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Politics

Reggie Fullwood Fights off Challenger in House Democratic Primary

December 16, 2014 - 6:00pm

Former state Rep. Reggie Fullwood easily fended off a challenge from Jacksonville City Council member Johnny Gaffney in a special Democratic primary election in House District 13.

With all precincts reporting, unofficial returns showed Fullwood carrying almost 64 percent of the vote to 36 percent for Gaffney.

Now Fullwood will face Republican Lawrence Jefferson in a Feb. 17 special general election, which -- in a solidly Democratic district centered on downtown Jacksonville -- puts Fullwood on track to return to the House for a third term.

The special election became necessary after paperwork errors kept Fullwood from qualifying for the November elections.

Fullwood was expected to run unopposed in November, but after two miscues by notaries public, he failed to qualify, and Gaffney and Jefferson challenged him in the special election.

"Despite the snafu with the notaries, I've always had a lot of support from my constituents," Fullwood said. "I have a lot of passion for service, so I felt good that the people would see I'm still worthy of representing them."

The race drew just 5,561 voters for a turnout rate of 10.3 percent, according to the Duval County supervisor of elections.

Fullwood closed with a burst of fundraising. He collected $89,294 in cash and in-kind contributions from Nov. 15 through Thursday, giving him a total of $130,694 throughout the campaign, according to the state Division of Elections. He received $11,000 in cash contributions and $7,323 in in-kind contributions from the state Democratic Party during the nearly month-long period -- after earlier getting a $10,000 check from the party.

Fullwood also received contributions from the Florida Education Association, the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the Florida AFL-CIO, the HCA hospital chain, the Florida Insurance Council, the Florida Medical Association and companies affiliated with Walt Disney World.

Gaffney collected $8,500 from Nov. 15 through Thursday, giving him an overall total of $42,365.

The totals for both candidates, however, only reflect money raised for their campaign accounts and do not include money that outside groups spent to try to influence the primary.

For instance, among Gaffney's contributors was Florida Federation for Children Chairman John Kirtley, who gave Gaffney $1,000 thanks to his support for the state's tax credit scholarship program for low-income children. The federation also sent out mailers attacking Fullwood for causing the special election and for drawing the great majority of his contributions from what it termed "Tallahassee special interests."

Fullwood, who has opposed the scholarships as de facto vouchers that drain funding from the public schools, said the debate over the scholarship program dominated the campaign.

"Once (the Florida Federation for Children) jumped in, it became a central issue," Fullwood said. "And I think the voters of the district are Democratic voters. It's clear they support public education --- and I think the voters spoke tonight."

Fullwood is the executive director of the nonprofit Metro North Community Development Corporation Inc. In 1999, he became the youngest person ever elected to the Jacksonville City Council, where he served two terms. Gaffney has served on the City Council since 2007 and will complete his second term next year. He'll be ineligible to run for a third term. Gaffney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

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