The crowd at the Main Library downtown for the Jacksonville City Council debate may not have been as large as others around town.
What it lacked in size, it made up with substance.
About 40 people, many connected to a campaign in one way or another, attended to hear candidates discuss the issues facing Jacksonville.
The debate began with a question about the Human Rights Ordinance and the failed attempt in 2013 to amend the legislation to include protections for gays, lesbians and the cross-gendered.
At-large Group 5 candidate Ju’Coby Pitman was the only one to say she would support the bill if elected and it returns for a council vote.
“I feel legislation should be about inclusion and not exclusion,” she said. “Everyone deserves equality and protection under the law.”
Her opponent, Republican Sam Newby, said he would oppose the legislation if it came back to the council. He said there were things in the bill he did not agree with.
“A transgender male could go into any bathroom that he wanted to,” he said. “Morally, I don’t think it’s good bill.’
After the debate, when asked where in the measure he believed it addressed bathroom issues Newby would only say he was against the bill because of his religious beliefs. On the campaign trail, he often touted being a Christian. Monday night was no different.
At-large District 1 candidate Anna Brosche again emphasized the belief that the city should protect all citizens from any kind of discrimination. However, she stopped short of saying how she would vote if the HRO amendment came up again at the council.
“I want to protect religious institutions. I want to protect the faith-based community. I want to protect small businesses and I also want to make sure not one person in the community is discriminated against,” Brosche said.
Pressed on the possibility of raising additional revenue to pay off the city’s more than $1.7 billion pension obligation, all three candidates admitted they would support a tax hike, as long as there were no other options.
Newby and Pittman said they would look at a millage increase while Brosche said she would support a sales tax hike instead.
During the debate, an empty chair sat alone at the end of the stage. It was for At-Large District 1 candidate Democrat Kimberly Daniels, who declined to participate, citing a previous commitment. Earlier Monday, Florida Politics writer A.G. Gancarski reported Daniels instead attended “Tossing in the Roses” at the Jacksonville Landing with the Justice Coalition. The event was part of a local “National Victims’ Rights Week” commemoration.
However, some at Monday night’s debate noted that since events were only a few blocks apart in downtown Jacksonville, Daniels might have attended both events, even if she arrived at the library a little late.