by Glenn Tschimpke
The arrival of the new year signals a figurative pistol shot in the air for Northeast Florida political hopefuls. Nine months to go until the primary statewide elections. Eleven to go for the general elections. On a local scale, lower-level aspiring leaders are beginning to send their political feelers into the community to prepare for the 2003 election cycle. It’s time to smile, shake hands, make new friends and ask for donations. Here is a snapshot of three aspiring legislators:
Linda Sparks (R)
for State Senate District 6
Venerable Duval County School Board member Linda Sparks had her eye on this state senate seat for over a year and planned to run a campaign to replace Jim Horne (R). Term-limited out of her School Board position at the end of 2002, she would have liked to slide easily into another political post. Last summer’s events didn’t play out like Sparks expected. Horne was named Florida’s education secretary, leaving the District 6 seat open for a special election. Steven Wise’s (R) subsequent landslide victory concerned Sparks that the public’s vote in 2001 may be indicative of what happens when Wise runs for the position again in 2002.
Matters with the School Board further complicated the issue with controversy over school bus contracts and superintendent John Fryer’s resignation and rescission.
For now, Sparks has put her campaign on hold. She hasn’t withdrawn but she isn’t pursuing it.
“I’m waiting for direction,” she said. “I don’t feel pressure to make a decision today or in the near future. I had mounted a campaign to run for state senate in fall of 2002. But because there was a surprise intervening election last summer, that created different considerations. Now I’m considering those variables and the results of the election in terms of whether I should continue with what I set out to do. I would have participated in the summer’s election had I not felt there were critical matters yet to address right here on the School Board.”
Direction? Politically, financially or spiritually?
“Everything is considered spiritually first,” she said. “If I have that green light in my heart to move forward, there are other practical components that have to line up as well. If everything lined up, I would expect that I would remain in the race.”
If she decides to turn her campaign machine back on, she’s already attracted the financial support of some Northeast Florida notables, including former U.S. Rep. Tillie Fowler, who contributed $500 (the maximum allowed) to her campaign last spring, which easily translates to political backing. Other contributors include City Council president Matt Carlucci and real estate developer John Rood’s Vestcor Companies.
Sparks hinted that Wise’s margin of victory in the District 6 Senate election could be a detractor for her push for the seat.
“I had made a decision to run for that position last year,” she said. “I have not undecided. But I understand the changes that developed since I decided. Therefore, it’s prudent to reconsider my decision in light of those changes. The changes being that the public has elected Steve Wise, by a huge margin, to that seat. That happened in an election that I was not a part of. The public didn’t have me as a choice at that time. Should that matter? That’s part of the decision to continue with the race.”
If Sparks’ heart gives her the green light, look for her to fight for more educational funding and control for Duval County.
“I care passionately about public education,” said Sparks. “The legislature is the ultimate School Board, leaving the local entities with less than one percent discretion over how they spend their money that they receive from the State.
“I’d like to change that. If I don’t change it, I’d like for someone else to change it. It’s not wrong to want to crusade for home rule. And it’s not Republican to insist these regulations remain. Republicans believe in less government and that’s not what we have.”
Rahman Johnson (D)
City Council District 10
A year ago, Rahman Johnson was at a personal low point. His political career seemed to be crashing and burning before it ever really got started. The young Soil and Water Conservation Board member was awash with controversy regarding a tax-exempt cell phone account he opened in the board’s name and an $800 bill he amassed. The other board members subsequently censured and removed him from all committee assignments in a vote of no-confidence. The debacle blurred his political future at the time and bruised his pride. One year later, Johnson says he is back on track and ready to move up a political rung.
Johnson, now 25, has registered to run for City Council District 10, which will be empty in 2003 when King Holzendorf exits because of term limits. He’s looking to put the cell phone incident behind him and focus on the future.
“I know this may sound kind of morbid, but I think I’m really glad I went through that,” he said. “It opened my eyes. There were people that called me, some constituents and some trusted friends who said, ‘What are you doing? Why?’”
People asked him if he needed money, but Johnson said it wasn’t about money.
“It had nothing to do with money,” he said. “It had to do with perception. Once the facts were seen, people saw that I wasn’t trying to defraud anybody. I wasn’t trying to take from anybody.”
Johnson had just graduated from Edward Waters College at the time and was listed as one of 30 leaders under 30 to watch by Ebony magazine. He was riding a personal high.
