By Wes Wolfe
July 24, 2022
Thousands of dollars are flying around a Nassau County Board of County Commissioners race, and it’s not the one that’s caught headlines so far. District 4 Commissioner Thomas Ford is in a three-way open Republican Primary with former Commissioner George Spicer and educator Alyson McCullough.
Going into July, Ford had $22,429 on hand, compared to $17,922 for Spicer and $8,019 for McCullough. District 4 covers most of western Nassau County, usually seen as the less monied side of the county compared to the vast wealth east of I-95 and on Amelia Island.
Ford unseated Spicer in a close election in 2018, 51.4% to 48.6%, ultimately a difference of 356 votes out of 13,232 cast. Spicer last won in 2014, 50.8%-49.2%, over Barry Holloway. That win involved a 176-vote margin.
At a Nassau County Chamber of Commerce forum, Ford responded to reaction to his vote that would’ve allowed Riverstone Properties’ 11 85-foot towers on the south end of Amelia Island, something the Commission voted down and will likely end up back in court as part of a Bert Harris Act challenge.
“I’ve made some recent decisions … but I think it was well thought-out, I sought out a lot of counsel on the decision that I made, and I still stand behind it,” Ford said. “I think it was the right decision. I will own that from here on.”
Part of the issue of growth is maintaining the atmosphere that drew people in the first place to the various parts of the county.
“Growth is coming. Since I’ve been a Commissioner, we’ve done a (Western Nassau Heritage) Preservation program, and that collected over 7,000 points of data, just on the Westside, the historical preservation of the Westside, and vastly, growth was the issue,” Ford said. “They wanted to preserve it and keep it rural — as rural as possible. The county’s gone to great lengths to try to make that happen.”
Spicer kicked off the race by giving $10,000 to the campaign in February and added another $13,000 in May, along with picking up thousands in contributions during every month except for the last one, June. He followed up a $4,500 performance in May, not counting his own money, by raising $800 last month.
In March, Spicer took in a run of $1,000 contributions by a set of pseudo-anonymous conservative organizations including Americans for Liberty and Prosperity, Good Government for Florida, Libertem, Sunshine Leadership and the Sunshine State Freedom Fund.
Other than the usual expenditures for signs and fundraising, Spicer paid Delaware firm Clear Cut Strategies around $4,853 in May for video and web work, design and mail.
McCullough has depended more on small-dollar donors and less money from herself, though she gave her campaign $3,500 in May.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with the legislature throughout the last four or five years to truly incorporate sustainable practices in career tech education, and that’s kind of what was a motivating factor for me to put my hat in for the County Commissioner seat,” McCullough said.
“I faced so many challenges through career tech education — I talked to so many small businesses around the county, and the No. 1 rock we’re all hitting is workforce.”
It’s no secret that Nassau County wages aren’t keeping up with the Nassau County standard of living, causing problems for businesses and organizations who are essentially trying to hire people who can’t afford to live where they work.
“I think that a Commissioner has got to lead the initiative on where do we attract, draw in and build up our current workforce?” McCullough said.
Spicer, a notable proponent of skilled labor occupations, said the county also needs to do something about affordable housing for the service workers that form the base of the county’s cornerstone tourism industry.
“We need to move forward and look toward that, along with transportation — that’s a big factor,” Spicer said. “And taxes. Taxes is another big factor. As you well know, when I served, I never voted for a tax increase, and the reason for that is because I thought there wasn’t a need.”