Upbringing paved the road to success for Gary and Steve
by Mike Sharkey
Gary and Steve Pajcic aren’t twins. They do look alike, but their birth certificates will verify they are about a year apart. And, with the exception of choice of college, they are virtually identical.
They are both attorneys.
They are both legendary Jacksonville high school athletes.
They both have quiet demeanors that belie their sometimes tenacious profession yet severely affirm their Deep South roots.
They even finish each other’s sentences and often look to each other before answering. Gary and Steve Pajcic aren’t twins, but after growing up as close as any two brothers can, and working together most of their careers, it’s easy to believe one could easily pose as the other.
Being successful attorneys, fathers and local legends, it would be easy for Gary and Steve Pajcic to abandon their very humble southern upbringing. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Pajcics, gentlemen on every level, point to mom and dad when asked why.
“We have kind of an interesting family,” said Gary. “Daddy only had a fifth grade education and could barely read and write, but our mother was a college graduate. She taught school before she started having children.”
While their mother had Gary and Steve and four girls, their father worked his way up the manual labor ladder at NAS Jacksonville.
“He was the supervisor of roads and grounds for many, many years,” said Gary.
What dad lacked in education he made up for in work ethic. Combined with mom’s education background, Gary, Steve and the girls soon learned that getting an education was their highest priority. With mom preaching education and dad instilling a relentless work ethic, Gary and Steve not only finished high school at Paxon, they excelled both in the classroom and on whatever field coincided with the season.
Gary rewarded mom and dad with a scholarship to Florida State University, while Steve one-upped Gary — who was valedictorian of his class of 630 — by attending Princeton. While Gary — who was a very respectable 13th himself the year before — played football and basketball for the Seminoles until an injury ended both sports, Steve played basketball at Princeton. Through it all, neither forgot a simple lesson that dad preached: if you’re going to do a job, do it right.
“I’ll give you an example of that,” said Gary, adding the two had a paper route as their first jobs. “He [dad] told us he had to put four girls through college. If we wanted to go, we’d have to earn scholarships. One morning it was pouring. He went out, got the papers and we rolled them in wax paper and put them in bags. He drove and we jogged alongside the car and put each paper on the top step so they wouldn’t get wet.
“Mom said someone should give dad a doctorate in hard work and common sense. He was a master plumber, electrician, carpenter and other things. A real jack-of-all-trades.”
“Fortunately, we had mom with her college education,” said Steve. “She impressed upon us early the importance of education ...”
“...That was pretty forward thinking back in those days,” added Gary.
(By the way, they not only quite often finish each other’s sentence, they also often look to the other for what seems almost like guidance before answering.)
The forward thinking and hard work paid off for all. Both graduated from college and went to law school. Gary stayed in Tallahassee while Steve moved to Boston and went to Harvard. Once finished, the Pajcics returned home and started the legal careers they planned years earlier.
Many years and and several children later, the Pajcics ventured into politics when Steve, a Democrat, ran for governor in 1986 against Republican Bob Martinez.
“We had a plan in place,” explained Gary. “I would go into trial work and we’d wait for Steve to go into politics. I became a trial lawyer and Steve worked for Mahoney, Hadlow, Chambers and Adams. We knew one of us would go into politics.”
Steve lost the election and neither Pajcic has made a personal foray into the political arena since. Hindsight is always 20/20 and, looking back, Steve says he was the wrong Pajcic for the job.
“Gary would have been a better politician, in retrospect,” said Steve.
“But I enjoyed sports so much,” said Gary.
“He also had a family,” said Steve.
“I had three kids at the time,” said Gary, who now has five.
See, they do finish each other’s thoughts.
Steve said the experience taught him a lot about big-time politics and he has no regrets about the campaign or losing.
“I’m proud that I tried politics and didn’t quit,” said Steve. “I enjoyed it and I’m happy and proud I tried. It didn’t turn me off. It’s a very demanding lifestyle to be in politics. I had my legal career and I was trying to raise a family. I couldn’t have done it without the full support of my brother and wife. My approach was as a public servant and that was my only goal.”
After several years of lying low, working and raising their families, the Pajcics made headlines again in 1995 when they backed a little-known Democrat named Nat Glover for sheriff. Glover won and today, over seven years later, his name surfaces during every “Who’s not in the mayor’s race yet?” conversation. Inevitably, the Pajcics also come up and, while they are still very close to Glover, shy away from making predictions or speaking for Glover. The governor’s race is another matter, though.
(Until a recent Florida Supreme Court decision, Glover was scheduled to be term-limited next June. However, he could technically run again because the decision overturned term limits for constitutional officers. The question of whether Glover should honor the voter-imposed term limits or run for sheriff again has persisted for months).
“Our involvement in politics now is we love Jacksonville and Florida, but we aren’t running for anything,” said Gary. “We try to get involved and stay involved and we really enjoyed helping Sheriff Glover. I was the campaign manager and Steve was the brains behind it. We are involved in the governor’s race by helping Bill McBride [a Democrat]. He’s got an uphill battle, but he can win. I think he’ll win the primary, which will surprise some people.”
They are much less bold regarding Glover.
“We think very highly of Nat and believe he is a great sheriff,” said Steve. “If he wanted to be, he’d be a great mayor. We don’t know what he’ll do and he hasn’t made a decision. We won’t encourage him one way or the other.”
“I think if he wants to be reelected sheriff or mayor, he will be,” said Gary. “Even Mayor [John] Delaney has said he [Glover] is his choice.”
Both agreed that Jacksonville showed racial maturity and political flexibility when Glover was elected in 1995.
“If Jacksonville was ready for an African-American sheriff, then it’s ready for an African-American mayor,” mused Gary. “Jacksonville has proven that it’s not about race, but about quality. Quality was the focus of our race in 1995.
“There’s a misperception about Jacksonville that it’s a racist town. In our opinion, it’s not and Nat’s race proved that in 1995.”
The Pajcics both believe whether Glover gets in or not, the race to succeed Delaney is wide open. There are different personalities with varying levels of political experience and that formula will assure the next several months will be not only entertaining, but vital to Jacksonville’s future.
“I don’t think there’s a clear winner right. There’s not one strong, viable candidate,” said Steve. “It [the election] is really critical. There’s a lot to build on in Jacksonville and Jacksonville is just starting to feel positive about itself. But there’s still a long way to go.”
“I agree,” said Gary. “John Delaney has done a great job as mayor. We’ve been very fortunate and he will be a hard act to follow. There are people out there that will do a really good job.
“I think Jacksonville will elect the most qualified person on the ballot regardless who they are. We have a Jewish State Attorney [Harry Shorstein], a black sheriff and a Republican mayor.”