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Candidates highlight top issues in Jacksonville’s first mayoral debate, with one notable absence

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Seven of the ten declared candidates running to be Jacksonville’s next mayor squared off Monday in the first mayoral debate.

Topics included education, public safety, downtown development, and the St. John’s River.

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The three Democrats, three Republicans and one NPA candidate all did their best to stand out in the crowded field.

NPA candidate Dr. Omega Allen promoted participatory governance and said she’d lead with equity top of mind.

“Until we all have made it, none of us have actually made it,” said Dr. Allen.

Republican City Councilmember LeAnna Cumber, the top fundraiser on the stage, promoted public safety and fiscal accountability.

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“Improve our public safety, improve our education, end these tax hikes and end this corruption,” said Cumber.

Democrat Donna Deegan emphasized public participation in government.

“I am running for mayor to break down those walls. To bring the people inside,” said Deegan.

Republican City Councilmember Al Ferraro put infrastructure and crime front and center in his remarks.

“I go through different parts of city and see shell casings next to playgrounds and next to swing sets. There’s a problem that we have in our city,” said Ferraro.

Democrat State Senator Audrey Gibson highlighted her experience in government and working on a variety of issues.

“A mayor and the CEO of this city should have a very diverse background and experiences and with people,” said Gibson.

Underdog Republican candidate Frankie Keasler expressed disdain for the removal of confederate statutes in his opening.

“How long will we placate, patronize and pander the Black community with a gesture that does nothing?” said Keasler.

And on the Democrat side, Theresa Ann Richardson said her goal is to deliver on unfulfilled promises dating back to consolidation.

“I believe in the Bold News City of the South. In deeds, not just words,” said Richardson.

Daniel Davis was notably absent from Friday’s debate.

Technically three candidates didn’t participate.

One, a write in and the other a long-shot NPA candidate.

Davis, however, is considered a frontrunner and his absence didn’t go unnoticed by the other candidates on the stage.

It was roughly one minute into the debate before Daniel Davis’ absence was referenced by Dr. Allen.

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“It’s also amazing that all who seek this seat did not find it necessary to come and share their vision and goals for Jacksonville,” said Dr. Allen.

Cumber, arguably Davis’ toughest competition in the field of Republicans, went further, calling Davis out by name.

“I’m here because I think that my job as a public servant is showing up and so let’s be honest and let’s talk about who’s not here today. Daniel Davis,” said Cumber.

Davis has raised nearly double the amount of money compared to any other candidate, with a $5.3 million war chest at his disposal.

Cumber told us she thinks Davis believes he’s already won.

“And if you are going to run the Biden play and hide in the basement until the election, then that’s not what the people of Jacksonville want,” said Cumber.

Deegan received 22 percent support in a recent UNF poll, the highest of any candidate including Davis, who only pulled support from just seven percent of voters.

She said she was disappointed to see Davis avoid the debate.

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“Would have loved to have been able to ask him questions about JEA and other things and I’m sure that’s why he didn’t come,” said Deegan.

Another thing that makes Davis’ absence from the event noteworthy is that he’s a member of the Rotary Club, which sponsored the debate.

We reached out to Davis’ campaign for comment on why he declined to participate, but didn’t get a response in time for this story.

Davis’ campaign issued a statement Monday evening on his absence from the debate.

“We are looking forward to hitting the campaign trail and talking with folks across Jacksonville as qualifying draws near. Daniel is a member of the rotary, has spoken to the group several times and appreciates the invitation to do so again,” said Davis’ communications director Erin Issac. “We notified the organizers last month that Daniel would not be participating, as he has commitments the week of Thanksgiving. Daniel looks forward to debating all the qualified candidates many times in the new year.”

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