Leon County Commission District 5 seat up for grabs

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With the departure of longtime Leon County Commissioner Kristin Dozier, four candidates are vying to replace her in the District 5 seat.

The voters of Leon County will have their pick between Paula DeBoles-Johnson, David O’Keefe, Jay Revell and Dustin Rivest.

DeBoles-Johnson, a longtime state and local government employee and executive director of a nonprofit she founded, said earlier this year she had five campaign priorities: crime reduction, promoting living wages, increasing support for small businesses, broadband expansion and the environment.

“We use technology in every aspect of our life, every day,” she said. “It’s important that we have affordable Internet services across the entire county, for everyone.”

When she realized several local small businesses folded as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, DeBoles-Johnson said she wanted Leon County to develop educational resources and programs to help teach business owners how to deal with disaster.

“Now that we know where our small businesses are lacking, there’s things that we can put in place to help educate them, to make them stronger in the event of whatever tragedies that might befall them,” she said.

DeBoles-Johnson has earned endorsements from lawyer Ben Crump, the Big Bend Police Benevolent Association and Leon County Schools Assistant Superintendent Michelle Gayle.

O’Keefe said he would have laughed if someone told him two years ago that he would be running for office. He stepped down as the Chief Financial Officer for WFSU Public Media to enter the race.

“I stepped away from the safety and comfort of that position to run for this seat — because our local government’s policies and priorities do not line up with what the people of Leon County need,” he said.

O’Keefe said affordable housing is the biggest issue facing District 5 right now and that there is a path to alleviating the crisis.

“The Leon County inclusionary housing ordinance has never been invoked, and that needs to be addressed immediately,” O’Keefe said. “Our ability to make zoning variances and affect annexations and service expansions should be leveraged to ensure that developers are including housing components that benefit all of our residents.”

O’Keefe’s endorsements include the Florida National Organization for Women, City Commissioner Jack Porter, former Mayor Debbie Lightsey and the Leon County Democratic Environmental Caucus.

Revell, a business owner and former aide to Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey when he was a County Commissioner, said he decided to run because he “can’t help but feel that our local government keeps kicking the can down the road” on issues like affordable housing, crime and jobs.

“We’ve got to make sure Leon County grows in a way that works for everyone who lives here,” Revell said. “That means ensuring affordable options for housing, making small business expansion easier, and preserving the unique environmental character of our community. Our growth policies can and must be better.”

Revell has the backing of the Tallahassee Professional Firefighters union and the Tallahassee Board of Realtors.

Rivest, who owns several businesses in the area, has said the current approach to tackling issues is failing.

“I now struggle to say our current leaders are doing a good job,” he said.

Rivest says the biggest issues the district faces include crime, poverty, the environment and affordable housing.

“I see too often that neighborhoods are becoming interconnected with roadways and increased traffic because of new developments,” Rivest said. “We have to be careful here as we have some great neighborhoods that have kids playing and riding bikes in the front yards where traffic used to be minimal and slow moving, to now a real danger zone with the increased traffic and people just driving way too fast.”

“We have to make sure that the concerns of these neighborhoods are taken into great consideration as our community grows,” he added.

If none of the candidates garner more than 50% of the vote in the Aug. 23 Primary Election, there will be a runoff in the Nov. 8 General Election.

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