Jacksonville residents with an interest in history and politics would find it worth their time to read a new biography of a former mayor: Jake!
The number of important events that took place in the city during Jake Godbold’s eight years as mayor of Jacksonville – 1979-1987 – is stunning.
They include acquiring an NFL franchise, the Jacksonville Landing, the JEA’s Northside coal-fired plants, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, the Mayo Clinic, the convention center, UF Health Jacksonville, the Riverwalk and a knitting together of various segments of the community that had lasting effects.
All of it is told in tidy fashion by former newspaper reporter, political consultant and aide to Godbold, Mike Tolbert.
I might quibble that Godbold’s administration is hyped a bit but there is no question that it was a period of substantial progress, and not just in buildings and infrastructure.
Godbold’s early life as a resident of the Brentwood housing project, graduate of Jackson High School and his involvement with the Jacksonville Jaycees, long an incubator for aspiring politicians, are covered well.
For those of us who were close observers it is an accurate account and it does not gloss over the hard times Godbold faced when several members of his administration ran afoul of the law. The book concludes that Godbold’s integrity was not forfeited and no one thought him personally involved in the shenanigans – sentiments I voiced myself in columns written decades ago.
One key to Godbold’s success was noted in the book. Immediately after running a campaign modeled as “the little people vs. the fat cats,” Godbold began recruiting his wealthy and influential former adversaries to help him carry out his vision. That was an extremely shrewd political move.
It was amazing to watch him on the campaign trail. He had the ability to approach a complete stranger, and within five minutes make him a close friend.
As a City Hall and political reporter I always found Godbold a delight, both as a city councilman and mayor. He talked a lot and always told the truth. Not much more you could want in a politician.
Godbold definitely has been a big part of Jacksonville being where it is today. He did what he did forthrightly and openly.
One example of his insistence upon being available to his constituents was when he had the door to his City Council office removed, so that his office was always open. That is in sharp contrast to the way City Hall operates today.
Another mayor with an outsize personality was the late Lou Ritter. There was at one time a biography of him in the works, but apparently it has been abandoned. That is a shame because Ritter seemingly knew everybody and had a treasure trove of interesting stories about local politicians and people.