FIGHTIN' WORDS

WINNING UGLY

What John Crescimbeni’s return to City Council leadership means

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In politics, a win is a win. Even if it’s by only one vote.

The Jacksonville City Council vice presidential race exemplified that last week when John Crescimbeni defeated Doyle Carter, 10 to 9.

The race had twists and turns galore.

Crescimbeni picked up a half-dozen pledges early in the contest, including Council President Greg Anderson, Vice President Lori Boyer, Finance Chair Bill Gulliford, and other council stalwarts.

They are the ones, by and large, who do the heavy lifting on issue after issue, committee after committee, and they recognized in Crescimbeni the same work ethic and competence they bring to their roles.

Yet once Crescimbeni got to six pledges, his forward momentum stalled.

Why?

A big reason: Some councilmembers, especially Reginald Brown, Katrina Brown and Reggie Gaffney, couldn’t get around the persistent narrative that Crescimbeni might have gone to the media and said that they were influenced by Randy Wyse the night of the last budget meeting this past September.

At that point, $332,000 was moved from the stormwater fund to pay for the salaries and positions of safety officers in the fire and rescue department.

Crescimbeni addressed those rumors many times in public notice meetings during the pledge period, saying that he was not the one who went to the Florida Times-Union with the story, and that he had as much to do with that story getting out as he did with the Kennedy assassinations.

It was unclear if Crescimbeni would convince the aforementioned three councilmembers.

It seemed less clear when Reginald Brown rose to second the nomination of Carter.

“I have had a chance to learn not just the human being, but the leadership he’s provided,” said Brown, adding, “I believe in his ability to provide leadership.”

“What’s important to me is honesty. I’ve never questioned in six years this man’s actions.”

Brown also cited Carter’s commitment to “fairness,” and Carter’s being a “man of faith.”

“His willingness to reach across the aisle … his helping me create success in my district … his leadership style … his drive … his tenacity” were all cited by Councilman Brown when seconding the nomination.

When Brown endorsed the Carter nomination, it looked like a done deal.

With Reginald Brown joining Doyle Carter’s eight pledges, Carter needed only one of the undecided councilmembers — Anna Brosche or Katrina Brown — to throw in with him.

However, there was a wrinkle: Reggie Gaffney decided, despite pledging to support Carter in a public notice meeting lasting all of a minute, to go against that signed pledge and back Crescimbeni, raising questions among seasoned reporters and council observers as to why Gaffney flipped.

Gaffney told David Chapman of the Daily Record he thought it was “what was best for Jacksonville,” and other such double-talk.

In other words, no one knows why Gaffney voted for Crescimbeni or, for that matter, why he signed a pledge for Carter.

It’s sort of like 2012, when Johnny Gaffney voted against the compromise version of the HRO (and then blamed Alvin Brown for it three years later, when campaigning for Lenny Curry).

Was it just Gaffney being Gaffney? Or was it something else?

Northeast Floridians will never know.

 

Ultimately, the mechanics of the vote will be forgotten soon, even if Carter, a straight-talking Westsider, may never forgive the double-dealing Gaffney.

And as far as what the council will do in the short term, there may be advantages to having Crescimbeni in place rather than Carter.

Crescimbeni’s work ethic, his knowledge of city issues, and his willingness to command a discussion are beyond question. He is the leading Democrat on council, even if he’s the embodiment of a DINO (Democrat in name only).

His ambition for leadership, no secret to anyone paying attention, has finally been sated. A council VP in the 1990s, Crescimbeni never got over being passed up for president. It’s clear he still wants that top job.

Crescimbeni has a deep understanding of what a council president should do — protect the council from media misrepresentations, represent the council, and help that body maintain a coherent and unified voice.

These are necessary skills through what will be a few years of tough budgets and ugly choices in city government.

 

A happy John Crescimbeni is going to be an asset in moving shared priorities for the executive and legislative branches.

The pension tax referendum, which I have covered here at length, is something Crescimbeni backs and is willing to sell anywhere in Duval County.

Crescimbeni is less bullish on the economic projections of the pension tax than the early actuarial projections of the Curry Administration, but that might be to the benefit of the marketing effort.

Crescimbeni has his faults. A real temper, for sure. An abrasive manner. And an irascibility.

As far as the city’s near-term goals are concerned, though, he’ll definitely be an asset, lending a bipartisan imprimatur to the marketing efforts of an administration that’s more capital ‘R’ Republican than any in Jacksonville history.

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