Dems gain a Jacksonville City Council seat in tight election

Published on May 16, 2023 at 11:02 pm

All five citywide seats on the Jacksonville City Council will remain Republican after runoff elections Tuesday.

Republican Chris Miller will hold the At-large Group 5 seat, after defeating Democrat Charles Garrison 52% to 48%, according to unofficial results. Miller was one of three Republicans to win their council races Tuesday, along with District 2’s Mike Gay and District 11’s Raul Arias.

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Democrats are gaining a member on City Council, though — compared to the current four Democrats. Tuesday’s Democratic wins include Jimmy Peluso in District 7, Reggie Gaffney Jr. in District 8, Tyrona Clark-Murray in District 9 and Rahman Johnson in District 14.

At-large Seat 5: Chris Miller (R)

The at-large council seat is one of five tasked with representing Jacksonville as a whole. Miller is a 30-year U.S. Army veteran who’s been serving as district director for U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Jacksonville.

“The No. 1 issue that everyone told me all over Jacksonville in the last 22 months is public safety, crime,” Miller said Tuesday, adding he’ll do whatever he can to support “all the different programs in prevention, intervention and also in enforcement to bring that violent crime down.”

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Democratic challenger Garrison is also an Army National Guard veteran and currently serves on Jacksonville’s Environmental Protection Board. He focused on investing in infrastructure and addressing climate change during his campaign.

“Although the results weren’t what we hoped, I’m incredibly proud of the campaign we’ve run and the conversations we’ve started,” Garrison said Tuesday. “This isn’t the end of the road for us, but rather a detour. We’ll continue to fight for a safe, welcoming and vibrant Jacksonville.”

District 2: Mike Gay (R)

Republican Mike Gay will represent Northeast Jacksonville, in a district that borders Nassau County and stretches down to Hidden Hills and East Arlington. An electrical contracting company founder and president, Gay campaigned on fixing failing infrastructure and combatting overdevelopment.

“I’ve identified a way to save taxpayers millions of dollars every year. I will bring with me a level of expertise in construction, project management and budgeting that is lacking in the current council and would lighten the tax burden on the constituents,” Gay told Jacksonville Today last month.

He garnered 52% of the vote, compared with 48% for Republican Lindsey Brock. Brock is an attorney and former chairman of the Jacksonville’s Charter Revision Commission, among other government roles.

“It was a tough night, but this doesn’t define us,” Brock told Jacksonville Today. “It’s just a lost opportunity to serve, and I appreciate everyone who gave their time and talent to the campaign.”

District 7: Jimmy Peluso (D)

Democrat Jimmy Peluso won 65% to 35% against Republican Joseph Hogan. District 7 encompasses Downtown, Springfield, Riverside, Avondale and Ortega.

A political lobbyist and Navy veteran, Peluso campaigned on funneling more capital improvement funds to District 7 and improving infrastructure. He told Jacksonville Today on Tuesday that a top priority on the council is “homelessness, that’s one of my key issues. I think we have a council that’s ready to work hard on that, and that’s going to matter a lot to my district and to the city at large.”

Peluso and Democrat John Phillips had an ugly faceoff in March — with Phillips alleging that Peluso destroyed his campaign signs. The defeated Phillips announced that he switched party lines to vote for Hogan instead in Tuesday’s runoff. But Phillips’ ballot was not reflective of other voters; Peluso had the largest margin of victory in any of Tuesday’s races.

Hogan is currently in the Florida Air National Guard and was born and raised in Jacksonville — his father is election supervisor Mike Hogan. He did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

District 8: Reggie Gaffney Jr. (D)

The North Jacksonville district includes the airport, Oceanway, Biscayne and Highlands. Two Democrats competed in Tuesday’s election, with incumbent Reggie Gaffney Jr. garnering 52% of the vote. He’s the assistant executive director of the Community Rehabilitation Center, a behavioral health facility led by his father.

Tameka Gaines Holly campaigned on funding crime prevention and intervention programs, capturing 48% of the vote.

