Here’s where Jacksonville’s mayoral candidates stand on key issues

Published on November 22, 2022 at 12:19 pm
Image
Mayoral candidates, from left, are Omega Allen, LeAnna Cumber, Donna Deegan, Al Ferraro, Andrew Gibson, Frank Kessler Jr. and Theresa Ann Richardson.

In a crowded debate that featured heavy time constraints, mayoral hopefuls met Monday at the Rotary Club to explain their positions on education, crime, business development and the environment.

Nine candidates are vying to be Jacksonville’s next mayor, but only seven were on stage: former state Sen. Audrey Gibson (D), council members Leanna Cumber (R) and Al Ferraro (R), Theresa Richardson (D), Frank Keasler Jr. (R), Donna Deegan (D) and Omega Allen (NPA).

Daniel Davis (R), head of the JAX Chamber, declined to attend the event, while Darcy Richardson (IND) agreed to attend but pulled out hours before via email.

A hard stop time gave each candidate less than 10 minutes to speak and limited the debate to just four questions along with introductions and concluding statements.


Sign up for the Jacksonville Today newsletter

Your local weekday newsletter for news and ways to get involved in Northeast Florida.

Here is a rundown of the topics and answers provided by each candidate. (Candidates are listed alphabetically.)

Introductions

Omega Allen: It’s amazing that all who seek this seat did not find it necessary to come and share their vision and goals for Jacksonville, which leads to the problems that we have in Jacksonville and needing change. But change only comes with a definitive plan. And I have one; I have a plan to operate from the mayor’s office with equity and participatory governance.

My background, I have a PhD in public administration with a focus on municipal government, focusing on participatory government where the citizens actually have an opportunity to give input into the decision-making processes that govern our lives. That’s important. I believe that equity — not equality — is necessary, doing what’s necessary, when it’s necessary, where it’s necessary, throughout the city, without neglecting any of the other areas of our town. Until we all have made it. None of us have actually made it because we are one people. And that’s the way I see Jacksonville.

Leanna Cumber: I believe in the American dream. This is the best city in the best state in the best country. My father escaped Cuba in 1961, escaped a brutal communist regime. I share his passion for freedom for change and accountability. Those things are all critical to a thriving economy and a thriving community. We need to get moving in this city.

I’m a mom of two young kids, a lawyer, a small-business owner and a former teacher. And I proudly serve in the Jacksonville City Council. On there I have worked hard to lower your taxes and make the city safer. Why? Because I understand what it’s like and my family understands what it’s like to grow up living paycheck to paycheck and not being able to afford the doubling of the gas tax that Daniel Davis supported. I believe in more action and less talk.

Donna Deegan: For 25 years, I had the privilege of delivering the evening news to the people of Jacksonville — the same Jacksonville where my great-great-grandfather immigrated in 1905 and built the American Dream; the same Jacksonville that rallied around me through three bouts with breast cancer; and the same Jacksonville that I truly believe can reach its full promises, if only we will keep our promises to her people and build on that dream. As an anchor, I held the powerful to account. I visited every neighborhood in the city. And I heard their stories, their tragedies and their triumphs. And over and over again, I heard the same thing. There’s a wall between me and my city government.

I am running for mayor to break down those walls to bring the people inside, and I know how to vision forward because I’ve done it. I have led a foundation with a multimillion-dollar budget that brings millions in economic impact to the city every year and people from all over the world that have brought millions to our underserved population who are fighting to put food on the table and pay for their medicine, and that have brought millions of dollars to our brightest researchers right here in Jacksonville, who are trying to find a cure. We can have the city that we want, we can.

Al Ferraro: I’m one of the city councilmen. I’m in District 2. I’ve been married for 32 years; I’ve been a business owner for 37 years; I got a daughter who’s 27. I got into City Council because I wanted to do the things that a lot of people want to see done, the roads or infrastructure to see things that are getting done. And I did that my first four years. During the second term, I started seeing civil unrest. I started seeing the sale of JEA. I saw the pandemic. I saw corruption that was happening in our city. These are things that I was upset with that I wanted to do something about.

Since I’ve been on City Council, it’s given me the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t. We have a lot of money in the city. Our roads, our infrastructure should be in a lot better condition, the safety of our city with crime. That is one of my biggest focuses. I walk with MAD DADS and I go through different parts of our city and see shell casings next to playgrounds. And next to swingsets. There’s a problem that we have in our city safety and our spending problem. As your mayor, I will watch over that. And I will bring our city and our community back together the way Jacksonville used to be.

