Candidate Recommendation Cheat Sheet:
Mayor: Kristen Dozier
City Commission: Jeremy Matlow (Seat 3), Adner Marcelin or Shelby Green (Seat 5)
County Commission: Donna Pearl Cotterell (District 1), Will Crowley (District 2), Josh Johnson (at-large Group 2), Damon Victor (District 3), David O’Keefe (District 5)
School Board: Anthony DeMarco (District 1), Darryl Jones (District 3), Alex Stemle (District 4)
Judges: Jason Jones (the judge in the other race is running unopposed)
You can find the complete 2022 list of candidates here.
The 2022 local elections may be among the most important in a decade. Despite convictions in an FBI probe into corruption in City Hall, the elected officials of the city and county have, as a group, failed to address systemic corruption. In fact, you could argue that special interests have tried to consolidate their stranglehold on Tallahassee and Leon County.
Regardless of how you feel about issues like no-bid sales of public land, the pathological way our mayor has gone out of his way to avoid instituting true ethics reforms, and similar issues, we feel it’s important to have special interests as far removed from decisions affecting communities as possible. Similarly, we think that good governance and responsible management of our abundant natural resources requires elected officials with as few conflicts of interest as possible.
Finally, elected officials should not seem in their positions and rhetoric to simply want to keep getting elected. In other words, if an incumbent cares more about reelection than about effective and useful governance, why should we let them help allocate our tax monies? Let alone craft policies that may affect Tallahasseans for decades to come.
With all of that in mind, here are our picks in the local Tallahassee/Leon County elections, with our opinions on those races outside of our district also given. At the state level, we are voting for Charlie Crist, Val Demings, and Daniel Uhlfelder. – Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
Selected Notes on the Races
Mayor—Vote for Kristin Dozier
Incumbent John Dailey has actively re-upped on the methods and outlook embodied by disgraced former mayor Scott Maddox while demonstrating an uncanny knack for finding photo ops; he often takes credit for the labor and ideas of others. Dailey has nurtured a lack of transparency in city government and given the city manager carte blanche to consolidate power in ways harmful to representative democracy—and even shut down meetings to avoid talking about real ethics reform. There are also questions of conflict of interest in his wife having Florida Power & Light as a client while Dailey takes meetings with Florida Power & Light (for reasons that have not been divulged)—not to mention the conflicts of interest inherent in his relationship with VanCore Jones. Several rumors of bullying should not be discounted out of hand, either.
His main opponent, Kristin Dozier, has served ably and well as a county commissioner. She has a vast amount of experience in addition to being a policy wonk. Dozier would restore a sense of balance to city politics and work toward greater accountability. Dozier would also bring back true civility to city government, which would allow for meaningful compromises. As importantly, removing Mayor Dailey would rip out a fair percentage of his network of special interests from the center of power, which would by itself help the people of Tallahassee have a more democratic and responsive local government.
City Commission Seat 3 –Vote for Jeremy Matlow
It’s fair to say that Jeremy Matlow winning this commission seat in 2018 was transformational for the City of Tallahassee. Despite a cynical city commission voting bloc headed up by the Mayor, Matlow has made visible many of the problems plaguing Tallahassee and used his platform to advocate for those without a voice. Time and again, despite unfair and simply untrue negative attacks by special interests, Matlow has stood up and spoken truth to power. His detractors call him too aggressive—we call him “scrappy,” in a good way. Returning him to his seat in 2022 sends a powerful message that Tallahassee wants competent, transparent governance, with its course set by the people and for the people.
Matlow’s opponent, David Bellamy votes for Republicans and gives money to the campaigns of extremists like Matt Gaetz while actually maintaining a home in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. Bellamy’s campaign operates out of the same office as the mayor, and receives strategic guidance from Bryan Desloge, who was voted out as county commission in 2018 due to his cynical and arrogant use of his office to push big developer deals while ignoring his constituents in existing neighborhoods. That Bellamy is using legacy staff from felon Scott Maddox’s campaigns is beyond the pale. Bellamy’s homophobic facebook comments are also deeply troubling.
We voted for incumbent Dianne Williams-Cox in 2018, when she ran on a platform that included smart economic growth wedded to respect for the environment and an impulse to tackle wealth inequity. However, since then Williams-Cox has abandoned every principle she ran on, to the point that almost her entire original staff has left her. Recent revelations about her close relationship to Grow Tallahassee, a conversative pro-development group backed by big developers, have cast doubt on her ability to serve the common good. Certainly, these are the kinds of situations in which the FBI takes interest.
Two excellent challengers have done well in the debates: Adner Marcelin and Shelby Green. Marcelin may have the best chance against Williams-Cox’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in development money—and may have built a broader coalition by focusing on the FSU stadium debacle. Yet Green has been an advocate for important issues—like public transportation, utilities inequities, and energy poverty—not much talked about by other candidates. We have contributed to her campaign and expect to contribute to Marcelin’s. Both of these candidates deserve our long-term support in their political and other endeavors. Check out the websites, their stance on issues, and their advocacy. Would that every race gave voters more than one good choice.
County Commission Races—Vote for Josh Johnson, Damon Victor, David O’Keefe, Will Crowley, Donna Pearl Cotterell
There are several great candidates running for county commission seats, but for purposes of concision we will make just brief notes here about our choices and some worthy alternates—and some duds.
Josh Johnson is the clear stand-out candidate in At Large Group 2—and maybe across all the county races. Not only has Johnson run a smart campaign and put in the work going door-to-door, his background as an educator and his clarity on policy positions make him far and away the best candidate. You can expect from this candidate transparency and good governance.
