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Issue #23: Will Jacksonville Democrats hold Tommy Hazouri's District
The first round of voting is today, December 7th
Today is the day for a special election in Jacksonville. Voters across Duval County (consolidated government for those who don’t know) will go to the polls to cast ballots for City Council. This is a race with important implications for the future, but is sadly taking place due to the death of a local legend. The race is to fill the seat held by Democrat Tommy Hazouri.
Tommy Hazouri’s Legacy
Tommy Hazouri was legend in Jacksonville politics. He first represented the area in the state house from 1974 to 1986. He was then elected mayor in 1987. He lost re-election in 1991, a symptom of the growing GOP dominance in the area. Hazouri would return, however, winning a seat on the Duval School Board in 2004; being re-elected in 2008. In 2015, Hazouri was elected to one of the city’s at-large council districts.
That win came the same day as Democratic Mayor Alvin Brown lost his re-election bid to Republican Lenny Curry. I talked about that race in this article. Hazouri’s win was celebrated by the LGBT community; as Hazouri was a major backer of the proposed Human Rights Ordinance that the county was debating. Mayor Brown had opposed such a plan, and as such the LGBT community did nothing to help in his race. The HRO would come to fruition after the elections. Hazouri represented the socially-liberal side of the local Jacksonville Democratic divide; the other side represented by Brown and the ultra-crazy Kim Daniels.
2019 Elections and Council Presidency
Hazouri’s re-election to the council was one of the few bright spots for Jacksonville Democrats in 2019. Despite the county flipping Democratic in 2018; backing Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum, Democrats did not field a candidate for county mayor. The results was a turnout collapse that sank multiple down-ballot Democratic candidates. I delved deep into this election in this article. Tommy Hazouri, however, was able to deftly move through the political debacle. With no Democrat running, Hazouri backed Republican Incumbent Mayor Lenny Curry for re-election. As a result, Hazouri had the support of Curry and thus the GOP machine aiming to take other districts did not target him.
Hazouri won the first-round of voting, but needed a runoff after 3rd place candidate took a share off African-American voters. The results were reflective of some Democratic anger at Hazouri for backing Curry.
Activists anger (misplaced considering their was no Democrat running for Mayor) didn’t matter in the runoff. Hazouri consolidated the Democratic vote for the second round, and Republicans did little to help Republican Greg Rachal. Hazouri easily won.
The same day Hazouri won re-election, the at-large race for district 1 went to Republican Terrance Freeman.
After his re-election, Hazouri had one desire left for his time in public service, to be the City Council President. The council President is chosen by the council members, and with Curry’s support, Hazouri easily won the spot. He’d serve from July 2020 to July 2021.
Sadly, Hazouri would not survive long past his time as council President. Complications from a lung transplant led to his unexpected death on September 11th, 2021.
“A son of Jacksonville, Tommy spent a lifetime helping his neighbors build a better community. Those who knew him understood he could not have had it any other way.” - Family Statement
His passing was a major blow to the people of Jacksonville.
The Race to Continue a Legacy
With Hazouri’s tragic passing, a special election was ordered. Like all past races in Jacksonville, all candidates will run in a jungle primary. If someone gets 50%, that’s it, otherwise its a runoff. Democrats had a bad night in 2019, but in 2020 Biden won the county by almost 4%.
Biden's win came thanks to outperforming Clinton across the county; from the suburbs or more rural communities. Biden did underperform in the African-American community, however.
Democrats are hoping to hold this council seat for their party. With the mayoral race scheduled for spring of 2023, a race I’ve already talked about in this substack post, Democrats need to hold this seat to show their viability.
Democrats got a solid recruit when Tracye Polson entered the race. Polson first came onto the political scene in 2018 when she ran an incredibly close race for House District 15. At the time, district 15 was a Trump +8 district that covered a diversifying suburban area of Jacksonville. Polson raised hundreds of the thousands of dollars; keeping the race neck-and-neck through the election. She’d end up narrowly losing the race, however.
Polson’s strong showing, however, was a classic case of winning in defeat. Polson was viewed as a future contender for another office down the line. Now she is running for county at-large, a spot to the left of the county. Polson is the preference of prominent Democrats. She had the support of the legislative delegation and several councilmembers.
On another note, HD-15 swung to the left in 2018, backing DeSantis and Scott but by narrow margins. In 2020, Biden would narrowly flip it; but Republicans still hold the district.
Polson’s toughest opponent is likely to be Nick Howland. The GOP establishment choice, Howland is a former member of the Jacksonville Charter Review board, and made a run for school board in 2018. Howland has the backing of many local elected Republicans; from council members to Sheriff Mike Williams, as well as Congressman John Rutherford.
There are two other candidates running. Republican Howland "Howdy" Russell and Democrat James “Coach” Jacobs. Neither candidates have raised over $20,000, and are more likely to play the roll of preventing Howland or Polson from reaching 50%; meaning a runoff.
The money and endorsements are in the Howland and Polson camps. Howland has raised just under $90,000 while Polson sits on over $300,000. Around $175,000 of that is self-funding, but that still gives her over $100,000 in solid fundraising.
Unlike 2019, Democrats are doing a good job of getting their people out to the polls. Democrats have 52% of the votes cast to the GOP’s 39%. Election Day could be much more Republican (based on recent trends) but also how many people will show up for election day is up in the air. Most local Florida elections in 2021 have seen vast majorities of the vote taking place early. We are just under 45,000 ballots cast, nearly 7% turnout. You can see far more turnout details/maps in this twitter thread!
Polls will close at 7pm!