Progressive forces cheer the results Jacksonville FL mayoral race
Jacksonville, FL – Progressive forces are cheering the election of Donna Deegan for Jacksonville mayor. She defeated Daniel Davis, the Republican and Governor Ron DeSantis-backed candidate, becoming the first woman mayor in Jacksonville history.
Deegan, of Lebanese ancestry, is a former newscaster, and is a known personality in the community, anchoring Channel 12 news for years. She subsequently went on to run a nonprofit, the Donna Foundation, focused around breast cancer awareness, using her own experiences with beating cancer multiple times to connect her with the broader community.
Deegan ran under the banner of uniting the community. Unlike her opponent, she swore off negative ads. Her campaign was supported by progressive forces as she supported calls for more investment in neglected communities and stood against privatization of city services and the publicly-owned electric utility. Unlike her opponent, she supported calls for civilian oversight of police and supported calls for taking down Confederate monuments. She also advocates ridding city hall of corruption after eight years of Republican leadership under Mayor Lenny Curry. Backed by every major labor union in the city with the exception of police and fire unions, she ran on supporting labor and using her office to support worker’s rights.
Daniel Davis, current CEO of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, ran unabashedly on a pro-cop, anti-police accountability, anti-BLM platform, parroting Fraternal Order of Police cop union talking points, using over $8 million raised (the most of any Jacksonville mayor race in history), to attack Deegan over her support of civilian review, something police and cop union forces have fought off for years.
Davis claimed if Deegan was elected, “radical activists” would oversee police. He called for adding over 200 new police officers, even saying he’d support cutting other city services to make it happen. Black Republican Sheriff T.K. Waters was used as Davis pit bull, being on the face of TV ads calling Deegan a radical who wants to defund police and support policies harmful to cops. Waters, an opponent of police accountability and civilian oversight, in his first interview after Deegan’s victory spoke about why civilian review shouldn’t happen, a clear signal of their fear of what Deegan’s election could mean.
Local grassroots activist Ben Frazier, president of the activist group the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, cited, “It should be acknowledged that black voters in Duval played a major role in the historic mayoral victory of Donna Deegan,” adding, “From the urban core to the northwest, Black voters propelled the trajectory of the Deegan victory.”
Deegan’s election comes at a time when the state of Florida has been terrorized by a Republican state legislature that has sought to limit the power of local counties and local city mayors. Governor DeSantis, with a Republican supermajority, pushed through reactionary policy after reactionary policy in order to grease the wheels for his bid for presidency. The city council of Jacksonville still has a 14 to 5 Republican to Democrat ratio, with a few moderate Republicans. However, to grassroots activists, Deegan’s election represents a change and more room to politically maneuver.
Under the previous mayor, after historic police accountability protests in 2020 where tens of thousands hit the street, Mayor Curry and former Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Sheriff Williams, along with current State Attorney Melissa Nelson, in response to rallies led by the Jacksonville Community Action Committee and their partners, met with and succumbed to activist demands around the release body camera footage. They released a new body cam policy pledging to release footage after a certain time frame in the summer of 2020. They’ve since reneged on that, only releasing body cameras when the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) deems it appropriate for them to do so.
In 2020 and 2021, in response to the rallies, the city council of Jacksonville created a special committee called the Safer Together Committee which proposed and supported the creation of a civilian review board. Deegan’s late cousin, Tommy Hazouri, a Democrat and former mayor, was city council president at the time. Families of police crimes used the committee meetings as a forum to air grievances with JSO and call for civilian oversight and change. JSO subsequently pressured to have that committee shut down and was eventually successful, stopping any change of police accountability reforms at that time through city council.
That is why progressive forces are optimistic about Deegan’s election. She represents the possibilities of a new era in Jacksonville politics and new organizing terrain for activists. However, those same forces plan to hold her accountable to her support if she fails to pursue pro people agenda.
Time will most certainly tell, but the smashing of the right-wing machinery that has held city hall in Jacksonville for almost a decade is a significant development.