Key endorsements in the 2023 race for Jacksonville Mayor are being conferred without all candidates getting to make their case.
The Northeast Florida Association of Realtors (NEFAR) and the Northeast Florida Builders Association (NEFBA) both endorsed Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis in October, a strong show of confidence given a field of nine candidates and both a March and May election ahead.
The process was streamlined by eliminating interviews, multiple candidates told Florida Politics Friday, though at least one organization said that option is permitted by its bylaws.
Democrats Donna Deegan and Audrey Gibson told us they did not interview with NEFAR or NEFBA. Deegan spent decades reporting on local television news before leaving journalism, and Gibson is a current state Senator who led the Democratic caucus, but neither merited consideration.
Republican LeAnna Gutierrez Cumber, a Republican courting much of the same pro-growth support Davis would seem to be targeting, was also not interviewed, despite spending nearly four years on the City Council. Supporters were surprised to learn of her omission.
Another Republican who has spent nearly eight years on the City Council, social conservative Al Ferraro, was also snubbed by both industry groups. He told Florida Politics he wasn’t surprised.
“No. Are you kidding me? I’m not in their back pocket,” Ferraro said in a text Friday afternoon.
NEFBA, which endorsed Davis as a “person of profound character and integrity,” told us that its bylaws permit it to skip the interview process.
“You are correct that we did not interview the candidates for Mayor. In accordance with our PAC rules for early endorsement, the NEFBA PAC can endorse without an interview if the candidate is ‘an elected official (current or former) who has consistently supported NEFBA politically seeks re-election or new office’ or ‘a candidate from within the industry who decides to run for political office.'” asserted NEFBA executive officer Jessie Spradley
“Daniel Davis has been previously endorsed by NEFBA multiple times for both City Councilman and State Representative. Mr. Davis also worked for NEFBA for 14 years, serving as Government Affairs Director and Executive Officer,” Spradley noted.
“NEFBA early endorses candidates nearly every election cycle. Along with Mr. Davis, NEFBA has early endorsed nine other candidates for the 2023 City of Jacksonville Elections. Each endorsement was discussed and approved by our PAC Committee, Executive Committee, and Board of Directors.”
NEFAR, which lauded Davis as having the “courage to take the necessary steps” in its endorsement, asserted its own prerogative to endorse as it wants.
“NEFAR did not conduct interviews prior to endorsing Daniel Davis. This is not unusual as the board often endorses candidates without interviews. In fact the NEFAR Board of Directors approved several endorsements for the 2023 election at the same time they approved the Davis endorsement,” asserted Nancy Garcia.
“NEFAR has a very thorough and fair interview process that is followed in most cases. However, there are several situations where the interview process may be bypassed; allowing endorsement of candidates who have been previously endorsed by NEFAR whether they are running as an incumbent or in another seat. In this case, Davis has a long history with NEFAR that includes endorsement in every race he has contested.”
“He has a record of support during his terms on both City Council and Florida Legislature. In addition Daniel worked side by side with NEFAR on many issues during his tenure at the Northeast Florida Builders Association and has collaborated with NEFAR in his current role at the Jacksonville Chamber,” Garcia added.
The endorsement process proves controversial in more cycles than not. In 2015, Republican Bill Bishop found himself frustrated as Lenny Curry stacked endorsements by hook or by crook.
The endorsements, despite a lack of process, help to cement Davis’ structural advantage. He’s been the strongest fundraiser in the race, with more than $4.1 million cash on hand in his political committee as of Oct. 7, the last date for which totals are available. He also raised $316,400 to his campaign account in September, his first month as a candidate.
Cumber is the next closest fundraiser. Her JAX First political committee has roughly $2.46 million on hand, and she has around $311,000 in her campaign account.
Ferraro lags behind Davis and Cumber in fundraising, with less than $65,000 on hand in his campaign account and a little more than $180,000 in his Keep It Real Jax political committee.
Deegan leads Democratic fundraising, with more than $550,000 on hand between her campaign account and her political committee. Gibson has roughly $100,000 on hand between her two accounts, meanwhile.