Editor’s Note: This is part of a series on women candidates running for down-ballot offices in the 2020 election.
Who: Jacquelyn McMiller
What: McMiller, a former social services worker and longtime court stenographer, is running to become the next mayor of Fort Myers, Florida. If elected, she would be the first Black woman to ever hold the position, and only the second woman ever elected to it. The seat opened up when current mayor Randy Henderson resigned in order to run for Congress, 2 years shy of his term’s end. She’s running against fellow candidate Kevin Anderson.
Where: Fort Myers, Florida, a tourist city in the southwestern part of the state with a population of roughly 62,300.
When: Election Day is Nov. 3. Early voting has already begun in Florida.
“There’s a time, I think, when everyone faces a calling,” McMiller says. She believes hers is to become Fort Myers’ first Black woman mayor.
After all, the first-time candidate for political office notes, the timing couldn’t be better — in fact, she describes it as “almost serendipity” to vy for this position amid the 100-year anniversary of the 19th amendment’s ratification, which gave some women in the U.S. the right to vote for the first time.
[Related: 100 Years of Power — Slow Burn of Progress]
A century later, she says voters have even described her womanhood — and with that, perhaps a better understanding of others’ feelings — as a boon in these times. “From the feedback I’ve had, they need that empathy in place — in city government, in our leadership,” she says.
But McMiller isn’t jumping into campaign life just for the sake of making history — she has significant changes she wants to make for Fort Myers residents, if elected.
Her priorities are also timely. McMiller’s campaign is focused heavily on law enforcement reform, climate change mitigation, and economic recovery as the coronavirus crisis continues.
For much of her life, McMiller has had a front-row seat to the myriad problems within America’s judicial and social work systems. Her parents adopted and fostered other children, which instilled in her a sense of commitment to others, she recalls. “Seeing my mom do that … it was wonderful. It called me into” a life of public service.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Hodges University in Naples, Florida, then embarked upon a career as a child protection investigator and field supervisor. After that, she earned a certification in court reporting before launching her own business, McMiller Court Reporting Services, through which she was appointed the official court reporter for Collier County. She retained that position for over 16 years.
These experiences, she says — especially her years of work in local courts — taught her about the systems, policies and processes that govern us, and made her prioritize “criminal justice reform, especially around equality in our sentencing” and arrest procedures.
While she acknowledges that, as mayor, she may not have direct leverage to effect change, “I would have a voice in helping those who make legislative changes ,” she says. Her platform emphasizes community policing, implementing anti-corruption policies and the reinstatement of a citizens review board “with people who are savvy enough to look at the facts and ensure that the law was followed.”
McMiller says her goal is to “ensure that our city not only feels safe, but is safe” — for everyone, regardless of color. She also touts affordable housing initiatives and programs designed to reduce recidivism rates as parts of her criminal justice platform.
Inequities between demographic groups also show themselves in who is most impacted by climate change and infrastructure failures, McMiller says. “In southwest Florida, we have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We have to take care of them,” she says. But problems such as a local sewage spill, which sent over 180,000 gallons of raw sewage spilling into a creek in an underprivileged neighborhood, make that tough.
If elected, McMiller would allocate tax money toward infrastructure overhauls and partner with local clean-water organizations. She has also vowed to refuse campaign contributions from businesses working in “environmentally abusive industries.”
A third goal for McMiller is helping the city toward “recovering from the Covid-19 crisis” economically. “Families right now are suffering,” and the lifted statewide moratorium on evictions isn’t helping — especially when small businesses are closing and scores of Paycheck Protection Program loans went to larger companies.
The pandemic has exacerbated an already existing problem, McMiller says. “Over 40 percent of Fort Myers residents are working poor, and nearly half of city residents cannot afford an unexpected $500 bill” — which is why, as mayor, she would pilot the Guaranteed Income Project. With support from Humanity Forward, a nonprofit run by former Presidential candidate Andrew Yang, she would issue monthly payments to residents to “stimulate spending on Main Street and generate much-needed state and local revenue.”
Of course, one significant roadblock stands in the way of her numerous aspirations: Anderson, her competition, a retired police officer and present councilman in Fort Myers. He bested her in the August 18 primary, but only by several percentage points — he garnered just about 40 percent of the vote, while she pulled in roughly 36 percent.
He has, however, significantly outperformed her in terms of fundraising, raking in $114,490 while she has accumulated $34,984 as of mid-October. Indeed, McMiller pointed to fundraising as her biggest campaign challenge. But to a certain extent, she sees this as a point of pride. “I’m for the working people — I’ve had people give me $5 when they only had $10,” she says, adding that seeing would-be constituents give when they have little to spare is “the most humbling experience I could ever have. A million dollars couldn’t replace that.”
In addition to those contributions, she’s also received endorsements from state-level Democratic organizations, politicians and fellow candidates — despite the race for mayor of Fort Myers being, officially speaking, a nonpartisan affair.
McMiller says the support she’s received is a testament to the principle that has informed her life of public service, her campaign platform, and even her recent push to directly help ensure that citizens vote correctly — that “I believe and know that people matter.”
She adds, “Without people, we’re nothing.”