“Hang in there, buddy.”
That was the last communication I had with Tommy Hazouri. It was a text message I sent the day he was moved from the Mayo Clinic to hospice care with lung problems that took his life Sept. 11.
About a day before he had gone to Mayo we had a long talk on the phone. It covered a couple of local issues before City Council, but a lot was just about the good old days. He seemed to be in a mood for reminiscing.
We had known each other since 1973. I met him when I was covering my first full session of the Florida Legislature and had stopped in to see Rep. Carl Ogden, a member of the Jacksonville delegation. Hazouri was Ogden’s aide.
He introduced himself and afterward was always helpful getting me information and access. The following year he was one of three wunderkind, including Steve Pajcic and John Lewis, who were elected to the House from Jacksonville.
Hazouri and I hung out together, played tennis, went to dinner and had drinks while he was in the legislature. One year we vacationed a week in the North Carolina mountains, with significant others.
Later he would invite me to dinner with his new girlfriend, a lovely and intelligent girl named Carol, who would become his wife until his death.
In 1987 he ran for mayor. By that time I was an editorial writer and he sought our endorsement but the other members of the editorial board were not Hazouri fans. Nevertheless, Hazouri won.
While mayor he pushed to end tolls on local roads and regulate odors from local industry, and won both battles.
He appointed me to some board, without asking and maybe as a prank, but I wasn’t interested and never attended. I got him back by going to lunch with him after he was mayor wearing a badge that said “One-Term Tommy.”
I often kidded him about his tendency to ramble on in a stream-of-consciousness pattern, even in speeches. He confided in me that he practiced making speeches in front of the mirror using an electric razor as his microphone.
Later he served on the School Board and then on the City Council. We always kept in touch and he always would let me know what was happening and why. He was an astute practitioner of politics.
His parents were Lebanese immigrants and he grew up near his father’s grocery on Liberty Street. A liberal Democrat, he and I rarely agreed on issues but always remained friends.
Like his rival, the late Jake Godbold, it was hard not to like him and, like Godbold, Hazouri will be remembered in local politics for a long time.