This article is my perspective about the 2015 Jacksonville District 14 City Council Candidates Forum on March 4, 2015. It is the third article in a special series profiling the upcoming First & Second Elections.
On Wednesday night, March 4, a group of Jacksonville residents gathered in one of our oldest movie theaters-The 5 Points Theater (now Sun Ray Cinema) in Riverside for a unique forum-with the District 14 City Council candidates Jim Love (R) and Jason Tetlak (D) having a tough act to follow. The forum began with a circa 1971 film about The Consolidated City of Jacksonville starring the Late (and Great) Hans Tanzler, Mayor of Jacksonville from 1967-1979. The film was screened using a projector and the experience was reminiscent of my old Junior High classes before VCRs took off. The film portrayed Jacksonville as it was before the 1973 Oil Embargo & Reagan Conservatism ultimately hindered our capabilities as an already sprawling City. At that time, Duval County had approximately 300,000 fewer people. The Dames Point Bridge and The East Beltway were nothing but plans on a map. Jacksonville was known at that time as “The best city in the world to have a heart attack in” -thanks to our Fire Rescue Department. Downtown redevelopment was a hot issue then as it is now. Back then the vision was to enhance the downtown as an urban shopper’s paradise of which the old Ivey’s Department Store would have been prominent. The film profiled what our local government was doing best for The People. When the lights came up, today’s realities quickly came back into focus thanks to the forum moderated by Folio Weekly writer John Citrone.
One has to admire a newcomer to the world of politics. It takes a lot of courage to go up against a incumbent armed with a record of hard votes to point to, lots of money, and many years of business and civic contacts within the district. As one might expect, Jim Love tended to dominate the answers to the 3 Questions (The Human Rights Ordinance, Dredging The St. Johns River, and The Best Thing about Your Opponent) but Tetlak later appeared more at ease answering questions from the gathering, which for avid City Council watchers is definitely a must for a newbie.
The Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) will be up again-you can count on it. Love talked about what a rough road it was for him in 2012 to deny the pleas of some of his friends, supporters, and residents and to take a stand in support of the HRO. These days one quickly tires of hearing politicians talking about their internal struggles when the need in civil rights in this city is so great. If he had voted no and ran for re-election I speculate that in that alternate timeline this forum would not have been as tranquil. The question I was left with is: Will Love have the stomach for an all out knock down and drag out battle over it again? City Council members are limited to 2 terms. His opponent Tetlak expressed his support of the full HRO (not just the proposed compromise measure that excluded gender identity).
Dredging. Boon or Boondoggle? A lot of money would have to be spent to go forward with the recommended dredging and the mitigation that would be needed. Love pointed to jobs at the Port as a big reason to go all in, provided mitigation funds are in place. Tetlak viewed it differently. When we siphon money towards this big project, it limits the things that we can do to improve our Downtown and for other projects. Clearly there is a difference in visions here. One has to point out that even with the dredging improvement, there are no guarantees- the economy, increased competition, and other factors could tilt this into being a decision that we could regret later, with not much to show for it.
The 3rd question is not worthy of much talk here except to say that I cringed when Tetlak complimented Love on his experience. Everyone running for office- incumbent or not -has life experience, the question is: what kind of experience is really needed for the job right now?
The floor was opened to questions from the gathering,and at this point I found that Tetlak had a good grasp on the issues of the district. Parking came up as one would expect. Having gone thru the Park & King area, one night the preceding weekend, I clearly saw that there is a safety hazard in the district Tetlak pointed out that the parking pressures brought on by big businesses were impacting smaller ones. Love made a point of saying that one of the big bars that bring in a lot of people, agreed to provide 30 parking spaces. Speaking for myself, I can assure you that there are problems in the Park & King area and of all people, the current City Councilman (and also president of the Park and King Association) should sure as heck see it. Like a typical incumbent, he fell into the “nothing to see here” mode.
Blight was another topic. Tetlak argued that there should be a coherent plan for dealing with abandoned properties and that properties that could not be sold be utilized as parks/community gardens. Love said the City was working on the list and was content to look to the District 7 City Councilman for leadership on that one. An African American activist, in fact, most definitely a minority in the gathering, questioned how the City was handling “Blight” and how it seemed that African American men were being described and viewed as blight along with the urban decay and decaying infrastructure. Love made a point of saying that he was not on the infamous bus tour coordinated by Councilwoman Denise Lee and that he viewed blighted areas in a separate car. One is reminded in some ways how detached people can be about neighborhoods only miles away as if various areas of Jacksonville are as exotic as a rocket trip to the Moon.
It must have been sweet to be Hans Tanzler in the early 1970s-so much promise for the future. Today we are reminded that our city does not exist as an island and that the decisions that are made at the national and state level have to be addressed and dealt with here locally for the sake of current and future generations. The grand bargain that existed in the early 1970s is long gone and is not coming back at least in it’s previous form. The stakes are high and people’s votes should be awarded to candidates who are ready to hit the ground running to fight for the changes that we need to thrive. Early Voting in The First Election begins on March 9. First Election Day is March 24. The Second Election (Runoffs) is on May 19. No party affiliation is required. Registered voters can vote for any candidate.
George Farrar, March 8, 2015
George Farrar is a Progressive filmmaker and commentator who has lived most of his life in Jacksonville, of which 16 of those years he has lived on The Westside where he currently resides.