We’re going to stay in Pensacola. Pensacola has been so great to me and my family. I had some opportunities to go other places, but I’m going to stay put. Aidan loves high school and An loves Pensacola. She’s the one that got me to move back to my hometown and I just want to keep giving back to the community in any way I can.

PM: But, you’re not ruling out future runs for public office?

AH: One thing that I’ve learned is that we need good leaders on the local, state and federal levels more than ever before in the history of America. I’m looking for my next chapter in the private sector, but I’m not ruling out running for office. That’s for sure.