Mayoral Candidates Go after the Black Vote

Article excerpt

Byline: Binyamin Appelbaum, Times-Union staff writer

On any given Sunday, several of Jacksonville's mayoral candidates likely will travel from their Southside homes to attend a Northside church. They come to seek support from black voters, who comprise about a quarter of the city's electorate.

Churches center the African-American community, and the support of their congregants is critical to Democratic candidates Nat Glover and Tommy Hazouri. It is important as well to the Republicans in the race, both practically and symbolically.

"It's both an opportunity and an obligation," said Mike Tolbert, a spokesman for Republican John Peyton. "You are [running to be] mayor of the entire city."

Earning that support is a challenge, considerably more so since Glover announced his candidacy. The sheriff is the only major candidate who lives north of the St. Johns River and the only African-American in the race.

Some black community leaders said the effort remains worthwhile. Black voters want candidates who will address the community's problems, they said, so the right candidate with the right platform still could claim a sizeable share of the vote.

"If you're going to have a choice of seven [white candidates], why do I have to go have a choice of only one [black candidate]," said Betty Holzendorf, a former state senator who does not support Glover's candidacy. "I think African-Americans are more concerned about who can deliver on the issues and on the promises."

Others, however, said Glover's Northside roots prepared him uniquely to champion the community's needs.

"People want to support people who are like them and understand them," said city Councilman Reggie Fullwood, who supports Glover.

Glover himself addresses the issue with caution. Like the other candidates, he must reach outside his own community to become the city's next mayor.

"As an African-American, I know that what we would want in our community is that race doesn't matter anymore," Glover said. In order to secure the support of a black voter, he said, "I would want to be the best candidate."

Issues facing the city

The issues fretting voters on both banks of the St. Johns River have the same names: Education, crime, economic development.

The difference is magnitude.

The city's old, poor and historically black Northside neighborhoods contain almost all of Jacksonville's failing schools. Crime and poverty rates are relatively high. Education and income levels are relatively low. Jacksonville's average African-American earns about $10,000 less than the average Caucasian.

Almost everyone agrees these facts are, at least in part, the products of historical racism and neglect. Some believe government therefore has a present obligation to respond with additional resources.

The issue divides the candidates, perhaps most prominently over whether to continue the city's policy of setting goals for awarding contracts to companies owned by women and minorities.

Glover, Hazouri, Republican Matt Carlucci and Democrat Keith Myers all support the creation of a similar ordinance when the current law expires this summer. It aspires to remedy past discrimination by awarding city contracts proportionally to female- and minority-owned firms.

"The program that's in place right now makes sense to me," said Glover. "It's working and we're going to build on it and move on."

Republicans Peyton, Mike Weinstein and Ginger Soud all oppose the current ordinance. …

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