Jessica Davis is the first Black woman to be elected to the DeLand City Commission, and has been on the commission for eight years.
Davis points to the diversity brought to this city during her time on the commission — a more inclusive Police Department, the first Black female firefighter — and the leveraging of resources and connections that brought about construction of The Bridge homeless shelter.
Her challenger, Deirdre Dukes Perry, however, says it’s time for a change. Dukes Perry, also a Black woman, told The Beacon community members have told her they want a change.
“There are people in the community that asked me — we need change. We need you,” Dukes Perry said. “When I say people want change, they’re looking for somebody that’s going to be available, that’s going to be approachable.”
Dukes Perry, who works full time in Orlando at Macy’s department store, is a first-time candidate.
Some members of the community have questioned why two people who are both Black and female are running against each other for a seat on the white-male-dominated DeLand City Commission.
At a meet-the-candidates event hosted by DeLand Pride, a supporter of Davis alluded to it. The other seven candidates for City Commission seats — incumbents and challengers — are all male.
“We don’t need to be running against each other. We need to come together,” Audrey Fletcher-Lee said at the event. Her comments continued, drowning out Perry’s attempt to answer questions.
“I feel Mrs. Fletcher-Lee had some important comments that should be noted,” Davis said in an email response to Beacon questions.
“I don’t feel that anyone’s race should determine what they run for, because if people are looking for a change, it’s not gonna matter who the person is,” Dukes Perry said. “I don’t think that it matters that I’m Black … you have other candidates of the same race that are running for the same seat. And have they been asked that same question?”
Davis and Dukes Perry share something else in common. They’re both registered Democrats.
Dukes Perry is a lifelong resident of DeLand, growing up on South Clara Avenue in Spring Hill. Davis, who originally hails from Daytona Beach, is a longtime resident of DeLand who currently works as a teacher at Southwestern Middle School.
All of the DeLand seats are essentially at-large seats, representing the entire city, and every registered voter living in the city can vote in all DeLand elections. The races are nonpartisan, and will all be on the ballot Tuesday, Aug. 23.
As members of a minority and community members with close ties to the local African American community, both women feel like they help highlight community needs.
“I am the only teacher/educator, youngest, only female and only minority,” Davis said. “So many times, I get calls from individuals in one of these categories, which I am completely OK with. I am an advocate for all and will continue to work with all to help them find solutions.”
“I’m not a politician. I’m just a homegrown girl,” Dukes Perry said at the Pride event. “I believe that there are a lot of times when you have communities or areas that sit outside of our city limits that are excluded from a lot of growth.”
She elaborated in an interview.
“People know me and know who I am. Anytime they see me, you can come up and talk to me,” Dukes Perry said. “One of my goals is, if I’m elected for this position, is to have town-hall meetings, maybe quarterly, so that way, your concerns are not going through this one or this one or that one.”
Davis is proud of accomplishments made during her first two terms, specifically in bettering public communication via the city public information officer, Chris Graham, and the efforts of The Bridge homeless shelter.
“In my next term, I want to accomplish strengthening our public safety, infrastructure improvements and budgeting for the future of DeLand,” Davis said.
Dukes Perry, on the other hand, wants to focus on development, expanding youth programs, and communication with constituents.
“Adults, they pretty much take care of themselves. You know, we make decisions. You know, we’ve lived our lives, we’ve learned from some of the mistakes that we make, but the children don’t always have that luxury,” Dukes Perry said.
She pointed to successful youth programs like the DeLand Dawgs, run by R.J. Simpson, and the Boys & Girls Club, led by Althea Chavers.
“I think we need to get them some help. Programs that will either coincide with what they’re doing, or some new programs where the children will have a bigger variety of programs that they can go into,” Dukes Perry said.
Jessica Davis has $16,735 in campaign contributions, and has spent $15,299. Deirdre Dukes Perry has $3,441, and has spent $2,721. Both war chests are funded mainly through small individual donations.