In their own words: 2 candidates running for open Jacksonville City Council seat

Candidates want to fill 20 months remaining in term of Tommy Hazouri’s at-large post

Nick Howland and Tracye Polson are running in Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 3. (Photos provided by candidates)

Early voting is underway in the special election to fill the Jacksonville City Council seat that was vacated last year by the late Tommy Hazouri.

One Democrat and one Republican got the most votes in the first election in December and are on the ballot:

Nick Howland | Tracye Polson

Vote-by-mail ballots are already out and nine days of early voting begins Saturday and Election Day is Feb 22.

While the candidates’ parties are listed, city elections are unitary -- all voters cast ballots for any candidate on the ballot.

The winner will become the At-Large Group 3 council member through June 2023 -- the remainder of Hazouri’s term.

HELPFUL LINK: Duval County voting precinct finder

To help inform voters, News4Jax last fall asked each candidate a series of questions about themselves, their top priorities and some issues facing the city.

You can also watch Kent Justice’s debate-style interview with Polson and Howland on This Week in Jacksonville.

Scroll down to read the answers exactly as provided by the four candidates.

Party affiliation: Republican

Occupation: Executive Director, The Fire Watch (Veteran Suicide Prevention)

Age: 48

Candidate’s family: Wife and 2 boys (ages 15 and 13)

Education: MBA

Political experience: None. However, I served 4 years in the United States Navy, 8 years on Jacksonville’s Environmental Protection Board, 4 years on the First Coast Manufacturers Association board, and 1 year on the most recent Jacksonville Charter Revision Commission.

What do you see as the top three issues facing the city over the next two years?

  • Public Safety - a recent JSO study found that we are a few hundred officers short of the number necessary to provide safer communities across Jacksonville. This gap will widen as our population swells if we do not focus on it now. I will make it a priority to ensure JSO has the resources it needs to keep our growing neighborhoods safe.
  • Jobs - we are rapidly approaching 1 million people. We have had great success attracting financial firms downtown. We need to leverage that success and attract manufacturing and logistics businesses as well, with middle class jobs, to keep our economy strong.
  • Strategic Growth – we have incredible natural resources in the river, the ocean, our marshes and available land. We also have a strong geographical advantages at the north end of the state, at the intersection of 95 and 10. We need to work closely with residential and commercial developers to ensure that we grow in a strategic and planned manner - to improve downtown, repurpose more dilapidated areas of our City, fix neglected infrastructure in our northwest side and exhibit good stewardship in new development. We need a strategic growth plan and good fiscal management.

How can you help voters in a way that others running for this office cannot?

  • I am a Navy veteran, business executive, husband, father, and now the Executive Director of a statewide effort to end veteran suicide. I know the concerns of veterans, of businesses and of young families. I’ve lived them. I’ve also served our great city several times – Jacksonville’s Environmental Protection Board, the First Coast Manufacturers Association board, and the most recent Jacksonville Charter Revision Commission. I have deep ties in the veteran and business communities in Northeast Florida and I know what it will take to lead our city over the next decade.

When it comes to downtown development, do you agree with the Shipyards plan and other projects already in the works? If not, what would you like to see?

  • I strongly agree with the Shipyards plan. Revitalizing our Downtown is a fundamental part of what will transform this City over the next decade. I’d like to see more residential development with 1st floor retail, more food and entertainment options and even an innovation corridor along Bay Street to attract more technology businesses and young professionals to our Downtown neighborhoods.

What do you think is the best strategy to prepare the city for the effects of climate change? How high of a priority is this issue for you?

  • I support the recent hiring of a Chief Resilience Officer. Having served as the manufacturing industry’s representative on the City’s Environmental Protection Board, it became clear to me that environmental protection and economic growth are not mutually exclusive concepts.

What would you hope to be remembered for accomplishing after serving in this office?

  • I want to help make Jacksonville THE top destination in the Southeast for families and business. That means safer streets, better infrastructure and more jobs. I also want to make our City the most military and veteran-friendly community in the nation by ensuring we have supportive resources for our heroes and their families. That is the legacy I would like to leave behind. In the longer term, my hope is that when my boys graduate college and look to raise a family, they do it here. Not Charlotte, Orlando, Miami or DC. But here, in Jacksonville, the greatest city in the Southeast.

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Party affiliation: Democrat

Occupation: Licensed mental health professional and small business owner

Age: 62

Candidate’s family: I live with my husband, Kevin Clair, and am a mom and bonus mom to our five grown children, one grandchild, and two dogs.

