Jacksonville’s Sheriff — and the Congressman who preceded him in the role — is endorsing TK Waters, the man they want as the next Sheriff.
U.S. Rep. John Rutherford and current Sheriff Mike Williams approved Waters on Tuesday morning in downtown Jacksonville, an early endorsement in a 2023 race that was already competitive and expensive.
Rutherford, who served in the role from 2003 to 2015, noted “significant challenges facing law enforcement going forward” nationally, in the wake of the “demoralization, delegitimization, and now the defunding of local law enforcement across this country.”
“It’s going to be even more important for local law enforcement to be led by strong, principled leaders,” said Rutherford, who added that Waters was always “at the core of developing personnel and succession planning.”
Williams, saying he’s known Waters for his entire three-decade career, lauded Waters’ “commitment to doing the right thing time after time.”
The endorsements fit a pattern. In 2015, when Rutherford left office, he endorsed Williams on the way out. Heading into 2023, there is no doubt as to which candidate provides functional continuity for JSO.
Waters is the current Chief of Investigations. He started his law enforcement career three decades ago as a corrections officer and worked through the ranks.
Waters has the endorsements and the seeming fundraising momentum in the race. At September’s end, he had raised more than $150,000 for this campaign account and an additional $378,000 in his state-level A Safer Jacksonville for All political committee. More than $220,000 of that money came in September, with $188,500 going to the political committee and an additional $34,923 in hard cash.
The leading fundraiser, Democrat Lakesha Burton, had roughly $600,000 cash on hand at the end of August between her campaign account and that of her state-level Make Every Voice Count political committee supporting the effort. We are still waiting for September fundraising totals, which are due no later than Midnight Tuesday, but expect another $115,000 or so added to the total.
When asked if the endorsement event so early in the nascent 2023 cycle intended to steer Republicans from backing Burton, a Democrat with Republican donations since entering the race, Waters said it was to let voters know there’s “another option.”
“I feel like there’s no better time than right now,” Waters said. “The Congressman had the availability. The Sheriff had the availability.”
Burton reacted to the endorsements: “I’ve worked with and have great respect for Rep. Rutherford and Sheriff Williams, but their endorsements in this race should not surprise anyone. I’m not running to continue what’s been done at JSO for the last 20 years. I’m running on a new style of leadership that will empower citizens who want to partner with law enforcement in making our city safer and more just.”
The fundraising of the two other candidates is slower-paced.
Mathew Nemeth, a Republican, has raised $61,585 through two months in the race, including September fundraising, which was just $8,085.
And Democrat Wayne Clark, in his third month in the race, finally surpassed $20,000 total raised in September. However, he has spent more than $9,000 of the money he raised.
If the past is prologue, there will be two elections for Sheriff in 2023. The First Election, in March, sees the top two finishers move to the May General Election unless one candidate wins in March with an outright majority of votes.
Duval County is plurality Democrat, but Republicans held the Sheriff’s Office since 2003 when Rutherford won his first of three terms.