Audrey Gibson: I’ve been serving above myself from a very young age. When I asked my parents if our family could be a participating family in the probation friend program that existed some years ago, but it’s not in existence today. A mayor and the CEO of this city should have a very diverse background in experiences and with people. I’ve been to nursing homes, senior centers, these are not things that I had to do. But these are things that I wanted to do.

I’m a charter member of citizens retreat protection, member of Scenic Jacksonville. I’m on the public library advisory board. I’m a charter member of the Northwest CDC. I filed unemployment bills for victims of domestic violence. So if they have to leave work, they can still receive their benefits. I brought home funding for five-star veterans, Northeast Florida women’s veterans, Family Support Services, Agape health. I created the elder abuse task force so that this state would know what it needs to do to make sure our seniors are safe.

Frank Keasler Jr.: My family has been here for almost a century. There is a major difference between me and every other candidate up here. And that is I’m not running for the office of mayor; I couldn’t run from running for the office of mayor. Two years ago when this country went nuts and our world turned itself on an ear and I saw our mayor in the middle of the night take down Jackson statue and I said dear god, what kind of people are we? Nothing we do as people is right or has legitimacy under the color of darkness and in the shadows of life. But more importantly, how long will we placate, patronize and pander the Black community with a gesture that does nothing? Every time we do that, we basically say we don’t care.

I care. I grew up here. I saw Northwest Jacksonville. I used to ride around with the Neptune Beach police as a 16-year-old. When I’d hear Zone 1, I’d think what’s that? That’s Northwest Jacksonville. That’s our murder capital of the city. Fifty years later, Northwest Jacksonville, one of the original places that Jacksonville lived, floods when it rains, or when the people flush their toilets, and the dang schools, economics, everything is a shooting gallery today. So I have a vision and plan and God’s given me a lot of ideas and a lot of stuff that I’ve done the last two years.

Theresa Ann Richardson: I believe in the Bold New City of the South, in deeds, not just words, and the people of Jacksonville. What we have been receiving for the last years are words, empty words, empty promises and the time for that is to cease and desist that’s why I’m here. I’m also here because as a young child, my mother always instilled in me that I can do anything that I wanted to do. And I was just crazy enough to believe.

It’s time for new leadership, the wasteful taxpayer money that has been spent and wasted. What have we benefited from it? We paid the money into the system. Look at the half-cent sales tax you pay for years. And it has to stop. So that’s why I’m here. I want to do that. And I am — how can I put it — I’m a servant, a servant of the citizens. I would like to continue to serve you. And I feel as though I can serve you even better and a higher capacity. As mayor. I will have an open-door policy. And I will welcome any suggestions, any ideas.

Education

Our courts have determined that the School Board is an independent agency of our local government. Our governor has now asserted a dramatic role in public education. As mayor, what would you see as your role in the education of children in this community?Omega

Allen: I am a former educator in Duval County Public Schools. But I understand that the education of our children is not actually a mayoral responsibility. However, my promise is to work very closely with the School Board and the superintendent, lending any expertise that I have, making sure that we support them financially, when applicable, to assure that Jacksonville and Duval County school system is attractive to top quality educators and making sure that our children are well-nourished during the school day because in some instances, our children only receive nourishment when they are at school.

Leanna Cumber: I was a third grade and fifth grade teacher, and I’m a mom of a 9- and 11-year-old. Our school system is failing our kids; our reading scores have gone from 60% to 47%. In six years, everyone in the city should be screaming about it from the mayor, from Daniel Davis to the CEO of the chamber who’s trying to bring the businesses in. How do you bring businesses in when our reading scores are at 47%? How do we reduce crime when our reading scores are at 47%? If it’s not the mayor’s problem to fix the schools, I don’t want to hear that as a parent. We are told as a parent that the mayor of the city, of the 12th largest city in the country, has no control over how my kids are learning and had no control to make sure that my kids are learning how to read. These are the things that we need to focus on. And we need to get back to basics and get these literacy rates up in the city.

Donna Deegan: I think the biggest thing that you can do from the Mayor’s Office for our public schools is to support our duly elected School Board. I don’t think we see too much of that right now. And I would like to see our Mayor’s Office support what our school superintendent is trying to do with our schools. Frankly, I think she’s done a fantastic job given everything that she’s had as challenges over the past several years.