Education: B.A. Human Relations, Trinity University, 1991 M.S.W. - Master of Social Work, University of Maryland, 1996 Ph.D., Clinical Social Work, Smith College, 2014

Political experience: Prior to moving to Florida, I was involved in legislative matters in Montgomery County, Maryland. I’ve given testimony before the Budget and Taxation Committee in the MD legislature on early childhood mental health and was a part of a group who worked to pass a bill in MD related to early childhood mental health. I was in the Senate chambers in Florida when many of the students from Parkland were in the gallery. I was with them in my role as a mental health professional while we watched the Senate members refuse to hear the bills related to gun violence. I read the report on selling JEA, the Lot J proposal, and the Safer Together report each in their entirety, and I’ve watched and spoken at city council meetings. I know our city needs change; I’ve seen too many backroom deals attempted. Too often there’s a lack of transparency in critical decisions made by the city -- and too many in Jacksonville are excluded from providing early and consequential input on the direction of, and spending by, our city government. This is my second time running for office — I first ran for State House District 15 in 2018. I lost that race by a little more than 1200 votes. I was honored to have the endorsement of Tommy Hazouri for that race and look forward to carrying on his legacy of bipartisan leadership.

What do you see as the top three issues facing the city over the next two years?

  • Resiliency and infrastructure — we must do more to protect our neighborhoods from the worsening impacts of climate change like flooding, extreme heat, and air pollution. There are well-documented and undeniable risks in failing to adequately address this matter including national security (per our top-level military and homeland security experts), economic consequences (including risk to property and property values, jobs, and macroeconomic elements including risk to good growth), health consequences, and more.
  • Criminal Justice Reform, broadly, including reducing the number of low-risk offenders (for example, small amounts of marijuana possession and no violent crime history) in our crowded jails, and reinstatement of the Safer Together Committee. I would like to see the Safer Together Committee restarted so that as a city we can have the often difficult conversations that naturally arise within any diverse group of stakeholders, to find meaningful solutions including revised as necessary policing policies, practices or resources on which our entire community can come to agreement. I believe it is past time for meaningful reform that can reduce avoidable government expenses, improve economic outcomes across the city and county, and enhance the security and lives of residents and their families.
  • Economic Development, including fostering growth in higher-wage jobs and realization of long-delayed downtown development — We need to work together, more inclusively than we have in our recent past with all of the multiple stakeholders to vet the best possible developments for our downtown and other areas of the county using broader discussion in the open/available to the public, and transparent decision-making instead of the backroom deals that exploit taxpayer money to reward a very few.

How can you help voters in a way that others running for this office cannot?

  • As a licensed clinical social worker and mental health professional, I know the problems and struggles that the people of Jacksonville face every day. I’m not only qualified but passionate about sitting side-by-side with people to listen and find impactful solutions to their issues.

When it comes to downtown development, do you agree with the Shipyards plan and other projects already in the works? If not, what would you like to see?

  • I do not agree with many aspects of the process used recently to advance these projects. We need more transparency and broader participation as they develop conceptually. We need to require more safeguarding of taxpayer’s money including a better return of cash and other benefits to the public for each dollar spent by the city -- and we must have closer examination and earlier, and more public, disclosure on exactly who benefits from any city money allocated.

What do you think is the best strategy to prepare the city for the effects of climate change? How high of a priority is this issue for you?

  • The likely impacts of climate change urgently needs to be addressed. Today our U.S. military command and even now our large-scale financial firms, banks and insurance companies, not just ‘environmental activists’, are calling for an effective response to rising waters, more catastrophic storms, more intense wildfires and heat. For too long we have delayed responding meaningfully to this reality. Any state or federal support Jacksonville receives is highly unlikely to address the full range of impacts on our city. We must address it on a local level to protect our communities, jobs, military bases and other critical infrastructure. As a Jacksonville City Councilmember, I would do this by proposing legislation to mitigate flooding, protect the city from other documented and known dangers such as certain areas being more exposed to excessive heat and erosion, and prepare updated plans to provide the necessary emergency response and follow-on remediation.

What would you hope to be remembered for accomplishing after serving in this office?

  • I’ve worked hard to build relationships all across the county with citizens and local leaders to hear from a broad array of people what they see as critically necessary to Jacksonville’s improvement and growth. After my term, I hope to be remembered as a leader who listened to and amplified the voices of Jacksonville’s children, working people, and families.

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