In a career as an elected leader that spanned four decades, the former mayor helped the city shed its label as “The armpit of the South.
By Max Marbut & Mike Mendenhall • Staff Writers
Jacksonville City Council member and former Mayor Tommy Hazouri, 76, died Sept. 11 at his Mandarin home of complications related to his lung transplant surgery in July 2020.
“He spent his final days at peace surrounded by his family and friends; and in typical Tommy fashion, there was no shortage of laughing, reminiscing, and holding loved ones close,” said a statement from the family released just after noon through his Council office.
He is survived by his wife, Carol, a former public school teacher, and a son, Tommy Hazouri Jr.
“A son of Jacksonville, Tommy spent a lifetime helping his neighbors build a better community. Those who knew him understood he could not have had it any other way,” the release said.
It said Hazouri “lived his life with a certain mantra in mind.”
“In times of intense fury, overwhelming sorrow, or unpredictable turmoil, he always insisted people put differences aside and come together,” it said.
“This optimism was especially important to him in recent years.”
“As we grieve Tommy’s passing with the Jacksonville community, we ask that you honor his memory by doing something good today for someone with whom you may have had a quarrel or a disagreement,” the release said.
“There are infinite opportunities to help each other in our daily lives, but only a finite number of days to do it.”
It concluded with:
“We will miss Tommy dearly, but we know his legacy will live on through the people – and the city – he loved so much.”
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry posted on Twitter about Hazouri's passing.
"Our city mourns the loss of a true Jacksonville champion. Tommy, I will always value your friendship, leadership, and passion for our community. You will be dearly missed. Godspeed, my friend. My deepest sympathy and prayers are with your family."
“He loved to serve”
Hazouri was born Oct. 11, 1944, in Jacksonville.
A lifelong Democrat, he began his political career in 1974 when he was elected to the state House of Representatives in District 20.
Hazouri chaired the House Committee on Education, K-12 and was a member of the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Education Funding. He also served on the Florida Ethics Commission.
After leaving the Legislature in 1986, Hazouri ran for mayor in Jacksonville in 1987, defeating former state Rep. John Lewis in the primary and then Republican Henry Cook in the general election.
During his term as Jacksonville’s third chief executive since consolidation in 1968, Hazouri led the effort to remove toll booths from the city’s bridges over the St. Johns River and from Butler Boulevard.
At a ceremony at the Mathews Bridge, Hazouri climbed onto a crane and helped knock down one of the toll booths that had been in place for 36 years.
“We have taken a quantum leap forward in improving the quality of life for our city. Today is like New Year’s, Christmas and the Fourth of July rolled into one,″ Hazouri said in a story filed Aug. 12, 1989, by The Associated Press.
Hazouri also is credited with leading the effort to enact environmental regulations that improved air quality in Jacksonville.
“His signature victory was the elimination of the ubiquitous paper mill and chemical plant smell that haunted Jacksonville, earning it the nickname of ‘The armpit of the South.’ That single act transformed the city,” said former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney, who learned more about Hazouri on the campaign trail when both were seeking the city’s highest office in 1995.
Hazouri was defeated in his bid for re-election in 1991 by fellow Democrat Ed Austin, who later switched parties to Republican during his term as mayor.
Hazouri ran for mayor again in 1995 and 2003 but lost in the Democratic primary election both times.
In 2004 he was elected to the first of two four-year terms on the Duval County School Board. Hazouri served as board vice chair in 2008 and chair in 2009.
“He was a spectacular school board member. Education was his deal. He was so bright and so fun,” said Martha Barrett, one of Hazouri’s colleagues on the board.
Barrett praised Hazouri’s political career.
“Tommy is the only person in Jacksonville who was a state representative, the mayor, on the school board and a City Council member.”
Delaney said Hazouri was someone who needed to be in elective office.
“He loved to serve. He never did it to make money – none of his elective jobs paid well. In all, Tommy led,” Delaney said.
City Council years
Hazouri was a second-term At-Large City Council member, first seated in 2015.
He was elected Council president in May 2020, despite a Republican member supermajority. The vote was 16-3.
