As I sit here reflecting on my recent run for the Jacksonville City Council, At-Large Group 5, I am filled with a range of emotions. Yes, there is disappointment and embarrassment, but those feelings are overwhelmed by the pride and hope I have for our beloved Jacksonville. This was my first plunge into politics, and it’s been an exhilarating, challenging, and humbling ride.

As a newcomer to the political scene, I faced daunting tasks, among them, raising funds. The importance of money in politics is hard to underestimate - it’s a key to visibility and a measure of credibility. But should it dictate whose voice gets heard? During my campaign, I had several leaders share their belief in my vision but felt the establishment was too strong, and they couldn’t see my campaign as viable. If those very individuals took a chance on what they truly believed in, who knows, we might be having a different conversation today.

Another roadblock for newcomers is a glaring lack of mentorship. Aside from paid consultants, there’s a paucity of experienced hands ready to guide first-time candidates. We need veterans of the game to guide rookies, ensuring the baton is passed to capable and committed hands.

Political parties, by their nature, are both rallying cries and battle lines. They have the potential to unite us, to mobilize us, to inspire us towards shared goals and common dreams. Yet, they can also risk sowing division, cultivating an echo chamber that stifles diversity of thought and compels conformity. Within our local landscape, the Duval Democrats must recognize that their strength lies in their roots – the grassroots. By tapping into this potent wellspring of energy and ideas, they can create a more powerful and representative force for change. Additionally, they must celebrate not only the diversity of their constituents but also a diversity of ideas within their ranks.

On the other hand, the Duval Republicans need to take stock of the effects of their rhetoric and approach. The iron-fisted tactics and negative discourse, I suspect, were factors that contributed to their losses.

Beyond the blue and red of party politics, it’s vital for us all to remember one central truth: most all aspire to a better Jacksonville. Our love for our city transcends party lines, and it’s that shared love that must guide us forward.

A defining moment of my campaign was when I received potentially negative information about my opponent and I made the decision to withhold this information. It wasn’t due to naivety, but a firm belief that politics should be a force for good. We should strive to elevate the discourse, not indulge in character assassination. After all, negativity merely creates a chasm, and that serves no one.

A mantra I held dear throughout my campaign was “Engagement = Power.” Power for you, your family, and your community. Civic engagement is the catalyst for change. We need to facilitate participation by meeting our neighbors where they are and offering the tools necessary to actively shape their communities.

“Building forward” isn’t just a slogan; it’s a commitment to making Jacksonville a city that’s safe, welcoming, and vibrant. Our city’s future relies on our ability to foster such a community. And remember, politics is about relationships. Engaging with council members, local leaders, and community influencers is the foundation of change. Instead of resorting to vilification, let’s just talk to each other – that’s the starting point of real change.

Losing stings, especially when other Democrats clinched wins. But every setback is a setup for a comeback, and every defeat carries lessons. To those who stood by me, your support was invaluable – thank you. This defeat does not signify an end, but rather a detour on our road to a better Jacksonville. I remain resolute in my dedication to serve our community. The campaign may be over, but the mission isn/t. Our neighbors care deeply about Jacksonville’s future, and so do I. This stepping-stone, albeit a jagged one, has shaped my path and reinforced my commitment to serving Jacksonville.

Thank you, Jacksonville, for opening your hearts to me, a novice public servant with a vision. This isn’t a goodbye, but a promise to continue striving to #BuildForward for all our neighbors, together.

Guest editorial by Charles Garrison.