Jacksonville mayoral candidates diverge on diversity, equity, inclusion issues

Jax Interfaith Forum
Sharp disagreements emerged on confederate monuments, public school politics.

Several candidates for Jacksonville Mayor discussed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts and aspirations in a forum Tuesday night.

Hosted by the Interfaith Center of Northeast Florida and moderated by WJCT’s Melissa Ross, the town hall event promised a break from the sharp ads and personal attacks that have characterized the run-up to next month’s First Election. However, tensions emerged despite the seemingly relaxed setting and the smaller field of participants on a number of issues.

Of the five major candidates who qualified for the March 21 ballot, three participated in the event. Major Republican candidates Daniel Davis and Al Ferraro were absent, but other significant candidates showed up and leaned into some contentious subjects, including confederate monuments, DEI being eliminated from local colleges and universities, support for LGBTQ youth, and negative ads.

Regarding monuments to the losing side of the Civil War, Republican LeAnna Gutierrez Cumber said she didn’t want to “erase history,” preferring to “contextualize” the Jim Crow era edifices. Democrats Donna Deegan and Audrey Gibson differed.

“At some point, talk is cheap,” said Deegan. “If you do not recognize people’s humanity, it is hard to have the conversations you need to have to move us forward … there is no business that wants to move to a city that is still fighting the Civil War.”

“There should be no symbol of oppression, degradation, or sexism in public places in Jacksonville,” Gibson added, calling for the structures to be removed.

Academic freedom and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push against DEI at universities was another significant topic with divergence.

Cumber objected to the premise of the question from Ross, drawing a gasp from the crowd

“Do you want me to answer the question or do you want me to keep talking?”

Cumber said the university system was “answerable” to DeSantis and the Board of Governors, given his victory in November, before pivoting quickly away to talk about literacy rates in public schools. Cumber’s children attend Bolles, but her words about public schools were passionate, if nonresponsive to the question.

Deegan and Gibson, unsurprisingly, diverged from Cumber’s premise.

“We are seeing an attack on education, on public education. A lot of these moves are made simply to degrade public education,” Deegan said, focusing on public schools, adding that DeSantis “wanted this fight” over “book banning” because it “brings out the worst in people.”

“Your attention is being drawn over here while your freedom is being taken over here,” Deegan said.

Deegan noted then that even a simple “civility pledge” from One Jax was rejected as “too woke” by some candidates, underscoring the toxicity of the discourse as serving a “political purpose” to “divide us against each other.”

“I’m afraid what some people are calling liberty sounds like ‘my way or the highway,'” the former television newscaster said.

Gibson, who fought in the trenches of the state Senate, talked about the deliberate erasure of history in Tallahassee education discussion while urging local action, including on books being removed.

“How do you talk about what happened without talking about what they overcame?”

Gibson noted that many banned books were written by African-Americans and “non-White people,” with economic penalties for libraries and schools as a result of the prohibition.

“Procedurally, you cannot stop what’s happening in the Legislature. …. We’re being attacked, which means we have to come together more. The whole issue and the whole reason for what is happening is the person who is creating the division is the person that is empowered,” Gibson said, referring to Gov. DeSantis.

Cumber then noted DeSantis’ historic margin of victory and people “moving to Florida in droves” because it is, as DeSantis contended, “the Free State of Florida.”

The candidates also diverged on support of LGBT youth.

Cumber said the local lane for that kind of action was “narrow,” suggesting that support wasn’t a priority for her.

Deegan said she wanted those “vulnerable kids” to feel “safe and wanted” with “resources to turn to,” noting that support materials for that demographic have been removed from schools.

“We are in a situation where power wants to divide,” Deegan said. “These are kids that are vulnerable to suicide, to mental health issues” and “they need the same resources as any other child.”

Gibson said she would “support every individual in the city.”

“We’re all human beings, with needs as human beings,” Gibson said, refusing to “categorize” people and preferring “unity and bringing people together.”

“Whatever is available to every other individual in the city will be available to any other individual in the city. There’s no difference,” Gibson said.

Negative ads, which Cumber is funding against Daniel Davis, were also a subject. Cumber preferred to stress “positivity” in her ads in her terse answer. Deegan and Gibson have not run negative spots to date.

