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In a hard-fought campaign, Matlow and Bellamy see different futures for Tallahassee

Two men in suits sit at a black dais with mics in front of them. There is a 
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Suzanne Smith
WFSU Public Media
Dr. David Bellamy (left) and city commissioner Jeremy Matlow (right) at a candidate forum in the WFSU Studios. Photo taken 7/20/22

Tallahassee City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow says this election could be a turning point for local government. He believes voters are angry about paying $27 million in Blueprint money for repairs to Florida State University’s Doak Campbell Stadium. Matlow thinks the issue could elect more candidates who agree with him.

“It took federal agents removing commissioners from office, it took more people recognizing what’s going on, and then the disaster of Doak Campbell,” he said. “But this year, this election cycle, we have the chance to change our city and county governments.”

Matlow’s challenger for Seat 3, Dr. David Bellamy, agrees it’s a crucial election.

“I think this election may be the most important this city has ever had,” Bellamy said. “What direction does this city really want to go towards progress employing our people that live in poverty? What does this city want to be?”

Bellamy was responding directly to a question from WFSU shortly after a candidate forum. Later that same evening, he spoke at a meet-and-greet with a slate of elected officials who support the money for Doak. A recording of his remarks was provided and posted online by the progressive blog Our Tallahassee, which supports Matlow.

“This may be the most important election the city has ever had, not because of my seat but all of them,” Bellamy said, elaborating on his earlier comments. “And it’s time for us to decide: Are we going to be a community that grows so that our poor can do well? Or are we going to let a national progressive movement take over the city and impose a national narrative on our entire city? We probably need to do things in Tallahassee that are very liberal. We probably need to do things in Tallahassee that are very conservative. But to impose a national narrative on a medium-sized city will be a disaster.”

The meet-and-greet was hosted by the business-backed advocacy group Grow Tallahassee. Bugra Demeril, the developer of the SoMo Walls mural project on South Monroe Street. Demeril chairs the group’s political action committee and emceed the event at which Bellamy spoke, and he says the city commission’s purpose is very simple: infrastructure.

“I think Dr. Bellamy implied that national-level talking points has no place in local politics,” said Demeril. “We have to focus on things that we have power on.”

Bellamy’s reference to a “national narrative” was about Matlow’s previous support for Bernie Sanders, the activist U.S. Senator, for which local Republicans criticized him when he first ran four years ago. Bellamy says he voted for Matlow at that time, out of concern about the city’s high violent crime rate and its 32304 zip code, the poorest in the state.

“So I voted for Jeremy, expecting this to change. And he said he’d work on it. He said he’d fix it, and instead, all he’s done is fight windmills that look like the quote, unquote Establishment,” Bellamy said. “And he has done it ineffectually. A person should know when they’ve been beat[en] and move on to something they can fix because, as he continues to fight this “establishment,” nothing is getting done for the poor, nothing is getting done for those in our high-crime areas.”

Bellamy objects to Matlow’s accusations that certain organizations and city officials are too cozy with businesses that have city contracts. The orthopedic surgeon calls himself a moderate. He says he donated to controversial panhandle Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz because the Florida Medical Association endorsed him, and he questions Matlow’s loyalty to Tallahassee.

“I think that loyalty shows in things such as his willingness to defund the police -- or at least not to commit not to in the city with the highest per capita crime rate in the state and his tendency to keep any growth from Tallahassee, even though we’ve got the poorest zip code in the entire state,” Bellamy said. “So my point is that we need people that are loyal to Tallahassee, not blindly loyal to an extreme end of politics.”

Matlow ignored the jabs in a separate conversation with WFSU.

“You know, this election really comes down to one thing,” he said. “Are we going to continue to be ruled and take direction from developers that are only concerned about their personal profits, or are we going to listen to the people for once, and set policy that works for everyone?”

Former Tallahassee commissioner and mayor Debbie Lightsey supports Matlow and other candidates who opposed the money for Doak. She says it’s hard to justify blaming Matlow for Tallahassee’s high rates of poverty and violent crime when others on the city and county commissions have held office longer. Matlow is running for his second term.

“Big programs and policies take years to implement, and some of these people have been around for a good long while,” she said. “And they apparently don’t bear any responsibility when we get to talking about the next election and who’s qualified and who’s got a track record and whatever. So it’s kind of like talking out of both sides of your mouth, you know?”

The primary election is on August 23rd. As Bellamy noted, some of the races -- including his -- will be decided then, not in the November general election.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.