Julie Carson’s 2020 latest campaign began in a straightforward fashion — a familiar run for re-election to the Wilton Manors City Commission.
She’d been appointed in 2008 to complete the term of a commissioner who resigned, and then she was elected three times — in 2010, 2012 and 2016.
But the trajectory for another term changed after the surprising death of Mayor Justin Flippen. Carson now joins Scott Newton and Josie Smith-Malave on the Nov. 3 mayoral ticket.
There are three seats on the city commission that will be filled by voters as well.
When Carson’s not serving as commissioner or campaigning, she is a paralegal with Vertical Bridge REIT — a Boca Raton-based company that coordinates legal matters related to cellular and radio towers.
Carson came to South Florida via Missouri and Tennessee.
She grew up in the southeast Missouri Bootheel and would live in Memphis and Nashville for 23 years after that. Although she’s been in Wilton Manors for 18 years, you can still hear the accent in her voice.
Carson attended Middle Tennessee State University, earning a degree in Spanish with a minor in political science and women’s studies.
Family relationships were close and family life important.
Her parents were married for 50 years, before her father died in 2002. Her mother is now 93 and lives in the Independence Hall senior living community in Wilton Manors.
Carson, 59, has two older brothers.
“My parents were wonderful,” Carson said. “And I have very delightful brothers. I had a wonderful family life.”
One of Carson’s brothers and his husband adopted two children and fostered a third. Due to circumstances, when they moved to Arizona, she would end up getting custody of her foster nephew for seven months.
Carson said the experience for her and her mother was challenging and powerful.
“Wilton Manors is such a remarkable community. He went to every city commission meeting [and] every official event. The commissioners embraced him. They held me up and allowed me to provide during a difficult time,” Carson said.
Carson said she was active in a civic and political way even before college.
She was a member of the Volunteer Girls State group in high school — an American Legion Auxiliary organization that teaches about citizenship and government.
She spent several summers in Washington, D.C., teaching other girls about civics and also worked for former U.S. Rep. William Boner, a Democrat who was also a mayor of Nashville.
“I got my feet wet a long time ago,” Carson said. “I realized then how valuable it was.”
Fast-forward to the late 2000s and Carson would become one of the first out lesbians elected in Broward County.
“Now, thank heavens our world has turned around and we’re now just known as true public servants,” she said.
Carson said she enjoyed a close personal and professional relationship with Flippen.
“Justin and I were quite the team,” she said. “We had shared values and a vision for the city. I was excited to run again for commission to accomplish goals with Justin.”
Carson said she’s tried during her years in Wilton Manors' government to be inclusive.
She’s proud of teaching young people a little bit of civics by inviting them to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at commission meetings. She’s also hosted book readings for youngsters during Pride month.
Carson said it’s all part of trying to instill a culture of public service and caring.
“I’ll continue to make sure there is always a place for young people, families and the elderly in Wilton Manors,” she said.
On larger legislative matters, Carson wants to establish a more viable economic base with greater density and height, as well as more transit-oriented corridors. She’s concerned about fiscal health, quality of life, affordable housing, climate change and sea level rise.
Carson said her relationship with the LGBT community has always been a very good one.
She touts her involvement in health care equality for domestic partners of municipal employees, insurance coverage for gender confirmation surgery, a tax equity ordinance, a gender nondiscrimination ordinance involving city vendors and a ban on conversion therapy for minors.
Carson was in support of revising city applications to be gender-neutral and ending the use of gender pronouns in city communications.
She also worked with Equality Florida to lobby for marriage equality and gay adoption in Broward Country.
“I advocated to raise the rainbow flag in Wilton Manors, and I wanted to make sure the transgender flag was included, too,” she said. “That being said, I want to emphasize that a city that is equality-minded benefits everyone. It doesn’t take away anyone’s rights. It enhances everyone’s rights.”
Julie Carson. Photo via Facebook.
‘Always been a bridge’
For nearly a decade, Carson said she never missed a regular city commission meeting. She’s proud of it.
“No one has had that record,” she said. “I’ve always shown up. I’ve always been a bridge and a connection between the constituents and the stakeholders. I always answer phone calls and emails. I’m diligent in giving every person a response.”
Carson has kept her campaign active during the pandemic by spending lots of time on the phone. She said she’s also delivered several hundred masks and hand sanitizers to residents.
“In the old days we knock on doors and stop and talk with people,” she said. “Maybe that will be more prevalent after August — wear a mask, step back from the door and introduce yourself.”
In the meantime, she’ll continue to connect virtually as much as she can.
Carson describes her opponent Newton as a “very dear friend.”
“He is kind, a gentleman and thoughtful. One of the most difficult things has been putting our friendship a little on hold until we’re through this,” she said.
Carson said if she’s elected, she hopes Newton would be involved in advising her on issues important to him.
She said hasn’t known Smith-Malave for very long.
“I never saw her at any meetings until the last [several] months,” Carson said. “Right before Justin died I became aware of her. I don’t know much about her; don’t know her history. She seems to want to serve and I hope that she is aware of the challenges of public service, particularly in the role of mayor.”