Gaffney’s father, former councilman Reggie Gaffney Sr., is suing Gaines Holly for libel and more than $50,000 over her campaign mailers. According to the lawsuit, her March mailers linked the father and son, alleging Gaffney Sr. lined “his pockets with tax dollars” and that the Gaffneys “sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to their own business.” Gaffney Sr. was not a candidate at the time.

District 9: Tyrona Clark-Murray (D)

Democratic incumbent Tyrona Clark Murray will keep her council seat, getting 54% of the vote. District 9 includes Normandy, Paxon, Lackawanna and Cedar Hills.

“The primary thing is to keep working for the community,” Clark Murray said Tuesday. “I’m looking forward to addressing the concerns that directly affect the lives of those in the community.”

Her Republican challenger, Mike Muldoon, raised more than $200,000 during his campaign, almost 10 times Clark Murray’s $20,500. Muldoon is a prominent local accountant who ran on protecting taxpayer money and cutting wasteful spending.

“We ran a great campaign reaching out to all parts of the community,” Muldoon said. “Congratulations to Tyrona. We expect her to do great things for our district that our citizens deserve. We’ll hold her accountable like all of our elected officials.”

Democratic City Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson jumped party lines to support Muldoon in the race. “I believe he will serve neighbors in the new D-9 (old D-10) well,” Priestly Jackson wrote on Twitter.

Asked about the cross-party endorsement, Clark Murray said: “If you’re going to call yourself a Democrat, then be a Democrat. There needs to be a sense of loyalty.”

Muldoon said he unhappy with Clark Murray’s comments.

“Our campaign worked hard and reached out across the aisle and gained significant Democratic support, and I believe my job would be to represent all of D9, not just the Republicans,” he said.

District 11: Raul Arias (R)

Republican Raul Arias will represent the Southeastern District 11, which borders St. Johns County and includes Deerwood and Deercreek.

On the campaign trail, Arias had the snafu of advertising an endorsement from the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors on campaign mailers. The professional organization had actually endorsed his opponent.

But the Navy veteran, who owns Mambo’s Cuban Cafe, captured 54% of voters, after campaigning on supporting small businesses, increasing public safety and improving infrastructure.

“I’m excited to represent our small business community and help our community thrive and hopefully expedite and be more efficient with the permitting process,” Arias said Wednesday, after his win.

Democratic opponent and banker Ramon Day, vice president of acquisitions at Hakimian Holdings, campaigned on increasing the number of first responders and strategic development.

District 14: Rahman Johnson (D)

The South Jacksonville district includes Argyle Forest, Duclay and NAS Jacksonville and will be represented by former news anchor and Edward Waters University professor Rahman Johnson, who garnered 53% of the vote.

He says his top priorities when he takes office are public safety and infrastructure. “I knew from the beginning I was here to represent our community as a whole because streetlights and potholes do not have party affiliation,” Rahman said Tuesday.

Republican challenger John Draper said: “Rahman won a good race and won. I thank [those who voted for me] for their efforts, and I appreciate their support.”

He said the biggest hurdle in his campaign was money. “Running campaigns is not cheap, and I did a lot of the work myself.” Draper was a Jacksonville city councilman in the early ’90s, and is a former Navy officer and small business owner.

After his win Tuesday, Rahman said it was part of a larger, historic night for Democrats.

“We have made history tonight,” Rahman said, celebrating Democratic wins across the ballot. “With the property appraiser’s office — there’s never been an African American; there’s never been a woman. We made history on the side of the mayor’s office; there’s never been a woman in this community that’s been the mayor. And we made history here in District 14; there’s never been a person of color; there’s never been a Democrat that’s representing this district.”

Jacksonville Today reporter Will Brown contributed to this report.

author image Reporter, Jacksonville Today email Claire has been a reporter in Jacksonville since August of 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. Reach Claire with tips, ideas or comments at (904) 250-0926, and on Twitter at @ClaireHeddles.

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