At-Large candidates vie for San Marco’s Vote

At-Large candidates vie for San Marco’s Vote
Thirteen At-Large candidates are running for City Council during the March elections: Back row: Lisa King (Group 1), Greg Rachal (Group 3), Harold McCart (Group 4), Darren Mason (Group 2), Connell Crooms (Group 1), Terrance Freeman (Group 1), Ron Salem (Group 2), Sam Newby (Group 5), Chad McIntyre (Group 5) Niki Brunson (Group 5), Don Redman (Group 4), Tommy Hazouri (Group 3). Front: Matt Carlucci (Group 4)

Violent crime is the most pressing issue facing Jacksonville today agreed more than half of the At-Large City Council candidates during a Candidates Forum hosted by the San Marco Preservation Society Feb. 11.

Thirteen of the 16 candidates who qualified to run At-Large shared their views before a capacity audience of San Marco voters in a large meeting room at Southside Baptist Church. 

Included among the candidates for Group 1 were Connell Crooms (NPA), incumbent Terrance Freeman (REP) and Lisa King (DEM); for Group 2, Darren Mason (DEM) and Ron Salem (REP); for Group 3, incumbent Tommy Hazouri (DEM), and Greg Rachal (REP); for Group 4, Matt Carlucci (REP), Harold McCart (REP) and Don Redman (REP), and for Group 5, Niki Brunson (NPA), Chad Evan McIntyre (DEM) and incumbent Samuel Newby (REP).

Gary Barrett (REP) and Jack Daniels (REP), both of Group 1, and James Jacobs (DEM) of Group 3 also qualified to be on the ballot but did not attend the forum.

The unitary election for the City will be held Tuesday, March 19, with early voting being held at Balis Community Center in San Marco March 4 -17.

Voters will make their selections on a single ballot within each electoral district regardless of party affiliation, according to the Supervisor of Elections website. Candidates who tally the most votes are automatically elected. If no candidate captures a majority, a runoff election will be held Tuesday, May 14, so voters can decide between the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation.

Sam Newby (At-Large Group 5) with District 5 Councilwoman-elect LeAnna Cumber
Sam Newby (At-Large Group 5) with District 5 Councilwoman-elect LeAnna Cumber

Running unopposed in District 5, LeAnna Cumber of San Marco automatically won the seat and was introduced by Councilwoman Lori Boyer, who moderated the forum. Cumber will claim her council seat July 1.

At-Large Council candidates are divided into groups determined by the area of the city where they live. Because At-Large candidates represent the city in its entirety, San Marco residents will vote for one candidate from each of five groups. 

“Whomever is elected in each one of these groups will be an additional representative for District 5 in addition to LeAnna,” explained Boyer. “You can look at it as having six representatives rather than just one, because these folks will represent the entire city.”

Candidates with close ties to Jacksonville’s historic communities include Carlucci, a San Marco resident; Newby a Brooklyn resident; Salem, who grew up in Murray Hill; McCart, whose wife who grew up in San Marco; King who grew up on the Southside and graduated from Wolfson High School, and Rachal, who worked for San Marco resident Zim Boulos more than 20 years ago and has children who attended Hendricks Avenue Elementary. 

Each candidate gave an opening and closing statement and was privy to four prepared questions prior to their arrival at Southside Baptist. Two of the questions dealt with issues close to the hearts of San Marco residents – drainage and resiliency issues and how to maintain San Marco’s historic charm – while the last question was a 15-second “lightning round,” where the candidates quickly told how they would spend $500,000 if they could select any city service to support.

Seated at a long table answering questions posed by District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer, who served as moderator, were At-Large candidates Connell Crooms, Lisa King, Terrance Freeman of Group 1, Darren Mason, Ron Salem of Group 2, Tommy Hazouri and Greg Rachal of Group 3, Matt Carlucci, Harold McCart and Don Redman of Group 4, and Sam Newby, Niki Brunson and Chad McIntyre of Group 5.
Seated at a long table answering questions posed by District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer, who served as moderator, were At-Large candidates Connell Crooms, Lisa King, Terrance Freeman of Group 1, Darren Mason, Ron Salem of Group 2, Tommy Hazouri and Greg Rachal of Group 3, Matt Carlucci, Harold McCart and Don Redman of Group 4, and Sam Newby, Niki Brunson and Chad McIntyre of Group 5.

Candidate credentials

In their opening statements each candidate introduced themselves to the crowd.

Crooms said he was a Jacksonville native, a Teamster, and is running to “disrupt the status quo” by putting “the voice of the people back in City Hall.”

A former chair of the Jacksonville Planning Commission, King said she “has a record of defending the quality of life in San Marco.” While on the commission, she said she prevented a cell tower from being built on property adjacent to Alexandria Oaks Park and made sure parking requirements are adhered to within residential areas. “I want to represent all of Jacksonville but particularly the historic neighborhoods,” she said.

As Group 1 incumbent, Freeman said he is running for his children. “Jacksonville needs to be great for kids. We need economic prosperity for all, quality educational choices for every neighborhood, and public safety. Those are our most important issues,” he said.

