A legend of contemporary Florida politics left us on Saturday. Former State Representative, Jacksonville Mayor, Duval School Board member and current Jacksonville (city) Councilman Tommy Hazouri passed away at 76.
Hazouri’s public service career spanned my entire lifetime and I have personally admired his dedication and persistence in his devotion to Jacksonville. Admirably he kept coming back to serve the people even after electoral defeats – being popular or politically astute wasn’t his thing but public service and helping every citizen of Jacksonville was.
Hazouri was born and bred in Jacksonville – and even went to college at Jacksonville University. He was of the generation of Floridians that came to the forefront politically during what we romantically call “The Golden Age” of Florida politics and government.
As a State Representative, elected at the age of 30, Hazouri quickly stood out. He made his name as an advocate for public education, chairing the K-12 committee and playing a key role on Education Appropriations. Hazouri voted regularly with Governor Reubin Askew and then became a key ally of Governor Bob Graham as his seniority made him an influential figure within the Democratic Caucus. Hazouri also played a key role holding the House position in fights over education funding with the more conservative Senate.
He left the State House in 1986 and prepared for a competitive race the following March for Jacksonville Mayor. Winning a competitive race Hazouri, at just 42 was the Mayor of Florida’s largest city.
Several notable events happened during his tenure, the most notable possibly was the removal of tolls off St Johns River crossings as well as J.T. Butler Blvd. But in 1991, he lost reelection to Ed Austin and in 1995 was surprisingly defeated by John Delaney. It was after the 1995 defeat, as the President of University of Florida’s College Democrats, I took a strong interest in learning more about Hazouri’s service in the legislature which preceded his time as Governor. As I learned more about his pre-Mayoral career the more I came to admire him.
Running for Mayor again in 2003, Hazouri missed the runoff with the Florida Democratic Party throwing behind Duval Sheriff Nat Glover in a fashion that rubbed me personally the wrong way. But Republican John Peyton won the office over Glover anyway.
The next year, Hazouri returned to public office, winning a seat on the Duval School Board. Reelected in 2008 and then returning to City office winning a citywide at-large council seat, Hazouri’s service in public office to Duval County continued until his death Saturday – almost 47 years after first elected to the State House. His longevity and being a hometown hero who never left Jacksonville made him a rock star celebrity politician – someone beloved by local Republicans, Democrats and Independents.
Tommy Hazouri was a tireless advocate for Jacksonville’s citizenry and a forceful proponent of public education and protecting taxpayers. Even in his most recent stint in office, he embodied the values of the Golden Age of Florida politics (the 1970’s) – openness, transparency and healthy governing pragmatism. That pragmatism allowed him as a Democrat to bridge his differences with many of Jacksonville’s Republicans including current Mayor Lenny Curry.
Before I finish this narrative, let me speak for a moment as a Democrat who previously worked professionally around the party and its candidates. When often pressed to name the type of public official I’d like candidates or elected officials I worked with to emulate, Tommy Hazouri’s name was usually near the top of the list.
Many outside Jacksonville didn’t know as much about Hazouri as they should, so I would press them to learn about him or even reach out to him. Particularly for municipal officials and School Board members, I felt he provided a powerful example for elected officials, especially Democrats who were not around in the era when the party controlled this state how to conduct one’s self. His example will live on even after he has passed.
To me, Hazouri’s passing is another sign that the Florida of yesteryear which I grew up in, a state that was filled with tireless, caring advocates in public office is rapidly passing into history.
He will be sorely missed.