TALLAHASSEE — Three out of the four candidates for City Commission Seat 1 see this race as a competition between the common man and a career politician. They paint a picture of the incumbent, Scott Maddox, as being out of touch, arrogant, and part of the crony culture they see controlling a city commission lacking in transparency and accountability.
Maddox says he likes public service and takes pride in getting things done.
Maddox was first elected to the city commission in 1993. He ran for Florida Attorney General in 2002 and lost in the primary. In 2003, he became Florida’s Democratic Party chairman. Maddox ran for governor in 2005 (he withdrew a year before the election) and, for Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services in 2010. He lost the Agriculture and Consumer Services race to Adam Putnam.
He was re-elected to the city commission in 2012 and is running for the state senate in 2020.
Gary Gayle, a risk-management employee at Leon County Schools, said one of the things that got him into the race was “the arrogance of some of the (career politicians) like Scott Maddox.”
“It’s a serial office seeking syndrome that they have,” Gayle said. “They’re career politicians. That’s all they know. They aren’t out there with the average person. They aren’t out in the neighborhoods.”
Gayle said, “I’m just a common person, the guy next door. I don’t have deep pockets. I’m not a career politician.”
He said he read an editorial by Gary Yordon which challenged good people to get involved in local politics. “That rang deep in me. I said to myself, ‘it’s time to give back.’”
“If I should be elected, I will be a one term commissioner for the public’s seat,” he said, “just a public servant for four years, not a career politician.”
Another candidate, Luther Lee, an administrator for the Florida Department of Revenue, put it like this, “When you have a commissioner saying he’s running for superintendent of schools and then the race get tights so he steps back to run for city commission because there’s nobody in there running … it doesn’t look ethical. It looks like you’re only in it for self-promotion, only concerned with your next career move. To make it even worse, you file to run for senate in 2020.”
He continued, “While (Maddox) is serving in office he’ll be actively campaigning. To say he’ll be 100 percent focused on the city commission is absurd. I think that’s doing the people of Tallahassee a disservice.”
Maddox responded, “I’ve heard Mr. Lee say that in the past. It’s funny he’s running for office but he’s against politicians.”
The third candidate, Dr. Bruce Strouble, a Florida A&M University academic advisor, said, “I am not a career politician. I am a concerned citizen and I see the same problems that (other citizens) see when they look at our community, and I see the same potential in our community that they saw when they decided to make Tallahassee their home. I want to work toward their same goals. I want Tallahassee to reach its fullest potential and I want to help to solve problems.”
He continued, “That’s why I’m running for office, not for career purposes. It’s not about me, it’s about our community.”
Maddox responded to the career politician characterization by saying, “I’m in the same office as when I was 24. I enjoy public service. I like to try to make a difference in my community and that’s why I run for office. I just look at where I can make a difference for Tallahassee. If I think I can have an impact and make a difference, I’ll run for that office. The proof is in the work I do, which can be seen in everything from Blairstone Road, to Cascades Park, to my stance against property taxes, to my efforts to have more flights and lower fares coming out of our airport.”
Calling himself a fiscal conservative, Maddox said, “I fought against the property tax increase and continue to fight against spending on the city commission and CRA bodies.”
On the topic of transparency and accountability, the attacks were just as fierce. Strouble said, “When I talk to citizens, one of their biggest concerns is what’s going on behind closed doors.”
He continued, “The influence that lobbyists have in our local government has been unfair. Lobbyists are making huge campaign donations to candidates and getting rewarded with contracts and not even hiding it, in some cases. That’s influencing how the city develops and how power is controlled and maintained in the city.”
He said, “We’re all getting the short end of the stick because a small group of people is practicing this crony capitalism here in Tallahassee which lets them stay in power.”
Lee said that the commission avoided accountability during the recent city pay raise controversy in which ten city administrators were given huge raises, some as much as $40,000 or $50,000.
By saying commissioners did not have the authority to approve pay raises, “those pay raises went unchecked. All (of the commissioners) could have voted ‘no’ on the budget if they didn’t agree with those salaries,” he said.
Lee continued, “If you can’t do anything, what’s the purpose of a city commission?”
Lee said, “Government’s supposed to serve the people, not the other way around. Somehow we’ve gotten that backwards.”
Maddox doesn’t believe the criticism of the city’s lack of transparency and accountability applies to him.
“I’m very transparent to the point of bluntness in everything I do. Ask Steve Stewart (Tallahassee Reports’ editor),” he said, “I ran against Steve and defeated him for this office. He and I were rivals. Now he has my cell number and can call me up and ask me about any city stance and I answer his questions openly and honestly and provide him with information.”
Maddox reacted to his competitors’ comments by saying, “The gentlemen running against me have made claims that the city commission isn’t transparent, that I’m out of touch and a career politician. Okay, we’ll see if voters agree with that. We’ll know on election day.”