The First Coast Tiger Bay Club held a candidate forum Friday for the at-large seats on Jacksonville City Council hopefuls . Though not every candidate showed at the club’s monthly meeting, each of the five at-large races was represented, and the candidates acquitted themselves well for the mature crowd of the influential in the venerable University Club.
In spite of an inviting seafood buffet, local politics was the main course, and listeners got a clearer sense of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.
All told, nine candidates were involved in the forum. From Group 1, were two contenders who have not gotten much press: the lightly funded but genuinely visionary former Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office detective, Terry Reed, along with a candidate who came within 120 votes of winning the position four years ago: local Republican lawyer David Taylor.
One candidate represented Group 2, the combative, straight-talking incumbent Democrat John Crescimbeni, who reliable sources say has managed to irk public-workers unions, the Jax Chamber, and U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. The incumbent faces an uphill battle to re-election against David Barron, who did not show. Barron was encouraged to run, Crescembeni said, by former Councilman Richard Clark, Barron’s business partner. Barron has raised more than twice as much money this cycle as the incumbent, which explains why such forums provide valuable exposure for the Democrat fighting for his political life.
Group 3 saw former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Hazouri show up, along with another Democrat in the race: Mincy Pollock. The tension between Hazouri and Pollock provided the dramatic highlight of the event.
The remaining two groups had considerably less drama. Group 4 representation included incumbent Republican Greg Anderson and his challenger, the lightly funded Juanita Powell-Williams. Group 5’s sole candidate, meanwhile, was Michelle Tappouni, a Republican likely to make the runoff election.
The Group 1 representatives, Reed and Taylor, likely will not be around after March 24. They both have raised less than $13,000, and Reed has spent most of his. Reed, who has a doctorate in education, does have visionary ideas for economic development, such as building a theme park and an “academia multiplex” that would include satellite campuses of universities nationwide. Ambitious ideas, but it’s hard to see practical underpinnings or ways that he can marshal support for them.
Taylor, meanwhile, bills himself as “fairly conservative … more of a Republican than anyone in the race”— an assertion that would have surprised the other Republican in the race, Anna Brosche, had she been there. Taylor’s positions include a hard line on the pension crisis, which he claims is like a “train coming down the track” that “could make Jacksonville the next Detroit” if it isn’t handled correctly.
The longtime attorney had, ironically, a more militaristic approach to law enforcement than Reed, the former JSO detective. Taylor said that the city needs more “boots on the ground” in neighborhoods to deal with the “10% of the population that commits 90% of the crimes,” to ensure that we “have criminals in jail and incapacitated.” If Taylor drew as hard a line with malapropisms as he does with the criminal population, he may be better positioned for the March election.
Crescimbeni, the Group 2 incumbent, ifeels the pressure from his political adversaries and election opponents alike. Like Taylor, he took aim at the drug trade, and the “80% of murders in Jacksonville” that are related to it. He railed against his “two opponents who never show up for forums,” all the better to promulgate his message of “cutting costs and eliminating wasteful spending.”
Regarding pensions, the longtime councilman said that “no plans [currently being discussed] are good” for financing the proposed solution. His blunt manner may well help him get another term. His words on the Human Rights Ordinance extension to the LGBT community, a big issue with parts of the Jacksonville community, were as direct as those of any candidate: “Yes, I’d vote for it, and if a candidate won’t answer, don’t vote for them.” Candor is Crescimbeni’s business, at least for another few months.
The Group 3 candidates — Pollock, a 42-year-old black man, and Hazouri, the former Democratic Mayor — will be remembered more for their jousting than anything else. Pollock, with less than $12,000 raised at this point in the cycle, needled Hazouri throughout the discussion, referring to the local legend as his “grandma’s favorite mayor.”
Pollock’s self-proclaimed “heart and passion,” unfortunately, meant little when compared with Hazouri’s command of both the issues and the room. Hazouri reminded voters of his ability to work across party lines, and his elimination of noxious paper mill odors and obnoxious toll plazas in the city during his term from 1987 to 1991. Hazouri, if elected, would prioritize a quick resolution to the pension crisis, and was eloquent on the matter of the HRO, reminding the crowd of the adversity he faced as a Lebanese-American.
“I speak from experience,” Hazouri said about the Human Rights Ordinance. “It’s about decency. Leave no one behind.”
Regarding cooperation throughout the consolidated government, Hazouri likewise was eloquent. “The Sheriff’s Office, the City Council, and the mayor must work together in every neighborhood to provide leadership to avoid situations like what happened in Missouri” — referring to flashpoints in and around Ferguson this past year. He seeks restitution of the Jacksonville Journey, a John Peyton initiative to combine intervention programs with enforcement to combat and deter crime and keep young offenders from becoming career criminals.
The discussion among the Group 4 candidates, compared with Group 3, was anticlimactic. Incumbent Greg Anderson is a proponent of “getting our fiscal house in order, and doing work to make sure tax dollars are spent wisely.” He offers “veteran leadership in a time of change.” Juanita Powell-Williams, his Democrat opponent, offered little in the way of policy criticism. Anderson has a 10:1 fundraising advantage, suggesting that Powell-Williams’ challenge is essentially pro forma.
Group 5’s sole reprentative, Michelle Tappouni, is a resolutely pro-business candidate, as befits her background in construction and as a contractor. “No one knows the impacts of bills like those who have been there,” she said. She, like virtually every candidate on the panel with the possible exception of Anderson, who seemed to hedge on the question, supports an “anti-discrimination ordinance,” hewing to the Jax Chamber position on the issue — one that is not shared by all Republicans nor all Democrats in Duval County.
A little bit of drama. A lot of discourse and illumination of issues. All-you-can-eat seafood. A good day at Tiger Bay. We await results from the straw poll that was conducted, to be provided in a future post. While not every candidate was able to make it, the ones who did had the chance to connect with voters.