This is part of a series of election previews The Tributary is publishing examining who is running for Jacksonville City Council.
A journalist with a storied career and a real estate agent who says he understands the neighborhood’s challenges are competing for votes as the newest Jacksonville City Council member representing District 1 in Arlington.
Over his 43-year TV journalism career, Ken Amaro appeared in people’s homes as the bow tie-wearing consumer advocate on First Coast News. Now, the retired journalist is tapping into his high-profile name recognition to run as a Republican for Jacksonville City Council’s District 1, the city’s densest district, containing much of Arlington.
His opponent in the March 21 election is Democrat Alton McGriff Jr, a Realtor, who is trailing behind Amaro’s fundraising efforts.
Both political newcomers say their careers helped get them ready to serve constituents.
McGriff, 42, pointed to leadership skills he said he has gained from working as a licensed real estate agent and an entrepreneur involved in professional organizations, according to his website and a Jacksonville Today candidate survey.
“As a husband, father and community advocate I’m very knowledgeable of the various issues that Jacksonville faces. Because of my values and the fact that I can relate to the many concerns of diverse individuals, I believe I would be the voice of the community,” McGriff said in a News4JAX candidate questionnaire.
McGriff did not respond to multiple interview requests with The Tributary for this story.
Meanwhile, Amaro, 70, argues his journalism career better prepares him to represent the district at City Hall. As a reporter, he listened to residents’ concerns, earned their trust and navigated government bureaucracy to find solutions to their problems, Amaro said. Until a year ago, Amaro had been registered as a political independent.
“One of the great frustrations … is that too often the constituents feel City Hall is not listening, or it’s not responding,” Amaro said. “My experience of navigating neighborhoods, navigating City Hall, my experience of bridging differences and resolving conflicts, I think those are things that I can bring to the table.”
Like Amaro, the district’s current city councilwoman, Joyce Morgan, is a former TV journalist.
So far, Amaro has raised more than $65,000 compared to McGriff’s $5,000, according to state and local campaign contribution records as of early March.
Amaro, 70, who lives in North Arlington, has won the endorsements of the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors, the Fraternal Order of Police and JAX Chamber’s political committee.
Amaro received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Jones College.
McGriff’s website had falsely claimed he was a Florida State College of Jacksonville graduate.
When pressed by The Tributary on his educational background, McGriff texted a photo of his “high school diploma” from the Florida Department of Education that was signed by a GED administrator and then declined to comment further.
Amaro’s priorities are supporting law enforcement and keeping up with the district’s infrastructure needs, from fire protection to road maintenance. He also wants to make the city look nicer and help small businesses tap into public money to remove blight and add more green spaces.
McGriff said he is focused on tackling infrastructure, job growth and mental illness if elected, he said in a candidate questionnaire for Jacksonville Today.
“My pledge is simple – I will fight for safer communities, improved infrastructure, and create more opportunities for small business owners and veterans,” McGriff said on his campaign website.
Although a University of North Florida poll found 61 percent of voters opposed spending up to $750 million on stadium renovations for the Jaguars, both McGriff and Amaro have indicated support for the potential projects.
“I support it if it creates jobs to bring the money back into the local economy,” McGriff said in the Jacksonville Today questionnaire.
Amaro also supports public funding “as long as it’s fair and reasonable.”
“I don’t think you’re going to find a consensus of where taxpayers are crazy about doing it, but the reality is that we own the stadium. [The] reality is that the Jags are tenants and that there will be work needed on that stadium,” Amaro said.
The Tributary asked Amaro if he considered a potential half billion dollars in public money “fair and reasonable.”
“I don’t know,” Amaro said.
Both candidates had different ideas for fighting the affordable housing crisis.
Amaro wants the city to convert empty real estate into single-family affordable housing while partnering with other groups, like private investors, to boost the affordable housing inventory.
In a News4Jax voter guide, McGriff said he wanted to see some land-use reform and zoning changes to ease access to housing.
“By assessing vacant land and real estate, the city could introduce innovative solutions to offer incentives to develop those assets,” McGriff told News4Jax. “Additionally, Jacksonville could explore the use of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), allowing extended housing options on single-family homes (i.e. garage conversions or tiny homes) on the same lot.”
McGriff also said he wants the city’s Confederate monuments taken down from public property, while Amaro said he wasn’t sure of his stance.
“I believe it’s something that really needs to be looked at as for what it can be replaced with to bring peace on all sides,” McGriff responded in his Jacksonville Today questionnaire.
Amaro said while he doesn’t know his stance, he expressed his “disappointment in this process,” saying Mayor Lenny Curry “passed the responsibility from himself to 19 members” and was “kicking the can down the road.”
“I don’t know what my position would be if I’m elected,” Amaro said. “But the politics of it, to me, it’s disgusting as hell. Either you do it or you don’t. It’s one or the other.”
Name: Ken Amaro
Occupation: Retired First Coast News journalist
Education: Bachelor’s of Business Administration at Jones College.
Family: Wife, Rosalyn, and four grown daughters.
Name: Alton McGriff Jr.
Occupation: Real estate agent
Education: High school graduate or GED.
Family: Wife, Teresa, and four children.