JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The three major candidates for Jacksonville mayor faced off in the first televised debate Thursday evening. They centered on the typical topics of the economy, crime and the city's pension mess.
But one of the candidates was not allowed to participate -- independent Omega Allen. She was left out because she did not poll high enough in a recent UNF survey.
Allen was invited by Lenny Curry as one of his guests to listen to the debate in the audience. She and others said they didn't hear anything really new and she also said her voice will be heard next week when she participates in our debate.
"Nothing surprising. The guys said basically the same rhetoric I've heard throughout the entire process," Allen said.
The campaign process is moving ahead fast. With one debate now behind them, the candidates will focus on next week when all four will be on the podium, including Allen.
The first question asked at the debate-- which was the most controversial and the one avoided by two of the candidates was centered on the Jacksonville human rights commission. They asked if they would support adding sexual orientation to the city's anti-discrimination law. All of the candidates responded to the question.
"I've always said I don't believe in discrimination of any form. I don't think discrimination should exist. I believe everyone should be treated with respect," said Mayor Alvin Brown.
"If and where discrimination exists, I will work with all people in Jacksonville to serve Jacksonville's problems. I reject the premise the people of Jacksonville are a people that discriminates. If and where it exists, I will work tirelessly, I will lead the conversation to make sure we come together with a solution made by Jacksonville's people," said Lenny Curry.
"I think one of the things you'll find out tonight is about who actually answers questions and who doesn't. I believe it's long past the time in our country's history where we should be discriminating against people because of who or what they are. We're not talking about behavior, we're talking about people. The answer to your question is yes," said Bill Bishop.
For the rest of the debate, they centered on the topics of pension, budget and taxes. Again, Mayor Brown pledged that he would not raise taxes in the next four years. Lenny Curry said he would run the city like a business and look into how the city was able to uncover money-- the mayor never knew was there. And Bill Bishop said we need an alternative.
"We are tired of watching the same old thing from our people that run for political office. Those that run destructive, negative campaigns. Those that simply refuse to answer questions. Those that are indebted to special interest groups. You have an option here this year, I am that option," Bishop said.
"I am the only person who has a clear vision for the city to continue to move it forward. As your mayor, I will continue to work hard to put Jacksonville back to work, to make sure we close the economic gap to give everyone in this city who wants a job has a job," said Brown.
"I'm the only conservative candidate in this race. Mayor Alvin Brown, property taxes have gone up 14% on his watch, based on his budgets. Councilman Bishop has been clear-- he believes the solution is a tax increase," Curry said.
News4Jax spoke to Allen after the debate, who gave her side on the tax issue.
"The mayor says no new taxes; my taxes went up, yours went up. So how can that actually be true?" asked Allen. "Mr. Bishop says, 'Yes, we do need to raise taxes.' He didn't say what kind of taxes. If you look at taxes, probably the best way to do it would be to raise taxes that would affect everyone, including those that are our visitors and tourists, so everyone could benefit from those taxes."
Taxes and pension were the key issues in the debate. Political observers said each of the three candidates didn't really issue any new information.
Matt Corrigan said turnout will decide this election. Each candidate has a base and whoever can get his or her base to the polls will win.
"I think they play the role in their strategies," said Corrigan. "I think Lenny Curry was definitely going for the conservative vote and planning on the turnout, and then Bill Bishop offered himself as the sensible alternative."
News4Jax will host a debate among all four mayoral candidates next Wednesday night. News4Jax will televise a debate with all the candidates for sheriff next Thursday. Both debates will take place at Jacksonville University and will air on Channel 4 and all digital platforms of News4Jax at 8 p.m.