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Politics

Adam Hollingsworth, Jacksonville Cavalry

May 14, 2012 - 6:00pm

Florida Gov. Rick Scott got his first taste of the kind of advice he could get from Adam Hollingsworth during the 2010 GOP primary.

The campaign of then-Naples businessman Scott was prepping for debates with seasoned politician Bill McCollum. It was a scary prospect.

Public speaking was a piece of cake for McCollum, a former 10-term U.S. congressman wrapping up his first term as Floridas attorney general. He was a former courtroom attorney, accustomed to appearing on podiums and before crowds, discussing state policy.

But Scott's debate skills simply weren't in the same league. His campaign needed someone in the mix to school the candidate in oratorical dexterity and to keep everyone in the outsider Scott camp abreast of the latest Florida issues.

Hollingsworth, who debated while a student at the University of Alabama, was brought on board and remained through the successful campaign as a senior adviser.

Now, nearly two years later, the 43-year-old Hollingsworth wasnt looking for a job when the governor called again. This time, Scott was seeking a replacement for his embattled chief of staff Steve MacNamara.

A consummate insider, MacNamara, who had planned to step aside later in the year, resigned Saturday while in the crosshairs of numerous Capitol press corps reports of ethics breaches, from travel cost approvals and no-bid contract awards to buddy promotions and a bungled bill-signing.

MacNamara strongly disagreed with the allegations, but despite a generally successful regular session for the governor, the hint of inside political trading is something that the outsider Scott campaigned against, both before and after reaching Tallahassee.

Meanwhile, Hollingsworth, the former chief of staff for Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, had been settling comfortably into his position as CEO of Parallel Infrastructure, a division of Flagler Development, in his native Jacksonville, where he and his wife Amy have been raising their two young children. The Terry Park High School graduate had even recently started a blog on being a dad.

Since last August, Hollingsworth, who once had held executive positions managing communications and public affairs with CSX Corp., had been advising clients in the railroad industry regarding their real estate holdings.

But, while much has been made that Gov. Rick Scott shifts chiefs of staff like President Abe Lincoln exchanged Civil War generals -- at least until he found one he liked -- the reality is that such opportunities dont come along often.

A little more than 17 months into office, Scott announced Saturday that starting July 1, Hollingsworth will be the third to hold the title of chief of staff.

Hollingsworth, who sprinkles his conversation with words like "gosh" and "shoot" -- in fact, friends say his home life is wholesome-idyllic, like the Cleavers' from the 1960s family sitcom "Leave it to Beaver" -- is saying all the right things.

He admitted he hadn't planned to leave Flagler's right-of-way division, but said it would be an honor and humbling to serve the governor. Hollingsworth also praised MacNamara, who departs after 10 months with an annual salary of $189,000, for helping the governor reach his goals over the past year.

What Im going to do is get up every day and work hard for the governor and for the people of Florida, to advance an agenda that helps create jobs and creates the kind of environment that the governor wants to create, Hollingsworth said. And thats an environment that encourages businesses to expand in Florida, relocate to Florida, create new jobs, and do what is necessary to make Florida the most economically competitive state in America.

Hollingsworth downplays his role in the debates and the campaign, as he does with most of his work in both the private and public sectors.

In addition to working for Peyton and at Flagler and CSX, Hollingsworths resume includes stints at APCO Worldwide, a leading global public affairs consulting firm, and staff time briefly for former longtime U.S. Congressman Charlie Bennett, D-Jacksonville, Congresswoman Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and former Jacksonville Mayor Ed Austin.

Hollingsworth wouldnt say, when asked if changes will be coming to the governors staff once he takes charge. A number of current staff followed MacNamara from the Senate offices into the governors office. But they likely will be judged on their own merits and have been praised for their work.

This isn't the first time since Scott was inaugurated that he's called on Hollingsworth. Part of the governors transition team, he was also appointed by Scott nearly a year ago to the board of Enterprise Florida Inc., the state's economic development arm that works to entice companies to relocate to the Sunshine State. Board members are not paid.

Friends and colleagues describe Hollingsworth as smart, likable, analytical, a hard worker and a problem solver who has a strong ability to bring people on both sides of an issue together by treating individuals with courtesy and respect.

Thats not to say he isnt a tough opponent, but he never crosses the line, said Susie Wiles, a longtime friend and Northeast Florida Republican leader who served as Scotts campaign manager.

James Harold Thompson, a former Florida House speaker and a shareholder in the law firm of Ausley & McMullen in Tallahassee, said Hollingsworth is more pragmatic than dogmatic.

He wants to see what will work, what is acceptable to all concerned, said Thompson, who spent 12 years in the state House, a Democrat serving as speaker in 1985 and 1986, and whom Hollingsworth considers a personal mentor.

Ausley & McMullen served as a consultant for CSX when Hollingsworth first was hired by the transportation company in 1995.

He thinks quickly, said Lenny Curry, the Republican Party of Florida chairman who got to know Hollingsworth when they were both in Jacksonville. He approaches things as a way to solve a problem, which is what we need in government right now.

Curry added that Hollingsworth was integral in helping to bridge the divide between the McCollum and Scott camps.

People like him, they know him, they trust him, he was just able to bring people together in a relational way and get everyone on the same page for the general election, Curry said. I dont know how he specifically did it. He obviously has a gift and he was successful.Hes good with people.

After the 2010 primary, Hollingsworth remained on leave from his $162,175-a-year job in the mayor's office to act as liaison between Scott and party leadership for the RPOF, where he was paid nearly $1,000 a day. Curry said Hollingsworth also helped direct the focus of Scott's campaign.

When the party was targeting voters, he was very specific in what precincts needed to be targeted, what our turnout was going to look like, and where we needed to go to get our numbers and win the election, Curry said.

Wiles, who brought Hollingsworth on to the Scott campaign team for the debate, said they have fought numerous political and issue-oriented battles since the early 1990s, almost always on the same sides.

A number of the battles were centered on plans by the U.S. government to close military bases, impacting jobs and the economy, in Duval County.Others involved plans by CSX that required business leaders and environmentalists to reach agreements.

He really knows how to build a coalition, Wiles said.Part of his professional life has been in the public affairs world and so there is a skill set that helps you figure out what it is to bring people together without compromising your own values and beliefs.

Because his work for CSX and the city of Jacksonville included time as an in-house lobbyist, Hollingsworth isnt a complete outsider to Tallahassee.

His knowledge of the Capitol was part of the reason the Scott team sent him to Tallahassee to mediate differences with the McCollum camp.

If you think about the Scott people, nobody knew anything about Tallahassee, Wiles said. He (Hollingsworth) was a known quantity.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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