JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The battle between Republican mayoral candidates Councilmember LeAnna Cumber and Daniel Davis continues to escalate with a new attack ad launched by the Cumber campaign accusing Davis of being soft on sex crimes against children.
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The Cumber campaign is accusing Davis of supporting an amendment that would have watered down a 2013 bill seeking to address abuse at unlicensed religious children’s homes.
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The ad also hits Davis for the Jax Chamber’s continued support for the LGBTQ organization JASMYN, which came under fire for use of a card game with images of male genitalia last year.
In addition, the ad highlights an event at the XO Lounge Davis was scheduled to speak at in 2021.
Davis was joined by his wife and Sheriff TK Waters and pushed back against the ad’s claims in a press conference on Friday.
Davis pointed to his vote in support of a state law raising penalties on sex criminals in 2014 and characterized the ad as an attack on his family.
“When dirty politicians are down and out they resort to these gross tactics and I believe Jacksonville deserves better. Everybody on this stage and in this room believes Jacksonville deserves better. As your next mayor I will continue to make my mission, our mission, to always protect our children,” Davis said.
His wife, Rebekah, is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
“It hurts me on a very personal level. Daniel was one of the first people that I opened up to about my abuse,” Rebekah said.
Cumber’s ad make no direct mention of anyone aside from Davis himself, but Davis has taken direct aim at Cumber’s family in recent weeks.
Related Story: Mayoral candidates trade blows over alleged JEA ties
His political action committee launched an ad last month that specifically named Cumber’s husband, Husein, and raised questions about his ties to the failed effort to sell JEA.
“There’s a giant pile of hypocrisy there,” UNF political science professor Dr. Michael Binder said.
Binder said it’s not surprising to see the war of attack ads escalating as Election Day nears.
“That’s part of the process when you do these things and that’s why a lot of regular everyday voters are really turned off by this entire process,” Binder said.
When asked about his own campaigns attack ads, Davis pointed to the newly launched special committee investigation into Cumber.
The committee was formed after Action News Jax obtained emails that revealed Cumber’s husband was involved with JEA Public Power Partners, a bidder that pitched a concession agreement during the JEA sale process.
Cumber did not mention her husband’s involvement with the bidder on a conflict-of-interest disclosure form requested by the council special committee during the initial investigation into the attempted sale of the utility.
“The city and the citizens and the city council need to know the truth. That’s not an attack. That’s righteous,” Davis said.
The two top-funded mayoral candidates have bashed one another over the failed sale of JEA since the start of the race.
Related Story: Jacksonville City Council reopens special investigation committee on Cumber ties to failed JEA sale
Earlier this week Cumber, speaking through her attorney, dismissed the special committee investigating her husband’s ties to JEA Public Power Partners.
“This manufactured controversy exposes the lengths to which Mayor Curry and his chosen successor will go to win,” Cumber attorney Daniel Nunn said.
Binder argued there’s likely some truth to that sentiment.
“We wouldn’t even be having any of these conversations if LeAnna Cumber weren’t running for mayor right now,” Binder said.
Davis came out in support of the investigation Friday morning.
“If she and her husband were in collusion, I think we need to get to the bottom of that. Corruption needs to be rooted out,” Davis said.
Throughout the race Cumber has repeatedly claimed $300,000 donated by JEA to the JAX Chamber has never been accounted for.
Davis is President and CEO of the Chamber.
The donation has been the focus of at least one attack ad launched by Cumber’s campaign.
Read: LeAnna Cumber officially files paperwork to run for Jacksonville’s Mayoral Race
Davis responded dismissively when we asked him to clear the air on the issue Friday morning.
“That’s absolutely ridiculous. I’m not even going to respond to those accusations because they’re below me,” Davis said.
Binder said both candidates likely don’t have totally clean hands when it comes to the failed sale of JEA, and the fact the special committee has its sights set on just one individual speaks volumes.
“If you’re not gonna cast a wide net, this looks like it’s for political purposes. I think that makes a great deal of sense. If you’re gonna go after everybody. Go after everybody or go after nobody,” Binder said.
Action News Jax asked Council President Terrance Freeman whether he would consider expanding the scope of the special committee’s investigation on Thursday.
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We’re still awaiting a response.