'Things have changed': Commissioner Gil Ziffer to run for Tallahassee mayor

By: Jeffrey Schweers, Democrat senior writer

Published 2:50 p.m. ET Sept. 26, 2017 | Updated 6:24 p.m. ET Sept. 26, 2017

After serving two terms on the Tallahassee City Commission, Gil Ziffer has decided he's ready to run for mayor.

"In eight years I've gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about what's important and what you can get accomplished," Ziffer told the Tallahassee Democrat during a sit-down interview Tuesday afternoon.

Also, his years on the Florida League of Cities has put him in contact with a lot of good mayors around the state who have one thing in common, Ziffer said. "They love being mayor. It's the only job they want and as a result, they do good things for their cities."

Ziffer said he didn't mean that as a jab at Mayor Andrew Gillum, who decided midway through his first term as mayor to run for governor in 2018.

"I'm not saying Mayor Gillum doesn't love Tallahassee," Ziffer said. "He's been focused on running for governor. He has skills that bring him to that level."

Ziffer said he doesn't have aspirations for state office.

"I'm a municipal person," he said. "I like being close to the ground and I'm a problem solver."

Gillum did not respond to requests for comment.

Two other candidates have filed to run for mayor — communications executive Bob Lotane and Erik David, a U.S. Army veteran and martial arts instructor. 

Lotane said he will support Ziffer "and get out of his way." 

The two met a month ago and talked extensively about their mutual political aspirations and plans for the city, and Lotane said he came to the conclusion that Ziffer was a better fit for mayor.

"We agreed we could accomplish great things on the commission together," Lotane said, adding that he will file to run for Ziffer's commission seat in the next couple of days.

"The City faces so many challenges right now," he added. "If I am lucky enough to win his seat, I love policy. And would like to pour myself into that and solve the problems of the city."

Ziffer also discussed his mayoral intentions with Gillum, as well as fellow commissioners Scott Maddox, Nancy Miller and Curtis Richardson. 

"I was of a mind not to run for mayor, and had filed for re-election for my commission seat," Ziffer said, "but some things have changed."

Maddox, who did not immediately respond for comment on this story, had filed to run for state Senate but was talking about running for mayor until the revelation in June that the FBI was investigating the Tallahassee Community Redevelopment Agency and several developers involved in high-profile projects.

Two subpoenas delivered to the City Commission and the CRA named Downtown Improvement Authority Executive Director Paige Carter-Smith, a longtime friend of Maddox who served as his chief of staff when he was mayor — a post he held from 1997 to 2003.

A third subpoena delivered earlier this month demanded "any and all communications" between Maddox, Carter-Smith, his current aide Allie Merzer Fleming, and former business partner Gary Yordon.

Nobody knows what the FBI is looking at or if charges will even be filed, but the damage has already been done, Ziffer said.

"Regardless, the city's brand or the perception of the city has been damaged," Ziffer said.

And officials cannot start rebuilding the city's image until the investigation plays itself out, he said.

In the meantime, the city can and should strengthen its own ethics board, giving it broader powers to investigate potential conflicts of interest like outside employment, gift limitations, misuse of office and annual audits of each commissioner's budget, he said.

"The ethics board needs teeth," Ziffer said. "We need to be more transparent."

He also wants to require that sworn complaints be filed without the veil of anonymity, something he said was recommended by State Attorney Jack Campbell.

"If you're going to accuse someone, that person has the right to face their accuser," Ziffer said.

The ethics board currently allows anonymous complaints to be filed, something recommended by the citizens committee that put the ethics board referendum to voters in 2014.

Economic development and the future of the CRA are also important issues, Ziffer said, as is getting a regional air carrier into the Tallahassee International Airport.

But the biggest problem the city faces is its crime rate, he said. Ziffer advocates installing surveillance cameras and more lighting in high crime neighborhoods and apartment complexes.

"We should arrest the bad people," Ziffer said. 

And then the city should invest in those neighborhoods.

"Then community policing will work better," he said.


Article originally posted on the Tallahassee Democrat.

Kelsey Lehtomaa