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VOTING GUIDE: Meet the candidates in the Jacksonville City Council election

Bill Bortzfield / WJCT
A special election is scheduled Dec. 7 in Duval County to fill the At-Large Group 3 seat vacated by the late Tommy Hazouri.

Two Republicans and two Democrats will compete in an election Dec. 7 to fill the City Council seat vacated by the late Tommy Hazouri.

Unless one candidate garners more than 50% of the vote, a runoff election with the top two will take place in February 2022.

The candidates must live in Group 3 to qualify for the at-large seat, but they would represent the whole county. All Duval County voters get a say in who fills the seat.

This is Duval County's first election since Florida's controversial, stricter voting laws have took effect last summer. There are fewer early voting sites than in a presidential or midterm election, and extra steps are required to get a mail ballot than there were last year.

More information on where and how to cast a ballot is at the Duval County's supervisor of elections website.

The four candidates are listed below alphabetically with their opinions on issues facing the city. Interviews have been condensed for clarity.

Nick Howland (R)

Republican candidate Nick Howland pictured in his office for The Fire Watch, a veteran suicide prevention organization.
Claire Heddles
Republican Nick Howland is pictured in his office for The Fire Watch, a veterans suicide prevention organization.

The following responses are excerpted from an in-person interview with Nick Howland.

His top priorities

"We're going to need to back our public safety and make sure that (the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office) has the resources we need to keep our neighborhoods safe."

"Priority No. 2 is jobs, and that's because with all these residents, we need jobs for them so we're not sitting here 10 years from now, with a bunch of folks looking for work in a high city unemployment rate. I think the city's done a pretty good job of bringing financial services here ... but I'd like to see us expand our targeted industries to more logistics and manufacturing companies."

Bills he plans to file

"A strategic planning commission ... it's not just strategic priorities of the city, but it's a comprehensive communitywide plan, taking into account community perspectives for where we want to be 10 years from now. It's been done in other cities successfully."

Jacksonville's trash problems

"There's a long-term issue associated with recycling and garbage, and that's our limitations on landfills. Oftentimes, the haulers have to drive so far that it limits how they can pick how much they can pick up. When you combine that with certain things we have like noise restrictions, we have a pretty progressive noise restriction ordinance in the city. So you have haulers who have to wait until a certain time before they can start emptying dumpsters ... and they can't make all their rounds and get to the landfill the same time. So we have to look at a longer-term strategy of of improving it."

Downtown development

"I'm a big fan of the Shipyards project that the Jaguars are working on. I'm excited about kind of the blue ocean opportunity we have to really look and develop a world-class, riverfront and downtown. We need to keep developing multiunit condos with first floor retail, which attract young professionals."

"If builders and developers need the incentives to to do infill development on that, then for sure, we should consider it and as long as it makes a business case, we should approve it."

Public safety and police

"It's manpower and it's support of our police. This defunding movement has really wreaked havoc on our police forces, because it's made it difficult to recruit. It's made it difficult to retain, and we need to show our police that we support them."

"As long as we're transparent, as long as City Council, when questions arise in the community, brings the sheriff or the deputy sheriff to testify about some of those issues, I think it's not necessary to have a Safer Together committee."

Confederate monuments

"I see they're talking about putting together a one-year plan on a comprehensive look, which is what many other cities have done, and I applaud that. I look forward to seeing what comes out of it."

Tommy Hazouri

"One of the great things that Tommy did, in my opinion, was pass a real advanced and kind of innovative anti-odor ordinance. ... People would say it was anti-business at the time, and it was certainly anti a couple industries, but that has helped attract businesses over time because the smell kept businesses away. So sometimes some of those initiatives can end up being a real positive for the business and economic environment."

What he brings to the council

"We are a military and veteran friendly community and The Fire Watch just reinforces that. I would like to make it the most military- and veteran-friendly community in the nation."

James 'Coach' Jacobs (D)

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Democratic candidate James C. Jacobs is a program director and athletic coach with Duval County Public Schools.

James Jacobs did not respond to a request for an interview at the time of publishing. WJCT News also sent questions by email but did not receive a response. The following information about Jacob's positions was taken from his campaign website.

His top priorities

  1. "'Coach' James C. Jacobs believes that the septic tanks problems in Jacksonville especially the inner city areas needs to be removed finally for the betterment of the quality of life for everyone."
  2. "'Coach' James C. Jacobs believes the city flooding areas and rising sea levels needs attention immediately."
  3. "Improve Senior Citizens Services."

Downtown development

"Improve economic development for all of Jacksonville especially the inner city."

"'Coach' James C. Jacobs has a heart for homeless services and programs. Someone who understands what it is like to be homeless. Coach Jacobs plans on advocating for the homeless for all.