Unfortunately, the incumbent, Nick Maddox, suffers from just-want-to-keep-being-commissioneritis, is backed by special interests, and dismissed a sexual harassment charge against him in a debate as “a personal issue.” This occurred at the Boys and Girls Club while he was serving there and he was dismissed from his service because of it. There are legitimate questions about Maddox’s character and his judgment.
Donna Pearl Cotterell, our choice for District 1, has a nicely varied background in the arts, finance, and teaching and would make a great commissioner. We feel she would be effective in building coalitions around important issues, understands the value of our current quality of life in Tallahassee, and is resistant to the influence of special interests.
Bill Proctor has been erratic and contradictory in recent years, while proving more and more susceptible to developer influence. It’s no surprise (although kind of a surprise) he is now on the conservative developer PAC Grow Tallahassee’s candidate slate. One of Proctor’s worst moments was to rail against the $27 million FSU stadium deal… and then vote for it. That level of rhetoric versus result provides a compelling case for voting out Proctor in favor of Cottrell.
Will Crowley, our choice for District 2, combines an excellent knowledge of the issues with an energy that offsets his relative lack of experience re political office. He can be trusted to be resistant to special interests, to understand that environmental issues and economic issues are intertwined, and to have useful ideas about wealth inequality in the county.
One of his opponents, Max Epstein, has a vast amount of experience in environmental matters and we hope his entry into politics results in some form of a voice at the table as a policy expert.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Hannah Crow, a right-wing extremist backed by the political hack Skip Foster, a climate change denier who tried to get a homeless shelter closed using faked community comments. Christian Caban is Grow Tallahassee’s selection and also supported by the Chamber of Commerce. Please do not mistake his personable nature as an indication of sophistication or usefulness on policy issues. Caban has bought his way into the conversation with no political experience and has switched political parties from Republican to Democrat seemingly for the cynical purpose of having a chance in this election.
Damon Victor, our pick for District 3, has run outside of the Democratic Party apparatus and accepted only individual donations. Not only does he have entrepreneurial experience of real value to governance, Victor has consistently highlighted the wealth inequities that have led to issues like no sidewalks for large sections of Tharpe Street. He has the life experience and integrity and knowledge to be a great commissioner. Victor also rolled his sleeves up and jumped in when residents behind the Northwood Mall demolition, near where he lives, complained about toxic dust and polluted runoff—it was Victor, not the incumbent who made sure the right people at the city became aware of what was deemed a violation of laws governing suppression of pollutants during demolition.
Meanwhile, the incumbent, Rick Minor, has been a major disappointment. He largely falls into the category of “just wanting to hang on to power.” He has done a few beneficial things, but has totally failed constituents in the Tharpe Street area. This is likely because he is backed by special interests and was Mayor Dailey’s handpicked replacement when Dailey left the county commission. You can expect Minor to largely be in step with Dailey and to be within the same web of insider politics. It’s also an unforgivable cluelessness for Minor to have expressed that the Amazon warehouse would solve the brain drain in Tallahassee. And it works against the people’s interests when Minor shows up on Zoom calls for community discussion of development and basically takes the side of developers, not the neighborhoods he serves—as he recently did for apartments being built near the intersection of Old Bainbridge and Tharpe Street.
Finally, it must be noted that Joey Lamar has been persistent and relentless in knocking on doors and doing the work of seriously engaging with the people of Tallahassee. Although he’s not our choice in this race, he should be commended for running a good campaign. It is blatantly untrue that he and Damon Victor have never done anything for the community—as claimed during a debate by Rick Minor in a truly classless moment by the incumbent.
David O’Keefe is our choice for District 5 because he has a strong grasp of the issues, a strong fiscal responsibility background, and has been on point re the waste of taxpayer money on the FSU stadium. Jay Revell is the mayor’s man and backed by developers. Dustin Rivest is a Trumper. Enough said. Paula DeBoles Johnson is an honorable challenger worth your consideration, with considerable experience in local government. However, in an era when local government staff have in a sense made our local government less democratic, it feels like the wrong moment to vote for this candidate.
School Board Races
School board races can slip under the radar, but they are vitally important whether or not you have children in local schools, as they help create the conditions for the well-being for the future of our community. In terms of education but also the daily life of students, school boards can help promote a broad and inclusive world-view, or a narrow and closed-minded one. Just as one example.
This year, it’s imperative to know that one candidate is a member of Moms for Liberty (aka Moms for Bigotry) and that one incumbent has worked against the interests of children and commonsense safety. Our thoughts below were reached after consultation with experienced, trusted local sources in the education field. We have not listed races that have only one candidate running.
District 1: Alva Striplin is toxic, aligning herself with extremists and should be voted out. Anthony DeMarco is the best choice here. But Marianne Arbulu would be a big improvement, too. Check out both candidates’ websites.
District 3: Darryl Jones has been more than solid and reelecting him would retain someone with a good grasp of the issues who will serve the community well.
District 4: Laurie Lawson Cox is a rightwing extremist who would do immeasurable harm to the students she purports to want to help—do not vote for her. We’re voting for Alex Stemle as the best choice for the board: someone who is knowledgeable, reasonable, and for good policy. Incredibly, Stemle is also the only candidate in this race who has stated he has confidence in the outcome of the 2020 election.
Everything we’ve seen indicates that judge Jason Jones deserves to be reelected. There have been no warning flags and by all accounts he has done his job well.