In the 2015 May election, Tommy Hazouri was the leading citywide vote getter. The former mayor was buoyed by an interesting coalition: voters who remembered his tenure as mayor with fondness, along with young people energized by his proactive stance on Human Rights Ordinance expansion.
His appeal crossed party lines; his messaging hit the same public safety themes as did the mayoral campaign of Lenny Curry.
Hazouri, now entering his eighth month in office, has been a singular presence on Council. Despite appropriations experience as Jacksonville Mayor, in the Legislature, and on the School Board, Hazouri was left off of the Finance Committee (which he didn’t appreciate at the time). He did get assigned to Rules, where he has had occasional clashes with Chair Matt Schellenberg.
He also, alone among Council Democrats, has pushed hard for HRO expansion. Though many Democrats said yes on the campaign trail to HRO expansion, now that legislation is in the hopper they’ve moved to call me maybe … even as the Committee of the Whole convenes on Thursday.
Not Hazouri. His feelings on HRO expansion, one can surmise, have colored many of his actions on Council. They include his decision to back Aaron Bowman, another rookie, for Council vice president, instead of Schellenberg, Doyle Carter, or John Crescimbeni.
Hazouri met with Schellenberg, and told the Republican that he was “arrogant” and generally abused power when Schellenberg asked to be his second choice. On Wednesday, he met with the other two candidates, each of whom wanted that consideration.
The meeting with Doyle Carter, a Westside Republican opposed to Hazouri on the HRO, was notable mostly for the exchanges the two veteran politicians had.
Talking about legislation Carter had championed, Hazouri had this zinger about Carter initiatives regarding controlling the feral cat population and about hens in residential backyards: “chickens and feral cats: You come up with some good stuff.”
Then there was this exchange from years ago, when Mayor John Delaney and Council leadership was on a Chamber trip to Denver, leaving Carter as acting mayor for a couple of days.
Carter: “I was mayor one time.”
Hazouri: “Was everybody else dead?”
From there, Carter talked about how he called Sam Mousa, Delaney’s chief lieutenant, and said he “wanted everyone in public works on the Westside” for paving projects and the like.
If Mousa didn’t complete the job, Carter said, Mousa would be “fired for a night.”
The joke was on Carter eventually, though. With a hurricane nearby, Mousa mentioned that Carter would have to evacuate the beaches. Carter’s solution?
“Better get Delaney on the plane and get him back,” Carter said.
The meeting between Hazouri and Crescimbeni, two old school Jacksonville Democrats who were in office before Hazouri’s Council aide even had a bassinet, was tinged with the tension of people who knew each other perhaps a little too well.
It got interesting early on when Hazouri told Crescimbeni, regarding his signing on with Bowman before even meeting with Crescimbeni, that “I thought everyone piled on with you,” a reference to many of the Council leadership signing letters of support for his VP bid. That, he said later, created the “perception” that people “queued up for leadership.”
During their conversation, Crescimbeni said that “the best thing that [Council veterans] can do is not chair committees,” instead grooming the new class.
Hazouri peppered Crescimbeni with questions that got interesting answers.
When asked what his conception of the role of the presidency is, Crescimbeni said that part of it was to ensure that Council’s image not “get dashed in the media by dumb things,” and that as Council president, he would work with the media (such as, presumably, The Florida Times-Union and the Financial News and Daily Record) to craft a “better image in media.”
Another role is to “steer the council,” something that he noticed Bill Gulliford do under a “different mayor,” made necessary by there being a “lot of folks with no local government experience.”
Addressing Alvin Brown, who hadn’t held elected office prior to being mayor, Crescimbeni observed, “If you don’t have that understanding … you have to be smart enough” to hire people that do.
There is a do-or-die feel to the Crescimbeni push. In his 16th year on Council, he has never been Council president.
He came close in 1998, but he got pushed out in favor of Don Davis by a 12-7 vote.
Though we’re in a new century, it was clear that the decision stung.
“I would never not support the VP” in running for president, Crescimbeni said, except in the case of an “egregious crime.”
He did mention an example of such an egregious crime. It was, indeed, egregious.
Crescimbeni also cast shade on Bowman, saying, “I can’t imagine myself running for leadership six months into my first term.”
Hazouri, after meeting with all three potential second-choice candidates, wouldn’t commit to any of them. For one thing, there are policy outcomes he seeks to effect.
For one thing, Hazouri seeks a sunset of the TRUE Commission, an independent fiscal watchdog body first enacted by Council ordinance in 1994.
“I never understood the need for it,” Hazouri said in his office, given that Council has an auditor.
Hazouri is concerned about overreach beyond Finance, one seemingly permitted by statute saying that, in addition to financial oversight, TRUE may examine “other areas” as the “commission deems appropriate and within the scope of the commission’s duties.”
One such area TRUE examined: the Human Rights Ordinance expansion. TRUE was not in favor of such, as they wanted information that can’t be readily quantified, like businesses that decided not to come to Jacksonville because of a lack of an expanded HRO.
Another battle Hazouri fights is with the Ethics Office and director Carla Miller, which strikes him as ironic given his stint on the Florida Commission on Ethics.
In Rules on Tuesday, Hazouri made a joke that Ethics was perhaps a bit overzealous in some respects, which led to an immediate email from Ethics Director Miller regarding her concerns.
Miller, whose ethics department has been high profile of late for stories ranging from largess from the Jaguars to use of cellphones at Council meetings, isn’t always on the same page with Hazouri.
“I was using an example,” Hazouri said of Miller. “Holding up a sign, saying ‘gotcha.’”
Hazouri thinks that “we know what the law is” and that many on Council agree with his skepticism over certain aspects of Miller’s enforcement, saying that “a lot of people won’t speak out” and that there is concern over “unintended consequences.”
These matters are key to Hazouri. But also material: the HRO.
“If you’re for it you should take leadership,” he said.
Hazouri is going to be the leading point man on Thursday at the Committee of the Whole, making the case that the bill is “not about religion” or the denial of religious freedoms, but it is about “jobs, housing, public accommodations” and the “LGBT community is left out.”
One wonders whether everyone will be on board with Hazouri’s position, especially in light of Curry extending employment protections to employees of the city and its contractors, in what has been described as a non-coercive, incrementalist move by some, and by others as the first regressive move by a mayor in recent memory.
Curry’s play may peel off a few votes that might have been in favor of the Hazouri bill. And Hazouri is going to push it through, even as there is reason to believe that there is skepticism.
Time will tell. But Hazouri has vowed to keep pushing until it is law.