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Longtime City Council member John Crescimbeni isn't a stranger to campaigning. Shown above with his grandson, Tyler, Crescimbeni is trying to defend his At-Large Group 2 seat.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Mar. 18, 201512:00 PM EST

Crescimbeni/Barron in battle for At-Large Group 2 seat

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by: David Chapman
John Crescimbeni has been in a City Council race or two during his political career. He was a fixture of the group for much of the 1990s, a Democrat who easily beat back challengers in both elections. His 2008 return was a little closer, but he returned to form in 2011 by soundly defeating three Republican challengers. This race could be different, though. One of his challengers, David Barron, entered the race more than a year ago, raising more than $100,000 by the time Crescimbeni filed in October. And Barron’s received some high-profile endorsements in recent months. In his years on council, Crescimbeni has been known for his outspoken nature, much to the displeasure of his critics or those on the other side of a series of blunt questions. He’s also quick with a quip or a jab. Like a biting comment about his two opponents, Barron and Theresa Graham. “I kind of scratch my head,” he said. “They want to serve the public, but not go out and meet people and go to forums and neighborhood debates.” It’s left him wondering if his competition is out there. Barron disagrees. “He has competition,” said Barron. “I’ve been out here working 14 months.” Barron, a Republican and owner of five small businesses, is the latest to try to topple Crescimbeni from the council ranks. Barron said he’s running a positive campaign and wouldn’t speak negatively of Crescimbeni, but that comments about him not being active are “so uncalled for.” The two, Barron said, haven’t run into each other much, but that doesn’t mean he’s not campaigning. Signs of his presence, literally and figuratively, can be seen all around town. From the ones sticking out of the ground to the ones emblazoned vehicles posted at different spots, Barron said he began promoting his campaign months before other candidates. The first-time candidate’s largest business is a tire wholesale company he started in 1989 from the back of his pickup truck. It now employs 175 people and is running smoothly, allowing him to take a chance to, as he says, “go and give back something to the city.” “I would love to be down on City Council, to explain to the people not in business show hard it really is,” he said. Others have bought into his campaign, making him maybe Crescimbeni’s most formidable opponent. Since filing in February 2014, Barron has raised more than $137,500, third among all council candidates. He’s also received some high-profile endorsements including JaxBiz, the JAX Chamber’s political arm; the local police and fire unions; and former Republican Mayors John Delaney and John Peyton. Crescimbeni has raised in excess of $83,000, although he was one of the last candidates to file, officially declaring in October. He also has some high-profile endorsements, including from Duval Teachers United, the Northeast Florida Builders Association and the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors. He didn’t receive the chamber’s endorsement, but said he never has — and still hasn’t lost. While Barron has Delaney’s endorsement, Crescimbeni is highlighting comments the former mayor used to expound his virtues. “He has a pragmatic, common sense approach to issues,” Delaney said in an email, going on to say Crescimbeni’s done a “helluva job as councilman.” Despite their differences, there also are similarities. One of Barron’s main priorities goes back to business, where he hopes to reduce the constraints small operators face. Whether it’s a permit, fee or time it takes to have decisions made, Barron wants to make it easier to start and grow local business, he said. He also wants to fix the city’s pension problem, something Crescimbeni has been in the middle of for years. Barron said he supports the deal council currently is reviewing and as for figuring out a way to pay for it, property taxes are “out of the picture.” A sales tax, if needed, could be a part of the picture should taxpayers elect to do so. It’s a stance Crescimbeni has pushed for in the past, too. As for the incumbent, he said he favors the deal council agreed to in December. As for how to pay down the tab of unfunded liability, he doesn’t like any of the four options — an increase in the JEA franchise fee, another property tax hike, increased sales tax or borrowing $120 million — but a property tax increase is his least favorite. Both men agree on deepening the St. Johns River to increase port business, although Crescimbeni voiced more reservations when it comes to environmental impacts. And on expanding the human rights ordinance to include sexual orientation, they answer with a positive response. Crescimbeni said he voted for the amended bill in 2012 and again would be supportive. Barron said that, as a businessman, he doesn’t believe anyone should be discriminated against for sexual orientation. Both are Arlington guys, but Barron said he wanted to serve the city as a whole, which meant running at-large. And for At-Large Group 2, that meant taking down a council mainstay. “I can’t figure out how he’s been down there 14 years,” Barron said. “I understand my race is pretty tough.” But he said he’s been out on a daily basis meeting people to spread the word of his candidacy, contrary to what Crescimbeni thinks. And for the past year, he’s been educating himself on council business and watching meetings. Another challenger, Republican Theresa Graham is back in the running for the seat. She ran unsuccessfully for Duval County School Board in November and Crescimbeni defeated her for the At-Large Group 2 seat in 2008. According to a campaign website, Graham is a business owner and Realtor who considers public safety, protection and preservation of natural resources, stabilizing pensions and no tax increases among top priorities for the city. She did not return emails Monday or Tuesday seeking comment and a phone number for her campaign was not working. Crescimbeni said he wants to continue his run on council, because he thoroughly enjoys it. Even with the 40-plus hours — up to 70 hours during budget reviews — in what’s considered a part-time job. After 37 years in business as a Hickory Farms franchisee, he prefers serving taxpayers “any day” over selling a pound of sausage or cheese. “I’m a taxpayer,” he said. “I’m like the Average Joe on council. I think the Average Joe appreciates that … and if I’m right, they’ll re-elect me.” He’s hoping they do. Just as Barron is hoping voters choose him to be the one to finally unseat him.

[email protected] @writerchapman (904) 356-2466

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