This is part of a series of election previews The Tributary is publishing examining who is running for Jacksonville City Council.
District 11 voters have a choice for the first time on who represents them on the Jacksonville City Council. A restaurateur, a former sheriff’s deputy and a real estate investor all want the job. Each promises a distinct vision of smart growth and improved public safety that they say will lift the city and the growing district in Southeast Duval County.
Republicans Raul Arias and Norman Brewer and Democrat Ramon Day are competing to succeed Danny Becton, who won two terms on the Council unopposed and is now running for property appraiser.
Arias, Brewer and Day will all appear on the ballot on March 21. If no one secures a majority, the top two advance to a May 16 runoff.
Arias, who owns three restaurants in Jacksonville, has largely avoided media discourse in the race. He did not complete a WJCT questionnaire and only granted an interview request with the Tributary after this story initially published. He leans heavily on his resume on his campaign website, which showcases his Navy service and work as the vice chair of the Jacksonville Housing Community Development Commission.
Brewer, a former police officer who has earned the backing of the police union, has argued he’s the true conservative in the race, running against the Republican establishment.
Day, the sole Democrat running for the seat, has talked up his past experiences in finance and public service.
Arias has raised about $185,000 directly and in his political committee, and Brewer has raised about $110,000 directly. A committee supporting Brewer has raised $6,000 since January, with $5,000 coming from Big Creek Timber LLC, a company affiliated with the Davis family that is asking the city to rezone about 6,200 acres of their land in the district.
Committees supporting Brewer and Arias have sent text messages to voters attacking each other for supporting Democrat Ken Jefferson in the 2015 sheriff’s race. Arias donated $100 to Jefferson’s campaign, and Brewer donated $50.
Arias also owns the Mambos Cuban Café. His wife Lorena Inclán used to work as a weekend anchor for Action News Jax but recently took a job in Miami. The candidate missed a couple of early community forums helping her move, and he admitted that “the timing is not the greatest”. But he noted his restaurants are in Jacksonville, and if elected, he said he was committed to staying in Jacksonville.
“If I win, the city is going to be my primary focus,” he said.
Arias said he wants to streamline permitting for small businesses. He noted during COVID-19, it took him 11 months to get an awning permit as he served more diners outside. Jacksonville needs to be proactive and make growth a smooth process.
“I want to be a voice for the small business community but also bring a common sense approach,” he said. “I come from Miami, and obviously, infrastructure there is a different ballgame, but they are always behind the curve. We have a backlog to address; I don’t want to become a Miami where we constantly have a reactive approach.”
Brewer has emphasized his history in uniform as well, having risen to the rank of Lieutenant with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, though that notably ended with his abrupt resignation amid accusations of an inappropriate relationship with a co-worker he later married, as reported by Florida Politics. While Arias has earned the endorsement of Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters, the police union backed Brewer.
Brewer later took on a number of different jobs and started businesses, working in pharmaceutical sales, entertainment, estate auctions and roofing.
“I believe in no neighborhood left behind,” he said. “I hate cliches, but we really are only as strong as our weakest link.”
Day, the sole Democrat on the ballot, has run on his background in finance. The former banking executive now serves as vice president of acquisitions for Hakimian Holdings. His experience dealing with commercial lending and real estate has prepared him to deal with the city’s growth and development, he said.
But he boasts some significant public sector experience as well, working on Capitol Hill for former U.S. Charles Bennett for two years in the ‘80s. That work came after working for years with Barnett Bank.
The candidates in the District 11 race have focused much of the conversation on growth, an especially critical conversation in the fastest-growing council district in the city. with large swaths of the district containing pristine undeveloped land.
The district also holds some of the oldest land holdings in the county, including thousands of acres of timberland. That land, south of Butler Boulevard and east of Interstate 295, holds the potential for future development in the area.
Recently, the Skinner family sold off 197 acres for residential development, and the Davis family, who owned the land that became Nocatee, asked the city to rezone about 6,200 acres for residential and commercial development.
“A lot of this land is environmentally sensitive; some can’t be developed,” Day said. But much of it can and will be developed, and Day said it’s important the growth happens in a way that enhances the entire community. That means ensuring transit lines and infrastructure improvements take place in ways that serve existing neighborhoods.
While both Day and Brewer say they want the city to encourage smart growth, what they mean is clearly different.
Day wants the city to encourage higher-density developments where there is already existing infrastructure, being cognizant of the financial sustainability of new growth. If done right, he said it will allow for a boost in tax revenue and ease infrastructure demands on areas seeing development come in for the first time. That will theoretically pull pressure off District 11.
Brewer, on the other hand, wants to see the city expand into new areas with a comprehensive plan for police, fire and other city services.
As the city struggles to bring on more affordable housing, Brewer said building officials also need to streamline the permitting process. That’s especially true during a period of rapid inflation. As a roofer, he’s deeply aware of the rising material costs with construction now, and said delays caused by the government will inevitably increase the raw costs of building, which in turn will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher real estate costs.
Both Brewer and Day say the city needs more police officers.
Day authored a report with the city’s Taxation, Revenue, and Utilization of Expenditures Commission that recommended expanding the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office by 148 officers per year. He said Jacksonville’s police staffing had fallen behind other major Florida cities.
“A lot of people are critical of the Sheriff’s Office because they have a $500 million budget, and people ask why the crime rate still is what it is,” Day said. “But I say it is still not adequately staffed. To me coming from the corporate world, it raises questions about how we are managing our resources. We are not putting the money into patrols and enforcement departments.”
Brewer stressed the needs go beyond street cops, and said dispatchers, which are in short supply in Jacksonville, are the “glue” that holds the agency together.
He said the city needs to make law enforcement jobs more attractive. If elected, he said it’s not his job to figure out what the police union wants, but once they decide what they want, he vowed to “wave the flag to get them the resources that they need.”
Name: Ramon Day
Occupation: Vice president of acquisitions for Hakimian Holdings
Education: Bachelor’s degree in history at Jacksonville University, Master’s degree in business administration at the University of Florida
Name: Norman Brewer
Occupation: Roofer / retired police officer
Education: Bachelor’s in hospitality from Florida State University
Name: Raul Arias
Occupation: Restaurant owner
Education: Bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences from Florida State College at Jacksonville