Donna Deegan era begins in Jacksonville

deegan art copy
A new era begins.

On Saturday, Donna Deegan took over Jacksonville’s top job for four years, delivering a speech full of aspirational rhetoric and signaling hope for the city’s long-suffering Democratic Party.

“We have lived a shared life,” Deegan said, in remarks that encompassed her long history in the city and her vision for at least the next four years, which include love, unity, and a “new day” for the city, and unleashing the city’s potential through transparency and collaboration in local government.

Her speech touched on the legacies of former Mayor Tommy Hazouri, whose Bible she was sworn in on, as well as Deegan’s tenor-voiced father Don Hazouri, an attorney in the city’s Office of General Counsel who sang opera.

The early part of the speech included anecdotes about growing up in a “big Arabic family,” eating kibbeh and arguing politics, seguing into description of how the “gorgeous mosaic” of Jacksonville is in her “DNA.”

In addition to historical callbacks, the new Mayor outlined her expectations for “an exciting time in our history” through the next four years, many of which will be familiar to those who followed the 2023 campaign.

“Potential is a word often used to describe our city. Too often, that potential has been unrealized,” Deegan said, describing her win as one where “love” and “unity” prevailed, auguring in a new era of “transparency” and “opportunities for every one,” to create a “city that ultimately works for all of us.”

“I promise I will do everything in my power to live up to your faith in me, in us,” Deegan said. “We can’t do this alone. I’m going to need you to stand with me.”

Among the priorities: Infrastructure investments, downtown revitalization and development, driving resources to historically neglected neighborhoods, improving access to healthcare and public safety with the help of her Chief Health Officer, boosting literacy rates, and streamlining permit and procurement process for businesses.

Deegan vowed to prioritize “resiliency” and “fully fund our riverfront parks” and finish the Emerald Trail. As well, she promised to chase federal grant dollars.

“We will be strategic and aggressive to bring back our share from Washington,” Deegan said.

There were also surprises, including a lyrical variation on the Vanilla Ice classic “Ice Ice Baby” in a video preceding her speech, and a brief tease of “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang, indications that the Deegan administration will represent a stylistic break from predecessors. As well, a quote of French theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a local first.

Mayor Deegan, elected in May over Republican Daniel Davis in an election that surprised some onlookers, replaces Lenny Curry in the city’s top job. Her election sets up a unique period of necessarily bipartisan cooperation in the city, with a GOP supermajority in place in the City Council.

Expect Deegan’s administration to start quickly, with a mix of familiar names in place.

Among them: Chief Administrative Officer Karen Bowling, a former executive at Rick Scott’s Solantic Health, who previously served as CAO for Jacksonville’s last Democratic Mayor, Alvin Brown.

CFO Anna Brosche won’t take over until October, but until then the former City Council President and 2019 mayoral candidate will be ably assisted by interim CFO Mike Weinstein, who Deegan says will be handling a lot of “big rocks,” including the negotiations of the Jaguars stadium deal for the city that could start this month.

Deegan’s former Campaign Manager Pat McCollough, a former Marine, will be Chief of Staff. She’s new to City Hall, but will enter with respect from members of the outgoing Curry administration.

Melissa Ross will serve as Director of Strategic Initiatives and liaison to the press, after having spent a remarkable 14 years hosting WJCT’s “First Coast Connect.”

Erica Connor will serve as executive assistant. She ran Deegan’s campaign for Congress in 2020.

Phil Perry will handle communications, after having done so for Deegan’s campaign for Mayor.

Dr. Sunil Joshi will be chief health officer, a new role and a fulfillment of a Deegan campaign pledge.

Lakesha Burton, a former candidate for Sheriff, will be Chief of Public Safety. She was a 24-year police officer and a public safety analyst for WJXT.

Dr. Parvez Ahmed will be Director of Diversity and Inclusion, yet another new role for the new administration.

Former General Counsel Jason Gabriel will chair the qualifications review committee to evaluate new General Counsel candidates. The respected Bob Rhodes will be interim GC until a final pick is made.

Meanwhile, three people who have served on the City Council are also slotted in for prominent roles.

