The crowd of candidates to become the next mayor of Jacksonville (pop. roughly 954,000) will be thinned Tuesday when residents go to the ballot. But the contentious race will likely be far from over.
The incumbent, Republican Mayor Lenny Curry, has been in office since 2015. He is term-limited, leaving a collection of local politicians and public figures vying to take over the mayor’s office. Seven candidates – two Democrats, four Republicans and one no-party-affiliated – are running, meaning it's likely that none of them will receive the needed 50%-plus-one majority of the vote to bypass a runoff. In that case, the two candidates with the most votes will face off May 16.
The nature of the field has led to a chaotic election cycle between the Republicans in the race. Millions have been spent on negative advertisements as their party appears convinced that whichever candidate from their party makes it to May will win out.
Jacksonville has had a Republican mayor since Curry – the third Republican to be elected mayor since 1888 – took office (Democrat Alvin Brown preceded him). The GOP also now holds a majority on the city council. It’s currently the most populous city in America with a Republican mayor.
As the city’s website explains, “the City of Jacksonville and Duval County merged in 1968, creating a single entity governing all of Duval County with the exception of the beach communities – Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach and Jacksonville Beach – and Baldwin.” The mayor's job now pays $230,016 per year.
Here are the seven candidates that will be on the ballot this week:
Omega Allen (I)
Allen, a Jacksonville native, has “run for mayor in the previous two election cycles and is the only candidate running without party affiliation,” according to the Florida Times-Union. “She campaigns on bringing equity to all Jacksonville residents, including in housing and job opportunity.” In 2019, she received just over 10% of the vote.
She says on her campaign website she’s “passionate about equity, justice, and overcoming disparity in all things for all people.” She’s “led the charge for empowering small businesses while serving as chair of the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Trust Fund,” and as the “first manager of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, … spearheaded the restoration of over 100 foreclosed homes.”
Allen has been a public schools teacher, an “international hair designer, studying under Vidal Sassoon in London and Toronto,” and is now a “state-certified general contractor” and has a “Ph.D. in Public Administration with a concentration in Municipal Government.”
She aims to “develop the key components of a thriving downtown – residential, retail, entertainment, and reliable transportation will be an ongoing part of achieving our greatest potential,” as well as stand for “social and economic justice, where fair and equitable housing and employment opportunities are available to all of our citizens.”
LeAnna Cumber (R)
Cumber is the second most financially backed candidate in the race, but a host of scandals and a climate rich with attack ads have affected how she is projected to perform in the race.
A business owner and current member of the Jacksonville City Council, she has amassed over $800,000 in her campaign account and $3.5 million in her political committee, JAX First. She is engaged in a social media ad war with fellow Republican mayoral candidate Daniel Davis that has taken up much of both their campaign coffers. Her political committee spent nearly $2 million over the past two months.
Additionally, she courted scandal being the center of an ethics investigation about her husband’s involvement with a group that put in an offer to buy the city’s utility in 2019. She has denounced the investigation as a “political attack.” Those issues may have resulted in her falling behind in polls. A UNF Public Opinion Research Lab survey on the race has her in 5th place, receiving just 5% support.
She has campaigned on rolling back the city’s gas tax and advocating spending money on broader-impact infrastructure projects instead of downtown improvements.
Daniel Davis (R)
The CEO of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce is the establishment Republican pick – and has the endorsements and financial backing to show for it.
Endorsed by outgoing Mayor Curry and Duval Sheriff T.K. Waters, Davis is the biggest fundraiser of the pack, bringing in over $670,000 to his campaign account and $5.2 million to his political committee, Building a Better Economy. His previous elected experience includes time as Jacksonville City Council president in 2007 and a four-year stint in the Florida House of Representatives.
Davis has been at the center of the attack-ad frenzy, focusing his attention on fellow Republicans LeAnna Cumber and Al Ferraro in an effort to make sure he is the elephant that escapes the 7-person race and makes it to the primary. He also has struck out at local media outlets who aired campaign ads from Cumber against him that he claimed were false. His political committee has spent nearly $2.5 million over the past two months.
His tactics and network of support appear to be working. He is polling with 20% support, the second most in the field and the highest Republican by 12 points. Central to his campaign has been his long-time Jacksonville roots, his support from various groups like the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police and Jacksonville Brotherhood of Firefighters, and his support for downtown infrastructure improvements.
Donna Deegan (D)
A former First Coast News anchor and founder of the breast cancer-focused Donna Foundation, Deegan is the current frontrunner in the race, but that could change in a runoff.
Deegan is the highest fundraising Democrat, having amassed almost $500,000 in her campaign account and almost $700,000 to her political committee, Donna for Duval. She’s also been endorsed by current Florida Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried and former Jacksonville City Council Member Garrett Dennis.
She has remained largely above the fray in the mudslinging, spending about $200,000 over the past two months. She has also been largely ignored by attack ads from Republicans so far, which has contributed to her leading the pack in polling with 37% support.
Some have speculated that her frontrunner status could change once Jacksonville’s Republicans coalesce around the GOP candidate emerging from the first election to go to the runoff. Davis, the Republican frontrunner, has a good chunk of money remaining, which could be used to mount a similar attack against Deegan if the two make it to the runoff.
Al Ferraro (R)
A current Jacksonville City Council member and business owner, Ferraro has positioned himself as the grassroots conservative option as Davis and Cumber duke it out.
His campaign committed to not running any negative ads. While in office, he didn’t support the sale of the city utility, and he has opposed the gas tax and rural development. He’s made those stances central to his campaign.
He is a distant fourth in the race as fundraising goes. He’s raised a little over $200,000 between his campaign account and political committee, Keep it Real Jax, combined. His refraining from attack ads hasn’t kept him free from getting attacked, as he’s been targeted by Davis in recent weeks as they fight over rural Jacksonville’s conservative voters.
So far, polling has him finishing third behind Deegan and Davis, with about 8% of voter support.
Audrey Gibson (D)
Gibson has spent more time in elected office representing Jacksonville constituents than anyone else in the field. But she has never been in a race this competitive.
She served in the Florida House of Representatives 2002-10 and later in the Florida Senate 2011-22, rising to become that chamber’s Democratic Leader. The last time she ran against an opponent was in 2012. She ended up winning by 63.6%.
Now, her fundraising and polling gap seem insurmountable when matched up against other candidates in the mayoral race. She’s raised $37,000 to her campaign account and $250,000 in her political committee, A Rising Tide.
She’s polling at about 7%, good enough for fourth place in the field and 30 points back from the other Democrat in the race.
Frank Keasler (R)
The Jacksonville lawyer, a Republican, has campaigned on “keeping gender identity studies out of public schools and starting a ‘Golf Not Guns’ program, as well as decreasing government spending,” according to the Florida Times-Union.
On his campaign website, the father of four says “we need to inspire our City.” His vision as mayor includes “feeding the needs of the poor each day as we build hope in presenting new horizons for tomorrow,” saying he has for years “cooked a 5-gallon pot of his famous slow simmered beef stew, delivering it to the Mission House in Jacksonville Beach as (a) small way of caring for ‘the least of these’ in our City.”
But he also wants to free the city “from the insanity of the age in which we live: We will live with two and only two, genders, female and male and no child will be taught any concept of biology, anatomy, humanitarian or social science which infers any notion that human gender is fluid.”
He adds: “Either we establish who we are and what are the foundations of We the People, or we will look like a country gone mad, a people of the cereal box aisle: nothing but fruit loops, fruity pebbles, great nuts and frosted flakes!”