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Sparks fly at Tommy Hazouri, Geoff Youngblood debate

One of the most heated Jacksonville City  races heading into the May runoff is the testy matchup between former mayor Tommy Hazouri and business owner Geoff Youngblood.

The two sparred repeatedly during a Monday night debate, one of four held in libraries across the city and sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Jacksonville First Coast.

The Hazouri/Youngblood exchanges were the main event at a well-attended Southside forum that I moderated, while the District 4 debate between Ramon Day and Scott Wilson served as more of an undercard.

Day and Wilson had mainly cordial, civil exchanges as they fielded questions on everything from the city’s HRO to its pension crisis to the local crime rate and more.

Not so in the tussle over the At-Large Group 3 seat, which features two outsize personalities with vastly different worldviews and approaches to governing.

Democrat Hazouri, the jovial former one-term mayor who famously rid the city of its hated tolls and odoriferous paper mills, has spent most of his life in one public office or another, including in the state Legislature and on the Duval County School Board.

Republican Youngblood, who repeatedly took issue with Hazouri’s public pensions during the debate, is the owner of Tools For A Time Inc. and Turf PAC, two Jacksonville-based industrial power equipment rental companies. He pledged to govern conservatively — “Hold me accountable!” he said several times to the crowd — and find financial reserves in the city’s budget to address the city’s taxation and spending dilemmas.

The two predictably differed on whether to expand Jacksonville’s human rights ordinance to cover LGBT citizens, (Hazouri: for, Youngblood, against) but the exchanges got even livelier from there.

At one point, Youngblood went after Hazouri’s role in eliminating toll roads by criticizing the half-cent sales tax the then-mayor had put before voters.

“You know what? I’m not going to get angry,” Hazouri said, rolling his eyes at his opponent and openly ignoring cues to wrap his statements in under two minutes. “But don’t tell me about tolls. I know tolls.”

Even during the candidates’ closing statements, the ire between the two was apparent, as Youngblood touted a small-government approach to fixing the city’s fiscal problems while Hazouri stressed his long experience in the public sphere.

The At-Large Group 3 race is one of three at-large council seats going to a May runoff. The other two at-large races feature equally fascinating (to say the least) narratives, which bodes well for a diverse array of personalities at the minimum when the new council is seated this summer.

Written By

In addition to her work writing for Florida Politics, Melissa Ross also hosts and produces WJCT’s First Coast Connect, the Jacksonville NPR/PBS station’s flagship local call-in public affairs radio program. The show has won four national awards from Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). First Coast Connect was also recognized in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014 as Best Local Radio Show by Folio Weekly’s “Best Of Jax” Readers Poll and Melissa has also been recognized as Folio Weekly’s Best Local Radio Personality. As executive producer of The 904: Shadow on the Sunshine State, Melissa and WJCT received an Emmy in the “Documentary” category at the 2011 Suncoast Emmy Awards. The 904 examined Jacksonville’s status as Florida’s murder capital. During her years in broadcast television, Melissa picked up three additional Emmys for news and feature reporting. Melissa came to WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. Married with two children, Melissa is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism/Communications. She can be reached at m.ross66211@gmail.com.

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