To view E. Denise Lee as just another politician would be a mistake. This veteran of political wars has proven herself a force to be reckoned with in Jacksonville politics. Not just because of her longevity in office(Lee has held public office since the age of 30, she is now 62), this grandmother is a force to be reckoned with politically because when she makes a decision to take action, there is no stopping until the vote is taken and the funding is in place.
Denise, as she is referred to by friends and adversaries, currently represents City Council District 9 in northwest Jacksonville, Florida. And even as her district contains homes worth more than $200,000, that same district is home to some of poorest residents of Jacksonville with the highest crime per capita. In zip code 32209, highest average income is $30,000. The rest of Jacksonville: $50,000-plus.
For the last four years, Lee has been on a campaign, many would say her most important campaign: Clearing the blight that prevents those neighborhoods, primarily in zip code 32209 from attracting new residents, newer homes and apartments and at least one grocery store. Currently in a key section of this zip code residents have 3 discount stores selling “dollar” goods, at least 20 varieties of Convenience Stores with prices on food 20% higher than the “dollar” stores and an equal variety of chicken and Chinese take-out store fronts that don’t hire African Americans, who comprise more than 98% of the residents in zip code 32209.
There is no full service grocery store within the boundaries of zip code 32209.
Lee has chauffeured city officials and members of the press around the neighborhoods to show them what should be done as a matter of simple, civic responsibility. Vacant lots with overgrown weeds, abandoned tires, trash and vacant homes which inevitably become home to vagrants, drug dealing and dead bodies.
Councilwoman Lee has zeroed in on abandoned property. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s office has joined the campaign. Through a research of the statutes, they found the ability to write to the property owners and gain permission to enter the property, warn, then arrest if necessary anyone loitering on the property. This simple act was unheard of before Lee and her group of community volunteers got involved.
Up next on her agenda; the City of Jacksonville and City Council Tire and Sign Buyback. This event to be held in the parking lot of the stadium where the Jacksonville Jaguars play, is an opportunity for anyone with old tires in the yard or on abandoned property, to receive $2 a tire. It’s a simple gesture, but in the neighborhoods represented by Lee it’s an important one.