BridgeJax organizes student discussion with Mayor Donna Deegan at River House

October 11, 2023

On Tuesday evening, Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan visited Jacksonville University (JU) for a discussion with students at the JU River House. The event was organized by BridgeJAX, the JU chapter of BridgeUSA, a youth-led non-profit that creates spaces on high school and college campuses for open political discussions. The discussion was the chapter’s first speaker event, and students filled every seat to meet Jacksonville’s first woman mayor.

BridgeJAX President Adam Calder (’24) delivered opening remarks, thanking Jacksonville University President Tim Cost (’81) for supporting the organization and Mayor Deegan for attending. He highlighted the importance of BridgeUSA and BridgeJAX’s mission of facilitating empathetic and productive conversations about politics.

“It’s a movement powered by young people, young people like me who are really tired of divisive rhetoric,” Calder explained. “Our mission to change the way we do politics in this country is what drives us forward.”

Calder introduced Mayor Deegan, who took a few minutes to address the student audience before reflecting on her campaign. She credited its success to its theme of unity and its positive tone, despite negative attacks by opponents. Mayor Deegan shared that one reason the attacks weren’t effective was because of her deep connection to Jacksonville’s community, both as a resident and a journalist.

“Sometimes those things work because people don’t know enough about the candidates,” she stated. “People in this community have known me my whole life.”

Calder, who moderated the event, asked Mayor Deegan about her approach, as a Democrat, to push policies through a Republican-majority City Council. Remarking on the smooth passage of her '23-'24 budget, Mayor Deegan said focusing on common ground was critical.

“The truth is, in city government, most initiatives have to do with potholes and streets and lights and things that improve peoples’ lives,” Deegan said. “So, what you saw in that budget that passed was largely initiatives that all of us agreed on.”

Deegan and studentsStudents had an opportunity to directly ask Mayor Deegan questions during the event, inquiring about topics that ranged from career advice to her personal opinions. When asked about people who inspired her, she named former Jacksonville University President Frances Bartlett Kinne, who was the university’s first woman president and a friend of Deegan.

Deegan shared, “[She] was just an incredible mentor to me, just in the way that she positively dealt with people, in the way that she was always so optimistic, and in the way that she always encouraged women to do all that they could do.”

The event wrapped with a final, critical question: “How do you think the rest of the Jags season will go?” Deegan replied, “I think we’re going to the Superbowl,” before adding, “I say that not only because I love the Jags, but because maybe it’ll make it a lot easier to get the stadium deal done.”

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