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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Apr. 1, 200312:00 PM EST

A conversation with . . . Matt Carlucci


Mayoral candidate Matt Carlucci met recently with members of the Daily Record staff to discuss the April 15 election and his chances:

Question: Why should people vote for Matt Carlucci ?

Answer: I think my background. My roots of community service are probably the deepest in the race. I bring a business background that I think is deeper than anybody in the race. Being elected for 12 years brings me experience that nobody else brings to the race. In addition, I think the skill sets that I have as a person — while I don’t claim to have as many talents as most people — I do think there are two talents I do have. One is the ability to see where our city needs to go. That is an outgrowth of the love I have for this community and the love I have for people. The second is the ability to pull people together and to lead and to solve problems and to solve complex problems. If I had to say a little catch phrase for my campaign, our tag line would be ‘leadership, experience and results.’ I’ve gotten good results with downtown revitalization, redistricting — which is the thorniest issue any elected official could get involved in — and many of the other issues I’ve been involved in from some very complicated land development issues in the fastest growing district in Jacksonville. I’ve been able to bring people together to create solutions that were good for the whole. That’s why I think I should be mayor. I think I have that skill set and the background and experience that makes me very qualified to lead our community. When you look at me, I’m a lot like Jacksonville. I’m a husband, a father. I work everyday for a living. I have a mortgage. I have children in public school. I’m a product of what this city is all about. Because of my love of public service and my love of the city, I’m looking very forward to the opportunity to lead it and to lead it in the right way, where we are making a difference for the next generation to come.

Q: What made you want to run?

A: I just couldn’t take another four years of Council meetings [laughs.] You have to reach deep down in your soul when you make the decision to run for a job like this. I believe that the skills, background and all the experiences I bring to the job are the right match for what the mayor needs in the next four to eight years. I felt like this was the right thing to do and I’m the right person for the job. We’ll let the voters make that decision. I believe I’m the person that can help take the city to the next level.

Q: John Delaney has been a very popular mayor. He will leave a legacy with some pretty big shoes to fill. Does that intimidate you?

A: A little bit. Some people ask me what is the biggest thing I will have to do as mayor for the Better Jacksonville Plan. I tell them, ‘Make sure I invite John Delaney to all the ribbon cuttings.’ [laughs] To make sure he takes center stage because he really should take center stage. Following someone with big shoes is not necessarily new to me because my daddy ( the late State Sen. Joe Carlucci) had some pretty big shoes, too, so I have some experience in that regard. I have tried to be complimentary of the mayor because he has done such an outstanding job. I don’t know that anybody could ever fill his shoes. I’m not sure I could ever come close to filling his shoes. But you know what, I’ve got to fill my own shoes and that’s the difference here. I don’t go out on the stump and talk about how John Delaney and I did this or John Delaney and I did that. Although I will tell you that of all the candidates in the race, I may be philosophically closer to John Delaney than anyone. I try to stand on my own two feet because at the end of the day, it’s not going to be Mayor Delaney running the city after the election. It’s going to be up to the next mayor and the next mayor’s got to stand on his own two feet. I have tried not to use his name as a help in my campaign. I’ve tried to be respectful of him and run on my own. But is it a little intimidating to have to follow a John Delaney? You better believe it is. I wouldn’t say that John Delaney and I are close, personal friends but I’d like to be one day because I really like him a lot. But I think we have a very good professional and political relationship and a very close one in that regard. I would, as mayor, lean very heavily on his wisdom and his counsel, as I would with other mayors that have served in Jacksonville. There’s a lot to learn from people that have been in those shoes before. When I say John and I are not close, personal friends, what I’m saying is just over the years we have not had much interaction. He lives at the beach; I live in San Marco. He’s been in the State Attorney’s Office; I’ve been running my business. Our personal paths have not crossed that much over the years like maybe it has with his circle of friends. But I would look forward to, after the election, perhaps having the opportunity to become closer to him and his family. They’re great people. But at the end of the day, it’s Matt Carlucci running for mayor.

Q: In what direction do you see Jacksonville headed?

A: In the right direction. But I do think we have some areas that are not turning that curve along with the others. I see our city as turning a curve right now but part of our community is falling behind a little bit. John [Delaney] has done a good job in addressing a lot of that. I want to intensify the efforts on older neighborhoods. The reason I want to do that is because what a lot of the older neighborhoods have in common is the need to be revitalized. And where you have older, blighted neighborhoods, many times you have failing schools and families that are dysfunctional. Children are not getting the opportunity they need. The parks are not where they need to be. I really want to focus a good part of my administration on our neighborhoods and revitalizing a lot of the older core areas. When we do that, we create a lot of great opportunities. The spinoff effects are everything from economic development to stability in homes, stability in the schools and health care as well. For example, when Chrysler Daimler came to Jacksonville, I met with them. They didn’t ask me how much money we were going to give them or how many benefits or tax incentives they were going to get. I’m sure that’s part of the package; that’s the way it always is. But this is what they asked me: ‘Councilman, what is your education system like? What is your downtown like? What about the arts? How about your neighborhoods?’ While we have a lot of great things happening in Jacksonville, I think the next mayor’s big challenge is to make sure everybody else is along for the ride.

Q: What’s your first priority if elected?

