In 1822 the Congress created the territory of Florida. In March 1824 the Territorial Council designated Tallahassee as Florida’s capital. The same year the Native Americans living in Tallahassee were ordered to relocate to a reservation located in Central Florida.
A year later Dr. Charles Haire was elected Intendant of the Town of Tallahassee. The position of Intendant is what we now call Mayor. The Town’s Council back then consisted of five members.
The City of Tallahassee was incorporated in 1840. Five years later Florida became the 27th state and Tallahassee moved from being the territorial capital to being a state capital.
After the Civil War in 1871 Everett Jones, Jonathan Gibbs and Jonas Toer were elected to the City Council. Henry Sutton was elected City Marshall and William Stewart was elected as City Clerk. These were the first African-Americans elected to city positions. African-Americans during part of the Reconstruction period at one point held seven of the nine City Council seats.
In the late 1890s and continuing through the early 1920s there was a nationwide movement pushing “good government” reforms. Some of the political ideas of this movement were the creation of municipal civil service systems, a move to the city-manager form of local government, non-partisan elections, at-large elections, and, other “reforms” designed to promote “expert” management of cities.
Tallahassee responded to this reform effort. One reason for this response was the City’s financial problems caused by a two decades long spending spree.
The City issued bonds to build an electrical power plant in 1902. The plant burned down in 1919 with the bonds still outstanding. The City also bought the waterworks located downtown in 1908. Gaines Street from the railroad depot to the capital was paved along with Adams Street and Monroe Street between Gaines and Park (1911 to 1916).
As a result of the “good government” movement and the City’s financial strain the State Legislature granted a new City Charter that created a Commission-Manager form of government. The position of Mayor was to continue to rotate among the five City Commissioners.
In November 1996 a City charter change was approved at the polls by the citizens of Tallahassee stating the Mayor would be directly elected by the voters. The first directly elected Mayor was chosen in February 1997.
From 1826 to 1996, a period of 171 years, Tallahassee changed Mayors 123 times. The average tenure was 1.4 years. The longest serving Mayor during this time period was D. M. Lowry who served from 1910 to 1917, a period of eight years. Was it a coincidence that after Mayor Lowry’s time in office the City’s form of government changed two years later?
Since 1997 Tallahassee has elected three Mayors: Scott Maddox; John Marks; and, Andrew Gillum. The average tenure for an elected Mayor so far is seven years.
Two of three of the directly elected Mayors have run for statewide office.
Scott Maddox, while Mayor, ran for Attorney General. He received only 35% of the vote in the statewide Democratic Primary. After his tenure as Mayor he made two additional unsuccessful bids for statewide office.
Andrew Gillum, while Mayor, is currently running for Governor. Of the four 2018 Democratic primary polls listed in RealClearPolitics Gillum average voter share is 9% for third place among the four main contenders.
What has Tallahassee gotten in return for creating a leadership Mayor?
We got two of three Mayors interested in moving up the political ladder by running for statewide public office.
We got Mayors who have created opportunities for themselves because the longevity of being Mayor has moved from 1.4 years under a rotating Mayor to seven years under the directly elected Mayor. If you know you are going to serve only 12 to 16 months as Mayor it tends to keep you focused on Tallahassee. If you are serving multiple four-year terms you tend to start thinking about what is next.
Tallahassee does have a significant crime problem, a need for greater income mobility, and, an ethical issue regarding insider enrichment and entitlements.
Do you think if we change the Mayor’s nameplate in the City Commission Chambers to someone new that this change alone will solve the issues above?
Does the position of Mayor in the capital city of the third largest state in the nation inherently attract people of such ambition that they eventually focus on higher offices or on enriching themselves?
Your thoughts on either the history of Tallahassee or the last three directly elected Mayors versus the previous rotational system would be a joy to read.
Jon M. Ausman is the longest serving member of the Democratic National Committee in Florida’s history (December 1992 to January 2017). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 850-321-7799.