JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Republican Nick Howland and Democrat Tracye Polson are in the final stretch before next Tuesday’s special election.
On Friday, they had their first public debate, hosted by the First Coast Tiger Bay Club. Both are vying for the seat vacated when Tommy Hazouri died in September.
The candidates were asked questions ranging from raising the property tax, to increasing pay for teachers, to the removal of Confederate monuments.
The prediction is that the race will be neck-and-neck, but the margin of Democrats turning out is growing, with about 2,000 more than Republicans. Nearly 6,500 people have cast a ballot during early voting, but the real factor is believed to be the independent voters.
On the topic of the Duval County school superintendent wanting to increase property taxes to give teachers more money, Howland pointed out that there is no official legislation on that.
“I have not seen the report. I don’t think legislation has been proposed on that one mil increase, so I can’t possibly weigh in on whether I would support it or not,” Howland said. “I will immediately say, there’s nothing more fundamentally important than improving education for our children and teachers deserve all the credit in the world.”
Polson responded, “My understanding is that this request from Diana Greene, the superintendent, is also wanting it to be voted on by the citizens, which, again, I think makes a lot of sense. This is probably an area where Mr. Howland and I are in agreement.”
They were asked about the remaining Confederate monuments in Jacksonville.
“I’m on record, in alignment with Mayor Curry, by the way, for taking down the Confederate monuments,” Polson said. “And we’re still waiting, by the way. He did that at a Black Lives Matter march more than two years ago.”
“I am on record many times on this issue as well,” Howland said. “I don’t think, regarding monuments, that it’s as easy as tearing them down or keeping them up. I believe we need to add to and put context around them. For me, the easiest way to repeat an ugly past is to delete an ugly past.”
Which led to a question on race relations, and if elected, how they would address that.
“After the murder of George Floyd, I was out at many protests here in Jacksonville, but as a peacekeeper working alongside JSO, and have had so many conversations both with people of color, but also a lot of white people who honestly have come to me and said, ‘how can you talk about this as a white person?’ And my response is, if we’re not talking about it as white people, then we’re part of the problem.”
“There are racists in our country, there are racists in our institutions. But that doesn’t mean that our institutions are racist and that doesn’t mean we live in a racist nation,” Howland said. “One of the issues we have is inequality of opportunity, not outcome. That’s not America. But inequality of opportunity — we should always look to rectify those inequalities of opportunity.”
Both candidates also addressed the Human Rights Ordinance, including LGBTQ+ issues in Jacksonville.
“I would fight any efforts at discrimination for anything,” Howland said. “Age, gender, race, sexual orientation — there’s no room for discrimination in our city, in our state or in our country.”
“I would continue to advocate for anything that is in that space, but more importantly, to fight hard against anything that would try to attack it,” Polson said.
In talking to people after the debate, they told me it was important to hear from them in person — not just from ads and flyers. A UNF poll released Thursday shows the race is a close one.