Former Jacksonville Mayor Hans Tanzler dies at 86

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hans Tanzler Jr., mayor of Jacksonville during its consolidation with Duval County in the late 1960s, died early Thursday morning. He was 86.

Tanzler was elected mayor in 1967 as a supporter of consolidation, which occurred the following year. He served until 1979.

"Mayor for 11 years, and in those 11 years he accomplished so many things," said Tanzler's son, Hans Tanzler III. "It's interesting, you don't always recall what they are until you have a moment like this to reflect and look back."

As mayor, Tanzler used new revenues from consolidation to revitalize downtown. Among the projects were the creation of what is now the downtown campus of Florida State College at Jacksonville, the construction of a large-scale public health facility, and the completion of major commercial construction projects including the Independent Life building -- now known as the Wells Fargo Center.

Mayor Hans Tanzler celebrated his efforts to clean up the St. Johns River in the early 1970s by water skiing in the river.
Mayor Hans Tanzler celebrated his efforts to clean up the St. Johns River in the early 1970s by water skiing in the river.

Tanzler may be most remembered for his efforts to clean up the St. Johns River by implementing sewage treatment and other environmental regulations.  He dramatically demonstrated the improved water quality by water skiing on the river.

Hans Tanzler, a civic life in photos

"Hans was a white hat, definitely a white hat," said Harry Reagan, a longtime friend. "He was one of the good guys. The voters looked at him as someone who was going to make some changes and he did."

Tanzler was born in Jacksonville and he graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1945 and attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he was a stand-out player for the Florida Gators men's basketball team.

He earned his bachelor's degree from Florida in 1949, then his law degree in 1951.

Prior to serving as mayor Tanzler practiced law, eventually becoming a criminal court judge. 

In 1978, Tanzler announced his candidacy for governor of Florida. While he lost in a seven-way Democratic primary eventually won by Bob Graham, the run required him to step down as mayor in January 1979.  Jacksonville City Council President Jake Godbold was appointed to succeed him, and he went went on to serve two full terms as mayor.


"Mayor Tanzler led a life dedicated to public service and his legacy will forever be remembered by our citizens and all who had the opportunity to know him," said Mayor Alvin Brown in a statement released Thursday morning. "He guided our city through consolidation, paving the way for much of the success we enjoy today. Mayor Tanzler was a tireless advocate for local education, public health, economic and downtown development and our treasured St. Johns River.  We will always be grateful for his service to the great city of Jacksonville."

"Well, he really saved Jacksonville," said John Delaney, who was mayor from 1995-2003. "We probably would have been akin to Detroit at the rate we were going at the time. We wouldn't be who we are today."

"Hans Tanzler made an enormous contribution to the city of Jacksonville and is one of the great unsung heroes of consolidation," Rick Mullaney, former chief of staff to John Delaney, said in a statement. "He was a true statesman. Jacksonville would not have consolidated government today if Hans Tanzler had been opposed to it."

Some credit Tanzler for revitalizing downtown, helping to open a community college, and changing the people's perception of the city.

His son said it was during his time as mayor when he turned to a higher power.

"There was a Lt. Cleve McCleary that gave his testimony, and my dad was on stage and he accepted the Lord right then and there, and it changed his life," Tanzler III said. "He went about the process of being an example of what a spiritual leader should be."

In more recent years, Tanzler faced illness and wasn't well. His son said regardless, his dad had an amazing life.

"Eighty-six good years," he said. "He put in the good years and really made a difference and he had a great life."

Tanzler's funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. John's Cathedral at 256 E. Church St. His burial will follow at Oaklawn Cemetery.