Progressive Tallahassee City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow entered the lion’s — make that tiger’s — den Friday when he appeared at the Capital Tiger Bay Club to debate David Bellamy, who’s hoping to oust the first-term Commissioner from Seat 3.
Populated mostly by businesspeople and well-connected retirees, the crowd of 125 members and guests heavily favored Bellamy, a fifth-generation Tallahasseean and orthopedic surgeon, who entered the race in October 2021. A straw vote of the membership favored Bellamy 80% to 20%.
Those who might have been hoping the claws would come out for this new guard vs. old school matchup left disappointed.
Many times, when lobbed a question by the moderator, POLITICO reporter Gary Fineout, their answers were similar, if not identical.
Both pointed to poverty as the city’s most critical problem, and both have firsthand knowledge of the subject.
Bellamy worked his way through college as a Tallahassee police officer and currently works part-time for the police department. “When I came back, I relished how great of a city we had. But I started to realize it’s only great for some of us,” he said. “When I would go into the areas where I worked as a policeman, it looked exactly the same as it did 30 years ago; nothing has changed.”
Matlow concurred: “I don’t need lessons in what poverty is like. I was raised by a single mother of four kids on the south side of the city. And Dr. Bellamy’s right. My neighborhood looks exactly the same. The violence in that neighborhood is exactly the same. We all know poverty is what’s driving our crime issues and we’ve got to do better.”
The co-founder and owner of five local restaurants earned a reputation as a contrarian soon after he was elected to the Commission in 2018. He was joined by a fellow progressive when Jack Porter was elected in 2020 and the pair have teamed up to become a vocal minority in the group.
Recently, Matlow made headlines fighting Mayor John Dailey and fellow Commissioners over a $27 million economic development grant from a local penny sales tax given to Florida State University to upgrade Doak Campbell Stadium. It ultimately passed. “When the first vote passed the public didn’t even know about it. And when they did find out about it, they came out in droves in opposition,” he said.
Surprisingly, FSU graduate Bellamy said he agrees — up to a point.
“I don’t think anybody who voted for Blueprint thought it would go to the boosters,” he said. “I take care of the FSU baseball team, I’m the doctor for the women’s basketball team. I love FSU. But I don’t think that’s what Blueprint money was for. I think a better leader could have worked out a compromise. When you refuse to meet with the very person who’s asking for the money, you eliminate the ability to compromise.”
Matlow filed a lawsuit last week, asking that the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency be covered by Florida’s Sunshine Law.
Last July, Matlow launched a broadside just before the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce’s summer convention with an opinion piece accusing the group of “business as usual” leading to the corruption conviction of Mayor Scott Maddox and naming names. The Chamber fired back with an unprecedented move, formally censuring Matlow at that meeting.
It was rumored the Chamber recruited Bellamy to run against the maverick Commissioner, something Bellamy denies. But he has raised more money — $246,710 — than any candidate in any other Leon County race, much of it from the Tallahassee establishment figures and Chamber-adjacent businesses.
Matlow has collected $106,349 to defend his seat, mostly from small-dollar donors and online fundraising.
Both candidates are Democrats in the nonpartisan race, although Matlow did chide Bellamy about his contributions to Republican candidates over the years, including Rep. Matt Gaetz. Bellamy explained that his donation was during Gaetz’s time in the Legislature before he gained a reputation as a firebrand Congressman. “A lot of us end up donating money to people that end up disappointing us,” he said.
When the founder of Gaines Street Pies was given the opportunity to ask his opponent a hard-hitting question, he asked Bellamy: “What’s your favorite pizza?” The answer was pepperoni.
The candidates will be on the ballot during the Aug. 23 Primary Election.