A City Deferred: Glorious Johnson's Kick-off Speech

April 21, 2010 45 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In a kickoff event held at the Historic Five Points Theatre on the evening of Thursday, April 15, 2010, Councilwoman Glorious Johnson outlined her vision for Jacksonville's future. She also got a few digs in at opponents, whether mayoral or establishment types. Set in Historic Five Points, the emotional, fiery and at times stirring speech served as the kickoff of her campaign and the firing of a few shots over the bow. MetroJacksonville was there to witness the commencement of what promises to be the most colorful campaign of the election and the people who are supporting her.

Councilwoman Johnson was joined by her daughter and grandson, and her all-volunteer grassroots campaign team.  Over 140 residents of Jacksonville attended the event, with some traveling from as far away as Miami and Tampa.  The audience for the event, which reflected the diversity of Jacksonville’s people, attended as the result of word-of-mouth advertising and popular volunteer-led efforts on Facebook and Twitter.
Councilwoman Johnson’s speech, entitled “A City Deferred,” was a stirring recitation of the challenges faced by our people as we stand at the crossroads of history.  Will Jacksonville continue on its path to mediocrity, or will a new generation of bold leaders stand up for and with the people to deliver on the promise of Jacksonville’s great potential?  Based on the words spoken by the Councilwoman and the reaction of her dozens of supporters present, the time has come to deliver on Jacksonville’s promise and to stop deferring our greatness.

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Glorious Johnson is the election's wild card.  No doubt about it.  Everyone who is aware of the tornado that is the illustrious Miss Johnson knows that the women is nothing if not surprising.  Surprising enough that she might get the Democratic vote, and depending on her Republican adversary, surprising enough to possibly win.

Miss Johnson is one of those people that it would be foolish to underestimate, as her life so far has already been a record of doing everything that she was told she couldnt do, and then improvising on what to do once she got there.  She is fearless, (maybe even reckless when it comes to her own safety) and she is an impassioned, empathetic speaker.

She is also a Columbia Graduate, an educator, a musican, and a woman whose intelligence is only partially disguised by the aura of earthy folksy aw shucksyness that she has carefully inculcated.  In our board meetings with Glorious we have often found ourselves getting two for the price of one with her:  One minute all wide eyed and asking questions, and then once she figures out at what level everyone else is informed, the flinty eyed realist comes out with a series of no kidding summations and decisions.  Don't let the infectious laughter fool you.  The brain is ticking at all times.

Jimmy Midyette (a long time poster on MetroJacksonville), the attorney whose work at Legal Aid was preceded by a run for council, and a fellow with deep democratic roots in the city told us that he wants to see Glorious elected:

"I'm supporting Glorious Johnson because she is that rare leader who walks her talk.  She has only ever conducted herself with honesty, integrity, openness and transparency as a member of the City Council.

She was the first council member to make all of her emails public on the city’s website. When you live your values and put them to work for the people, you have nothing to fear and nothing to hide.  This is Glorious.

As Councilwoman, drafted a bill to restore funding to Legal Aid to keep two full-time attorneys on the job helping homeowners fight a foreclosure process that's stacked against home ownership and stacked against justice.

Glorious Johnson has undertaken many initiatives over the past seven years to improve the quality of life and the quality of government in Jacksonville.  She’s been swimming upstream.  Against the entrenched powers.  Against the bad old boys."

In fact he believes in her enough to have joined the campaign.  As has long time friend and adventure partner, Diane Melendez.  Melendez and Midyette, long time bloggers in the city bring with them a bit of a think tank.

The crowd at the theatre is not like the crowds that have been gathering at the other candidate kickoffs.  Its more diverse, frankly.  More older people.  More young people.  Definitely more racially different people are gathered at the Five Points Theater.  It also differs in the lack of millionaire/billionaire supporters populating the front rows.  There are 140 people at this kickoff, the most gathered so far, and there is a definite air of hometown democracy at play in the room.  Midyette confidentially points to a few republicans that showed up to support their old sweetheart Glorious, as well as the skeptical Democrats who seem as enthusiastic as anyone else.  This is the diversity that he notices, naturally.

"We don't have any 'big names'", he told me, maybe a little defensively, maybe a little boastfully, I honestly can't decide.  But the energy of the event still garnered a check from one of the local big boys, W.W. Gay, a few days later.

Glorious is introduced by Melendez and Midyette.  Her speech, powerful at times, scolding at others, is moving, provocative and mobilizing.  In fact, it was overcoming for her.   Afterwards, Melendez finishes, and the crowd cheers and the evening draws to a chatty energized, gossipy finale over cubed cheese and veggie platters.