Mason, who works as a staffer for Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, cited his working-class roots. “All life in Jacksonville has potential. Every citizen regardless of ZIP Code, where they worship, and who they love, deserves a decent quality of life,” he said.

St. Johns Riverkeeper Director John Trainer 
with Ron Salem (Group 2) and Matt Carlucci (Group 4)
St. Johns Riverkeeper Director John Trainer
with Ron Salem (Group 2) and Matt Carlucci (Group 4)

Salem is a pharmacist who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Florida. He recalled his service as neighborhood association president, PTA president, CPAC chair for two years and as a four-time chair of a sports entertainment board. “I want to run At-Large because I want to have a big-picture approach to Jacksonville,” he said.

Mentioning that this election will be his “last hurrah,” Hazouri, who is the Group 3 incumbent, said he takes public service seriously. He has served 12 years as a member of the Florida legislature, was mayor of Jacksonville, a Duval County Public School Board member and chairman, and is currently serving on the City Council. He said a vote for him would bring continuity and “sustainability” to the council. “I tackle issues people don’t want to accept and address, including tolls and the human rights ordinance,” he said.

A former U.S. Marine and member of the U.S. Air Force, Rachal said he worked in corporate America for 26 years. His record of public service includes Boy Scout commissioner, member of the Sheriff’s Advisory Council, CPAC member, and as a current member of the Taxation, Revenue & Utilization of Expenditures Commission (TRUE).

Carlucci grew up in San Marco and is a State Farm Insurance agent. “I am running for the primary reason I want to work for you,” he said. “I want to enhance and protect our quality of life in Jacksonville and the way I want to do it is by bringing people together. We move best when Jacksonville moves together. We create more jobs, and we need to do things for the betterment of our children and grandchildren.”

McCart, an Ortega resident, was also interested in building a future for Jacksonville’s children. “I want to see a place where our children can thrive, and our grandchildren can thrive,” said the Jacksonville native, adding it is important to focus on education, the oceans and infrastructure, which is not keeping pace with Jacksonville’s population.

A small business owner, Redman served eight years on the Council and has experience on the Land Use and Zoning Committee. As owner of a barber shop and beauty parlor, he joked that he solves the city’s problems all day long as he chats with customers in his barber chair. Redman served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and also has served as school advisory chairman for the Englewood High School area, District School Advisory committee, and has coached Little League baseball and swimming.

As incumbent for Group 5, Newby is an Edward Waters College graduate and former chairman of the YMCA, and a coach. He is a retired executive with Pepsi Cola, and in his four years on the council he has served three times as chairman of the Neighborhoods Committee. “Why am I running? Because I believe every neighborhood should be safe,” he said.

Like Rachal, Brunson also has experience on the TRUE Commission, serving as chairman for two years. “If we are able to bring a more socially-sensitive decisionmaker with TRUE experience (to the Council), then we can get better outcomes to our spending collectively,” she said.

A paramedic for 25 years, McIntyre said he is running because he believes an “evidence-based approach is needed to solve issues facing the city. We need to stop thinking about ideals and to start thinking about how we apply evidence to them,” he said.

Top city priorities

More than half the candidates – King, Freeman, Hazouri, Carlucci, Brunson, Salem and Newby – said handling violent crime was the most pressing issue facing the city. Other top priorities mentioned by the candidates were quality of life (Crooms), homelessness (Rachal), infrastructure and development (McCart, Redman, and McIntyre), and neighborhood beautification (Mason).  “If you look good, you feel good, and you do good,” Mason said, while McIntyre posed the question, “Does Jacksonville want to be a big city or a small town?” 

When Boyer asked the candidates where they would spend an extra $500,000 if they could enhance any program in the city, she received a variety of answers.

In keeping with his priority of neighborhood beautification, Mason said he would support 630-CITY technology. Redman and Salem wanted to take a bite out of crime by supporting out-of-school suspension and other youth in crisis programs (Redman) and small innovative programs for youth involved in violent behavior and inmates being released back into society (Salem). 

For Hazouri, it was libraries. For Rachal, it was safety measures, such as better lighting and crosswalks, to protect pedestrians. Newby said he would beef up public works, specifically roads and sidewalks, while Brunson would enhance education, specifically through grassroots organizations. Freeman would support parks, public and pedestrian safety. 

Crooms, who saw quality of life as a top priority, favored supporting Community Guardians and fighting food deserts. McIntyre, who mentioned a shooting had simultaneously occurred in Mandarin as he was speaking, would fund Operation Ceasefire, an evidence-based program aimed at youth gun violence. Meanwhile Carlucci and King both agreed mental health and suicide prevention programs are poorly funded and will serve as ways to fight crime. “You might not know this, but the largest investor in mental health services and funding is our jail,” King said.

McCart, meanwhile, would not be pinned down. “I would reach out to community leaders to see how they could better benefit from $500,000,” he said. “It’s important to understand what is needed out there.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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