Jacksonville Special Election: Candidates talk confederate monuments, plans to fight crime

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A special election has been called to fill the seat of the late and former councilman Tommy Hazouri.

Two Democrats and two Republicans are running for the at-large, Group 3 position.

Action News Jax asked the candidates about their plans for fighting crime, and what they’d like done with the confederate monuments around the city, which have been a source of controversy.

Action News Jax first talked to Republican Nick Howland, a Navy veteran, and father of two.

Howland plans to tackle crime by adding more police officers. He says the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is short by about 300.

“We need to back our police force, not defund our police force, and unfortunately we’re suffering from recruitment and retention,” Howland said.

Action News Jax also asked Howland about his plan for Jacksonville’s confederate monuments:

”The quickest way to ensure we repeat an ugly past is to delete an ugly past. I would like to see us contextualize some of these confederate monuments,” he said.

Next, Action News Jax talked to Howdy Russell, the other Republican in the running. A local business owner, he raised his kids in Jacksonville.

To fight crime, Russell plans to attract and retain more officers, and have them build relationships with those in the communities they serve. ”We need police to know the people that are in their communities. I would love to see beat cops downtown,” Russell explained. “It’d be helpful to be able to see the personalities of the individual police officers in communities more often.”

When asked about confederate monuments, Russell said leaders shouldn’t just remove them on a whim; the process needs to be carefully thought through and discussed first, he said, ”I do believe a community has the right to name statues and those kinds of things, but we need to be really conscious of how we’re doing it and it’s more than a knee-jerk reaction to it.”

One of the two Democrats running is Dr. Tracye Polson, a licensed clinical social worker, and mother. Polson plans to combat crime in the city by expanding the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Co-Responder program to ensure mental health professionals go along with officers on mental health calls.

”Making sure that we have one licensed mental health professional in every zone on every shift to go along on crisis mental health calls to help deescalate and even more importantly, to prevent people who are struggling with mental health from being put in jail,” Polson explained.

When asked what she’d do with confederate monuments around town, this was her response: ”They all need to come down. I have a specific understanding of the impact of intergenerational trauma, and I think removing those confederate statues, placing them in a museum or places where they can be contextualized and understood makes all the sense in the world.”

The other Democrat in the race is “Coach” James C. Jacobs. Since Monday, Action News Jax has made several attempts to reach him through his website, social media, and email, but we did not get a response. Jacobs’ website says he has been “intimately involved in Duval County Schools” since 2001 and has a Bachelor’s degree in Public Safety Management. His bio says he plans to improve the quality of life for all special needs families, and to remove septic tanks in the city of Jacksonville -- especially in inner-city areas.

If Jacobs returns our requests for an interview, we will update his responses here.

The election is set for next Tuesday, December 7. If no candidate reaches 50 percent, the top two will move on to a runoff election on February 22.

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