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Donna Deegan reflects on Duval roots and unifying Jacksonville as next mayor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — On Saturday, Donna Deegan will formally become the next mayor of Jacksonville. She will make history as the first woman to take on the role in the city’s history.

Action News Jax Anchor Tenikka Hughes talked with Deegan about her Duval County roots, getting down to business, and how life has informed her leadership style.

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Deegan, a Jacksonville native, is used to being in the public eye. She was a longtime local journalist and is the face of the Donna Foundation. Now, Deegan will serve as the next mayor of her hometown, responsible for nearly a million people.

Hughes asked Deegan if being elected to lead the city felt like a dream.

“You know, it is funny. Sometimes I wake up at three o’clock in the morning and say ‘Is this really happening?’ But the truth is, it does. It feels like the best dream.” Deegan said. “You know it is certainly challenging, but at the same time, it’s every challenge that I ever would just love to accept and run with, because I do love this city so much, and I just think nobody is better positioned than we are to be a great success as long as we work together.”

Read: Mayor-elect Donna Deegan announces next round of staff and department leadership appointments

Deegan said she has built a bipartisan team of community leaders to help transform her campaign promises into action.

“I don’t think hyper-partisanship belongs in city government. I think we need to be problem solvers and I think we need to work together and across the lines to make sure that we do the best things for the city,” Deegan said.

One major task ahead: A proposed $2 billion renovation of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ stadium and a new entertainment district. Deegan said a revamped stadium would bolster the city, but she wants the benefits to ripple beyond downtown.

Read: Mayor-elect Donna Deegan announces inauguration plans

“I think that development in that area could definitely be beneficial to the Eastside. I think that could be an important piece of economic development. And if we can bring those neighborhoods in to have them experience some benefit from that, I think that’s, for me at least, and I think for maybe a lot of people in this city, that’s a bigger selling point,” Deegan said.

Deegan said she will hold town hall meetings to hear from the community and plans to bring in outside negotiators to work with the city’s finance and legal teams. She hopes to start negotiations with the Jaguars by the end of July or early August.

Deegan’s other priorities include improving infrastructure, keeping Jacksonville safe, enhancing the health of residents, and growing the economy. Deegan has a special focus on small businesses.

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When discussing some of her ideas on how to better support local small business owners, Deegan said, “I think that to connect people with things like façade grants and incubator programs, things that will help them envision and grow their small business. Making sure that we’re educating people about the tools that are available to them.”

Deegan said lessons from her past have influenced her leadership style. She said her time as a journalist has made her a stickler for deadlines. Deegan said beating breast cancer and her longtime advocacy work with the Donna Foundation, taught her prevention and early action is better than trying to tackle a full-blown crisis.

As for the legacy, Deegan hopes will be tied to her tenure, she said, “I certainly hope that we have an open, thriving riverfront, a thriving downtown, booming small businesses, and a much healthier community and resilient community. But most importantly, I hope we have a community that is unified.”

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It’s a community Deegan is proud to serve and proud to call home.

“It is just such an incredible honor as a fifth-generation Jacksonville native. To be able to be the first woman mayor of my hometown is just an incredible honor. And the fact that I have such long and deep family roots here,” Deegan said. “You know, my cousin Tommy [Hazouri] was the mayor. My dad worked in the general counsel’s office. My uncle, I think, has probably the longest-standing business in downtown with a restaurant down here. So for me, it has really been a process of feeling like my ancestors have sort of been all around me a little bit and I can just tell you that it feels very meaningful to me.”

To see Hughes’ full interview with Deegan, watch the video below or go to the Action News Jax YouTube page.

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