Also, as mayor, I will say that I think that my platform, regardless of the issue that we’re talking about, whether it’s education or crime, will help to move us forward. We need to continue to fund the Kids Hope Alliance, so that we have an opportunity for wraparound services and for after-school programs for our kids. But my platform of good infrastructure, good health and a good economy is the way to make sure that our kids go to school ready to learn right now. So many times they don’t have a roof over their head, they don’t have the food that they need, or their parents don’t have the opportunity that will make them prepared to go to school and learn. And I think as a mayor, my job is to create that opportunity.

Al Ferraro: Policies make the difference in everything, whether it’s city government or whether it’s schools. Part of the problem that’s happening with our schools is we don’t have the things that we were brought up with, things that our kids are going to be needing to be able to figure out a checkbook, to figure out the things in life that are important. It’s not just high technical things. And we’ve gotten gotten away from that.

As a mayor, you can’t enforce that because of the separate governments of consolidated city, but you can certainly get on the platform. And you can certainly get up and talk about the things that you feel are right or wrong. The mayor’s has a pulpit, of talking about things of parents’ rights. It can get up there and take positions on different things that are coming up in the school. So traditional teachings are things that I would be supporting. And I would like to get back to some of the basics of what we had when we were growing up.

Audrey Gibson: In terms of education, the mayor certainly is a part of the voice of what should happen with education, even though the School Board is the policymaker, and the determining of, of the advancement of that policy. The unfortunate circumstances, I believe that there has been some negative impact in our schools in Jacksonville, as well as across the state with book banning and not being able to teach history just to talk about what people overcame.

The good news is I still have many friends in Tallahassee and have worked across the aisle my entire career, so that I could do the best and bring home dollars for our community.

Frank Keasler Jr.: If you’re from Jacksonville, you know that the mayor’s office is really a platform to push a credible school program. And he doesn’t really have or she doesn’t have the actual authority to implement School Board policy. But I know from living here 50 years, the mayor’s program usually is the way that the board goes, or at least there’s clear ear of the board to the mayor’s voice.

So I’ve designed and been put in my heart to create what I’m calling the lifting heads program of the Duval County Public School Program, lifting the heads of our elementary students to know they were created with a purpose, lifting the heads of our middle schoolers to know they were created for a purpose and lifting the heads of our senior highs by providing them the best high schools in the nation. So they go out in this 21st century equipped with a purpose.

Theresa Ann Richardson: My role as mayor would be to make sure that every child has the opportunity to continue to education. I would like to see paraprofessionals more in each classrooms, maybe once a month to oversee, just in case a child may be suffering from dyslexia. That could be a reason why they’re not learning.

If I was mayor, I would make sure that our children have the tools that they need. Make sure too, teachers are taken care of. We hire them to educate our children. When we give them little resources and expect them to come out of their own pockets for our children, that’s not fair. So I would divert a lot of money back to the teachers.

Crime

The city website says the sheriff receives 53% of the city’s discretionary budget, a figure of $533 million, which rises each year, as does crime rise each year. As mayor, what would you do to try to stem crime and therefore save us some money.

Omega Allen: Fighting crime is not a mayoral function. But again, it is the top seat in the city, along with the sheriff so again, my promise is to work very closely with the sheriff. I don’t think that we should reduce the funding. I think we need to look at the reallocation of funds, making sure that the funds are being best used in the areas that they that they need to be used.

That is how I will support the sheriff. Whomever the sheriff is in our next election. I will work very closely with them to make sure that we’re on the same page. I will be dealing with the citizens of Jacksonville hearing where their hearts are as it relates to their relationship with the sheriff’s department and sharing those things with him and hoping to build trust and admiration and respect between the citizens and the sheriff’s department.

Leanna Cumber: I fully support fully funding our JSO and making sure that our men and women in uniform have everything that they need to keep our families safe. We need to start working on these problems before they get to the law enforcement stage. So what I’ve done in council is I created a nuisance abatement board, which in short, for the very first time in the city, the city has the power to shut down businesses that are harboring illegal activity.

I also raise the stripping age to 21. Why? Because there is not one daughter, one little girl in this city who should be groomed to go dance at our strip clubs. These are the things that we can do proactively from the mayor’s seat, working with the sheriff, making sure the sheriff has all the resources they need, and then figuring out how do we act proactively rather than reactively.

