Big themes, vague answers abound in Jacksonville mayoral debate

Deegan Davis SBS
Generalities, personal attacks, and emotional appeals predominated over policy specifics.

With polling showing the Jacksonville mayoral race as a dead heat, both General Election candidates stuck to big themes and generalities in Thursday’s debate.

Democrat Donna Deegan and Republican Daniel Davis made big picture points at the expense of operational details in the hourlong faceoff hosted at the University of North Florida and televised by Action News Jax.

Both attempted many emotional appeals and left questions less than fully answered, even as each was liberal with ad hominem attacks against their opponent, and promises coupled with unfunded mandates.

In his intro, Davis noted that an officer “attacked by a violent criminal recently” was sitting with his family, accentuating his law-and-order argument.

“We’ve had three officers shot this year, two of them still in the hospital recovering,” the Jax Chamber CEO said, promising that he and Sheriff TK Waters would make “Jacksonville a safer, more affordable place to live.”

Deegan introduced herself with autobiography, stressing her career as a newscaster and her recovery from breast cancer, positioning herself as an agent of change who would help turn “the page on fear and division … on self-dealing politics, people who try to sell our public utility … people who only try to do sweetheart deals that take care of themselves.”

With the major themes of crime fighting versus countering corruption established immediately, the candidates were set on their course.

Davis stressed “crime (as) the most important issue,” pledging more cops on the street and improved infrastructure, though he offered no plan for dealing with that other than “staying focused on how we spend your money.”

Deegan emphasized fixing “broken infrastructure” and fulfilling “broken promises,” improving Jacksonville’s woeful “health outcomes,” and moves to “rev the engine of small business.”

Crime recurred yet again, with Deegan noting the murder rate quadrupled New York City and stressing she would “fully fund” the police and address “the causes of crime, especially violent crime,” citing the bygone Jacksonville Journey as a road map toward a solution.

Davis countered, saying he had pushed to add police officers and “implement the Jacksonville Journey,” adding that he would emphasize “prevention and intervention.”

“I am going to add 200 new police officers to our streets in the next four years,” Davis promised.

Asked about funding, Davis said “prioritization” and moves to “tighten our belt” were key, saying there was “money in the city budget,” which for eight years was the responsibility of incumbent Lenny Curry.

Deegan noted half the budget goes to the Sheriff’s Office already, stressing “prevention and intervention” as Davis had minutes before.

The question of a citizens’ review board occasioned disagreement. Deegan noted there “cannot be a CRB that has any authority over the police,” per the Supreme Court, emphasizing the importance of “difficult conversations” to move the city forward.

“It cannot be a panel that has any authority over police,” Deegan said.

Davis said the citizen’s review board is the “election,” calling Sheriff Waters “duly elected” and saying he’s brought crime down. He noted that in San Francisco, the mayor “defunded the police” in 2020 and now has the “drug lords running her city” as a result.

With the crime issue resolved, development was next. Davis emphasized the need for residents downtown, “more rooftops,” and “workforce housing” for cops and teachers. Deegan said the “crumbling infrastructure” downtown needed to be fixed to drive population growth, which she suggested could be 30,000 people if the city “fires the engines” of small businesses.

The Jaguars’ stadium was up next, and the billion-dollar renovation to come, and each candidate brought the heat though not specifics.

Deegan was vague, saying the “best negotiators” would “do that work” but did not specify what the city would shell out. Davis said he’d use local negotiators, saying Jacksonville needs “a mayor who knows how to be a CEO (and) step up to the negotiating table.”

“We’re not going to give away the store,” Davis promised. “We’re going to have a fair deal where everybody has skin in the game.”

Deegan suggested Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan “wants to be in Jacksonville” and “wants to be part of the renaissance of the city” before suggesting Davis could not be an “honest broker” given his support for the failed Lot J deal.

“I’d rather have somebody come in here who’s used to dealing with the NFL than turn my fortunes over to the guy who wanted to commit us to Lot J,” Deegan said.

Turning to the Northside and Westside and their deterioration, Deegan noted they’d been left behind in job creation and infrastructure fixes for decades despite “election time” promises. She pledged an “intentional focus” on minority business owners.”

Davis countered that jobs had been brought to all parts of the city, noting that Amazon’s first hiring session was at the Legends Center in Northwest Jacksonville. He did not discuss infrastructure or a particular focus on minority business access.

The Georgia/Florida Game was next, with Deegan saying a deal could be negotiated to “keep it,” though she didn’t say how that would happen. Davis promised to “keep the game in Jacksonville,” make the case to “both schools,” and “pull out all the stops to make sure the game doesn’t leave Jacksonville.”

Turning to JEA, the discourse heated up.

Davis said he didn’t want to sell the utility and that a sale was “off the table” before wondering why rates weren’t “the lowest in the state of Florida.” Deegan, who has contended Davis wants to sell the utility, also doesn’t want to sell JEA off, saying a sale would “defund” parks, utilities, public safety, firefighters, and everything.

Al Ferraro told us on the campaign trail … this gentleman was the ringleader of trying to sell JEA,” Deegan contended, noting that Tim Baker was mentioned “44 times in the JEA report” about the sale push.

Davis countered that he took no money and Deegan’s allegations were “not true.”

Confederate monuments also came up, an issue that could be a moot point given state legislation to preserve them. Deegan said she would spend public money to move the monuments to “hate,” and Davis said he would not spend “taxpayers’ dollars” on monument relocation, saying it should go to “after-school programming” instead.

Davis vowed 10,000 “workforce housing” units during his term when asked about the affordable housing crisis. Deegan said “hundreds of millions of dollars” of grant money were on the table to solve those issues. Zoning changes would help as well, she added, as well as “dealing with” absentee, out-of-state landlords.