“Then in a few weeks, all of that stuff kind of came crashing down because I was basically vilified by the media and almost called a common thief,” he said.
He took it personally. He gained weight, couldn’t fit into his suits and had trouble finding a job.
“I’d blown up and got hugely fat,” he chuckled.
Johnson pulled it together, hit the gym, mixed in salads and trimmed down. With a year of hindsight, he looks at the cell phone incident as a critical learning experience for a young political figure.
“I learned so much,” he said. “I learned how to keep my mouth closed and listen.”
For the City Council seat he desires, listening is a key skill. District 10 covers parts of Jacksonville’s Northside, which has been traditionally ignored by businesses and city leaders in terms of economic development. Johnson knows the needs of the area.
“I know it’s going to sound like the same-old, same-old, but definitely economic development,” he said. “Our city is lopsided. There are some people on the Northside whose socioeconomic status is low, but so is it on the Westside, so is it in Mandarin, so is it in Arlington. I look at companies and everyone wants to expand toward the Southside. Southside Boulevard is packed and they want to put more places there.”
Johnson echoes the decades of cries from Northside politicians before him.
“I want light industrial and high tech — something that would fit with the neighborhoods on the Northside,” he said. “I’d like some business — businesspeople, whether they’re doing construction, development, or whatever. There is so much room on the Northside for office space, to put up additional housing. I’m not just saying affordable housing. I mean nice housing. I think there is room there. I think we could reach a meeting point where we could find whatever economic incentives that would attract these companies and individuals to relocate their businesses here. I think it would raise the quality of life on the Northside.”
Adam Nathaniel Davis (L)
City Council District 2
For those unfamiliar beyond the “D” and “R” labels, Adam Nathaniel Davis is a Libertarian. What he lacks in popularity, notoriety and finances, he makes up for in guts, running as a third party candidate. A Michigan native and Air Force veteran, Davis has been in Jacksonville about a year and works as a web designer for Nemours Children’s Clinic. At 28, he is another young political hopeful looking to make a mark early in life. Like all Libertarians, he is concerned with the spending habits of Jacksonville’s government.
“For what it’s worth, I don’t have any particular thing on Lynette,” said Davis of his quest to replace Lynette Self (R) in District 2. “Quite frankly, I would probably run against whoever is in that seat. It’s more of an issue that I don’t care for the way city politics are done, the way City government is run. As a Libertarian, it’s probably not shocking to find that I’m disgusted with government at all levels. I think the best place for me to start affecting that is here, locally.”
Libertarians are traditionally known for their conservative fiscal policies and liberal social views. While Davis is prepared to deal with the daily pothole and neighborhood complaints, he has broader political visions for the council.
“I’m very disgusted with the fact that City Council seems to act as one compliant body,” he said. “The analogy I use is there is one body with 19 heads and they all seem to nod in agreement whenever there’s anything that comes before them that one would think might be contentious. I don’t see anyone there that’s willing to question things publicly, that’s really willing to stand up and say, ‘maybe we should look at this further.’ If anything, I think there’s a lot of value to be had in having at least even one person to stand up and say, ‘No this isn’t right.’
“That’s generally. But specifically, I don’t like our spending habits,” he continued. “The fact that I feel like a lot of their priorities are backwards. They’ve decided that we’re going to build a downtown at any cost. I love downtown. I think downtown is great. If we could make downtown a booming place, that would be wonderful. The cost that they’re willing to go through to make that happen doesn’t seem like there’s any end. I’m disgusted at the policies of corporate welfare. I think they’re under the impression that the only way you can get businesses to come to Jacksonville is to give them a government hand-out. First of all, that’s patently false if you look at the economy here. Secondly, I think that ultimately it’s more hurtful to the taxpayer than helpful.”
If elected, Davis must tend to the Better Jacksonville Plan. While he said he would dutifully carry out the plan (the nature of the plan is about as anti-Libertarian as can be), he would also keep a watchful eye on over-spending. Mayor John Delaney already had to reach into contingency funds for the new baseball stadium. Davis wants to see to it that budget adjustments aren’t taken past the basic guidelines of the plan.
“You’re going to find, more and more, this plan that was built with plenty of breathing room will start to push against its limits and go over budget in time and money,” he said. “That’s why we need someone there who can say, no, we can’t throw good money after bad. We can’t continue to pour more and more money into these things.”