Sheriff Debate Analysis: Who did the best job getting their message out?

Jordan Peterson, Associate Professor of Public Policy at Jacksonville University, joins us to discuss the debate between the candidates for Jacksonville's next sheriff and whether any of their proposed policies stood out.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After the five candidates who want to tackle Jacksonville’s biggest law enforcement issues squared off Wednesday night on Channel 4, an analyst with the Jacksonville Public Policy Institute shared what he considered the biggest takeaways from the debate.

Violent crime, murder, building trust and transparency. Those seemed to be the biggest issues facing Jacksonville when you listened to the debate hosted by the Jacksonville Public Policy Institute and News4JAX.

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The field of five candidates who want to succeed Sheriff Mike Williams and tackle those problems include Lakesha Burton, Wayne Clark, Tony Cummings, Ken Jefferson and T.K. Waters.

Duval County residents who submitted questions made it clear to the candidates they are looking for new ways to stem the growing tide of violence and murder.

Jordan Peterson, an Assistant Professor with the Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute, weighed in on The Morning Show on Thursday.

“I heard more (new ideas) from the Democratic candidates for sheriff than I did from T.K. Waters, the Republican candidate,” Peterson said. “It seemed to me that the line from T.K. Waters, which makes sense, as a co-partisan of the sheriff in the city for the past 18 years to say that things aren’t really going that badly. It’s more or less OK, officer-involved shootings aren’t a big problem. Whereas the Democratic candidates were ready to emphasize community policing and trying to do outreach.

“I even saw some pretty, I think, radical reform suggestions from Toni cummings who suggested having a public accountability officer in the sheriff’s office itself to monitor what’s going on,” said Peterson.

Peterson said all the participants agreed more needs to be done to tackle the growing issue of gun violence and would bring about the biggest change in the community.

“I think Lakesha Burton had the clearest attitude that she wanted to change things in the department and she was very emphatic about reaching out to the community and cited her experience as a commander,” Peterson said.  I think that she was actually short on specific proposals, but it’s clear that she has her finger on the pulse of the direction that things might be going in the community or in the nation more broadly.”

Peterson said all the participants agreed more needs to be done to tackle the growing issue of gun violence.

He sees Burton and Waters as the two front runners in the race.

“I think that those two candidates, they’ve raised more money than anyone else,” said Peterson. “We have a unitary election. It means that even among four democrats and one republican, you could theoretically have two democrats come out of this election, but it’s highly unlikely.”

Peterson doesn’t believe Wednesday’s debate “changed the needle for any of the candidates.” He agrees all will be working to raise their profiles between now and election day Aug. 23.

“In some ways, you’re not going to see a lot of variation across them, but I think some of them could potentially raise their profile both in the campaign and more generally if they were to take a stronger stand on what we could do about gun violence and illegal guns in general,” Peterson said.

Whoever is elected will be Jacksonville’s first Black Sheriff since Nat Glover held the office. If no one candidate gets a majority of the vote on Aug. 23, 50% plus one, the two highest vote-getting candidates move on to a runoff on Nov. 8. The winner will take office right away and serve the remainder of Williams’ term, which ends in 2023.

A March 21 primary and May 16 general election for a four-year term are slated for next year.

In the end, Peterson thought Burton gained the most ground in the debate.

“I would say Burton did the best job getting her message out, making herself known to the community and letting everyone know that she stands for change at a time when the public broadly has a relatively large appetite for change,” Peterson said.

About the Author:

This Emmy Award-winning television, radio and newspaper journalist has anchored The Morning Show for 18 years.