A: The first thing I’m going to do is put together my team for education. I’m going to create a good, solid partnership with our School Board and superintendent. I’m going to bring on — not a staffer — a high level appointment to help me carry out my strategy on education. This has got to be somebody that can sit down with corporate executives and the PTAs. And this has got to be somebody that understands the school system. I don’t know who that is, but I do know there are opportunities for the mayor to get involved with public education and school readiness. I want the city to have the state’s finest school readiness and pre-K programs. We’ve got to have that. Our children in those failing school areas, which are in the failing neighborhood areas, are not prepared when they go into school. We’ve got to make sure they’re better prepared with writing, literacy skills and listening skills and there needs to be a parental involvement component. For anybody in those programs, I want to establish a higher uniform standard than what we have now. We can do that by working with the School Board, the superintendent, the Children’s Commission. I’m going to double the money that we’re getting and that should bring in more from the federal and state levels so we can expand that outreach. Everybody needs to be at the table when we’re putting that together and I’ll need a highly qualified person to help me. That’s just one of my strategies and something I look forward to.

Q: Do we need a complete overhaul of the education system?

A: For the life of me, I can’t think of one radical change that’s going to help a failing school. What’s going to help a failing school is getting more parental involvement with their children’s education. Where there are not parents, many of these children are being raised by grandparents, aunts and uncles. Sixty percent of the children in some schools will be in a different school before the end of the year because they come from dysfunctional families. An appointed School Board would have no more luck with that than an elected School Board. I’m just not for radical change. I believe in building relationships on teamwork and trust with the superintendent and the School Board. The mayor’s opportunity is to make our school readiness and pre-K programs the best that they can be and have more of them. I want to, as mayor, build an army of tutors to work in Team Up. Team Up is another program I’d like to expand. Team Up is a very effective after-school program of tutoring children. It has great results. The City has a volunteer leave program for its employees. Every employee gets 16 hours of paid volunteer leave time. I would like to give each of those employees an incentive to use five or six of those hours tutoring in public schools. We’ve had hundreds of employees take advantage of that volunteer leave time. I’d like to build an army of City volunteers and faith-based groups to go in and tutor kids. We’ve got to get in schools. We’ve got to get in the classrooms. Tutoring is really the best way and the most effective way that we can get into the schools and help our children with FCATs. Nobody can pull together the volunteers, the faith-based and corporate communities to focus on the failing schools better than the mayor of Jacksonville. If 30 percent of our schools didn’t get D or F grades, nobody would be talking about education. But it’s going to take this community stepping up. Many of these children need help and it’s got to be from our community. And the community wants to help.

Q: What comes after education?

A: The next thing I want to do is tackle downtown revitalization and neighborhoods. I want to rediscover the forgotten neighborhoods in Jacksonville and revitalize the old ones. I want to help these new subdivisions, where you have one gated community after another, build a sense of community and we’ll do that through town center development. To do that we’re going to have to change our emphasis on urban design. We can go into the old strip centers that have deteriorated or been torn down and turn them into town centers. I’ll give you an example: Pearl Plaza (in Springfield.) It’s an old strip center with an asphalt jungle in front of it. It’s blighted. There’s about 12 units; only two are filled. There’s nobody there. But if you look in every direction, you’ll see wonderful old neighborhoods filled with people. Where are they going to shop? What’s that old, blighted shopping center going to attract? What I’m going to have, as the budget and the economy allows me, will be a town center initiative. We’ll probably do it through a bond issue. We’ll have $25-50 million where businesses and developers can use those dollars in the form of low-interest loans or grants to go in there and turn that from a strip center into a town center. That old building really needs to be closer to the street because, when it’s closer to the street, it’s more pedestrian-friendly and it looks better. Kind of like what they did in Riverside with the Publix over there. That is a very walkable, pedestrian-friendly, little town center. Town centers generally have merchant associations. Merchant associations can put things on for the community at Christmas, Halloween or the Fourth of July. That is one part of revitalizing a neighborhood. If you go south on Pearl Street, you’ll see a big park. I don’t remember seeing any amenities — no baseball field, no soccer field, no concession stands — and the grass is overgrown. Building blocks to good communities are good parks, good schools and good shopping areas that serve the district. They become places where people begin to build community bonds. But you can’t have pride or a sense of community if you don’t have a place to play, you don’t have a place to shop and you don’t have a good neighborhood school. That’s the Carlucci plan. It’s going to take some investment but the investment will be important. I live and work for the day when you can drive through downtown Jacksonville and that it is just as active with people as the town center at the beaches. We want people to come downtown and have a good time. The only way you can do that is by readapting the old buildings. I led a pretty significant movement of that when I was Council president and I want to continue to make that happen.

Q: How are you going to convince people to come downtown to open shops?

A: Well, the mayor can’t convince anybody of that unless the mayor helps bring consumers down here, people living down here. That was one thing I had done as a Councilman and I will continue to do that as mayor. For example, 11 E. Forsyth, the Roosevelt, which will be The Carlisle, Berkman Plaza, the Shipyards. As Council president, I led the effort to save the corner of Laura and Forsyth streets where the Marble Bank, Bisbee Building and the Florida Life building [are]. They were the first skyscrapers in the state of Florida, all 11 stories of them. Those are going to become offices and apartments. So the more people we get moving down here, then the market will follow and you’ll have the cafes, diners and little movie theaters. The next mayor has got to continue the trend of getting a critical mass of people down here living and working. The fun stuff will follow.

Q: Will you stay active in public life if you fall short in the election?

A: Absolutely. I have always been involved in public affairs, either in or out of office. I look forward to, after the election, becoming more involved in my children’s lives. I will do that regardless. If I am successful there will be less mayoral forums, which will allow me to go to more of their baseball games. Over the past three months I’ve missed being a father. My children mean the world to me. The guiding light I’ve had in this campaign has been what my father said in 1968 when he first ran for office. This is on his grave marker: ‘A politician looks to the next election. A statesman looks to the next generation.’ I’m in the third quarter of my life. What lights me up is serving the public and serving the community so it’s a better place to live. That’s what drives me.

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