One of the most famous stories in American history takes place 50 years to the day after the nation’s founding. On July 4, 1826 two former presidents died within hours of each other.
The 90-year-old John Adams, according to his son and then-president John Quincy Adams’ journal, used his last words to remark, “Jefferson survives” not knowing that the 83-year-old had died earlier that day.
Though the two had once served as president and vice president at the same time, they were fierce rivals. The quote is enshrined in political lore for the lasting respect it shows to one’s worst enemy in the name of continuing the union in perpetuity.
Chronicle publisher Gerry Mulligan retired after a 43-year career with the newspaper. Though known for many things throughout his illustrious time climbing the paper’s ranks, the outgoing publisher may best be remembered for his weekly Sunday commentary.
I didn’t lead with the story about Adams and Jefferson to imply a comparison of a hand-off as Gerry’s career comes to a close and the Concurrent’s commentary is just beginning.
Gerry’s words are irreplaceable.
His ability to not only capture the feeling of a Citrus resident, but also cultivate an unwavering optimism about our county’s future is something that I will always aspire to as a standard, though one I’m willing to accept will never be fully reached again.
The story is there to demonstrate the reconciliatory attitude rivals can have toward each other. We don’t have many public rivals in Citrus. However, there was a rivalry between those who supported the reelection of Sheriff Mike Prendergast, for which I served as campaign manager, and those who supported Mel Eakley, the candidate the Chronicle endorsed.
People supporting other candidates is almost always what happens in politics. Someone choosing to support a different candidate than the one I back doesn’t necessarily make me consider them a rival.
Though Gerry might say the Chronicle was never about politics, the newspaper regularly overstepped industry practices to interfere in the political elections on behalf of the candidates it supported. It was always about politics; it was rarely about journalism.
The Chronicle’s endorsement of Eakley opened with five lines critically mentioning Prendergast by name, not discussing Eakley until the end of the piece, despite the Chronicle’s official position verbatim from former editor Mike Arnold, "Even in our endorsements you will see that we don't criticize the other candidates, we only discuss the characteristics that we feel make one candidate the best choice (in our minds)."
The Chronicle published pieces about former Commissioner Jim Fowler, who hasn’t held office in 16 years, endorsing Eakley during the same week Florida Attorney General, the current top law enforcement official in the state, Ashley Moody endorsed Prendergast with no Chronicle coverage.
These examples are not exhaustive of all that happened in the sheriff’s election nor were these practices exclusive to that one race. The paper routinely manipulated coverage and narratives in favor of candidates they backed.
This is where Gerry and I disagree on the role of a paper. His view of his career was summed up in his own words when talking about starting the Citrus County United Way with local businessman Steve Lamb, “Steve was the salesman and I was the promoter.”
Such defines his legacy and the culture of the Chronicle: it is better to promote than to inform.
And the truth is it has delivered some incredible results. Through this approach, Gerry curated the voice of Citrus County, one that comforted us through hard times, led us in lost times and celebrated everything that makes this community great.
But the truth is also that it demanded a social currency, one of hyper-reciprocity, a “get onboard or get out of our way” mentality enviable in a businessman yet questionable for a journalist.
Undoubtedly in its wake is left the drowned cries of former candidates and organizations in parts of the county, particularly outside the Crystal River mainstream, that could have done some real good but that didn’t conform to the ideal community standard of how he envisioned Citrus County should be.
Gerry Mulligan’s retirement is the end of an era: one that should be celebrated for all of the accomplishments he generously bestowed upon us as much as it should be celebrated for the freeing possibility of what lies ahead for our great county. Citrus survives.