Top Newsmaker: Donna Deegan makes history as Jacksonville’s first female mayor

Here is a look at some of the biggest newsmakers in 2023.

  • By Ric Anderson
  • | 12:00 a.m. December 29, 2023
  • | 4 Free Articles Remaining!
Donna Deegan is sworn in as mayor July 1 at the Jacksonville Center for the Performing Arts by Duval County Judge Kimberly Sadler. Holding the Bible is Deegan's husband, Tim Deegan. Watching are her children, Danielle and Drew Hicken.
Donna Deegan is sworn in as mayor July 1 at the Jacksonville Center for the Performing Arts by Duval County Judge Kimberly Sadler. Holding the Bible is Deegan's husband, Tim Deegan. Watching are her children, Danielle and Drew Hicken.
City of Jacksonville
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Standing before a crowd of family members and election supporters on the evening of May 17, Donna Deegan smiled broadly as chants of “Yes we did! Yes we did!” washed over her. 

When the voices died down enough for her to speak, Deegan said, “We made history tonight.”

Winning candidates have been known to make a similar statement. But in Deegan’s case, it wasn’t political hyperbole.

Deegan, who had become a familiar face to Jacksonville residents as a longtime TV news anchor and high-profile philanthropist for breast cancer research, had just been elected as the first woman to serve as mayor in the city’s 201-year history. 

Mayoral-elect Donna Deegan shows off a victory T-shirt at her election watch party May 16 at Estrella Cocina Downtown in the VyStar Credit Union campus.
Photo by J. Brooks Terry

She emerged from a contentious campaign against another candidate familiar to many of her fellow residents – Republican Daniel Davis, the CEO of JAX Chamber – with 52.1% of the vote. In doing so, she provided a spark for Democrats in Florida and elsewhere for winning a prominent race in an increasingly red state against an opponent who had Gov. Ron DeSantis’ endorsement.

As mayor, her business-related work included leading a 16-member contingent that met with more than 75 businesses in London during a trip tied to the Oct. 1 Jacksonville Jaguars game at Wembley Stadium. A key focus was trying to establish nonstop air passenger service between London and Jacksonville.

That trip happened a month after Deegan helped publicly unveil the $2 billion Gateway Jax project in September, touting its potential to “kick-start our next wave of Downtown development.”

Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan announced at a noon Aug. 28 news conference at the city Emergency Operations Center that she declared a local state of emergency because of Tropical Storm Idalia.
City of Jacksonville

Deegan also made small business development a priority of her administration, which led to new initiatives such as the Downtown Investment Authority’s Code Compliance Support Program, which offers to pay small-business owners up to $250,000 toward bringing properties up to city, state or federal codes.

In December, Deegan said support from the business community helped in the City Council’s passage of nearly $26 million in funding for initiatives addressing several of her social priorities, including homelessness services, affordable housing, literacy and health. 

On Dec. 27, Deegan made good on a campaign issue when she ordered the removal of a Confederate monument from Springfield Park. The statue was a subject of long-running division in Jacksonville, with proponents of its removal calling it a symbol of racism and opponents wanting it preserved as a piece of the city’s history. Deegan said funding for the removal came from private sources, and the city Office of General Counsel advised that her order did not need City Council approval since it did not involve public funding. 

Top Deals and Newsmakers of 2023

Here is a look at some of the biggest deals and people who made headlines in 2023.

Top Deals:

Cosentino Group plans $270 million first phase of manufacturing plant. Story here

Phoenix Arts & Innovation District launches in New Springfield. Story here

Blackwater Development says it has Regency Square Mall deal. Story here

Ponte Vedra Inn & Club wins approval to start expansion, renovations. Story here

ICE finalizes its $11.9 billion acquisition of Black Knight Inc. Story here

‘Stadium of the Future’ plans are unveiled by the Jaguars. Story here

Gateway Jax plans $500 million Downtown project in NorthCore. Story here

Aldi buying Winn-Dixie, Harveys parent Southeastern Grocers. Story here

Regency Centers buys Urstadt Biddle in $1.4 billion deal. Story here

Top Newsmakers:

Bryan Moll poised to help revitalize Downtown with Gateway Jax. Story here

Nick Allard guides JU College of Law toward new Downtown campus. Story here

Aundra Wallace an assured but low-key leader in region’s growth. Story here

Suzanne Pickett: Advocate for city’s Historic Eastside. Story here

Obituaries of 2023:

Activist and community advocate Ben Frazier. Story here

Beaver Street Fisheries Chairman Hans ‘Harry’ Frisch. Story here

Civic leader and insurance executive Marvin Cecil 'Ceree' Harden III. Story here



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