“We’ve got to put more money in the game,” Deegan said.

Turning to an ad linking Deegan to the Black Lives Matter protests three years ago, she said a “lot of mamas” felt for George Floyd and that the framing of the ad was “unfortunate” and distortive.

“I support Black lives,” Deegan said, allowing that people “at the top of that (national) movement were not good people.”

Davis countered that the ad was a “message about making your streets safer” and a warning against giving “radical activists” control, like in Chicago and San Francisco.

“The relationship between the mayor and the sheriff is critically important,” Davis said, clinging again to Waters like a security blanket.

Deegan was not permitted a rebuttal, and crosstalk followed briefly before the debate moved to panhandling, which is banned now in ordinance.

Davis contended panhandling is “unsafe,” but people don’t “go hungry” in Jacksonville.

“Let this ordinance breathe a little bit,” Davis urged.

Deegan suggested the issues are mental health and drug addiction, which need resolution, not criminalization.

Toward the end of the debate, Deegan came full circle, blasting the local “culture of corruption” and drawing cheers from the crowd. Asked to respond, Davis lauded the city’s “quality of life” as a reason people are moving here.

“Don’t be dismayed. We’re headed in the right direction,” the Republican promised.

A.G. Gancarski

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


  • Tim Baker = LOL

    April 20, 2023 at 8:11 pm

    Hahaha. Team Davis was called out for being corrupt. They are. They own the permit system. Systemic corruption and Summit construction funds Davis and their minions on council.

    Can’t wait to vote for Deegan and send a message to Dean Black, Tim Baker and Alexander Pancake Pantinakis that they can all go F themselves.

    Fellow Republican

  • Westsiders for Donna

    April 20, 2023 at 8:12 pm

    Davis headed for the Mariana Trench.

    He looked awful and Deegan was crushing him after halftime.

    Independent leaning house of 5 going to Deegan

  • Want to learn about the players?

    April 20, 2023 at 8:20 pm

    Tim Baker – runs campaigns (ran lennys)
    Fat Pancake – racist lowlife who runs negative ads
    Dean Black – Racist gop chair.

    These 3 knuckledraggers pick and choose council candidates and mayor. Like lindsey brock. Or rino raul arias. Will lahnen. Nick howland. Nick howland, john rutherford, will lahnen, and tim baker all live in jax golf and country club.

    Then they get summit construction to give them money for negative ads and clutch all the gary chartrands on Jacksonville and lock anyone else out.

    They threaten families and friends when it doesn’t go there way. I’m a Republican and I want all of them to lose. The city needs a hard reset.

    The corruption is who they are. Call them out on it. Confront them. Challenge them verbally. They always back down or run away because they are afraid on being called out. Dean Black cancelled REC meetings due to members challenging him. They’re worthless cowards. And I remind them constantly. You should too.

    • Lance

      April 23, 2023 at 12:24 pm

      Calm down. It’s a shame you haven’t invested as much passion in spelling and grammar as you have in forming your own opinion.

    • Laura Crittenden

      April 23, 2023 at 1:18 pm

      Fellow Republican changing party. All of the Florida politicians are corrupt and I don’t say that lightly. I’m sick and tired of the Trump copycats following in line by running ads that promote division and racism. This solves nothing and I’m so proud to vote for Donna after watching the debate just now. We need change and we need Donna.

  • Conservatives for Donna!

    April 20, 2023 at 8:31 pm

    For far too long back room desks have been made, and corruption has thrived thanks to RINO’s like Dean Black, Tim Baker and Alexander fat Pancake! Leaching off of our taxpayer dollars! Fat Pancake’s gone a different route, taking money to run the nastiest of campaigns and making deals to get his unqualified wife a job in the tax collector’s office. Hopefully Karma catches the loser who couldn’t win a campaign for Water Board.

    This real Conservative is voting against Davis and the corruption. I’d rather have a Democrat in office than another 8 years of Lenny and his minions running our city. Dirty Davis is just another carrier politician!

  • black lives matter = Deegan legacy

    April 20, 2023 at 10:51 pm

    You see how Donna’s nose twitches like Samantha on Bewitched lol… she got so irritated about supporting black lives matter, that is her legacy and she will lose because of it

    • Laura Crittenden

      April 23, 2023 at 1:31 pm

      You see how you have to make a personal attack about her nose and keep the lie going (that literally is an embarrassment to our city) as your only contribution here? That’s why I’m done with the Republican party as a whole.

  • Timmy

    April 21, 2023 at 7:40 am

    Two things were clear last night, 1) there is not much difference between the two and 2) Davis is not very smart.

  • Richard Glock

    April 21, 2023 at 10:13 am

    Pity that this is the best that we can do for candidates in this great city.

  • Elizabeth

    April 21, 2023 at 4:01 pm

    Davis has no personality. He looked very uncomfortable, as if he were posing for a mug shot. Deegan would not only be better for the city, but she would also be a better ambassador for us in the 21st Century.
    Also, the Chamber has too much power as it is. To give its head official political power would mean more, more, more of the same problems we’ve always had. The ads about Black Lives Matter are racist dog whistles. They’re an embarrassment to the city. Davis would make us a national joke. Is that what we want? Deegan is a class act. She’s giving us a chance to move forward. Let’s do it.

  • Laura

    April 23, 2023 at 1:23 pm

    Very well said!

  • Laura Crittenden

    April 23, 2023 at 1:27 pm

    I’ve been a Republican for a long time, but the antics and division and criminal politics have pushed me to the other side.
    I was pretty shocked to see how well Donna handled herself and won the debate. She’s got my vote and T.K. Waters better get on board with her as well and actually bring some change to Jax!

Comments are closed.


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