It’s Sunday morning in Tallahassee, and the entire populace of the community is being pulled in a variety of different directions. Families on their way to church or the city’s endless parks. Brunch is being served at midtown, the pool on top of the Double Tree hotel located downtown is growing crowded, and the streets rapidly become congested by newcomers.
As a truly historic summer in Tallahassee seems to be ending with the usual influx of out-of-towners that are the mainstay of every back-to-school season, a common sensation seems to be filling longtime residents; that our beloved city is no longer our own. But, for the most ambitious and determined of progressive candidates running this year in a slate of different contests, the home stretch of the primary season is now taking on a different dimension. With no public polling, these candidates are filling their weekends with as much outreach as possible, attempting to reach as many voters on as many streets as they can.
But outside of the city limits, beyond the long road that leads you out towards Crawfordville, a lone candidate is spending his days trying to reach voters long neglected. Those citizens that reside in rural Woodville and the usually conservative Fort Brandon area. It’s a world outside of the glamor of downtown and the thriving ambitions of midtown. It’s the kind of place with limited resources, a typical bedroom community in which families have to travel into Tallahassee for recreation. It’s the kind of place candidate Will Crowley is trying to reawaken.
Leon County’s second district is known for its rural settings and competitive nature. It is one of the only areas in the county with both a strong Republican and Democratic presence. It was a place where the late Commissioner Jimbo Jackson thrived and built a solid political base. Following his death from Covid-related symptoms a few months ago there has been a steady stream of candidates who have filed to claim the commission seat. In the Republican corner, things are looking pretty fluid as nearly seven have filed, cutting into their base of support. While in the Democratic corner, there seems to be only one candidate who has managed to attract popular support from across the area. That’s first-time candidate Will Crowley.
Earlier this summer when the news of Commissioner Jimbo Jackson’s sudden death first reached his district the most likely candidate to replace him was miles away, himself mourning the loss of a family member.
“I was at my own grandmother’s funeral when I heard about Jimbo’s passing. I had disagreements with the man, but he’s my father’s age. I was already vulnerable in that moment.”
A Leon County Democratic Party Representative for County District 2 and Will Crowley was the first Democrat to qualify for the 2022 election to succeed the late Commissioner Jimbo Jackson. As an experienced public sector budget analyst and Florida State University graduate with advanced degrees in Urban Planning and Public Administration, Crowley brings a valuable and distinctly relevant perspective to the race. Crowley is far from a newcomer to community organizing, besides sitting on the democratic steering committee, his constant enthusiastic championing of numerous issues has made him a noted community leader.
Together with his campaign of dedicated volunteers and activists, Crowley has begun walking the streets of his district. Deciding against a campaign fueled by yard signs and heavy ad buy, he is focusing on walking every street that he wishes to represent.
Crowley’s campaign slogan “Feed the SOIL, Watch us Grow” provides a hopeful message of communal outreach and environmental stewardship, concepts wildly popular among the voters of Leon county. The Crowley campaign also takes pride in the fact that it hasn’t accepted any max donations or contributions from special interests. Despite this limitation, he has still managed to report some impressive small donor campaign donations and his momentum only seems to be growing daily.
“I’m proud to not take money from developers or big business. I have the lowest individual donor average,” remarks Will. The candidate takes genuine pride in the fact that his campaign is volunteer-driven and that he has run against the usual consultant class that has long governed democratic campaign logistics. As the candidate himself remarks while he is on the democratic steering committee he’s also like any good democrat, “I have a bone to pick with my party.”
For those that have known and organized with Will these past years, it was always obvious that his deep passion for policy-making would eventually lead to running for office. “The progressive races of Jeremy and Jack’s campaigns were my introduction to local politics,” the latter Jack Porter happens to be a class mat of Will’s, something he takes pride in. “There is no doubt that Jack and Jeremy weren’t flocks and this election is going to prove it.” But while these races exposed the potential for ordinary citizens to successfully challenge the establishment, it would be an act of blatant corporate greed that would propel him towards elected office.
