JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - If you've been through Jacksonville International Airport, you've likely seen or heard Tony Knox soliciting customers and taking care of passengers on both sides of the TSA checkpoint.
Knox, affectionately known as "Tony the Shoe Shine Guy," has been working hard at his small business for years, and now he wants to work hard for the entire state . He has tossed has tossed his hat into the ring to run for governor of Florida.
"The last 10 years, I've been giving the House and Senate advice, this and that, and they say 'great idea Tony, great idea!' But what happens with a great idea? You either run with it or throw it in the trash," Knox said.
He has spent decades making connections all over the state, and for those who have ended up sitting in his shoe shine chair, have left with more than a buff and a shine.
"I listen, and then I eat the meat and I spit out the bone. I use what you gave me, if it's meat, and pass it on to the next person," he said.
Knox has been "passing it on" for decades now, raising eight kids -- along with his wife Vivian -- on his shoeshine business.
"Three out of college and three in college right now," the proud dad said.
While Knox has spent 15 years shining, buffing and talking with passengers at Jacksonville's airport, he has also spent a lot of time in Tallahassee. In fact, he is such an institution at the state capitol, many there greet him saying, "Hi, governor!"
The 64-year-old has launched a campaign to make that title a reality, running for governor as an NPA -- no party affiliation.
"I was raised a democrat, and I think like a republican with the things I want to do. They call me a republican," Knox said.
He explained his platform to Mary, explaining the first thing he wants to do is put more Floridians to work, getting them off government assistance.
"Senior citizens, handicapped, disabled and working people only. Those four should qualify [for government assistance.] If you don't fall under one of those four, why should I feed you?"
With a focus on education, jobs and giving senior citizens a voice, Knox said he's confident his own hard work ethic and well-grounded view of life will appeal to voters.
"You work your way up, you get your foot in the door," he added.
Knox said he already has his foot in the door for the governor's job in Tallahassee.
"29 years I've been walking the floor. I've been walking the hallways with this bag and this box taking care of all the members' shoes," he said.
Knox has been in every office in the House and Senate, shining shoes -- often in some private meetings -- with ears open. But Statehouse regulars say Knox is known for keeping his lips sealed.
"I don't even know if Tony has to go through the normal security or access when he comes to the capital because he's just so well-known and so trusted," said state Rep. Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park.
Cummings said Knox has shined hundreds of his shoes, and he's proud to know him and see his friend push for change.
"He's clearly not a career politician. He's a career entrepreneur, he's a career family man and a career of what I call true American. I'm glad we have him here and that he's put his toe in there to run for higher office," Cummings said. "I'd love to put Tony around every young person in our society. Complacent is not a word that describes him. He's great."
Knox said he is completely transparent, including being open about his past drug addiction.
"I told them that I used to smoke crack cocaine, and I told them how I started my business," he explained to Mary.
Knox said his faith helped him overcome his drug habit at the age of 28, and he has never looked back. He hopes to share his entire story with all Floridians, making plans to travel the state with his shoe shine box.
Through word of mouth and his website, he's currently working on gaining the nearly 130,000 signatures needed for him to qualify for the 2018 ballot.
Cummings said Knox could get the support needed to make it.
"I could see that happening, particularly as people just get frustrated sometimes with government, some of the politicians and the infighting and so forth," Cummings explained. "He's someone who's got as much energy as a 20-year-old with his work ethic and values instilled in him by his parents and grandparents. The people that have impacted him is incredible."
Current candidates for governor
Here are the candidates who have currently filed to run for governor through the Florida Division of Elections. In order for these candidates to qualify for their names to appear on the 2018 ballot, they either have to get the signatures required or pay the qualifying fee.
David Andrew Adams (REP)
Don Baldauf (REP)
Timothy Michael Devine (REP)
Kyle Chaderwick Gibson (NPA)
Andrew D. Gillum (DEM)
Gwen Graham (DEM)
Usha Jain (REP)
Thomas Christopher King (DEM)
Anthony "Tony" Knox, Sr. (NPA)
Josue Larose (DEM)
Louis Earl McClanahan III (DEM)
Bruce F. Nathan (REP)
Adam Putnam (REP)
Angel Luis Rivera (REP)
Robert William White (REP)
Randy Wiseman (LPF)
Daniel Paul Zutler (CPF)
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