This is part of a series of election previews The Tributary is publishing examining who is running for Jacksonville City Council.
In the aggressive campaign for Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 2, an incumbent poised to be council president next year faces a serious challenge from a nonprofit staffer.
Councilman Ron Salem, a Republican who first won office four years ago after serving on government boards for decades, faces Joshua Hicks, a nonprofit professional running as a Democrat, in one of the City Council’s most competitive partisan races.
Whoever wins the most votes in the March 21 election will win the election. Every Duval County registered voter can vote in the At-Large race, and in-person early voting has already begun.
Hicks, who has raised about $170,000 between his candidate account and political committee, said if elected, he would prioritize addressing “the housing crisis, infrastructure, city parks, after school programs and food deserts … to ensure every citizen gets what they need and deserve. The time of playing favorites is over.”
Salem has raised about $475,000 between his candidate account and his political committee, but he declined to comment to The Tributary. Salem similarly didn’t answer a questionnaire from WJCT’s Jacksonville Today, and he only offered brief answers to a News4Jax survey.
“My work on the JEA sake [sic] is one of my proudest accomplishments,” he wrote of what he hoped to be remembered for. “I also hope to contumely [sic] work with the NEF early start coalition. My work to maintain our opiate program and expand it over the next few years. Most importantly just being a public servant.”
Salem’s website has not been updated since his 2019 campaign when he was first elected, according to Archive.org’s Wayback Machine, which archives screenshots of websites.
“My earnest desire is to be a servant leader for our community, ensuring that everyone in Jacksonville has the same opportunities I have enjoyed here,” Salem’s website says. “… I am a lifelong resident of Jacksonville and believe it is time to offer myself for this position. Together, we can continue to move Jacksonville in the right direction.”
Salem currently serves as the City Council’s vice president, making him the favorite to be the president next year.
Hicks, a senior platform administrator for the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, took aim at Salem’s votes against removing Confederate monuments on public land in Jacksonville. Hicks wants to get rid of them entirely.
“Unlike my opponent, who has voted to keep the monuments up, I believe strongly that the confederate monuments should be taken down. Full stop. They represent hate, bigotry and racism. To bring our community together, the city of Jacksonville must reject the symbols of division and embrace what unites us,” Hicks said.
Salem has said he opposed Mayor Lenny Curry’s plan to remove the monuments in part because he wanted more community discussions.
Salem, a pharmacist, has worked with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department on plans to fund overdose prevention programs, including coordinating how the city would spend state funds from an opioid lawsuit, though Salem wouldn’t discuss that work with The Tributary.
Hicks said the housing crisis is “the No. 1 priority of my campaign. We must act on it.”
“All new housing projects should include a certain percentage of affordable housing units, and the city should conduct an audit of city-owned property not in use to see if it could be used for conversion into affordable housing units,” Hicks said.
Salem told News4Jax the city needed to incentivize developers to build affordable housing, potentially by giving away or discounting the sale of vacant city property.
On a costly and high-profile issue covering TIAA Bank Field where the Jacksonville Jaguars play their home games, Hicks supports various plans to provide improvements to the facility. But he said he’s hesitant about providing too much funding from taxpayer money.
“I support a public-private partnership when it comes to TIAA Bank Field renovations, but I believe that the taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay the full bill. I look forward to these discussions when I am on the City Council and will always fight to make sure whatever deal is made, it is in the best interests of my constituents,” Hicks said.
Salem hasn’t said how he would vote on a plan for taxpayers to upgrade TIAA Bank Field, but he has supported past plans to provide public financing to Jaguars owner Shad Khan, including a $114 million taxpayer inventive deal to build a Four Seasons hotel. He also supported spending up to $105 million in taxpayer funding on a Jaguars performance center.
Salem also previously voted for an entertainment development deal that city auditors said could have cost taxpayers as much as $390 million. That plan, called Lot J, garnered much criticism, and the vote for it failed. At the time of that failed vote, Salem said it wasn’t “the perfect deal, but under the circumstances, we need to approve it.”
A University of North Florida poll last month found a statistical tie in the race, with 41 percent of voters saying they support Salem, 40 percent supporting Hicks and 19 percent saying they either don’t know or refused to say.
Name: Joshua Hicks
Occupation: Senior Platform Administrator at Colorectal Cancer Alliance
Education: Bachelor’s degree at Florida State University, Associate’s degree at Tallahassee Community College
Name: Ron Salem
Occupation: President of Salem & Associates
Education: Bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida, Doctor of pharmacy at the University of Florida