TALLAHASSEE — For the third time since taking office, Gov. Rick Scott has a new chief of staff to help shape his agenda, steer him through political minefields and bolster his shaky standing with Floridians.
Adam Hollingsworth, 43, is a battle-tested former chief of staff to a Jacksonville mayor, a communications specialist and former executive at CSX Corp. who already has faced several tough tests since taking over July 6.
Embarrassing news reports over school grades, the lieutenant governor and a botched open government website threatened to deepen the governor’s already-low approval ratings. In each instance, Hollingsworth worked behind the scenes to contain the damage by reversing course, with Scott’s consent.
“He brings a clarity of purpose,” said former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, who hired Hollingsworth and promoted him to chief of staff. “Someone has got to be the bad guy. He’s not afraid to make the hard calls.”
Deeply rooted in Jacksonville business and political circles, Hollingsworth has worked for two Democratic members of Congress and as a lobbyist in Tallahassee, developing a reputation for openness, tenacity and steadiness under pressure.
“The guiding principle is, if a mistake is made, admit it, fix it and move on,” Hollingsworth said, adding that “it is less about political science than the rightness of the approach.”
• A week after Hollingsworth started his new job, school districts raised doubts about a new grading formula for the second time in months. Hollingsworth intervened, the Department of Education was forced to issue new grades for 213 schools and last week, Commissioner of Education Gerard Robinson resigned, citing family reasons.
• To quell a firestorm Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll ignited after offending gay rights activists when a disgruntled ex-staffer said she caught Carroll in her office in a sexually compromising position with a female aide, Hollingsworth reached out to friends and colleagues of the lieutenant governor. They were asked to console her and to ask her not to make any more statements. The state attorney who’s prosecuting the former staffer, Carletha Cole, then asked for a gag order in the case and Carroll issued a lengthy apology to the gay community.
• After the Times/Herald confronted Scott’s press office about its practice of posting only positive mail on Scott’s open government website Sunburst, Hollingsworth had the governor’s office post all its emails. Within days, the site began streaming emails both positive and negative.
“While the things that have landed in his lap were not of his creation, the way he managed out of those serious matters gives insight into how effective he is at this job,’’ said Susie Wiles, who served as Scott’s campaign manager and who has worked with Hollingsworth for 20 years. “The place did not melt down.”
Hollingsworth, who calls himself a “conduit” for Scott, emphasizes that the handling of all three issues was consistent with the his boss’ “guidance, his values and his philosophy.”
While he admits he has a tendency to “acknowledge mistakes or errors even more quickly than other professionals might,’’ he also recognizes that his own missteps have often set him up for the mea culpas.