This is part of a series of election previews The Tributary is publishing examining who is running for Jacksonville City Council.
A crowded field of challengers is seeking to oust an incumbent who belongs to a family dynasty in Jacksonville politics.
It’s the first re-election test for Reggie Gaffney Jr., who won a special election in August to replace his father, Reggie Gaffney Sr.
Two Democrats — architect Solomon Olopade and nonprofit chief operating officer Tameka Gaines Holly — are on the ballot against Gaffney Jr. along with Republican and electrician Charles “Scooter” Barr and Libertarian Ronald Tracy Robison Jr., who works at General Electric.
Gaffney Jr. currently represents District 7 but was redistricted into the new District 8 for the upcoming March 21 election. The rapidly growing District 8 is located mostly north of the Trout River and includes Jacksonville International Airport and the new UF Health North hospital. It’s the second-fastest growing district in the city, after District 11 in Southeast Jacksonville.
Gaffney Jr. has raised the most, $46,100, followed by Gaines Holly’s $41,582 and Olopade’s $40,250, according to Duval County election records. The other two candidates have raised about $12,000.
Gaffney Jr. said he should be re-elected because he listens to residents and fiercely advocates for them.
“The No. 1 thing I’m proud of is standing with the constituents,” Gaffney Jr. said, pointing to his stance against a proposed Chick-fil-A near an Oceanway neighborhood. The councilman said he is facilitating a dialogue between the company and residents concerned about traffic near their homes.
“We all love Chick-fil-A, but this Chick-fil-A is like literally in the backyard of someone’s home,” Gaffney Jr. said.
He also highlighted his vote against last month’s panhandling bill, which Gaffney Jr. said unfairly targets homeless people without providing enough help, like counseling. He was one of three dissenting votes on the 19-member council.
Gaffney Jr. follows into Jacksonville city politics behind his uncles and his father, Gaffney Sr., who resigned from the city council last year to mount an unsuccessful state Senate bid.
His opponents raised concerns about Gaffney Jr.’s family political history and his job as assistant executive director at his father’s nonprofit, the Community Rehabilitation Center. The CRC, a behavioral health facility, received nearly $1 million in city funds during the coronavirus pandemic. The Tributary reported last year Gaffney Jr. had been previously registered to vote at the CRC even though he did not live there.
“It’s well documented that Gaffney is not for the people,” Olopade said. “They’re linked to different allegations of corruption, nepotism, or just putting money in their own pocket.”
Added Barr, “They take a lot of taxpayer money and put it into their nonprofit. They don’t do anything for the community. If you go around and look on the Northside, you’ll see it.”
But Gaffney Jr. defended his ethics and argued he has worked hard to give back to the community. He pointed to events he said he held recently to help struggling residents, like food and gas giveaways.
“I’ve only been in office 100 days. They say, I haven’t done enough? I guess my question to them: ‘What have they done?’” Gaffney Jr. said. Yet he also argued voters should re-elect him because “experience and continuity matters.”
Gaffney Jr. denied he benefited from nepotism. He won his council seat last year on his own merits, he said.
“Voters get to vote for whoever they want,” Gaffney Jr. said.
Gaffney Jr. said he will recuse himself from any public funding decisions related to the CRC.
He told the Florida Times-Union last year he planned to step down from the CRC to focus on his council duties, but he never followed through after winning the election.
“It’s definitely still on the table,” Gaffney Jr. said this week, adding he decided against resigning last year when he learned his seat was being redistricted.
Gaines Holly said she believes voters are ready for change.
“They want people they can count on and they can trust,” Gaines Holly said. “They’re ready for something new.”
Gaines Holly boosted her own experience managing million-dollar budgets at ElderSource, a nonprofit that helps coordinate services for seniors and people with disabilities. She is also a consultant handling grant writing and strategic planning for nonprofits and businesses, and she serves on the city’s strategic partnerships steering committee, connecting the city with nonprofits.
