On Friday, FloridaPolitics.com had an in-depth phone interview with Leslie Jean-Bart, a partner at Terrell Hogan who is, for now, running unopposed to succeed termed-out Mia Jones in HD 14.
Jean-Bart, the granddaughter of the iconic Mary Singleton, who was one of two of the first African-Americans and women on consolidated Jacksonville’s City Council, may be a first-time candidate. But politics, and the state capitol, are in her blood.
Jean-Bart lived with her grandmother and her mother, the latter of whom passed on when she was young, and was in many respects raised by Singleton.
“Sometimes I don’t feel the word ‘grandmother’ describes” the relationship, Jean-Bart said of the woman who is a political icon to Jacksonville residents, but was “Mama Moonbeam” to her.
“She was more than just a grandmother,” Jean-Bart, who lived with Singleton until she passed away in 1980, said.
Singleton was a State Legislator in the year Jean-Bart was born (1972), and as a young child, she “spent time at the Capitol running around.”
“This was the 70s,” Jean-Bart said, mindful that protocol was more relaxed then.
“Kids could run around,” Jean-Bart added, and “I would watch legislative sessions.”
“It was the neatest thing.”
Singleton would have members of the Duval Delegation over to her house in Tallahassee, serving as a “mother figure for people in the legislature.”
“It was a very diverse environment,” Jean-Bart said, and I was “exposed to more than the average child,” learning “relationships” and “how to treat people, and work with people.”
Of the many legacies granted to her be her grandmother, that is one of the more significant. Bart, who has served on dozens of boards, told FloridaPolitics.com that she had done the “hard work over the years,” and the support of so many of Jacksonville’s most prominent Democratic politicians is in reality coming from people she’s “known and worked with for many years.”
Mia Jones, who she runs to succeed in Tallahassee, had served as the chair of an annual Mary Singleton memorial breakfast, and had in fact taught Jean-Bart how to chair it herself. Senator Audrey Gibson was also on that committee, and both she and Jean-Bart have served as poll watchers in elections gone by.
Despite having such deep relationships, the candidate realizes that she’s not just going to walk into the nomination.
“I do not believe that I’m going unopposed,” Jean-Bart said, adding that such happens rarely with open seats, given the preponderance of “people looking for their next step.”
Indeed, Terry Fields, who finished a strong third place in the District 8 First Election in March, filed on Friday the 13th.
This is why she filed early; to work on name recognition, hitting every event possible in Jacksonville, which she described aptly as a “big small town.”
There is a school of thought that says that opponents might be encouraged by the slow fundraising so far for Jean-Bart. The candidate stressed that was more a function of a lack of attention to it thus far than a lack of support.
“I have not had a fundraiser yet, have not done call time,” Jean-Bart said, adding that she has gotten $20,000 so far from “friends who know I am running [and] send checks.”
“Money is one of the things I’m least worried about. I know people with money and they will make contributions,” Jean-Bart contended, adding that she is “well aware of what trial lawyers can do,” and that “there’s no shortage of” potential donors, and that “individuals have offered to do fundraisers.”
Part of the reason she hasn’t made the ask yet: “the city elections were brutal for Democrats in NE Florida,” creating a “very unhappy Democratic base.”
Another part of the reason: donors, seeing a safe seat in NE Florida with an unopposed candidate, don’t see it as a priority yet.
Still, she is a fixture in the trial lawyer world, and has gotten “great feedback in the community and in Tallahassee,” as well as from various industries, including health care and hospitals, and the Chamber.
The House, of course, is Republican controlled, and Jean-Bart says that she knows “the realities of Tallahassee” being a “Democrat in the House.”
Among her priorities would be trying to get money to the district, targeting the “right programs,” and ensuring the people in the district are aware of services that they may not know how to access.
“I want to be an ambassador for the people,” Jean-Bart said.
Though she concedes that, with Richard Corcoran coming in as Speaker, that “nothing’s going to happen in his two years that he doesn’t want to happen,” she still hopes to “find common ground” and work on issues near and dear to her heart.
These include addressing the “social justice issues” that are “tearing communities apart,” such as “overpolicing,” which has the impact of “taking parents away from children,” and disparities in health care.
Her community, and so many like it, subjected to what she calls a “cycle… a machine out of control,” creating imbalances in education, jobs, and so many other factors that present existential threats.
In Leslie Jean-Bart, her district has a candidate that understands the inside game, both how to play it and who she’s playing with. This will be a candidate, and a campaign, worthy of watching going forward.