1. Archive

Election shatters another barrier

(ran T, ET editions of National)

Just days before the election of Jacksonville's sheriff, Nathaniel Glover was far behind in the polls.

He had raised only half as much money as the other candidates.

And Glover is African-American. The retiring sheriff, whose job Glover wanted, wondered aloud what others were probably thinking.

"Whether or not our community is progressed enough to be able to elect a black, I don't know," Sheriff Jim McMillan told the Florida Times-Union at the beginning of the campaign.

It was.

Glover soundly defeated both of his white opponents, capturing 55 percent of the vote. He took black neighborhoods, white neighborhoods _ almost all the neighborhoods. His victory was so decisive, in fact, that the expected runoff was not necessary.

"It was amazing," said Steve Pajcic, a lawyer and former gubernatorial candidate who helped Glover's campaign. "Fourteen of the 15 city districts voted for him."

When Glover is sworn in Saturday morning, he will become the first black sheriff elected in Florida.

It's a piece of Florida history that some people would never have expected from Jacksonville, a city whose image was long tarnished by its stinky paper mills and Old South reputation.

Glover says his election is just another sign that this city is shaking its past.

Once dominated by blue-collar jobs, Jacksonville's downtown now also bustles with banks and insurance companies. The city stunned the sports world by winning a National Football League team. The Jaguars start play this fall.

"We've come a long ways," said Glover, 52, who was born and raised in the city. "It's a new Jacksonville from that day. We're a progressive city."

Now, Jacksonville is proud of itself for picking Glover. City leaders are pleased at the message it sends the world. If people are shocked, so much the better.

"This election shows that our community can put this race thing aside," said Mayor Ed Austin, who will retire this week. "In my years in office, my greatest accomplishment would be if I had anything to do with creating the atmosphere that got Nat Glover elected."

Neighborhood hero

Glover is used to being first.

He was the only black member of his police academy class in 1966.

As he rose through the ranks of detective, sergeant, deputy director and director, Glover was almost always the first black officer to reach new levels in the 2,300-member force _ a merged Duval County-Jacksonville jail and police department.

Glover first attracted public attention when he created a hostage negotiation team in the 1970s.

In a dramatic standoff, Glover boarded a hijacked bus and persuaded a man not to harm the 36 people trapped inside.

Another time, Glover negotiated with an armed man for three hours in the middle of a Jacksonville street. At one point, the man pointed the gun at Glover, inches from his face. "The barrel seemed like it was big enough for me to crawl up in," Glover recalled.

Eventually, the man gave up.

"I guess I'm attracted to those things that anybody can't do," he said.

Glover grew up wanting to be a cop.

In the poor section of Jacksonville just north of downtown, Glover spent hours listening to police shows like Dragnet on the radio.

After attending Edward Waters College on a football scholarship and getting a master's degree from the University of North Florida, Glover entered the academy.

Today, he is the pride of his old neighborhood.

"The kids look at him. They say, "Hey, if he can do it, so can I,' " said Calvin Thomas, who lives across the street from Glover's childhood home at Minnie and Beaver streets.

Glover's mother was a maid, his father, a plasterer. They raised five children.

Back then, Glover says, there were two sides of town: one black, one white. He seldom saw white people unless they were dropping off their laundry, collecting insurance premiums or patrolling in police cars.

Racial tensions were high, particularly during the early days of the civil rights movement. One Saturday, as he left his job washing dishes at Morrison's Cafeteria, the teenager came upon a crowd of white people carrying ax handles near the downtown Woolworth's, where sit-ins had been staged.

One man approached Glover and used a racial slur _ one he refuses to repeat _ and smacked him on the side of the cheek with the ax handle. A police officer standing nearby did nothing.

"You better get out of here," the officer said to Glover.

The words, coming from a cop, stung. Glover does not often back down. But that day he fled.

"My feelings were hurt more than anything else," Glover said. "I felt like I had run away from a fight."

The police force that Glover will soon lead arrested him once. That happened at age 17.

Two officers stopped Glover as he left Morrison's. There were rumors someone was taking food from the cafeteria, he said, and the white officers were questioning everyone.

When they found two cloth napkins in Glover's pockets, they charged him with petty larceny, he said. Glover kept the cloths to wipe his face while he cleaned dishes.

After spending two hours in jail, Glover took the advice given by a friend of his father: Just plead guilty.

Glover later had his record expunged.

"That was just the way things were. When a black person was arrested, he had to go to his boss or go to someone he knew downtown to get him out," he said. "You had no voice downtown."

A feel-good win

Jim McMillan was sheriff for nine years. He had attended the police academy with Glover and become his friend.

A year before the April election to replace him, McMillan spoke his mind when reporters asked him about Glover's chances. McMillan says now his comments were misunderstood.

"What I said was: "I don't know, is our community progressed enough to elect a black sheriff? I don't know, but I would certainly hope so,' " McMillan recalled last week.

Whatever his exact words, the message was clear and caused a commotion.

"I was appalled," said Mary Wooten Simpson, publisher of the Florida Star, a newspaper that circulates mainly in Jacksonville's black community, which makes up 24 percent of the population. "What did he mean, we are not ready?

"I thought that the bottom line was we need to cut crime. I don't think that should have been a black-white thing."

Glover promised to send criminals a cold, hard message: Get out of town. He pledged to build police substations in neighborhoods. He promised to print police officers' names on their squad cars so residents would get to know the officers. He vowed to end all "country club" comforts in jail.

And he won.

Many credit McMillan's comment about race for unintentionally rallying white voters to Glover's side.

"People want to feel that we've made that kind of progress," said Pajcic, who helped Glover's campaign. "I think that's one reason they feel so good about his winning."

Still, racial issues are never far from the surface in Jacksonville, as in many American cities.

In an upscale, mostly white neighborhood south of downtown, Wanda Anderson said she felt proud of Glover's victory.

"Sure," said Anderson, 72, as she left the San Jose Country Club. "I've got nothing against educated black people coming in and doing jobs like that. I wouldn't even mind a mayor."