EDITOR'S NOTE

Plenty of Blame to Go Around

City Councilmembers aren’t the only people to hold accountable for the human rights ordinance vote

Posted

Johnny Gaffney has been getting a lot of heat for his flip-flop vote on the human rights ordinance that would have added protection for gays and lesbians.

He deserves it. But there is plenty of blame to spread around.

After reading an interview Gaffney did with The Florida Times-Union after that Jacksonville City Council meeting, it’s hard to know if he even understood how he was voting or why.

By now, we all know where our City Councilmembers came down on the issue. The city’s human rights ordinance already bans discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, marital status, national origin, age or disability. The council rejected, by a 10-9 vote, the version of the bill that added protection for gays and lesbians.

Those in favor: Greg Anderson, Bill Bishop, Lori Boyer, Richard Clark, John Crescimbeni, Warren Jones, Stephen Joost, Denise Lee and Jim Love.

Those against: Reggie Brown, Doyle Carter, Kimberly Daniels, Johnny Gaffney, Bill Gulliford, Ray Holt, Robin Lumb, Don Redman, Matt Schellenberg and Clay Yarborough.

After that bill failed, the council voted 17-2 against the original bill, which included protection for gender identity and gender expression classes.

Warren Jones and Denise Lee were the only two who voted to protect everyone.

Many people have marked Election Day May 19, 2015, on their calendars when nine members of the current council will be eligible for re-election and 10 spots will be open.

But that’s a long time from now. Meanwhile, many Democrats will focus their ire on Brown, Daniels and Gaffney, who voted against the bill, going against their party’s platform.

Republicans Anderson, Boyer, Bishop, Clark, Joost and Love will surely feel pressure from those who feel those councilmembers betrayed their party and God.

But you know who we never heard a peep from on this issue? Mayor Alvin Brown. Conveniently, he never had to take a position. What if the bill had passed? Would he have vetoed it? We’ll never know. As in so many issues facing the city, the mayor stood on the sidelines.

Brown was elected by an unusual coalition of liberal Democrats and business community members, two groups that also supported the expansion of the human rights ordinance. What might have kept the mayor mum is that gay rights are a divisive issue for evangelical black voters who normally lean Democratic.

Brown has invested a lot of time attending events, shaking hands and gathering warm fuzzies from people around the city. Getting to know your constituents face-to-face is a good foundation for leadership, but it can’t be all there is. You have to do something with that investment. It’s called leadership, and we haven’t seen it from the mayor when it was so clearly needed.

Brown has said attracting businesses to the area is one of his main focuses, but he stayed silent about an issue that many business leaders said would help in that effort.

In so many other instances, politicians listen to what business leaders want. How many times have we heard those “job creator” and “small business” sound bites? So why wouldn’t business-friendly politicians take notice in this case?

Social issues trump business needs, even when the two go hand-in-hand. One is emotional; one is financial. Although people are deeply affected by both, one is so deeply ingrained in people’s psyches, it’s hard to overcome. And social issues are what usually drive people to the polls. Homophobia — whether personally felt or perceived in one’s voter base — is stronger than the desire to strengthen a weak economy.

And Jacksonville is left with another black eye — and perhaps another barrier to bringing jobs to the city.

As Steve Halverson, chief executive officer of the Haskell Company and a proponent of the bill, told the Times-Union, “I’m afraid a negative vote is worse than it not having come up, from a business standpoint.”

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