A Democrat who ran and lost his primary race for Jacksonville sheriff crossed party lines Monday and endorsed Republican candidate T.K. Waters, just two weeks before voters decide between him or Lakesha Burton as the city’s next top cop.
Ken Jefferson, one of four Democrats in the five-way primary in August, presented his support in front of uniformed officers at the Fraternal Order of Police union hall.
Jefferson, a former Sheriff’s Office public information officer who has run for sheriff before, said trust is the reason he chose to endorse Waters, who retired in July as chief of investigations after 30-plus years in uniform.
“We need a sheriff who will guide and lead the men and women who serve and protect us by enforcing the laws of the land, prevent crime and disorder, and make our city safer for everyone,” Jefferson said. “Make no mistake: There is only one candidate that I trust to do that. I endorse T.K. Waters for sheriff and encourage the 22,000 people who supported me to consider doing the same.”
In a statement later in the day, Burton said Jefferson’s endorsement did not surprise her. She implied that he had traded his endorsement for some kind of benefit.
“When Mr. Jefferson and I met after the August primary, I made it very clear that I was not willing to compromise my integrity by making backroom deals for his political or financial gain,” Burton said. “And like the other candidates who have since endorsed me, I do acknowledge that he would have been a good fit for my efforts to continue to bring the community together. I stand firm in my commitment to the people of Jacksonville that my campaign is not for sale.”
Jefferson disputed the suggestion that he had traded his endorsement for favors. He told Jacksonville Today he made his decision after meeting with both Burton and Waters after the primary.
“Neither candidate promised me anything in coordination with my support whatsoever,” Jefferson said. “I did meet with both candidates; I asked them what their goals and plans were and how they planned to implement whatever their vision was for the city, and I came away more impressed with T.K. Waters, and not in exchange for anything.”
Two other Democrats endorsed Burton after the Aug. 23 primary: former Duval County Schools Police acting director Wayne Clark and former officer Tony Cummings. Jefferson had remained mum until this week.
Burton also recently received an endorsement that crossed party lines when Molly Curry, wife of current Republican Mayor Lenny Curry, backed her runoff run. Lenny Curry endorsed Waters.
Besides Jefferson and Curry, Waters has received support from Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Fraternal Order of Police, Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters, State Attorney Melissa Nelson and five Northeast Florida sheriffs.
Waters retired in July, while Burton left her position as assistant chief of the Arlington police zone 16 months ago to begin campaigning. Both were the front-runners in the August election, held after former Sheriff Mike Williams retired following revelations that he had violated city charter by living for more than a year in Nassau County.
Waters garnered 46.7% of the vote in the primary, followed by Burton with 32.8%, followed by Clark, Cummings and Jefferson. With neither Waters nor Burton getting 50% plus one of the vote, both head to the Nov. 8 runoff.
Prior to the first election, all five candidates spoke at multiple debates about budget, crime and other issues. There have been two more debates for Burton and Waters after they emerged as the front-runners, the latest taking place Friday before the First Coast Tiger Bay Club.
Speaking on Monday, Waters called Jefferson “a great friend” whom he has known for a long time.
“His endorsement is a testament to the support our campaign has from all corners of our city, regardless of background or political affiliation,” Waters said. “I stand ready to use my more than 30 years of experience to build back trust through transparency and communication, put more officers on the streets and restore a service mentality to the JSO.”
Burton said she will continue to “bridge the gap between the community and JSO” over the next two weeks of campaigning to get them excited about electing a new sheriff with a “fresh perspective and proven record of reducing violent crime and build positive relationships.”
Jefferson’s endorsement came as Duval County’s supervisor of elections opened 20 sites across the city on Monday for early voting in midterm elections that also include the race for governor.
Early voting runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Sunday, Nov. 6, at locations that include the Supervisor of Elections Office at 105 E. Monroe St. Voters can cast a ballot at any early voting site, even outside their own precinct. You can find early voting sites on the supervisor of elections website.
The General Election is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 8. On that date, voters can cast their ballot only at their precinct.
About the candidates
Whoever wins the Nov. 8 special election will hold office for only a few months, since the primary election for the next term is March 21, with the general election May 16, according to the Duval County Supervisor of Elections.
- T.K. Waters, 51, has 30 years in law enforcement starting as a corrections officer in 1991. As chief, he retired from the Sheriff’s Office to run for the position. More information: facebook.com/TKforSheriff.
- Lakesha Burton, 46, was assistant chief of the city’s Police Zone 2 in Arlington until her retirement in February. She is the first Black woman to run for sheriff. More information: facebook.com/BurtonforSheriff.