“That skillset now allows me to effectively advocate and legislate and find opportunities and resources in our community,” Gaines Holly said. “I will be ready to lead and take this position on Day One.”
Gaines Holly previously ran against City Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman in 2019 and lost.
Gaines Holly is endorsed by state Sen. Tracie Davis who defeated Gaffney Sr. in the Democratic primary for the Senate seat.
Olopade works as an architect designing retail spaces and houses. That gives him the experience and knowledge to tackle the city’s pressing infrastructure, he said.
“This is what I do every day,” Olopade said. “I know about infrastructure more than anyone in this race.”
Olopade ran for city council in 2019, losing to Gaffney Sr.
Barr, who is the only white candidate and the lone Republican in the race, acknowledges he has an “uphill battle” in a district that’s heavily Democratic and Black. Gaffney Jr. beat Barr with 70% of the vote in the special election last year.
“So far, our representatives have done nothing for the Democratic and the minority community,” said Barr, a Teamster electrician. Barr has the support of the North Florida Central Labor Council and many of the city’s union locals. “We’re the working-class district. And I’m for the working guy.”
Robison, the sole Libertarian in the race, works as an inventory specialist for General Electric. Robison wants to abolish property taxes after homeowners pay off their mortgages, he said.
The candidates weighed in on using public money to fund renovations for the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium.
Olopade proposed a 50-50 split between the city and the team.
“We can’t expect us to bear all the burden of all the expenses, although it’s our stadium,” he said. “We don’t want to push them out of town either.”
Barr said he “didn’t have a problem” with giving public money to the stadium
“I just want some money put up into the Northside as well,” he said, arguing that the area has fallen behind with little entertainment for residents.
Robison said he was “absolutely against” public funding the stadium renovations.
“The millionaires and billionaires who own that stadium can pay for it themselves. Let them go ahead and do that,” he said.
Gaines Holly and Gaffney Jr. said they didn’t have enough information to take a stance.
“I would definitely want to look at how that investment would come back in a return… so that we can make a sensible and fiscally responsible decision in any investment of taxpayer dollars,” Gaines Holly said.
Gaffney Jr. said he wants to talk with the team, his constituents and fans to hear their thoughts as he learns more about the proposal.
One lingering controversy has been Jacksonville’s Confederate monuments on city land.
Gaffney Jr., Gaines Holly, Olopade and Robison all said the city’s Confederate statutes should be removed from city land because they represent a painful past of slavery and racism while Barr is the lone candidate who personally supports leaving them standing.
“No historical monuments in my book need to come down because they represent history,” Barr said, adding, “Now if we were to put on the referendum and let the folks in Duval County vote for it, I’m for that.”
Barr also said when he knocked on doors during his campaign, residents didn’t bring up the issue.
“It’s not a priority in our district,” he said. “I heard people talk about they can’t pay the light bill. They can’t pay their phone bill. They can’t pay the rent.”
To that point, he said the city should provide more oversight over landlords hiking rent.
“I’m a capitalist, and I believe in making money,” Barr said. “But I also believe that there has to be some oversight.”
Name: Charles “Scooter” Barr
Occupation: Union electrician at Anheuser-Busch
Education: Apprenticeship through Northeast Florida Builders Association.
Family: Wife, Tanya, and four children
Name: Reggie Gaffney Jr.
Occupation: Assistant executive director at Community Rehabilitation Center
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration at Florida A&M University and a master’s in business administration from the University of Phoenix.
Name: Tameka Gaines Holly
Occupation: Chief operating officer at ElderSource and consultant
Education: Bachelor’s in health care management from Florida A&M University, a master’s degree in public health from the University of North Florida and a master’s degree in public policy from Jacksonville University.
Family: Husband, Delaney, and three children.
Name: Solomon Olopade
Education: Bachelor’s in architecture at Florida A&M University
Family: Wife, Vickie, and five children.
Name: Ronald Tracy Robison Jr.
Occupation: Inventory specialist for General Electric
Education: High school graduate
This story was originally published by The Tributary