We are counting on Glorious to add the drama to this campaign, and she's off to a good start.

by Stephen Dare

Transcript of the Address by Councilwoman Glorious Johnson

[Opening Remarks and Preamble: What’s the Matter with Jacksonville?]

Fellow residents of Jacksonville –  

We are here today to focus on the future of our community.  Jacksonville, as we all know, is a city that has the potential for greatness, but – time after time – we have squandered our opportunities and blindly gone down the wrong paths.  Blessed with its superlative natural setting and a distinctive blend of creative and talented people, there is no good reason that Jacksonville should not be the world-class city that so many of us have talked about during our lifetime..

We sense, correctly, that we do live in a very special kind of environment, a unique mixture of our history as a community and the human energy, creativity, and resourcefulness of our historically diverse population.  Looking at this history – going back to the rise of the port of Jacksonville at the end of the Civil War and the rebuilding of the city after the Great Fire – people of every kind of background have deliberately chosen to come here from other states and countries with this positive spirit – to begin a new family, get a better job, complete an education, to start a new business, or to found a school or a church.  It is these traditions, and in our rich diversity of people, that the real promise of Jacksonville’s future prosperity lies.

Yet, the reality of Jacksonville as a community continues to belie these hopes.  Despite all of our natural advantages, we continue to lag behind other comparable communities in our efforts to educate our children, expand our economic base, and achieve a better quality of life for all of our residents.  Why is this?  What is the matter with Jacksonville?    

Not so very long ago, after first winning an NFL franchise and then successfully hosting the Super Bowl in 2005, many people believed that Jacksonville’s time finally had come.  With all of the attendant favorable publicity from this event, people across the country were looking at our city with a new appreciation of its potential.  Here at home, we had passed the Better Jacksonville Plan and had begun to address many of the city’s most pressing infrastructure needs.  Likewise, economic development funds were set aside for the city’s long-neglected northwest neighborhoods.  At about the same time, Jaxport was formulating ambitious plans for long term expansion that would position this city in the forefront of world commerce.  At long last, positive changes seemed to be in the offering for all of Jacksonville’s residents, and it was about time.  Continuing problems notwithstanding, people were finally beginning to feel good about their city.

Education and Public Safety

Now, five years later, Jacksonville seems more like a community in crisis than America’s next world-class city.  Despite the ever-expanding overburden of state-mandated testing and bureaucracy, our children –  our greatest and our most precious resource – are not staying in school to get the education that they will need to succeed in life.  Our teachers are called upon to do more and more with less and less, and – rather than empowering them to make a real difference in the lives of their pupils – we seem determined to break the spirits of even the most dedicated instructors.

Despite some progress, too many students are still marginalized by a system that seems designed around the concept that “one size should fit all,”  however badly it may work for the individual child.  In the absence of concerned parents and families, many students are allowed to simply drift through our classrooms – learning to live without discipline, respect for legitimate authority, or motivation in their lives –  until they “graduate” into the criminal justice system.        

Nor, apparently, are even our better students safe in Jacksonville, whether they are quietly doing their homework in their bedrooms or riding in a car to visit a friend.  What kind of community do we have when the prospect of death by random shootings can seem like more of a concern for some students than looking forward to graduation parties and the Senior Dance?  Moreover, even if they should, they persevere in school, for far too many of Jacksonville’s students; there is a dearth of good jobs when they graduate.
Jobs and the Local Economy

When it comes to jobs, Jacksonville has made some progress, and that should not be ignored, yet the actual statistics paint a very disturbing gap between the promise and the reality.

City Finances
Likewise, the city has failed to adequately plan to meet its own financial obligations.  As I have served on the City Council, I have seen firsthand how we have failed, repeatedly, to set aside the necessary funds as required by law to provide for the retirement of the Jacksonville’s police and firefighters.  Similarly, we have shortchanged ourselves in terms of our ability to adequately maintain revenues by failing to take timely action that might have forestalled much of our present financial distress.

