JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While acknowledging Jacksonville has made great strides in the past five decades, the six living mayors of Jacksonville agreed there's still room for improvement since the city's merger with Duval County.
The 50th anniversary of Jacksonville’s consolidated government was the subject Wednesday night during a mayoral forum co-hosted by the Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute and News4Jax.
Jake Godbold (1978-1987), Tommy Hazouri (1987-1991), John Delaney (1995-2003), John Peyton (2003-2011), Alvin Brown (2011-2015) and Lenny Curry (2015-present) each participated.
One thing each former mayor agreed on: They've all either helped or are helping move the city forward.
"I think that the spirit of consolidation is one city, one Jacksonville," Curry said, quoting the theme of his mayoral campaign. "We've got a long way to go to meet that idea, and everyone on this stage is committed to that idea."
Godbold was arguably the most vocal of the six mayors. He showed great emotion for the city and wasn't afraid to point out areas that need improvement.
"There's no substitute for education, and that's what's wrong with crime today. It's because these kids are not getting the proper education," Godbold said. "It's a hell of a challenge, but there's no substitute for a good mother and a good father."
Brown said consolidation allowed him to do a lot of great things as mayor, but acknowledged criticisms of the merge.
"A lot of people think that consolidation took away the opportunity to have a black mayor," Brown said. "We are obviously better off than we were before... Consolidation let Jacksonville compete in the national economy."
Brown said he was honored and humbled to be Jacksonville's first black mayor. He said consolidation set the "tone and the strategy for the 21st century."
In his hand, Hazouri held a three page list of economic development projects since consolidation. He pointed to one of his earliest accomplishments.
"I wanted to get rid of the tolls, and we did that right away," Hazouri said. "Granted, we made a lot of promises, some we haven't been able to fulfill yet, but we will."
Peyton said the city has done a lot correctly, and agrees it will continue to progress. He'd like to see more improvements downtown.
"I would like to see downtown have more of a voice, a dedicated funding source, more autonomy," Peyton said. "I think our downtown is behind."
Pointing to a lack of focus on the city's neighborhoods, which he blamed on consolidation, Delaney said Curry has tried put them back in the spotlight.
"There was no tax base downtown to provide services to the community," Delaney said. "Consolidation let us tax the suburbs. We have an obligation to try and better neighborhoods."
Curry closed the conversation with his thoughts.
"Consolidation is and was good. Good can always be better and better can always be best," Curry said. "Let's just keep working as a city for the best."
The forum will be televised from 9-10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, on WJXT's weekly politics and public affairs program, "This Week in Jacksonville."