The 2023 Jacksonville mayoral race is well over a year away, yet the field promises to be packed and well-funded with serious potential candidates continuing to emerge.
Jacksonville City Council member LeAnna Cumber has been exploring a run for some time, and the debut report of her state-level JAX First political committee will reflect considerable donor interest. A source familiar with the committee’s finances divulges that it raised $960,000 in September.
Expect a long and varied list of donors, including Steve Halverson of the Haskell Company, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp owner Ken Babby, Rep. Cord Byrd, and former Rep. Jay Fant on the debut fundraising report.
Cumber, in her first term representing District 5 on Jacksonville’s Southside, said she was “humbled” by the fundraising, which totaled “nearly a million dollars.”
She attributes the fundraising to just talking about her vision and contends it shows that messaging has resonance, even in what promises to be a crowded 2023 field. Both the potential candidate and her husband, Husein Cumber, have deep connections locally, statewide, and nationally, and those will come into play, assuming, of course, she runs.
Could she launch a campaign soon? If so, she could end up being the fourth Republican in the field when all is said and done. She would be the third Republican member of the Jacksonville City Council in the field, but she’d likely be the best funded.
Current At-Large Council member Matt Carlucci has said he raised more than a million dollars during his campaign between his state-level Next Generation Jax political committee and his campaign account, but that fundraising has been over the course of the year, not just last month.
At this writing, which does not as yet include September tallies, Carlucci had raised $694,750 to his political committee and $264,230 to his campaign account, so he wasn’t far away from that number at the end of August.
Current District 2 Council member Al Ferraro raised $47,549 to his campaign account through August, with another $117,029 in his county-level political committee, Keep It Real Jax. That doesn’t include a September tally.
However, Carlucci and Ferraro are not the leading Republican fundraisers looking at the race. That honor belongs to Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis, a former state legislator and council member from Jacksonville’s Westside who has been expected to run for Mayor for years.
Davis’ state-level Building a Better Economy political committee had $2.57 million on hand at the end of August, which represents the best financial situation of any candidate in the race. The September report will see another $171,000 added to the total.
The question going forward, assuming Cumber and Davis enter the race formally, is how much room there is for Republican candidates in the field, which currently lacks a formally filed Democratic candidate.
Former television journalist Donna Deegan is a pre-candidate, however, testing the waters with her state-level Donna for Duval political committee. Not counting yet to be released September fundraising totals, the committee raised roughly $125,000 through two months. August saw the committee raise just over $13,000.
Meanwhile, two independent candidates intend to run, though they have different takes on fundraising.
Jacksonville Urban League President Richard Danford filed Monday, and he has no delusions about a path to victory.
“I’m running because I believe this is the only thing left to make the system work for people rather than the politicians,” Danford said. “I’m not looking for votes or contributions.”
Rather, he is running to make a point.
The 76-year-old Danford is running as a no party affiliation candidate, and his goal is simple — to give neighborhoods access to City Hall in a way he says currently does not exist. He cites the 1995 Neighborhood Bill of Rights, passed by the City Council of the time, as providing guidance that allows neighborhoods’ input.
Meanwhile, repeat candidate Darcy Richardson, who has run for everything from the White House to the Governor’s Mansion to the state House, is running his last hurrah campaign for Jacksonville Mayor.
He promises to raise and spend money.
“In any case, I’m going to initially fund my candidacy with a modest and symbolic $1,776 donation later this week, but I’m planning to put in at least $100,000 of my own money sometime next year. I only raised about $67,000 when I ran for Governor in 2018, but in addition to my own money, I think I can also raise an additional amount close to that in the mayoral race. My goal — and I don’t know if it will be achievable — is to spend about $150,000, which is far more than most independent or minor-party candidates raise and spend in a local race like this.”
The 2015 Jacksonville mayoral election was the most expensive in Jacksonville history, with more than $9 million spent. It appears 2023 could, at the very least, challenge that threshold.
There is ample time for this race to develop.
Qualifying runs from Jan. 9 to Jan. 13 of 2023, meaning no real decision is necessary until then. The First Election, which sees all candidates included and all voters eligible to vote, is March 23.
If no candidate scores a simple majority, the top two candidates move on to the General Election on May 16.
Meanwhile, the 2023 election’s turnout models will be worth watching as well. In 2019, when three Republicans and one independent candidate ran, turnout was just 24% in the March election that decided it all. That was down from 37% in the May 2015 General Election, which decided the Mayor and Sheriff’s races that year, in addition to a number of City Council races.