Donna Deegan: I think it’s important for the Mayor’s Office to work with the Sheriff’s Office to make our city as safe as it can possibly be. It’s a very dangerous and difficult job. I think it’s going to be very important for us to foster conversations in this community, which we have shut down, that we shouldn’t shut down, that would make things better between our community and our police department. I do believe we need to fully fund our police. We need a more community based policing model where we have our officers embedded in our communities, creating relationships with our police officers.

I think we also need to make sure that we are getting into our neighborhoods and making sure that we have the infrastructure in those neighborhoods that will make for safer neighborhoods. We need to make sure that our kids are healthy. We have some of the worst health outcomes in the state in our city. And unless we have healthy kids and healthy families, those things are going to impact crime as well.

Al Ferraro: Breaking the code of silence, it’s something we have to do, not all parts of town look the same. We’ve got shell casings around kids playgrounds; we’ve got to break the code of silence. As the No. 1 elected official in the city, going out to showing the different parts of community that we are going to support them. This is something I’ve already been doing by going through different neighborhoods. District 2 is one of the safest areas of town, because we work with the Sheriff’s Office, we get these bad guys off the street. And as the highest elected official, you can do something about it. The police are reactive; we’ve got to we’ve got to do something proactive to it.

I would be going out into these communities, getting the community to understand that we have to support our police and get these bad guys off the street. I would also see about putting prisoners out working in the streets, cleaning our sidewalks, cleaning our streets and getting things done like we used to, for a couple reasons. One, you want kids when they’re growing up to see there’s going to be consequences for what they do. And we also have a big labor pool down at the jail that we should be using. We also want to get these prisoners to where they can end up coming back and having a job when they get out.

Audrey Gibson: I would come to the office with a degree in criminology from the Florida State University and have the capacity to at least meet with the sheriff with the understanding that sometimes crime is cyclical. As a city we have a pretty young population in our city. The average age is about 35, between 35 and 38. And that’s generally a time that people continue to commit different types of crimes. As people age, the crime rate begins to drop, but we may not have that opportunity. So we have to increase our law enforcement.

I believe in technology, but not the entire budget. I believe in prevention, giving our young people a second chance. What we need to do is build trust, and then people appreciate officers on the street. Without a doubt, they want to feel safe and it looks safe when we have officers in our neighborhoods. Some of our officers police the communities they grew up in because they knew the community and the community knew them. And so if we can we can get back to that type of policing where our officers go where they know people, and people then have a better community relationship. And as mayor, I would certainly talk with the sheriff about those possibilities.

Frank Keasler Jr.: I’ve spoken to several PGA professionals that I knew in the golf industry back in ’91. I ran a golf company, and what’s been laid on my mind and they love a program called Golf Not Guns. And the theory is if we let a child hit that little 1.68 dimpled ball dead on the dime, they’ll feel that in their loin that resonates into their souls, and they’ll never pick up a gun to take one. I think one of the greatest things we can do is teach our kids how to play this game of golf.

But back to the matter of law enforcement. My approach of law enforcement is a whole new change. It’s creating the first College of Sentinel science, technology, operations and procedures in Jacksonville University in association with UF Health, in association with our law enforcement and the Fire Academy. I’ve already met with the University of Florida’s vice president about this very concept of a cross-disciplined safety officer. They’re already doing it in Europe. I did it in Homewood, Alabama, in 2005, and a model. But unfortunately, the sheer cliff of 2008 stopped developing. But that’s the future. It takes the target off the backs of our police officers, and it raises the whole level of community involvement that now we have a safety net.

Theresa Ann Richardson: My view as far as crime rate is concerned, is we can increase the budget — trillions of dollars — that’s not going to stop the crime. As we witnessed year after year, day after day, look at the 6 o’clock news. The first thing you hear is so many people have gotten shot, killed or have been tampered with. My vision would be simply this: We need to get to the root of the problem with crime. Find out why so many crimes are being committed. Until we get to the core root, it’s just like a cancer. It will continue.

We need to focus more on how can we prevent crimes, and I say start with the family. That’s where the crime begins with each individual person. We can come to a conclusion before it gets to the hands of our beloved police officers that will protect their lives. They are protecting my life. They protect your lives. Let’s get to the root of the problem. Why do we have so much crime here? It starts with each individual household. It starts with each individual. Let’s talk more with our children. Let’s make them fearful. But doing crime, we’ve got to put the fear back into people. That’s why crime is so high — they have no fear of going to jail. Once we get that fear back, it will be a change.