Through the questionable practices of the JEDC, we have lost literally tens of millions of dollars of city funds, with little if any chance of eventual recovery.  At the same time, we have failed to utilize (or have misappropriated) millions of dollars in Federal pass-through finds to improve the city’s economy and grow its tax base.  Finally, we continue to be poor stewards in terms of enforcing the city’s agreements with private vendors, the ongoing Landfill debacle and the construction of the new County Courthouse I offer as perfect cases in point.  In all of this, we are told – over and over again – that the city has no money and needs to raise fees and impose yet more taxes on the poorest of its residents, while everywhere we look, we see blatant examples of extravagance and waste for the privileged few.
A Divided Community

As I have said, Jacksonville has a richly diverse – if relatively unknown – history of people from different races, nationalities, and backgrounds working together to build a better future for themselves and their families.  Just look at the faces of the people around you here today.  In far too many ways, however, we remain a troublingly divided community.  As Ron Littlepage has remarked (9), Jacksonville often seems to act as though it is really two cities: the old core city with its ring of neglected and increasingly isolated neighborhoods on the north side of the Saint Johns River and the affluent Edge Cities rising on the prosperous southeast frontier.  If anything, the promise of the more economically united and culturally unified community that so many of us looked forward to experiencing in the afterglow of the Super Bowl seems much further away than it did in 2005.  What happened?  How did so many things seem to go wrong?
Planning and a Coherent Vision of the City’s Future

A major part of the reason for our community’s continuing inability to capitalize on its many assets has been its lack of an overall vision of what kind of a city it wants to be in the future.  Aside from its natural position as a national and international transportation, hub – more on this in just a few minutes – Jacksonville should be an eco-tourism center second to none.  Yet, because of our lack of visionary leadership and our inherently flawed planning process, we have proceeded in exactly the opposite direction, making decisions that favor the well-connected few at the expense of the collective future of the entire city.  Indeed, in describing the waythat decision-making presently “works” in Jacksonville, it would not be inaccurate to say that the immediate “wants” of the well-connected few always seem to outweigh the long term “needs” of the many.

Reflecting an equally fundamental flaw in our process of government, planning in Jacksonville has almost always assumed a purely facilitative role as opposed to its primary role in anticipating better possible future options for our residents.  Part of our present economic dilemma, in fact, stems directly from the fact that we have capitulated to development-related special interests for so long that we have forgotten what a real, well diversified economic base is actually like.

In a similar fashion, we have failed in our various efforts to revitalize our city’s downtown, neglecting – once again – to capitalize on our existing opportunities and misunderstanding even the most basic elements of urban design.  Worst of all, in one of the most tragic and disreputable acts ever committed in the name of “progress”  in Jacksonville, we not only totally destroyed the historic community of LaVilla, but also eliminated the very kind of “urban ecology” that is so necessary in making viable downtowns.  Yet, having apparently learned nothing from this experience, we are about to do exactly the same thing to the small community of Mayport in order to put more money in the pockets of the favored few.  Dear God in Heaven, what is WRONG with us?!      
Providing New Leadership for Jacksonville

Well, given Jacksonville’s unfortunate history of missed opportunities and divided efforts, what can be done?  As many of you have been waiting for so long to hear me say, the one thing that can be supplied at this point is new leadership.  To this end, I have declared my candidacy for the position of mayor.    

As some you know, I have been criticized for suggesting (pause and laugh) that what Jacksonville needs a new paradigm of leadership.  Well, to this accusation I happily plead “guilty as charged.” However, what do I mean by this?  What, in practical terms, would a truly new approach to leadership in our community look like?

First of all, I truly believe that Jacksonville needs a mayor who believes in communities and people.  We need a mayor who can unite formerly opposed factions and bring people together, a leader who is not a divider.  A mayor must lead, but true leaders do so in an inclusive way, taking the community with them.  At this difficult time in our history, Jacksonville desperately needs a unity of purpose and vision.  The bad old days of “special City Hall deals for special people” – at the expense of everyone else – must come to an end.  Moreover, above all else, we must embrace one another with a generous spirit of humanity, welcome, tolerance, and understanding.

My leadership style will be inclusive – seeking the skills and promoting the aspirations and inspirations of others.  I want to be defined by what I stand for, not for what I stand against.  I will demonstrate and maintain my leadership through having a clear vision and goals for the City of Jacksonville and every part of it - and being transparent and accountable for it.  
[An Outline of My Agenda When In Office]

Putting the City’s Financial House in Order
Given the serious economic problems that the City of Jacksonville is now facing, my first priority as the new Mayor of Jacksonville will be to conduct a thorough and fully transparent audit of the city’s finances.  Before imposing new taxes and fees on those least able to pay them – as others have done in the recent past – I will do everything within my power to accurately determine what the city’s account books are actually telling us.  With this data, my staff and I will carefully balance existing and projected city revenues against real community priorities and, only then, determine what new sources of revenue – if any – may be required.  Based on my own tenure on the City Council, however, it is my belief that no new taxes will be needed, and that there are adequate sources of money within the city’s existing reserves to meet our current needs.(10)  Again, I would like to stress that this will be a completely open and transparent process, and I invite all of you to contribute your own ideas and insights to this process.
Jobs and Economic Development

At the same time that we are making sure that the city’s finances are on a more sound and sustainable footing, we will be making a drastic overhaul in the way that we go about creating new jobs in this community.  Our city’s tax base, after all, is ultimately dependent on the continuing prosperity of its residents and its businesses.  