What he brings to the council

"'Coach' James C. Jacobs has worked and volunteered in the trenches with the City of Jacksonville After school and senior programs & Duval County Public Schools, Charter and Private Schools in the community.

Coach Jacobs has prepared himself for the magnitude of City Council Member."

Tracye Polson (D)

 Democratic candidate Tracye Polson pictured in her home office, where she works as a clinical social worker and therapist.
Claire Heddles
Democratic candidate Tracye Polson sits in her home office, where she works as a clinical social worker and therapist.

The following answers are a mix of excerpts of an in-person interview and emailed responses.

Her top priorities

  1. "Bringing transparency and accountability to City Council with more communication with the public and clear process for things like zoning and allocating taxpayer dollars."
  2. "Reinstating the Safer Together Committee and improving the relationship between our community and our police. This will include expanding the Co-Responder Program."
  3. "Fighting for environmental justice in all of our neighborhoods by expanding tree canopy and our tree planting service, fighting for infrastructure that is resilient to climate change, and more."

Bills she plans to file

"We'll talk more about that as we as we get further into the campaign."

Jacksonville's trash problems

"Jacksonville is a strong mayor form of government. Ultimately, if our mayor [Lenny Curry] wanted to solve the recycling and waste problems with the contractors his administration chose, he would. It’s the City Council’s job to apply pressure to that process and represent the voices of their constituents who want the basic and reliable city services other cities enjoy, like recycling and waste collection."

Downtown development
"I’m not against downtown development — but I will fight for more transparency and accountability in the process of choosing to use public money for that development. We should be using taxpayer dollars to build a downtown our taxpayers want and will utilize like small business incentives and greenspace."

Public safety and police

"I support reinstating the Safer Together Committee — we can’t solve this problem in a vacuum. We need multiple stakeholders involved in conversations (especially the tough ones), to improve the relationship between our community and police. Within the Safer Together report I am specifically in support of the proposal to expand the Co-Responder Program currently operating within JSO and add one mental health professional per zone per shift."

Confederate monuments

"Every single one of the confederate monuments should be taken down. Mayor Curry promised to remove them during a Black Lives Matter march with the Jaguars, and he should make good on his promise."

Tommy Hazouri

"Tommy worked across the aisle to get things done and make our city a better place. And while I may not agree with many folks across the aisle, I will do what it takes to work together in the best interest of Jacksonville’s families."

What she brings to the council

"I know some people think of this as like a part-time job being on City Council, but for me, it will be full time. I intend to get very immersed in the workings of City Council, City Hall, as well as this community."

Howland "Howdy" Russell (R)

IMG_2316 (1).jpg
Claire Heddles
Republican candidate Howland "Howdy" Russell is shown in the downtown Jacksonville location of his restaurant, Jumpin' Jax house of Food.

The following responses are excerpted from an in-person interview with Howland Russell.

His top priorities

"The No. 1 responsibility of a government in general is to take care of the constituency. In the city, we would call it public safety, but it's to take care of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. You should be able to pursue it. Now, it's your responsibility to pursue it, but you should be able to and you shouldn't be guarded from doing or are prohibited from doing that."

"The people that are elected for those positions are fiduciaries. They're holding onto other people's money. They're going to be sending out other people's money. They need to act like it's theirs, not like it's just somebody else's money. ...We need to take care of it, not just play power games and not just play that greed game."

Public safety and police

Starting with a position of respect and aggressively pursuing information, I think we need a lot more of that. We have a very fractured city right now because of some of those hot button issues that you're talking about."

"Also because of the geography of what's Jacksonville, you've got the rural West Side; you've got Northwest Jacksonville; you've got Northeast Jacksonville, Arlington, Bay Meadows, Mandarin, Downtown, Riverside, San Marco; you just got these fragments. ... I don't think we can afford to do that as a government. And I would like to see the unification of Jacksonville so that there's a lot more rowing in the same direction because that's not happening right now."

Confederate monuments

"I would go after the same kind of information, whether it's the Confederate women, or whether it's the removal of it, or whether it's the properness of the removal of it. I am very reticent to get rid of history, so I would say we really need to look at this and see, what was it? What is it? Is it something we want to keep or get rid of?"

"And then budget, where are we on the budget on it? And I am sure just an oversimplicity that is hated by both sides of the issue, I would first look at it from a financial standpoint, because I'm the fiduciary."

Tommy Hazouri

"I might have disagreed with some of the politics or whatever, or some of the individual choices, but I'm absolutely convinced that he was looking out for the best of Jacksonville, which is what I would do. As opposed to what's good for me, or what's good for this group, or what's good for this guy who has leverage over me."

What he brings to the council

"When we come to these issues, you can also count on accessibility. I'm the guy very easy, I published my cellphone to almost anybody. I would publish to anybody, because anybody could get ahold of it and I want to answer those right away. When I get emails that are customer complaints from people, I don't back away from the problem, I lean into it."