Bill Gulliford isn’t one to shy away from speaking his mind. Or taking a stand, making a decision.
For the past several months, though, he’s struggled to make one headline decision. He was strongly considering running for mayor of Jacksonville.
Strongly considering, but unable to make the type of quick, decisive decision for which he’s come to be known.
It was a back-and-forth internal debate: enter the political fray to take on Mayor Alvin Brown and latest challenger, a heavily funded Lenny Curry? Or, seek to continue his leadership on City Council for another four years, a period that will be wrought with turnover and inexperience.
It took some time for Gulliford to make a decision. Months.
Along the way there was support by his family and others in the community. Constant internal debate that led him to crafting a pros and cons list laying out what he believed was working for and against him. Due diligence that provided a snapshot of the political atmosphere — with the feedback being enough to dampen his mayoral aspiration.
Once the emotions of making the decision died down, logic persevered. It’s not to be.
“I professionally investigated my potential for mayor versus the need for council,” he said last week. “The prudent thing to do would be to run for council.”
It wasn’t an easy decision.
Ongoing disdain, persistent support
During his time on council, Gulliford hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye with how Brown has run the executive branch. It was that disdain that fueled the Republican’s desire to compete against the mayor in the 2015 election.
Brown’s budget last year — the one with $60-plus million in extraordinary lapses, or undefined cuts — especially drew his ire, Gulliford said in March. He also didn’t favor the mayor’s opposition to the gas-tax extension he introduced.
At that point, Brown had his re-election war chest opened for almost a year. Curry was strongly rumored to jump in as a candidate.
Gulliford said then he wasn’t planning to announce any decision for several months. He wanted to finish his term as council president, which ended June 30. He didn’t want a possible run for mayor to cloud his leadership, nor allow people to think he was campaigning from the head chair.
He said he also wanted Curry to jump in first and, most importantly, Brown to introduce his budget. After last year’s criticisms and council actions raising property taxes to cover deficits, Gulliford said he could see the city’s spending plan being a massive campaign issue.
He said there has been a running sentiment of people concerned with “where we are and aren’t going.” That type of discussion led to people approaching him with encouragement to run for mayor, he said.
His family had talked about it, too. In June, Gulliford said he and his family last talked extensively about it during Thanksgiving. They sat in the living room, each laying out scenarios, pros, cons.
Ultimately, they were on board.
“I was for it,” said Harriet Gulliford, his wife of 47 years. “I think Bill is here for a reason … he’s good at what he does.”
The community started lining up support when he opened his campaign for re-election to council. In February and March, the first two months of being open, Gulliford collected almost $74,000. Contributors included Herb and John Peyton, Shad and Ann Khan, Bill Gay, Wayne Weaver, Jed Davis, John Rood and Bill Watson, among other notables.
In the months after that initial surge, he said it died down. Without opposition and more than $80,000 in contributions, that was expected, he said.
People were waiting to see his next move.
In early May, Gulliford started performing more due diligence to reach a decision.
He met with a group led by Chad Tucker, campaign manager for Mobile, Ala., Mayor Sandy Stimpson during the 2013 election. Stimpson was an older, white male who surprisingly defeated Sam Jones, an incumbent black male.
Gulliford said after the meeting that Tucker had some interesting experiences in grassroots and social media the group used to help win its election. Such ideas could be used locally, but Tucker’s group wouldn’t be tapped to run it. They didn’t know the local landscape, Gullfiord said, but could possibly help in some way should he decide to run.
Meanwhile, Gulliford started coming up with his own pros and cons list. Among items listed the positive side was a “sincere desire to do good for the city,” his experience in government and the private sector, and his ability to build and lead a team. He feels strongly about the latter.
“If I haven’t convinced people that I am collegial and can bring people together, they haven’t been paying attention,” Gulliford said in March. “I think that is probably my best strength.”
On the opposite side of the ledger were his weaknesses.
The personal financial loss for his business. Personal attacks on family in what likely would become a nasty back-and-forth campaign. His age.
“I would be 71 when I assumed office, 75 at the end of the term,” it says in the comments section.
He’d contemplated that part many times over the months. He joked his optimism levels fluctuated hourly, but a question remained.
“Do I really want to do this in the latter part of my life?” he asked.
He said the age question ended up being one of the harshest pieces of criticisms he received. Gulliford said an influential Curry backer said he was too old to run, that he’d lost a step. Gulliford said he ignored it, calling it “stupid.”
“Are we talking years on the planet or physical activity?” he asked. “I know some 50-year-olds that are really old.”
Despite continued reflection, he didn’t have a clear answer. So, he took it a step further: he, as he calls it, “professionally investigated” the situation with the help of an outside consultancy firm.
The feedback told him it wasn’t worth the risk. If the results showed he had a 50-50 chance at winning, he said he would have entered the race.
It didn’t. He made his decision.
Renovation plans on hold
Gulliford said Friday he was disappointed in the situation, but there is a possible takeaway.
“It would be a great honor and a great challenge and a great joy to be the mayor of this city,” he said. “But, I also pretty much enjoy the action of being on the City Council. It’s an intriguing process because it’s about building consensus and collegiality. I like that. I really like that.”
His is the only race with one candidate. With the expected double-digit turnover on the 19-member body, he knows he can provide leadership to the incoming class once they arrive after next year’s election. Perhaps even as council president
His family supports his decision.
“There is a sadness to all of it, the children feel the same way,” Harriet Gulliford said. “But, he may get a lot more done (on council). There are a lot of new people coming in … it’s a fight, no matter what.”
Longtime businessman Preston Haskell said Gulliford would have made a “very fine candidate” that had a vast knowledge of government and led with principle.
“You don’t see those types of qualities in every politician,” Haskell said.
He said he knew Gulliford was weighing the option for some time and ultimately “came to a decision that was well-concluded.”
“I will continue to be his admirer and I hope he continues that leadership, formally and informally, on the council,” Haskell said.
Harriet Gulliford also might be a winner in another way. When her husband served his year as council president, she said she barely saw him and didn’t have to cook as much. Not that she minded the cooking part — she hates doing it, she said.
So, she warned him if he had run for mayor and won, she would be converting the kitchen into a massive exercise room, figuring she wouldn’t see him for the four years he would have been in office.
Bill Gulliford said he would only change his mind at this point, “if there was a nuclear attack, an asteroid hit Earth or Yellowstone blew up.”
With those types of caveats, the renovation plans will have to be put on hold.