“If enough of us want civility,” Deegan said, “we will reject zero-sum politics. We will say to ourselves, ‘No, we will be better than that.'”

Gibson likewise said she “only talks about Audrey Gibson” and doesn’t have resources for negative spots.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


5 comments

  • Beach Leader

    February 7, 2023 at 10:35 pm

    No surprise that Davis was a no show as word went out yesterday that he will not attend any more public forums.

    Makes you wonder what he is afraid of.

    • TheWinnerIs

      February 8, 2023 at 8:39 am

      Daniel is afraid to answer questions publicly because he’s so tied at the hip to Lenny. Davis has no vision for Jacksonville except perhaps more taxes. It’s the “it’s my turn” attitude the establishment R’s possess. He also doesn’t want to answer how he merits making almost 600K from the Chamber, a non profit which has received millions from Lenny via the citizens of Jacksonville with no benefit of return to the taxpayers. No other Chamber President makes this much money in the state of Florida.

      Viewing the Interfaith mayoral forum last night was painful to watch, the questions were for the most part very woke. The sophomoric answers from Donna Deegan were not resolutions for Jacksonville but mostly baseless attacks against our awesome Governor. Her beef with him is actually philosophical but Gov. DeSantis is correct.

      LeAnna Cumber was great and directly on point. Davis was MIA, no surprise. His team is now employing the Biden basement strategy.

      Being mayor is so much more than being a bleeding heart liberal for issues that affect less than 1 percent of the population. If Deegan wants perverse books in libraries that are not age appropriate, she can open her own library with the profits from her run, but the Duval County taxpayers do not support the use of their monies to indoctrinate innocent children about sexual perversity. Literacy proficiency is the way to lift the tide for all students in education. Cumber won this forum hands down. Ferraro is good but he has no shot. Voters must stick together to beat Lenny’s 3rd term via Daniel Davis.

  • No Liberals or Dirty Daneil Davis

    February 8, 2023 at 5:01 am

    Mrs. Cumber, while not my number one pick, is so much better than those two bleeding heart liberals. If the final election comes down to Cumber vs either Dirty Daniel Davis or Andrew Gillum liberal Deegan, of course Mrs. Cumber is the choice. Al Ferraro is my number 1 pick though. We will see how it all shakes out.

    • LeAnna4Duval

      February 8, 2023 at 9:38 am

      Daniel is afraid to answer questions publicly because he’s so tied at the hip to Lenny. Davis has no vision for Jacksonville except perhaps more taxes.

      It’s the “it’s my turn” attitude the establishment R’s possess. Davis also doesn’t want to answer how he merits making almost 600K from the Chamber, a non profit which has received millions from Lenny via the citizens of Jacksonville with no benefit of return to the taxpayers. No other Chamber President makes this much money in the state of Florida.

      Viewing the Interfaith mayoral forum last night was painful to watch, the questions were for the most part very woke. The sophomoric answers from Donna Deegan were not resolutions for Jacksonville but mostly baseless attacks against our awesome Governor. Her beef with him is actually philosophical but Gov. DeSantis is correct.

      LeAnna Cumber was great and directly on point. Davis was MIA, no surprise. His team is now employing the Biden basement strategy.

      Being mayor is so much more than being a bleeding heart liberal for issues that affect less than 1 percent of the population. If Deegan wants perverse books in libraries that are not age appropriate, she can open her own library with the profits from her run; but the Duval County taxpayers do not support the use of their monies to indoctrinate innocent children about sexual perversity.

      Literacy proficiency is the way to lift the tide for all students in education and reduce crime. Cumber won the forum hands down. Ferraro is good but he has no shot. Voters must stick together to beat Lenny’s 3rd term via Daniel Davis.

  • MK

    February 8, 2023 at 4:31 pm

    Both male candidates shrugged there shoulders at the debate huh? Shows they can’t handle themselves when it comes to actual talking about substance. LeAnna Cumber is very duplicitous one minute she sounds moderate and the next a Ron Desantis wanna be. No thank you. Donna Deagan really cares about this city and should be the next mayor of Jacksonville to move us forward. Let leave the racist homophobes in the past and truly become a bold city not a backwards city of the south.

Comments are closed.


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