JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Even though it took a while for the results to come in, there were no big surprises Tuesday when Duval County voters finished the job they started in March and elected who will represent them on the Jacksonville City Council for the next four years.
No candidate received 50% in two citywide and three district races in the first election on March 14 that also gave Jacksonville's mayor and sheriff second terms and filled a dozen other city posts. Those five races were decided by more than 14% of registered voters in Duval County who cast ballots in what the city calls its general election, but what most consider a runoff.
Tommy Hazouri was reelected to the At-Large Group 3 seat and Terrance Freeman won the At-Large Group 1 seat. In the district races, Ju'Coby Pittman was reelected in District 8, Brenda Priestly Jackson was elected in District 10 and Randy DeFoor won the District 14 race, which was the closest of the runoffs.
Hazouri, the former Democratic mayor and current At-Large Group 3 councilman, was able to outpace his challenger, Republican Greg Rachal. With all 199 precincts reporting, Hazouri won reelection to the City Council with 58.1% of the vote.
"I am looking forward to continuing the next four years. We got a lot to do," said Hazouri, who had faced a hate campaign over his vote in favor of expanding the city's Human Rights Ordinance in 2017. "I enjoyed the race. I felt confident all along."
He told News4Jax at his watch party Tuesday evening that he doesn’t regret endorsing Mayor Lenny Curry even though it may have caused him to go to the runoff election.
"If you have three Republicans, I’m a Democrat, I’m going to pick the one I want to work with. I had a great relationship with him before for four years. We don’t always agree. But the issues that he supported, I support it," Hazouri said. "The Kids Hope Alliance, the pension bill -- all of these things (that) are important to me."
For the At-Large Group 1 seat, Freeman, a Republican who served as an interim district councilman for the last 10 months, defeated Democrat Lisa King with 53.8% of the vote. At-Large Group 1 was the seat that Councilwoman Anna Lopez Brosche gave up when she decided to run for mayor, but she failed to defeat Curry, who won reelection in March with 57.5% of the vote.
"It is my hope that tonight is more than just a victory speech in celebrating this campaign. My hope is that it is a shift in the destiny of Jacksonville, that from this day forward, we put aside campaigns ... and the gridlock and instead focus on what type of city we want when we are done with public life," Freeman told his family and supporters, who he said were his motivation, on Tuesday evening.
In a one-on-one interview with News4Jax after his victory, Freeman said he is now ready to get to work.
"First thing is going to be crime and safety. We've got to make sure that our city is safe and I am going to do everything that I can to make sure that (Sheriff) Mike Williams has all of the resources that are necessary and work with the mayor to get these things done," he said. "Outside of that, we are looking at economic development."
In District 14 -- which includes the Riverside, Avondale and Ortega areas -- there was a narrow race between political newcomers DeFoor, a Republican, and Democrat Sunny Gettinger, but DeFoor won with 51.1% of the vote. It was the closest of the runoff races.
"It’s been a long road and we finally got here, so I’m very happy," DeFoor said after all the ballots had been counted. "I want people to know I’m passionate about Jacksonville."
As she will be a newcomer to the City Council, News4Jax asked DeFoor, who was born and raised in Jacksonville, what she plans to focus on.
"I think the biggest issue right now is safety. We do need to address that. I’d like to see more police officers on the street," the Jacksonville native said at her election night party. "But we have so much to be thankful for here. We were just discussing the view from the rooftop where we are. It’s such an incredible city where we are and that we live in."
The District 10 -- covering parts of Northwest Jacksonville and the Westside -- seat was open, as well. It went to Priestly Jackson, a Democrat who had the largest win of the night -- 65.5% -- over Democrat Celestine Mills.
Priestly Jackson said she plans on focusing on education, but there will also be an advisory group that will help gather the ideas of the entire district.
"The plan that we are going to come up with and implement, it's not the Brenda Priestly Jackson plan," she said. "I don't pretend to have all of the answers, but I do have a willing ear and a spirit to work towards development."
In the race for the District 8 -- including parts of Northwest Jacksonville and the Northside -- seat, Pittman, the Democratic incumbent, defeated Democrat Tameka Gaines Holly with 57.6% of the vote. Shortly after Gaines Holly's loss, she released a statement congratulating Pittman.
"Tonight, the voters of District 8 have spoken. Two years ago, I started this journey and it has definitely been a great race. As a woman of faith and keeping God in the forefront, I'm satisfied with the work my team and I have done. This will not be the last of me, politically. I will continue to serve the residents of District 8 through my everyday work as a community advocate. I congratulate Ms. Pittman and look forward to working with her for the next four years."
Pittman was appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott to fill out the term of former Councilwoman Katrina Brown, a Democrat who was removed from office on federal fraud charges and is awaiting trial. Pittman said she's ready to continue the work she began since her appointment last summer.
"I am just excited and elated," she said. "I have already been working on some of those objectives -- crime and safety are No. 1, infrastructure, as well as developing economic development and neighborhood economic development."
Results of those five City Council races started coming in about 50 minutes after polls closed at 7 p.m., which was rather unusual. Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan told News4Jax the delay was due to a manufacturer problem. He said while the votes were counted, there were issues pushing out the results to his office's website. Hogan added he will continue to look at the issue on Wednesday.
After 14 days of early voting and a month of counting mail-in ballots, only 55,444 of the 608,564 registered Jacksonville voters cast ballots in this election. That's about 9%.
The last time there was no mayor's race in a Jacksonville May election -- 2007, when John Peyton won a second term with 75% of the vote in the first round of voting -- total turnout was 9%.
By 9 p.m. Tuesday, after polls closed, 31,972 more votes were recorded, with overall turnout at about 14.4%. That's more than dismal early projections and saves the city from the humiliation of seeing a record low turnout. Yet Hazouri said he wished it would have been higher.
"I wish more people would have turned out and voted," he said. "Hopefully that will happen one day."
Voter interest was high as one Ortega precinct -- in District 14, where there was the contested council race and candidates were out campaigning Tuesday -- had reached 35% total turnout.
In November, 63% of Jacksonville's voters cast ballots for our state and national leaders. So why did so few take the opportunity to select who will lead their city and decide how local tax money will be spent?
“This is an important vote: electing five members of the City Council. That is almost one-fourth of that board," Hogan said.
Faye Strayer, who is 91 years old and has been voting for 70 years, walked three blocks just to vote Tuesday. She said she used to work the polls when 60% to 70% turnout was normal.
Voters had already elected 10 members of the City Council in March. Former Councilman and state House member Matt Carlucci, a Republican, won the At-Large Group 4 seat with 71% of the vote in a three-way race that included former district Councilman Don Redman. Political newcomer and Republican Ron Salem won At-Large Group 2, with 56% of the vote over Democrat Darren Mason. Incumbent Republican Sam Newby received 53% of the vote in a three-way race for the At-Large Group 5 seat.
In July, the new City Council members will be sworn in. Many will be following this council closely to see the direction the city will take on issues like JEA and the Landing.
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