He co-introduced a bill in 2017 that expanded protections for the LGBTQ community in the city’s Human Rights Ordinance with Republicans Aaron Bowman and Jim Love. It was reaffirmed in 2020 under his presidency.
Many of Hazouri’s friends and colleagues say he had an “eventful” Council presidency. His term fell during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led him to enact safety policies at City Hall and to debate legislation virtually.
In July 2020, Hazouri extended the Council Special Investigatory Committee established by former President Scott Wilson to complete the probe into the attempted sale of JEA, Jacksonville’s public utility.
“I think it’s a trail of tears, the whole report. I don’t think we’ve found the end of the trail yet,” Hazouri said in January when the report was released.
“It’s a pattern of deceit. This was the most blatant pattern of deceit I’ve seen in my public career.”
He led Council’s vetting process of $245 million in city incentives proposed for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ $450 million Lot J entertainment complex.
Hazouri was one of seven Council members who helped defeat the bill which he blamed on the lack of transparency in the deal from Curry’s administration.
The Jaguars dropped the project.
Although they were on opposite sides of the Lot J deal, Hazouri and Curry partnered in April to introduce and eventually pass a 6-cent local option gasoline tax increase to fund nearly $1 billion in infrastructure projects.
Hazouri supported Curry in his 2018-19 reelection campaign, as well as Curry’s push to get a half-cent sales tax through Council to help fund city pension reform.
He also helped advocate for Council’s support for the Duval County School Board’s request to get a half-cent sales tax referendum on the ballot to fund nearly $1.9 billion in deferred building maintenance and capital needs.
Council member Brenda Priestly Jackson said in the eight years she served with Hazouri in elected office, six on the school board, he navigated issues like No Child Left Behind, the HRO and focused on equality for some of Duval County’s most vulnerable residents.
Hazouri appointed Priestly Jackson chair of the Council Rules Committee, a position he once held.
In June 2020, he asked her to take the lead in Council’s JEA probe. She said Hazouri’s Council presidency was “invaluable” to Jacksonville.
“We still own our municipal utility. He respected our school board as a separate body politic. He worked with staff on COVID care … he had a keen eye to those issues and their impact.”
Council President Sam Newby considers the Council Social Justice Committee Hazouri created for the 2020-21 year one of Hazouri’s significant accomplishments as president.
The committee allocated nearly $3 million to organizations and nonprofits that Newby said previously received little to no help from the city.
“He will always be one of Jacksonville’s greatest citizens,” Newby said. “Without a shadow of a doubt, he loves this city.”
As Hazouri’s vice president, Newby said their Thursday night phone calls to discuss each week’s news helped prepare Newby for the presidency.
“One thing I can say about former Council President Hazouri — he helped me to be the president I am today because he included me in to every decision,” Newby said.
“So we talked about every decision. So that helped me to grow.”
Jacksonville political strategist Mike Tolbert and Hazouri were roommates in Tallahassee as legislative aides during the 1971 session.
Hazouri enlisted Tolbert to write speeches throughout his political career such as mayoral budget addresses and Hazouri’s Council presidency installation speech.
Tolbert also helped message Hazouri’s campaign to eliminate toll roads as mayor.
“He bookended his career extremely well with his Council presidency,” Tolbert said. “He doesn’t get enough credit for some of the things he did.”
'Empathy for people'
Hazouri received a bachelor’s degree in history and government from Jacksonville University in 1966, where he was elected student body president. He was included in “75 Distinguished Dolphins,” commemorating the university’s 75th anniversary in 2010.
He is the retired president of Hazouri & Associates, a private consulting firm, and an honorary member of the Rotary Club of San Jose.
Bill Hodges was the city’s lobbyist to the state Legislature during Hazouri’s mayoral administration and a friend of the family for decades.
They sat together in the stands at Jaguars games. Hodges said Hazouri often would encourage kids in the stands and ask about their goals and dreams for the future.
“I think what people miss when they see Tommy with his public persona is his kindness, interest and empathy for people,” Hodges said.