In Northeast Florida, the mosaic of the 2023 mayoral picture continues to take shape.
Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis has been on hand for many endorsement events and business development announcements over the years, but Thursday was in the new context of his expected entry into the mayoral race.
Despite polling at just 6% in the only public poll of the embryonic field, Davis has an advantage no other candidate in the race does: a deep network of statewide enthusiasm, measured by more than $2 million in his political committee, and also by other markers.
The news peg was significant: the city landing the corporate headquarters of Dun and Bradstreet. The finance firm is expected to create 500 jobs in five years, at an average salary of $77,000. But the subtext of the event, just below the surface, was what looked to at least one City Councilman there like a rehearsal for a campaign launch.
Indeed, more than half the City Council was on hand, as one would expect from a major jobs announcement.
Democratic City Council President Tommy Hazouri and Republican VP Sam Newby attended along with Republicans Danny Becton, Michael Boylan, Rory Diamond, and Ron Salem. Democrats Reggie Gaffney, Ju’Coby Pittman and Brenda Priestly Jackson were likewise at the event.
One joked that it felt like a campaign launch for Davis. Another, Westside Councilman Randy White, said Davis would be the “best prepared Mayor we’ve had in a long time, best prepared from day one.”
The comments, meanwhile, spoke to the unique role Davis has had as Chamber CEO over the last eight years, even as Davis himself wasn’t among the speakers Thursday.
Mayor Lenny Curry thanked Davis in acknowledging how the deal got done in his introductory remarks.
“I think Daniel is a great executive and would be a great executive in whatever he decides to do next, if anything,” Curry told Florida Politics after the event. “I don’t want to speculate on what his plans are, but I think he’d be an excellent Mayor.”
Enterprise Florida head Jamal Sowell, in his remarks, credited Davis and JAXUSA CEO Aundra Wallace with first telling him about the project, which he represented as a way to fulfill Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ declaration that “Florida is open for business.”
Sowell stressed after the event that Enterprise Florida does not “get involved in local campaigns,” but did say Davis was “great to work with” and lauded the relationship between his agency and the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.
Davis, when asked if he was close to launching, channeled former Gov. Rick Scott when he was asked about political plans to run for Senate.
“It’s about jobs today,” Davis, whose political committee is called Building a Better Economy, said.
Rick Mullaney of the Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute ran for Mayor in 2011, and said that Davis certainly has a path should he run as expected.
“A poll this early doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Mullaney said of the 6% showing. “History shows that.”
“Back when John Delaney ran in 1995, four months before the election he hadn’t gotten into the race, and didn’t show up on anybody’s radar screen. A similar thing with John Peyton in 2003. And so this far out, and the Mayor’s race is really two years away, I don’t think early polling is really very meaningful. It’s interesting. I think everybody reads it. But I think there’s potentially a lot of viable candidates out there.”
“Daniel Davis certainly has a path. I think a lot of candidates have a path. It’s really early,” Mullaney added. “He’s got a strong resume: City Council president, served in the Legislature, president of the Chamber of Commerce.”
“He’s got a path, Matt Carlucci has a path,” Mullaney said, noting that Duval is going more “blue” and a Democrat could also make noise in the race.