“The meadows was when I knew I had to do something. I heard some true horror stories about the people’s ordeal in the meadows during the holiday season.”
What event Crowley is referring to is the controversy that took place last year when the management team of The Meadows trailer park suddenly raised the rents on its residents. In September, the Meadows Mobile Home Park was taken over by Florida Sun Estates, who raised lot rents from $389 to $895 monthly. A spokesperson with Florida Sun Estates said they’re raising prices to make improvements to the park. But, they’re no longer letting people rent mobile homes, they’ll only be available for purchase.
Will along with friends helped set up a free legal clinic to assist the residents. Most elected officials came to the legal clinic that they had nothing to do with, stayed for the photo ops and the press questions, then they were off. One City commissioner actually stated, falsely, that the city’s hands were tied and there was nothing they could do. The reality of course is that political solutions usually don’t take place without political will. As is frequently the case only city commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Jack Porter actually contributed to the situation in any meaningful way. Bringing both public attention and earnest comfort to the residents’ plight.
The stark differences between the actions numerous establishment incumbents claimed were at their disposal and the realities of the citizenship’s needs would be ingrained in Crowley’s mind. Action could be taken, there were many things the county and city commissions could do for the poor families that were being forced from their homes, their belongings; those that couldn’t fit in their cars littering the streets. But, the political will wasn’t there. It wasn’t the toys of these incumbents’ children in the garbage, it wasn’t the eyes of their spouses streaming tears, or their homes being surrendered. Regardless of whether they had to do something or should do something, they didn’t need to do anything. So why rock the boat? It was never their job to create solutions or advocate against moneyed interests, why start now?
For Crowley, this scene and the total failure of elected officials to act has become a major rallying cry of his campaign. More than any other candidate in any race, he has raised the level of public debate on the housing and poverty crisis facing this community. Whenever he is asked to single out the defining issue facing the public of Leon County, Crowley becomes transformed, driven suddenly into the kind of change agent needed for the situation.
“Housing is the major issue, it’s gone up to 20 percent! We must propose a temporary freeze for rent by declaring an emergency one-year freeze!”
The simple fact is such a statement is both groundbreaking and revolutionary. It’s the kind of statement and proposal that any traditional candidate worth his or her salt would never dare to utter publicly. For Crowley and this new wave of progressives, it’s just what’s morally right, it’s the rule of government to use its resources to protect the needs of the citizens. Not interested in a figurehead position, just showing up for a ribbon cutting or pictures with a shovel and hard hat, Crowley is prepared to use the power gifted to him if elected. His very campaign is testimony to his earnest desire to be the chief advocate of his district.
“I’ve spent a lot of time walking the streets of district two, folks have gone a long time feeling that they weren’t represented. People who would for years not bother going to their own commissioner, they would seek support from other commissioners.”
The recent data on election participation underlines Crowley’s claims, under 20 percent of voters turned out in the district in the historic 2020 presidential election. Most voters just don’t feel appreciated, and are turned off by the process. To that end, Crowley has promised the voters of the district its own district-wide action plan, more centralized outreach, and more inclusion.
“If this class of grassroots candidates can get in it will inspire more people to get active and run. Stuffing an empty suit with developer cash and calling it progress isn’t going to cut it anymore,” Crowley says as our conversation ends, his promise, potential, and determination seemingly willing this desired proposition into reality.
As this truly historic progressive summer seems to be transitioning into the uncertainty of primary season, as the streets become filled with college students, and campaign events begin to slow down, there is still a group of volunteers walking up and down the isolated roads of Woodville, knocking on doors, the smiling candidate greeting residents, and asking them to share their story.
You see dear reader, the entirety of this unique hot summer, in this uniquely beautiful town, has been about a contest of differences. Against those who run for office to represent the owners of places like The Meadows and those that run for those that are left out in the cold. Thanks to the efforts of Crowley and his passionate group of supporters, this may very well be the year Leon County discovers the difference.