Business development

First, what do you consider the most effective vehicles to attract new business to Jacksonville and keep them here? And is it important as mayor that Downtown be developed any more so than any other part of the city?

Omega Allen: The answer to that would be to identify the kinds of business entities that reflect the demographics and the desires of the citizens of Jacksonville. After all, they’re the ones who are going to support it. That’s how we retain businesses in the Jacksonville area.

Downtown is the heart of every major city. Jacksonville has heart trouble and is in need of a transplant. A viable downtown has to have residential, retail, entertainment and reliable transportation. When we establish those things, we will find that Jacksonville will become the city that we all hoped that it would be over the last decades.

Leanna Cumber: We recruit and retain businesses through being the best education system in the entire state of Florida. We do that through being the best school choice city in the state and having the best parental empowerment. Now, I’ll tell you what I won’t do in Downtown, and I’ve proven that I won’t. I won’t spend $500 million. Double all of your gas tax to spend $500 million on the Skyway Downtown, like the mayor and the JAX Chamber did.

Downtown is critical. We’re the only city I-95 runs through between Richmond, Virginia, and Miami. Having a core and having a vibrant core is critical to the rest of our city. We can do it. We need to focus on it, but we don’t do it by blowing tax dollars on the Skyway. We do it by improving our our education system, recruiting people to come Downtown and fixing the basic things Downtown and getting more boats on the river.

Donna Deegan: It’s all about quality of life. You attract people to your city with a good quality of life. And that starts with the No. 1 pillar of my campaign, and that is infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. If we take care of the public infrastructure, which we have neglected to our own peril, then we would have all sorts of companies that would want to come to Jacksonville, and we wouldn’t have to give away the farm to bring them here. We would be able to just bring them here because of the quality of life.

We need to bring more arts and entertainment into our Downtown. That’s what our young people want. If we want our young people to want to stay here and raise their kids, we’ve got to bring more arts and entertainment to our downtown. And frankly we’ve got to make good on the promises that we have broken over the years after consolidation and make sure that we are taking care of the infrastructure in our neighborhoods that have been paying taxes forever and ever, and are not getting the return on those taxes. That’s another way to build our small businesses.

Al Ferraro: Ido support the development of Downtown. But I’d want to do it in a way that it works. I remember when I grew up down here, we had Crawdaddy’s. We had the Riverwalk. We had the Landing. We had a lot of things, and it drew people Downtown. We need to do something like that again. So I am for that, and I have also been the waterways chair for quite a several years and we’re just not developing our waterways. That’s one of our natural assets that we have.

We end up getting a lot of businesses that come here. I personally as a council member had business come here, and what ends up happening is we ended up giving those away to the JAX Chamber and other different groups, to where it ends up giving money to different places other than back into the city. So I’d want to make sure that these dollars are going back into the city. I would make sure a lot more of this stays in the city and in the taxpayers’ pocket.

Audrey Gibson: I believe that business development is also economic development. And I believe I don’t mind businesses coming to Downtown. However, I also believe that in our communities, in our neighborhoods that continue to struggle, small business is more of the focus, because when the neighborhoods are thriving, when crime is low, when we have livable communities, everybody will want to bring their business to Jacksonville.

We talked about incentives for bringing businesses here. If they have the money, we could use those incentives for neighborhoods. We can create more joint venture partners. That’s what I would do as mayor, help our smaller businesses, particularly our minority businesses, who are being left out, I would want business development to include spin-off jobs for those small businesses outside of Downtown. That is extremely important for economic development.

Frank Keasler Jr.: Hoover said, “The greatest asset of our nation is our children.” Roosevelt, when talking about the national park system, said, “Our duty is to the unborn generations to come and come in the next century.” If we care that about our parks, don’t you think we ought to care that about our children? Our greatest asset is the future generation of our children. And I believe when you have a city that has an education program, that’s a public education program where we’re teaching our children — not indoctrinating our children — and when we’re inspiring them for a reason to want to be educated.

When I was a kid, we wanted to go to school. There was a time of the television coming on, I’m dating myself, let’s seriously get back to letting our children know that and in the world of business development and Downtown. Absolutely, the reason why I love Downtown development is because the infrastructure is there. I think downtown any thriving city is going to have a thriving downtown.