To accomplish this, we need better ways to implement strong community economic growth throughout this city.  As opposed to the “trickle down” model of economic stimulation that past city administrations have attempted to employ – more often without much tangible success (11) – we need more inclusive, community-based opportunities to better help and support our youth in employment training and in securing decent paying, entry-level jobs.  In particular, this includes developing better links to our local business community.

Likewise, the current “model” of economic development in Jacksonville must be changed.  What Jacksonville needs, once again, are not additional million-dollar taxpayer-funded giveaways for speculative “magic bullet” type developments – sweetheart deals such as the Shipyards fiasco for the well-connected friends of City Hall – but projects that contribute directly to the creation of a more diversified and sustainable economic base.  Under my leadership, we will link the concept of economic development to our comprehensive plan, and then make sure that the proper organization is put in place to make this happen.

“Welfare for the rich” may still be all the rage on Wall Street, but it no longer plays well here in River City.

Also, we need a mayor who can – and will – deliver a more accountable and affordable form of government for all of Jacksonville’s residents and businesses, keeping its taxes and fees low enough that people are not rated out of their homes or small firms driven to bankruptcy.  In doing this, we will protect those in the community who are least able to bear the ever-rising charges that an out of control government might impose on them.  As I have demonstrated as a member of the City Council, I will be a mayor who strives to keep tax rates down.

If we truly aspire to become a first tier American city, Jacksonville needs to empower many more of our most at risk young people, giving them back their hope, their dreams, and a productive future.  To do this, we need to build an educational platform from which they can excel and a learning environment that encourages high expectations and accomplishment.  In Jacksonville, 18 percent of those aged under 25 are not in school, do not have a job, and are not in skills training programs.  This is simply not acceptable.  We need, at a minimum, community and business-sponsored programs that better match young people with education and job opportunities.  In the new, hyper-competitive global economy, we cannot afford to leave any of our young people behind.

As your next mayor, I will do everything within the power of my office to help the Duval County School System accomplish their statutory mission to educate all of our children.  Doing this will not always be easy or without controversy, but our future depends on it.

Public Safety

Our neighborhoods must return to being safe places for our families to live, work, play, and worship.  Once upon a time – actually, not so very long ago – we relied on people’s personal responsibility and their sense of community pride to uphold public order.  Today, in too many areas of Jacksonville, this has changed.  In these places, the streets are not safe, schools are no longer quiet sanctuaries of learning, and even the youngest children have learned to be apprehensive in their homes.

This must come to an end.  We, together as a community, must say “no” to criminal behavior wherever it exists.  We must say “no” to drugs.  And we must say a particularly emphatic “no” to the gangs that have become such a drain on the health of our neighborhoods, our economy, our emotions, and our families.  While we thank the JSO for its recent focus on the streets as we work towards a common goal of safety in our neighborhoods, much more remains to be done.  Fairly speaking, our Jacksonville Journey has barely begun, and there remain many uncertainties as to what it can accomplish.  But we must try.  As you mayor, I will not be satisfied until no child has to cower in fear in his or her own home.  Together, we must end this cycle of violence and wasted lives.  

Transportation and Infrastructure

As I observed a few moments ago, Jacksonville remains a much-divided community.  Historically, much of that division reflects our lack of adequate transportation options for those who have been isolated and economically marginalized by a one-sized-fits-all approach to planning.  If Jacksonville is to become a truly great American city that we wish it to be, we need to ensure a choice of transportation options for those going to and from their work, attending school, or visiting our community.  Transportation – when properly conceived – can become the great unifier of a city.

Beyond issues of social justice and increased access to jobs and resources, there are other reasons for thinking anew about our transportation system.  Under the dual pressures of ever-rising fuel costs and environmental quality, we all recognize that totally depending on the automobile, and buses, as our only serious mode of travel is simply not sustainable.  Other communities/cities – Tampa, Orlando, and Miami – have already begun to put into place the critical transit infrastructure that they will need.  Why haven’t we?  Moreover, we have this absolutely wonderful resource – the St. Johns River – flowing through Jacksonville that begs to be exploited as a transportation corridor and activity center.  Why aren’t we doing a better job?  What’s the matter with Jacksonville?!

