Just one day after Democratic Jacksonville Sheriff candidate Lakesha Burton challenged Republican candidate TK Waters to a series of three debates, Waters is now accusing Burton of backing out of a debate scheduled for Monday evening.
The debate was supposed to for members of the local police union.
The local Fraternal Order of Police Lodge in Jacksonville told both sheriff candidates they were set to debate at a private event at FOP headquarters at 6:30 p.m. Monday, but that same morning, Burton said she wouldn’t be attending.
The debate stage was set at FOP Lodge 5-30 Monday afternoon, with both candidates’ name cards in place, but Burton’s podium would likely sit empty that evening.
We spoke Burton Monday afternoon and asked why she backed out.
“The FOP leadership and my opponent and the establishment are all in one,” Burton said.
Burton went on to claim she had not been involved in the debate’s planning and that she objected to the seating arrangements, which she said involved supporters of each candidate sitting on opposite sides of the room.
“The culture and the climate of the agency right now is very, very divided. So, to have officers have to come in and basically choose what side they’re gonna sit on, I just think that is not the best thing to do,” Burton said.
But Randy Reaves, head of the local FOP chapter, disputed that claim.
“The only split we’re gonna have is we’re gonna have two tables right in front of both candidates with 16 people of whoever they want to bring,” Reaves said.
Reaves argued the idea that the entire room would be split based on supporters just wasn’t true.
He said he found it ironic Burton called for three debates, just before pulling out of the debate intended to be held specifically for rank-and-file officers.
“It was an FOP endorsement debate for the actual members that they’re gonna be over. And so yes, it is shocking,” Reaves said.
We witnessed Waters entering the debate venue around 6 p.m. Monday evening.
Reaves told us Waters would still be responding to questions even without Burton in attendance.
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Waters declined an on-camera interview for this story but sent us an emailed statement.
“This last minute withdrawal is nothing more than a slap in the face to our officers by Lakesha Burton, coming less than 24 hours after she called for more debates. It’s now clear that Burton is more interested in participating in political stunts than participating in dialogue with the men and women she seeks to lead,” Waters said in the statement.
Reaves told us Burton is still welcome to participate in the debate, if she changes her mind before its 6:30 start time.