Theresa Ann Richardson: I definitely believe that Jacksonville should be one of the boldest place to visit. There’s no reason why we cannot be what we used to be. We used to have lights, camera and action here; we used to be one of the major movie capitals in the world. We need to get back to that. We have the resources to do it. Why can’t we be like an Orlando and have a Disney World, or why can’t we be like Atlanta and have Six Flags. We have the space. We have the funds. We have the backbone. We have the intelligence. All we need are leaders that will get that job done.

The most effective way to attract business to come here to Jacksonville is to show them what businesses currently are doing. Once they see how businesses have bloomed, blossom and grow out here and a safe environment that would attract other businesses. Who wants to come to a town with the fear that they’re gonna get shot? They’re gonna get robbed? That’s a deterrent. So that’s how I think we can attract more business. We need to clean up our act.

St. Johns River

We read a lot about sea level rise in saltwater intrusion that kills the grasses in the river, which means the manatees can’t eat and the manatees die. We read about storm surge into the neighborhoods now that we hadn’t read in years past. But at the same time, we read about the Emerald Trail developing. As mayor, what would you see as your leadership position on the St. Johns River and its tributaries? Moving forward eight years, what are we going to do?

Omega Allen: As mayor I will continue to research. I’ve spoken with Dr. Ben Tuggle, who was over wildlife and preserves nationally. Finding out exactly whether or not dredging is something that we need to do. I was told that we need to be sure that we are not dredging and causing more issues with overgrowth and those sorts of things.

I don’t have a definitive, complete plan. But I do have the resources available to me to find out exactly what Jacksonville does need. And then we will work along those lines to make sure that we have what we need to solve the issues that we are experiencing with our river.

Leanna Cumber: I love talking about the river. Jacksonville has this amazing asset, the St. Johns River, except what’s crazy to me is any given day, no matter how beautiful it is, there were no boats on the river. Why? Because if you own a boat, if you’re one of the 22,000 boat owners in the city, and you want to go somewhere on your boat, you need to either belong to a private club or two private clubs if you want to go to a different one, or go out of the county.

That is crazy. We need to make sure that we have places to boat to. We need to build up our marinas. We need to make it a place that people want to come to. Build up those marinas Downtown, have places where we can boat. We should be using the river all the time; we are in the best state. We have this amazing asset with dolphins and manatees and nobody uses it, and that is one of the biggest problems we need to start giving people choices to boat to on the river.

Donna Deegan: Well, we’re not going to have those dolphins and manatees in our river forever if we don’t start taking better care of it. So that’s priority N0. 1. Number 2 is we absolutely need to open up access to our river. We need to develop in a way that opens access to our river to people that we don’t build right up to the edge. That’s terrible for resiliency; it’s terrible for the river. We have to make sure that if we want a thriving riverfront and Downtown, that we open up those opportunities for people to be able to access the river, but also build those fortifications that make sure that as water levels continue to rise, that we have a defense against that.

We knew this was coming, and it’s only going to get worse. So we need to care for the health of our river. We need to open it up to our people. And we need to make sure that we value this incredible asset that we have in Jacksonville, that really we’re going to lose if we don’t start to take care of it in some sort of major way.

Al Ferraro: Both sides of my district are on both sides of the river as it comes in, and it’s one of the highest flood areas that we have in the city. We put in an overlay that is the biggest overlay in the city of Jacksonville. And what we’ve tried to do is watch how we’re doing with the water and the filtering of the water through the marshes, through the grasses. We talked about this in waterways, how are we going to filter out the water? How are we going to take surges? How are we going to take new developments, and how’s that going to play into a fact, as far as flooding out areas?

What’s ended up happening is we have so much development going on that we’re not looking at what the effects are. Some of the flooding issues that we have are areas where the water is rising and coming up through our drains. But some of the areas that we have, we’re overbuilding, and we’re damming some of the water. What’s ended up happening is neighborhoods that we’ve had for generations and decades are getting flooded out because of new neighborhoods that are coming in, that are running water into these areas that the old tributaries can’t take the new runoff. So as the mayor, these are things that I would be watching and taking care of and watching over the community. I’m interested in the people that are living here right now, not so much as the ones that are coming here.

