‘I don’t think I could have asked for much better’: Mayor Deegan looks back on first 100 days, ahead to challenges

Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan has now been in office for just over 100 days.

The city’s first female mayor has already faced many high-profile issues since she was sworn into office three months ago, from a racist mass murder to plans for the stadium, and a hurricane threat.

On Wednesday, she spoke with News4JAX about her role and how she feels about it so far.

One change News4JAX has noticed since Mayor Deegan has been in office, the City Hall doors have been opened where they had been closed in the past. It’s something Deegan said she’s trying to do across the whole city.

“That’s what I want to be,” Deegan, a Democrat, said Wednesday. “I mean, I want to be out there with people. I don’t want people to think I’m sitting up here in some sort of tower. And I gotta tell you, Jim, it’s easy to insulate yourself up here if you want to. If you want it to be insulated, you can be insulated. So it’s absolutely an intentional decision that I want to be down there. And I want to be walking around and talking to people.”

Deegan has also been holding community meetings across Jacksonville and getting input from thousands of people.

RELATED: Mayor Deegan proposes 95% increase in budget for city’s Mowing & Landscape Maintenance Division

“I think that’s a big deal,” she said. “I don’t think any mayor has done that before. And it was important to me to connect with people.”

She was able to get a budget passed unanimously, but she hasn’t gotten everything she wanted from the city council. She did lose two key appointments — Randy DeFoor for general counsel, and Al Ferraro for the neighborhoods department — but for the most part, she is working well with the council and focusing on working across the aisle.

“I think we have a lot of folks over there who really want to move the dial on a lot of the same issues that I do. And that’s really good news for Jacksonville. So I’m really pleased so far,” Deegan said.

There have been very emotional issues as well, like the shooting where three Black residents were murdered in a racist rampage at a Dollar General store.

“I’m still very committed to making sure that that we don’t let that just go and not continue to talk about ways that we can erase racism from our community,” Deegan said.

One issue that many think could be her legacy is the stadium renovations. The city and the Jacksonville Jaguars are currently engaged in negotiations over how much tax money will be used to fund around $2 billion in renovations to the stadium and surrounding area.

“I don’t really know if that’s true,” Deegan said, referring to tying her legacy to what happens during negotiations. “I think that one thing that I do hope is that people say that I want to be a city with vision, I want to be a city that this doesn’t look one year or five years out, I want to be a city that looks 20 or 30 years out.”

100 days may not be much in the scheme of things.

News4JAX asked Political Analyst Rick Mullaney of JU’s Public Policy Institute to weigh in on Mayor Deegan’s performance so far.

“Clearly the budget was the number one…However, stylistically she demonstrated great communication skills, a really strong work ethic out in the community and a clear passion for what she’s doing. Those skills will serve her well in the days ahead because the big public policy challenges and the competing demands lie ahead,” Mullaney said.

RELATED: Mayor Deegan pushes for direct flights from Jacksonville to London during her trip overseas to lure businesses

Deegan said she is just grateful the community has connected with her at City Hall.

“You know, the number one goal that I had coming in here, in addition to all of the plans on infrastructure, and downtown, and all those things we talked about, was to try to bring people into City Hall to create more of an environment where people felt connected to their city government,” she said. “The first 100 days, I don’t think I could have asked for much better.

MORE: Deegan says most don’t want to spend public money on stadium upgrades, but most don’t want to lose Jags. What do you think?

News4JAX readers had mixed reactions to her first days in office:

“Mayor Deegan has out performed any of her predecessors! She is trying to bring unity and hope…..while working for the people of Jax!” one person wrote to News4JAX.

“Unsure. The Jaguars stadium issue is not settled. I’d like to hear more support for police. I appreciate her community meeting approach,” another reader wrote.

“I’m not sure what she has accomplished, other than some town hall meetings and submitting an inflated budget,” said Gary Hughes.

“I congratulate her on her diversity. She has allowed Republicans into her administration. And she is holding town meetings with all Jville,” said Mary Willey.

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