The Jacksonville City Council will have a new president in the next few weeks, and that president will not be John Crescimbeni—dashing a decades-old dream for the iconoclastic Democrat.
A year ago, we covered his win for the VP role in a column called “Winning Ugly,” because it came down to a one-vote win predicated on a pledge (Reggie Gaffney) that flipped to Crescimbeni from Doyle Carter.
There were rumors, back then, that Corrine Brown and State Sen. Audrey Gibson (Duval Democrats current chair) were making calls to make that happen. In the end, of course, it did. And we noted—correctly, go figure—the salutary benefits of Crescimbeni in the VP role during what turned out to be a pivotal year for the city.
A happy Crescimbeni, who (we hear) spent at least a chunk of the year whistling as he walked to his office, was an asset selling pension-reform (both the August referendum and the City Council vote this year), and helped get the Human Rights Ordinance expansion through.
Big deals, both. And Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry appreciated Crescimbeni’s commitment to pension reform.
So you’ve got a Democrat who worked well with a GOP mayor, and had a lot of GOP support (Bill Gulliford, Jim Love, Greg Anderson, Scott Wilson). He had no scandals. He played ball with everyone. Seemed like a slam-dunk for the presidency, right?
Here’s what happened, what ultimately decided the race: Crescimbeni wasn’t able to make the sale to black Dems on council.
The Democrats from minority-access districts signaled months ago that their main concern was to ensure their districts were not shafted in the next budget. Reggie Gaffney, Katrina Brown, Garrett Dennis and Reggie Brown had already seen that movie, as had their predecessors and their constituents.
The 2016 VP race showed the limits of Crescimbeni’s appeal to what Reggie Brown called “the pack.”
Last September, pledge meetings were held under a cloud of rumor implying Crescimbeni might have told the media they were influenced by Association of Fire Fighters head Randy Wyse at the final budget meeting. Wyse texted councilors to ensure $332,000 was moved from the stormwater fund to pay salaries and positions of safety officers of Jax Fire & Rescue.
As someone in the room to observe that vote, which came after a lot of discussion, it seemed weird.
Crescimbeni is a rare bird; he clashes with both union types and Chamber types. He managed to get through Doyle Carter in the VP race, but simply could not get through Anna Lopez Brosche, a small-c conservative Republican who’s been underestimated by those not on the inside throughout her brief, yet so far very successful, political career.
Brosche, whom many council observers describe as “quiet,” does not waste words. She, unlike Crescimbeni, also listens to people and doesn’t struggle to value their perspectives. And that was big for the four Democrats—Gaffney, Brown, Dennis and Brown—who decided to vote in a “pack,” as Reggie called it.
One of them said it straight-up: Crescimbeni doesn’t even look him in the eye in the halls. How do you ask someone to vote for you when you don’t look at them and say hello?
Crescimbeni’s rapport with what had been council power elite was fine. Everyone respects his institutional knowledge and all the rest. He’s one of the most insightful councilmembers when it comes to policy.
When it comes to people, however, he may embody the letter of cooperation, yet the spirit lags. And that’s why it was hard for him to close the deal for VP in 2016, and ultimately why he couldn’t win yet another bid for the top job.
There are some who might read this through the lens of Party ID and think Mayor Curry will have a rubber stamp on administration initiatives in the Brosche era.
Not even close.
A sticking point between Curry and Brosche as this race progressed was pension reform. Curry’s team wanted to move it through in time to calculate budget relief into the current budget.
Brosche, like Curry a CPA, insisted on being able to kick the tires and bristled at the lack of specific, timely info from an administration more interested in closing the deal than explaining the extended warranty.
The Brosche era will require an adjustment of rhetorical technique from the mayor’s office in the third year of each person’s term. The new council president just chaired the Finance Committee, and very much insists on fiscal responsibility and clarity in legislative presentation.
It’s going to be an interesting 12 months.