Audrey Gibson: I’ve been out on the river not only from Jacksonville area, but from the Putnam County area where I believe we need to remove the dam, so the water flows more into our river. That is a fight that the River Keeper and some of us keep having with some of the leaders over in Putnam. I also believe that we should have a better education campaign. If you’ve ever seen someone throw oil and other things in some of our retention ponds, is because they don’t understand the damage that it ultimately does to our river. So I believe in a better education plan on letting people know that they should not do that and not throw things down the gutter.

I believe fertilizer has been pretty much dealt with. But we have a resiliency officer who needs to be much more visible in our community to talk to us about this issue. And certainly, our port is important. I know dredging has been mentioned as as a potential issue. So we have to figure out, though, how to mitigate for that, because we want the bigger ships to come. We don’t want to ships to be turned away. And those larger ships come they provide jobs here in our city, as well as keep us in the game in the shipping industry, which is very competitive.

Frank Keasler Jr.: I grew up as a kid riding with my great uncle, who was a river pilot all the way out to sea and back, bringing in ships when today they probably would have frowned on it, an 8-year-old at midnight climbing up a ladder at the 1-mile buoy, but that’s a fact. The reality is the port is one of our greatest assets. I mean that alone with our rail and highway system is really what makes Jacksonville the landscape and really the canvas for the city that really shows a nation how we do it. Our river is our great recreational amenity and beauty.

I’ve lived here all my life. The dioxins and the hard metals and the arsenic and the various chemicals that are coming out of our tributaries, and our watersheds, and the disturbance of those is what disturbs the heavy metals and creates a problem. But there’s a real balance and a real science to it and a real issue there. I think our waterways are priceless and precious. I think our port is huge for us carrying on as a major city in the 21st century.

Theresa Ann Richardson: The water that we have downtown is priceless. And it’s no reason why it should not be maintained and kept as pristine as the waters are in the Bahamas. Our water system needs to be clean and needs to be filtered. And I will use the planning committee to come up with a plan that will not only clean waters, keep them clean, but also come up with a plan to enlarge the barriers so when we do have hurricanes, storms and bad weather, that water from the river won’t overflow like it does and just take over the ground area.

Another issue that I would like to address is that when large boats come in, you have to raise the Main Street Bridge. So I would like to see something implemented from the mayor’s office that would make it a lot easier for large boats to come and not have to take the time away from the citizens to sit on the Main Street Bridge, why the Bridges has to escalate to let the large boats go by.

People love our environment. Let’s sell it. Let’s make it big. We’ve got to take it to a new level. We need to get a committee together that could stop this algae, not only in the water Downtown, but water everywhere filled with algae trash. Why? There’s too much research that can be done to stop this problem. It should be against the law to destroy something that God has given us.

Closing statements

Omega Allen: I’m a native of Jacksonville. I love this city and its people. I will encourage and support community policing. I’ll support the School Board and the school superintendent. My administration will function under honesty, accountability and transparency. I’m a general contractor by trade. I understand the concerns of the working class. I am the working class.

I’m not trying to turn Jacksonville red, nor blue. I’m keeping it red, white and blue for all of us. They call me the long shot. But I’m the shot, the best shot for the citizens of Jacksonville, and I stand ready, willing, able and qualified to serve as your mayor.

Leanna Cumber: I’ve worked as a lawyer, built a business and built a life in this great city. If I’m fortunate enough to be your mayor, I will always be accountable to you. I’m here because I think that my job as a public servant is showing up. Let’s be honest and let’s talk about who’s not here today: Daniel Davis. And I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of career politician saying you have to wait in line and wait for your turn. I didn’t get where I am waiting my turn.

I’ll tell you there is no mom out there when she’s fighting for her kids who’s going to wait in line. Running for mayor is not a coronation. Showing up is critical. I work hard and I get results. I fought against doubling the gas tax that Daniel Davis funded and supported and the other taxes that had been passed in the city in the last seven years. He thinks he’s already won. That’s why Daniel is not here because he thinks it’s owed to him. I disagree. And I think he is easy to beat. If we all get together, this city should be the safest, most vibrant city in the state of Florida.

Donna Deegan: Sixty-one percent of the people in this city in a recent poll said that we are on the wrong track and we need a new direction. I am ready to bring change for good to this city. I have been showing up for this city doing the work my entire life. I have been a voice for the voiceless. Listen, I love our big corporations as much as everybody else, but they don’t need a voice. They’ve got a bullhorn. We need a voice for our neighborhoods. We need a voice for the people who are constantly left behind in this city.

