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Endorsement: Tom Patton for City Council, Group 2

Democratic City Councilman John Crescimbeni was voted into office during a special election to fill a vacant seat in 2008. That election coincided with a massive surge in Democratic voter turnout that also helped to sweep Barack Obama into office.

This time around, things have shifted. Crescimbeni's re-election prospects seem quite dim as a Democrat in a decidedly Republican-leaning climate.

Three Republicans are aiming to take on the incumbent, and it's likely that we'll see a May run-off between one of these challengers and Democrat Crescimbeni.

Republican Tom Patton is a former television and radio host who, for about a year prior to launching his campaign for city council, hosted a weekly radio program for the Jacksonville Observer on conservative talk station WBOB.  Naturally, we're a little biased. 

We believe that Patton offers voters a competant and fiscally conservative option.  His knowledge and passion for Jacksonville's future come through loud and clear whenever he speaks to an audience.  He has been co-endorsed by the Jacksonville Chamber, and is backed by former Mayor John Delaney and several other high profile Republican officeholders.

Patton talks often about a shift to the practice of "zero-based" budgeting, which would force entities to provide real justification for their budgetary requests rather than starting with last year's budget and adding on a few percent for growth.  It's a practice that the city must begin to employ if we ever hope to get control of spending, and one that Patton acknowledges will lead to some difficult decisions.   

"Everything will have to be on the table," Patton said recently when answering a question about budget cuts that might eliminate some agencies like the Human Rights Commission.

Neither of the other Republicans, businessmen Paul Martinez and Vince Serrano, offer voters a particularly attractive alternative.

Martinez speaks often about social and national issues, boasting the endorsement of State Senator John Thrasher as well as the co-endorsement of the Jacksonville Chamber.  Strangely, Martinez decided to switch his party registration from Republican to Democrat shortly after Barack Obama took office in early 2009.  About a year later, and just a couple of months before getting into this city council race, Martinez switched back to being a Republican.  The party switching is particularly amusing when you consider some of the sharply negative things Thrasher had to say about his own Democrat-turned-Republican primary challenger, Charles Perniciaro, during the last election cycle.

Beyond the issue of party registration, Martinez seems to lack depth.  He speaks primarily in soundbites about cutting government waste and always mentions how pro-life he is.  It would be better if he focused on relevant local issues like pension reform or growing and expanding the port.

Martinez also has a rather mixed voting history, though not quite as bad as Vince Serrano.  According to the Supervisor of Elections office, Martinez didn't vote in last round of city elections during 2007 and also seems to skip most primary elections, including the 2008 presidential primary. 

Serrano's voting record is hard to figure out.  He hasn't voted in a regular municipal election since 1991.  However, despite being a "native of Jacksonville" it appears that Serrano actually lived in Clay County during most of the last two decades, which would explain why he didn't vote in those elections.  Stranger still, despite talking up a good game about the Tea Party movement, Serrano did not even vote in the 2010 primary or general elections.  Would he have supported Rick Scott and Marco Rubio?  Who knows.  His sudden interest in serving on the city council is confusing, though he does seem to make a point of telling people that he's not doing it for the money at most of the campaign forums we've seen him speak at.  Sometimes we wonder.

The Jacksonville Observer strongly endorses Tom Patton in the At-Large, Group 2 race.  Voters looking for a consistent, thoughtful and engaged representative on the city council will be well served if he is elected.

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