As your next mayor, one of the centerpieces of my administration will be to create a 21st century public transportation system that works for everyone in Jacksonville.  Building on the recently completed Integrated Transportation Study(12), it is my intent to put in place a truly workable public transit system for Jacksonville’s Downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods and to integrate such a facility into a fully functional regional system.  Fortunately, many of the planning studies – and funding sources – are already in place for this to happen.  All that is required is the leadership and the vision to make it so.

Recreating A Shared Vision of Community

What will I do as your next mayor to make all of these things happen?  At the very center of all of this, as I say, is the question of who has a better vision with respect to our shared future in this special, amply blessed place.  Will we continue, as those holding power have done for so long in the past, to deliberately play off one group of people against another, or will we seek a broad and representative consensus about what needs to be done?  Will we continue to operate this city as though its main objective is to financially reward the well-connected few, or will we act as elected officials act as true stewards of the public good?  And, finally, in terms of uplifting a shared vision of the city that Jacksonville can become, will our agenda be as broad and as diverse as our people or as narrow and mean-spirited as those who have preyed upon them in the past?  
So, what is my vision of the future?  Looking at the Jacksonville of tomorrow, I see a community where every child is physically secure, well educated, and valued by every one of us as the true repository of all of our best hopes and dreams.  I see a community with a diverse, sustainable economic base that provides good jobs and incomes for anyone with the training and the ambition to go after them.  Working toward these ends, I see an administration that supports the business community through better regulations, offers greater support for tourism and events, and puts the appropriate focus on the export sector and business development.  

When I look out across Jacksonville, I see in my imagination a magnificent river and estuarine system, the historic interface between our people and nature.  I also see an underutilized link between the neighboring communities in this region and the wider world of commerce and tourism.  When I look at the Downtown and our older urban core neighborhoods, I see a vital, functioning urban ecology, where people and commerce are joined together by a seamless, multi-modal transit system that works for all of the people of this district.  I also see safe, well-maintained neighborhoods throughout the Jacksonville area, whose attractive town centers are also linked together by multiple modes of transit.

Putting all of these things together into a long-term blueprint for sustainable success, I envision a greatly strengthened planning function for the City of Jacksonville.  Building on the best of past proposals and studies – and drawing on the creative vision of a new generation of urban design professionals – the time has come to get serious about the kind of city that we wish to live in.  It is time, I believe, for Jacksonville to begin planning for the good of the many as opposed to the private gain of the favored few.  

Finally, I see a community in which we are justifiably proud of our richly diverse heritage, celebrate our past, and create a future that is worthy of our best selves.  I see a community that values culture, music, and the arts – and where everyone has better access to these things.  Most of all, I see a community that works together to solve our common problems and to create a new kind of sustainable American city.

A City Deferred: What Happens if We Do Nothing?
But what if, instead of promoting this vision, we do nothing?  What happens to such dreams if another of the same tired, corrupt, “insider” crowd is elected to office?

What happens to a city deferred?

Borrowing from the American poet Langston Hughes, what happens to a community when hope is lost, when essential reform is always sidestepped, and the status quo seems to forever endure?
Does the hope of its people dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or does their resentment fester like a sore?

Do its children suffer from senseless acts of violence, no matter where they run?

Does the corruption in its city government stink like rotten meat?

Or do its residents’  expectations of a better future crust over like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe their sense of injustice just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?
This will be an amazing campaign.  We are going to have hundreds of people on the ground.  We are going to be on the doorsteps of the homes of our citizens, in town halls, , and executive boardrooms.  As Bob Dylan, another great American poet once remarked, we will be talking about the future of this community in “dime stores and bus stations” and everywhere else.

We are building a coalition of people who are committed in the community and in their own businesses.  It is a coalition of those who are old enough to know the history of this community (and are tired of watching it repeat itself!) and well-motivated, enthusiastic newcomers to our area.  Whether we are black or white, rich or poor, whether we live in Old Ortega, Durkeville, or in a high-rise condominium at Southpoint, we are calling for a new and more inclusive way of thinking about Jacksonville.  

It is time to fire up, to organize, to be ready.  In this historic effort, we have the opportunity to unleash the talents and skills of our young, our elderly, and people of every age in between.  To join together in our diverse backgrounds, to express our common cultural values, to work together – finally – as one community.  I ask you to join us, stand by us, and to support this effort in every way that you can.  

For 7 years, I have fought against corruption, influence peddling and backroom dealing. I have watched the city government fail its people again and again, saying each election year 'we will get it right next time'. I decided that it was high time that Jacksonville was able to vote for someone who means it. "