I left the safe confines of philanthropy where everybody loves you for the fairly ugly and getting uglier world of politics where I’ve been called everything but a child of God already.I love this city more than anything in the world, and I believe that my vision that I have shown this city, my ability to lead, my courage to fight corruption, is the way forward.

Al Ferraro: Putting families first is our slogan. And that’s exactly what I’m gonna do. I want to make the city safe. I want to bring the core functions back. I want to stop this corruption. You know, when is the last time that you voted for somebody that you really felt was watching and listening over your tax dollars and your family that you could reach out to, that you had somebody who was going to protect you and watch you.

That’s the first form of government. What we’re supposed to do is watch over our citizens. That’s exactly what I would do — the core functions, our streets, our roads, or infrastructure, the ditches, all the different things that you see that are not getting done with all the taxpaying dollars that you’re sponsoring for. The sale of the JEA, those types of things will go away. When I come in here, I will stop the corruption. I will stop the good old boy system. And I will put families first. And I will make sure that you the taxpayer are the ones that are looked over, and I will be that person.

Audrey Gibson: I’m so sorry that we skipped over health care because your health is your wealth. And we definitely need to talk about that as a city. As a mayor I will be focused on health care. I’m a member of the Community Hospice of Northeast Florida, a member of the Alzheimer’s Disease Community Advisory council. I passed the maternal health outcomes bill that the surgeon general is planning to replicate across the across the state even though he didn’t give me and my house sponsor credit for the bill that took us two-plus years to get $5 million. I’m proud to say that Agape is our contractor here in Jacksonville for the telehealth-based program. As mayor, CEO and ambassador for our city, my sole focus will be on Jacksonville. I’ll be accessible to all the people, not just a select few.

Did you know that only 40% of Jacksonville residents own their own home? We need the affordable housing in Jacksonville. Someone mentioned Downtown as a place for development for living. I believe that we should have not just rental housing downtown, but housing that people own, which will help to keep the vibrancy of the city. I believe in getting our federal dollars back and putting our funds in the communities that need it the most.

Frank Keasler Jr.: Fate has brought me here. I believe either we are a people that really realize we better lift our heads people in this nation and take account of where we are and we better understand nothing’s going to change if it doesn’t change in our cities first. No corporation has ever retooled from the corporate office to the market. We always go rebuild our stores at the market to retool. We’re not going to change this country from Washington, D.C., down. It’s going to take a city coming together with new ideas, bold ideas.

Kennedy when he addressed the ’63 Irish parliament about four months before he was assassinated — the only president by the way that’s ever addressed the Irish parliament — he said what we need today is men who dream of things never thought up and ask why not. So why not an education program that lifts the souls and spirits of our children and inspires them to live to learn? Why not a 21st century for disciplines bringing mental health into the street and the violence and the issues we face? Why not? The only thing that separates us is if we won’t look each other in the eye and realize we all have meaning, we all have purpose. And let’s come together and build a city that really awakens a nation and puts an eye on our little town of how we everyday see free life.

Theresa Ann Richardson: As your new mayor, you will have a new bold new city, not just some words. But in deed. And when I say in deed, we can be another Orlando, why not? That would attract businesses that would attract new families. And we can get a handle on this crime. I believe we should take that to another level. Protect our police officers. We don’t need more; that way we can get less. Let’s go back to values in the family. We’ve gotten away from that. And we can redo the family structure. That’s going to be a change.

State of the race

Jacksonville’s consolidated government uses a unitary election system outside the national and statewide election cycle. While candidates are partisan and campaign with their political party, every candidate runs together in the same primary election, which takes place March 21, 2023. Any candidate who reaches majority support will win the mayorship outright. Otherwise, the top two candidates move on to a general run-off election May 16, 2023.

The fortunes of these nine candidates are still in flux with four months left before the spring election. A University of North Florida poll last month found nearly half of voters either don’t know or don’t support any of the would-be mayors. Deegan was the only candidate with double digit support at 22%, with Davis and Cumber in a distant second and third.

The three are generally considered to be the current front-runners in the race, as Davis and Cumber have each amassed campaign war chests nearing $5 million and $3 million respectively, while Deegan has raised around $600,000.


author image Reporter
author image Reporter