fightin' words

DEATH of the Party

Two local parties = one major problem


The Populist Myth: Sometimes writing about politics feels like telling kids that there is, in fact, no Santa Claus.

Candidates who don’t or can’t raise money will ask me for advice on what they can do in a campaign; my first answer is almost invariably “get your money right.”

That’s because these races always come down to the money. The winner of the money race isn’t always the one who wins the nomination (never mind the general election here in Gerrymander Land, as all the real work is done in the primary), but there’s still a minimum threshold of viability in any race.

While it may be comforting to say “the people support me, so I don’t need ads,” the reality is, the people have been taught to respond to marketing cues—and they do on most big issues.

They want to see the ads. They want to feel the mail pieces in their greasy hands. It’s familiar and comforting, a Hungry-Man dinner of the spirit. Great—as long as you don’t read the nutritional labels.

The two parties in this town are wheezing, unwieldy mirror images of each other.

The Duval Dems may change chairs, but they can’t get out of their own way, and they’re characterized by internecine squabbles they can’t spackle over. From Bernie/Hillary to Daniels/Jean-Bart to Gillum/Graham, they move from one turf war to the next.

And the Republicans? Well, they have their own issues locally, such as myopic fundraising ($6K in the bank at last count), a likewise divided party, and an uninspired strategy going forward.

One wonders, perhaps, if a local party could ever be started, one independent composed entirely of the sclerotic structures
of the Democratic and Republican Executive Committees.

Back in 2015, it could’ve been argued that the Bill Bishop for Mayor boomlet functioned like a third party, especially after the local GOP dissed him.

Once Bishop lost, most of his operation was absorbed by Alvin Brown’s campaign, and his endorsement followed … with whispers that Bishop would be positioned for a plum job in the Mayor’s Office with them.

Now? Bishop is mulling a City Council run—maybe. And Lenny Curry’s political ops are dusting off their opposition research.

It could be argued that political committees are functional parties at this point, even better, in fact, as the squabbles that typify party meetings are circumvented by direct control.

Currently, three powerful politicians—Mayor Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson—have political committees capable of imposing their wills in ways today’s emaciated local parties can’t imagine. These committees are all run by Curry’s advisors, Tim Baker and Brian Hughes.

Curry’s committee has allowed the mayor to shape local debates, including the pension tax/reform referendum, with a high-octane multimedia approach opponents can’t match, and an attention to polling that’s compared to former president Bill Clinton.

Williams’ committee recently ramped up, and made its mark during the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee’s approval to add 100 new officer positions to the employee cap. Finance members had balked at the request. Then Williams ran a poll, and the survey said people want more cops. And, lo, it was as if there had never been any objection to the request.

Nelson’s political committee lies dormant right now, a function of her deliberately apolitical approach to the job of state attorney. What would happen, though, if she faced opposition, either on policy grounds or from a 2020 challenger? Odds are good her committee would function as effectively as that of Curry and Williams.

Of course, not everyone is getting $50,000 checks from the Shad Khans and Ed Burrs of the world. If you can’t raise money, there may—MAY—be another path.

Already running for council in 2019 are low-dollar populist candidates, such as Diallo Sekou in District 8. Sekou has raised $1,800 so far, but is a master of gaining earned media through his Kemetic Empire and other initiatives. He expects to be able to make waves by bringing new voters to
the polls.

Where are the other Diallo Sekous, though? Why isn’t there an overt populist candidate in every district? And why don’t they run as a slate—a functional local party?

The elections in St. Petersburg last month were interesting, in that the Uhuru Party emerged. Though their mayoral candidate wasn’t able to get much more than 1 percent of the vote, they were able to get earned media and shape the discourse.

For locals looking to likewise shape the 2019 discourse, who are running solitary races in council districts, it may behoove them to see if they can get together and work together to get elected, or if not, at least to change the game locally a bit.

Because one thing is clear: It needs a change.

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