Jacksonville Republicans pressure Wilson, make late move to grab City Council presidency

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s a power struggle at City Hall.

Local Republicans are turning against one of their own in the midst of an in-party battle for leadership of the Jacksonville City Council.

It involves pressure by Republicans to pull support from the current City Council President Scott Wilson.

Republicans want Wilson to break a promise to Democrat Tommy Hazouri, and if he doesn’t, he could face an uphill battle in an upcoming primary.

Wilson, the current City Council President who is leaving to run for another office, told News4Jax on Monday he will have nothing to do with it.

Wilson said his promise is gold and if he breaks it his word means nothing.

“Politics be damned, my word and my reputation are more important to me than any election,” Wilson said.

Wilson said Monday he will not be pressured into changing his vote for the next council president.

For the most part, the City Council presidency is handed down to the person who serves as Vice President the year before. It hasn’t always happened, but this year it was a given that Hazouri would take over that role in July — until last week.

That’s when Republican Councilman Danny Becton decided he wants the leadership role and now there appears to be a lot of pressure on Republican council members, including Wilson, to support him.

“I have been told that voting for Mr. Hazouri, a Democrat, may likely do political damage to me in that election. Every Republican voter, they say, will probably receive a piece of mail condemning me for voting for Councilmember Hazouri,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the threats are not coming from the local Republican Executive Committee but from other party members. He did not want to be specific.

The Duval County GOP issued a statement to News4Jax:

News4Jax also called Councilman Becton several times to ask him why he decided to run for the position so late in the game. He has not called us back.

Councilman Hazouri did speak to News4Jax about the issue and said the council should not be about politics and admires that Wilson is laying his political future on this.

“That’s Scott Wilson,” Hazouri said. “He keeps his commitment, he’s full of integrity and I think that’s why he’s been the leader he’s been, especially the last several months dealing with JEA, dealing with the coronavirus dealing with the other topical issues.”

The City Council votes Tuesday afternoon and Wilson said he is not the only one who is being lobbied.

He said at least 15 other council members have made a promise to Hazouri. Wilson said the only way Becton can win is if seven councilmembers break their word.

Mayor Lenny Curry said last week he did not want to get involved in the issue but then commented on the situation saying he has worked well with everyone involved.

“[Councilman Hazouri and I] have had a great working relationship over the years and I look forward to continuing that,” Curry said. “To that, I worked on bills as well with Danny Becton. The council was going to have to do its business. Tommy is the expected successor based on the pledges I’ve seen and typically people honor their pledges.”

News4Jax Political Analyst Rick Mullaney says Scott Wilson has done a good job.

“A person of integrity and a person of courage, particularly when it came to JEA and some very difficult matters during his tenure” Mullaney said. “And second, for people who know Scott Wilson, it’s no surprise that he would stick to his commitment, and in the end I think the voters of Duval County, in general, will appreciate that as much as anything.”

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