Jake Godbold, one of Jacksonville’s outstanding political figures, has died at the age of 86.
He was the second mayor of the consolidated government, following Hans Tanzler. Before that he was a city councilman and served as a council president.
During his two terms as mayor the city experienced a construction boom as the city enjoyed the nationwide economic growth of the 1980s. A highlight was his effort to bring the Baltimore Colts NFL team to Jacksonville, which paved the way for the Jaguars.
Godbold was charismatic. Covering his run for mayor as a City Hall reporter I remember how remarkable it was to see him on the campaign trail around Jacksonville. He could approach a stranger, shake his hand and talk to him five minutes and he would have a friend for life.
Another trademark was his honesty. As a reporter I found that refreshing. Not only did he never lie to me, to my knowledge, he did not duck questions either. He always had an answer and it usually was quotable.
Talking was one of his specialties, and he enjoyed it. Once I was eating in a restaurant on the Southside and he came in with a couple of friends. Spotting me, he made a detour to my table. I asked him a question and he started talking. He talked for 45 minutes without stopping, while my friends and I, and his, ate lunch.
While he was mayor several friends and members of his administration ran afoul of the law but the scandals never touched Godbold personally. He ran one last hurrah for mayor against John Delaney, but lost and never ran again.
Godbold grew up in the Brentwood housing project and graduated from Jackson High School. He never tried to adopt a more cultured manner or forgot his roots.
Like many others who served in politics over the past decades, he learned and honed his political skills in the old Jacksonville Jaycees.
He ran a chemical business and was meticulous about ensuring that he had no conflict of interest with city business.
For many years he had health problems. At his annual Christmas party a few weeks ago he was in a wheelchair.
I talked to him for several minutes at the party and got a newer phone number for him to replace the old one I had. “You better answer the damn phone when I call,” I told him, jokingly. He promised he would.
But I could see that he did not look well and I was concerned.
Our last chat reminded me of an eerie coincidence concerning former mayors. I had lunch with Hans Tanzler not long before he died. I had breakfast with Ed Austin two days before he died. I had lunch with Lou Ritter three days before he died.
But I am glad I got to see Godbold one last time. He was the kind of politician who would fight to the end for what he thought was right, but would not fight dirty.
We could use more like him, at every level.