Depending on who you ask, we are either at the halfway point or the terminus of the Lenny Curry era. Whether the mayor wins re-election in March (or in May) or opponent Anna Brosche capsizes him, Jacksonville faces an existential crossroads. Is unity possible after an especially elongated political season, one characterized by intrigue and rampant accusations of dishonesty from all sides about all sides?
This is a different climate than other mayoral elections this decade. In 2011, Mike Hogan was defined by gaffes and derided as not working hard enough to win. Democrat Alvin Brown took advantage. Hogan got a consolation prize: he’s running your elections office from Downtown/Imeson.
Then, in 2015, Alvin Brown’s coalition unraveled. He had a second-term vision, but he should have dropped it a bit sooner. Clearly. White liberals dogged him for being slow with the HRO. African-Americans thought he hadn’t delivered in terms of capital investments. Pension debt and recession caused Brown to be the tightest-spending mayor since Hans Tanzler—except for the obligatory daps toward Shad Khan of course.
Lenny Curry, who was not a particularly strong retail politician at first, got his sea legs as his political machine took aim at Brown’s favorability rating. Even on May’s election day, Brown was at 55 percent approval, according to one reliable internal survey.
How did Curry win? The Republican coalition of 2011—the one that diffused when Hogan got buried by soundbites—came home, because they found Curry reasonable and they had come to believe that Brown wasn’t up to the job. (A surprisingly definitive ad at the time saw Curry in an austere suit, saying “Alvin, I like you, but you aren’t getting it done as Mayor.”)
Curry has moved from one achievement to another. As his axiom goes, “Plan. Plan until the end.”
Pension reform is done. The neighborhoods department is back. Downtown is in for an overhaul, and Washington and Tallahassee will pay for a lot of it. More cops are on the streets, and the police and fire unions back the mayor.
But is it enough? One recalls when Alvin Brown did a presser with his list of “100 Accomplishments.” The most memorable thing about that event was the wind blowing over the poster boards. Life happens fast and renders us as obsolete as last week’s Boars’ Head.
Brown’s loss was defined by just such ephemera, like how he countered Curry’s Jax Chamber endorsement with a list of local businessperson endorsements that included one felon. And of course how he handled the HRO, with Bill Bishop siphoning enough votes from Alvin in March to force the May runoff. (Repeat: If it hadn’t been for Bishop and Brown’s piss-poor messaging on the LGBT issue, Alvin would still be mayor.)
There was no knockout blow in the Brown/Curry race. It was a slog. Curry won ultimately because his team understood data and messaging better. The Florida Dems put a lot of resources behind Brown, but there was never real cohesion. It was death by a thousand cuts, many of them self-imposed.
Which brings us to 2019. The Curry operation needs 50.01 percent in March, and they have more trick plays than Sean McVay on LSD-25. Is Omega Allen going to deliver some good quotes about Brosche? (Team Anna sees Allen, running again after finishing last four years ago, as a plant. Expect a green thumb to materialize.)
There’s oppo galore, of course. True? Not true? Folks in the bubble will care. Folks at the Golden Corral? Not so much.
Brosche is making a lot of rounds, with allies like Councilman Garrett Dennis introducing her at African-American churches, and Sherry Magill and others working with other demographics. These are positive auguries for Brosche backers.
Negative auguries do exist though. I’m talking to Democratic operatives who aren’t on Brosche’s payroll, and they aren’t as wowed by the launch as the Rs and Ds who are contractually engaged. And while electronic media is “fact checking” Curry PAC ads—which is about as useful as entering a breakdance contest with Tim Baker and the gang—Brosche’s campaign seems borrowed from Queensryche: silent lucidity. No ad buys yet. Just building the street team, block by block.
At this writing, still waiting to see that big bankroll promised last year.
Could this work? We saw how Andrew Gillum used a similar strategy, toppling first Gwen Graham and then Ron DeSantis with field. Of course, he had George Soros and Tom Steyer, too. Does Brosche have that kind of juice?
Curry’s team is knocking doors. In what will be a low-turnout election (30 percent, give or take, if it doesn’t rain), Brosche is going to have to build a coalition more motivated than Curry’s target voters: high propensity older folks who aren’t going to like the Anna Brosche depicted in Curry’s PAC for at least the next six weeks.
And after all this, either Curry or Brosche will get to unify the city. Good luck writing that speech.