This is part of a series of election previews The Tributary is publishing examining who is running for Jacksonville City Council.
Jacksonville’s City Council District 3 holds some of the city’s fastest-growing institutions: the St. Johns Town Center, the University of North Florida, the Mayo Clinic and the neighborhoods booming around them.
But Will Lahnen and Natalie Alden, the two Republicans vying to represent the area in the district’s open council race, say the area suffers from overdevelopment, and both vowed to prioritize infrastructure spending in the district.
Alden, a disability rights advocate who has served various roles in the community, including on the Mayor’s Disability Council, said her activism and previous service as a city council member in Colorado made her qualified to best advocate for the neighborhood.
“I’ve seen a lot of stuff, and I’ve worked with a lot of different City Council members in order to try to make the city a better place,” Alden said. “… There [are] a lot of areas I’ve seen over the years that City Council could do something about [but] they just choose not to.”
Lahnen, a Navy veteran who now serves as the head of finance and procurement for the Wounded Warrior Project, pointed to his past executive roles at CSX, which included serving as the rail giant’s payroll director and senior director of facilities management.
“For District 3, it’s all about managing smart growth,” Lahnen said. “I want to make sure that we’re really focusing on the best infrastructure decisions ahead of the next 5 to 20 years.”
Even though both candidates seem to have drastically different backgrounds, they agree on much.
Both are unwilling to say whether the city should remove a Confederate monument in Springfield Park. Both say it’s premature to judge any deal to spend taxpayer dollars on improving TIAA Bank Field for the Jaguars. Both said the growing population in the district, which includes Glen Kernan, East Arlington, Queens Harbour, and the St. Johns Town Center, has created overcrowding, traffic nightmares and rising crime.
Lahnen has earned the support of much of the GOP establishment. U.S. Rep. John Rutherford and four councilmembers, including outgoing District 3 Councilman Aaron Bowman, have endorsed Lahnen.
Alden emphasized her grassroots support. She has raised about $5,000 compared to Lahnen’s about $102,000.
“I want to make sure the little guy is able to make sure his needs are met, not just big corporations or whoever got the most money,” Alden said.
As a disability rights advocate, she said the city’s infrastructure projects need to prioritize accessibility better.
She criticized how long the city takes to make basic road repairs like filling potholes, and she criticized how bad traffic has gotten in the area.
Lahnen said the city needs more housing to alleviate costs, but he said the city needs to expand infrastructure before undertaking zoning reforms meant to spur more housing.
“I want to make sure when we make decisions that the city is not standing in the way of that first shovel in the ground,” he said.
Alden said city deals, like a potential one that could result in $500 million or more in taxpayer funding for Jaguars stadium improvements, need more transparency. Neither she nor Lahnen said they knew how they would vote on such a deal before any offers have been made.
Lahnen said the Jaguars were “very important to our long-term success as a city, and we’ve got to make sure we have a deal that is fair to the citizens of Jacksonville as well.”
Name: Natalie Alden
Occupation: Representative Payee Program Operations Coordinator at Disability Rights Florida
Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting, Regis University
Family: Wife, mother, and grandmother
Name: Will Lahnen
Occupation: Finance & Procurement at Wounded Warrior Project
Education: Bachelor’s degree in naval architecture from the U.S. Naval Academy, MBA from the University of Florida Warrington College of Business
Family: Wife, two daughters