Republican Al Ferraro will serve as Director of Neighborhoods, while Democrat Garrett Dennis will be Director of Boards and Commissions. Ferraro is just leaving the Council after having run for Mayor himself, while Dennis left last year for a failed run for the state Legislature.

Former Council President Scott Wilson will serve as Council liaison. Wilson left office in November 2020,

Deegan’s administration isn’t likely to get a honeymoon; its first budget is due this month, and will be considered and ultimately amended by the supermajority Republican Finance Committee picked by Council President Ron Salem this week. Salem has made no secret of wanting a new jail built outside of downtown, a long-standing wish list item for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

The panel will be chaired by Republican Nick Howland, and has just two Democrats: former Rick Scott appointee Ju’Coby Pittman and recently-elected Reggie Gaffney Jr. GOP members include newly-elected Raul Arias and Will Lahnen, along with Council Vice President Randy White and Kevin Carrico.

Howland is not talking about what he expects from the Deegan budget, but odds are good that deviations from the status quo of former Mayor Curry will get a critical eye.

This will be the first Finance Committee not aligned with the party of the Mayor since Brosche’s, which saw four Black Democrats who supported her run for the presidency installed on the committee, constituting a majority.

Meanwhile, though the day was celebratory for most, there were indications that Deegan will have to deal with the divides predecessor Lenny Curry faced. Over downtown near her inauguration, a plane flew with a confederate flag banner, and the message “Deegan: Include us.”

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


7 comments

  • eva

    July 1, 2023 at 2:07 pm

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  • Seber Newsome III

    July 1, 2023 at 9:15 pm

    Mayor Deegan , you talk about love and unity, us southerners who love our ancestors want to be respected. Leave the Women of the Southland Monument alone.. That way you can show Unity, and we won’t forget come next election.

  • My Take

    July 1, 2023 at 11:38 pm

    WHAT would the Greaseman think of her!?
    In Jacksonville!
    Good show m’lady.

  • Frankie M.

    July 2, 2023 at 12:20 pm

    Gabriel is an empty suit yes man. A solid choice.

  • Same ol’ same ol’

    July 2, 2023 at 12:51 pm

    She’s already skirting the rules. Hiring a former councilman who holds no four-year degree. If the council can waive the rules, we need to challenge it in court.

    City Charter

    Sec. 34.102. – Office of Director.
    There shall be a Director of the Neighborhoods Department. The Director shall have a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited college or university and at least five years of experience in an administrative or executive position. The Director shall be appointed by the Mayor, subject to confirmation by the Council, and shall serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. The Director shall manage all operations of the Neighborhoods Department.

  • I voted for Deegan

    July 2, 2023 at 10:51 pm

    I voted for Deegan. She promised a new day in Jacksonville which excited me. However, I’ve yet to see what’s different.

    She’s appointing some of the same power brokers who’ve been around forever. Where’s the younger, newer talent? Young people are leaving Jacksonville and not returning because of the same people not wanting to go home and retire.

    Again, why is she appointing so many Republicans? Al Ferraro is going to oversee probably the most important city department? What!?!?!

    Tracye Polson ran for office and lost so now she’s getting a job!?!?!

    Garrett Dennis spent his entire time on Council being at odds with anyone who’d entertain it and now he gets to stack the city’s boards and commissions with whom he deems worthy!?!?

    This seems like cronyism but I’m waiting to pass judgment.

  • Seber Newsome III

    July 3, 2023 at 11:14 am

    I see where Mayor Deegan wants to remove the Women of the Southland Monument. Mayor Deegan, you claim you want Unity, removing history is not Unity, it is being divisive. If you continue to push for the removal of History, I can guarantee you will be a one term Mayor. The only reason you won, is because the voters who supported Al Ferraro, did not like the way Daniel Davis treated. him with TV ads and mailers. We make up a sizable portion of the voters of Jacksonville. Also, if any city council person goes along with your divisiveness, I can guarantee, their political career will be over. just like Lenny Curry will never hold another political office. Do the right thing and respect History, and let it stay where it is.

Comments are closed.


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