It’s Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 20, and Anna Lopez Brosche is five minutes early for a sit-down with the editorial staff of Folio Weekly. Over the course of the next two hours, she answers dozens of questions, many of which she’d not been asked so far. No slips, no stumbles, no gaffes. No handlers, no entourage.
The path to power in Jacksonville is typically a long one, and that’s why Anna Brosche wears comfortable shoes. The cobblestones Downtown have broken more ankles than Steph Curry, and the business breaks people every day. The former city council president is in the final month of her initial play for the city’s top position, a run forecast long ago with the certainty of climate change and a level of anticipation only matched, occasionally, by a football game.
“So far, I have had the opportunity to visit 22 church services, 15 to 20 barbershops and beauty salons,” she says. “I’ve walked every store in the Norwood [Plaza] Flea Market, and every store at Gateway Mall, and they were surprised to see me. The reception has been positive. I’m going out and meeting people where they are.”
Our unitary system of elections seems to play to her strengths—and against her weaknesses—allowing her to form coalitions across the aisle and sidestep the pitfalls of party politics, especially in challenging an incumbent who reigns as the undisputed leader among local Republicans.
The night before our talk, Brosche was sitting front-row at the Legends Center, paying respect to veterans of the local civil rights movement at an event hosted by the Northside Coalition. The African-American community is a big part of her strategy, more so than was evident with most previous candidates. She cites her work with them (particularly in helping to create a civil rights task force) as a highlight of her career.
“I have long developed a relationship with many people in that room,” she says, “through running for city council and serving, and connecting to the community. I’d like to frame it as a recognition that Northwest Jacksonville is important to every candidate, and they should treat it as such.”
The polls have Brosche trailing the mayor by a wide margin, but that hasn’t affected her spirits. “You have to be confident enough to know who you are, and to know that you can do it.” In the long run, even if Brosche loses this election, she will spend the next four years as the heir apparent (and early frontrunner) for an open seat in 2023. Either way, Brosche appreciates the influence she has already had on the next generation of political activists.
“I feel like 19 people can win,” she says of the council. “And if they win, then the mayor wins, then the whole 900,000-plus people of the city win. The spotlight doesn’t have to be mine. I just want to serve the city.”
Crime is the topic du jour, citywide. “The measure that was shared with me, when I was running in 2015, was that Downtown would not be successful until women perceive it to be safe,” she says. “I’ve had the opportunity through Chamber leadership trips to visit a lot of other cities and downtowns, because that’s been a big focus.” She cites Nashville as a prime example of how she’d like to see things go here.
Brosche is 46 and a Gemini, practically a kid in terms of politics, but her record already goes back a decade. She’s a Navy brat, like so many in this city. Born in Jacksonville in June 1972, she has spent most of her life here. “I was gone for about eight years, total, in the different duty stations that my dad had. I’ve been here 38 years, 28 consecutively since high school.” Hers is a blended family, with three kids ranging from 12 to 25 and, of course, the whole family has taken an interest in her campaign. “My dad waves signs. My mom writes thank-you notes. My husband does whatever is needed. My son is relatively shielded; he’s 12, but he’s enjoying it.”
She’s also still active on the council, in addition to running her own accounting business. That can be a lot to deal with, even under normal circumstances, and there is nothing normal at all about these circumstances. “I’m an accountant, so we’ve always been tracking our time. I’m a master of time management, and I teach time management to my staff,” she says. “I have a tremendous amount of support, both within my family and my extended family, and that keeps me at capacity. I’m very mindful of my energy and making sure that I recharge, and that I’m aware of when my energy is going low.”
Crime is, of course, the central issue around which this election turns, but the bigger factor by far is the sheer visceral malice existing between the contenders. The acrimony between Brosche and Curry has no obvious flashpoint, but it goes back a couple years now, and the specter of it hangs over virtually everything that has happened since.
“It was a building of events,” she says, “and I think at its very foundation is an erosion of trust, if it ever existed to begin with. When I came in as [council] president, knowing that he actively worked to make sure that didn’t happen, I asked for him to put that behind us, because there was no reason we couldn’t work together for our city. He wanted to convince me he wasn’t involved, but I knew differently. We had, I’d say, a decent conversation about what was going on at the time. I let him know that the things that were most important to me were children, parks and neighborhoods, and that I would like to be at the table for things like that. The very next week, he launched the Kids Hope Alliance legislation, and I didn’t know anything about it.”
The relationship continued to deteriorate as the controversy over JEA percolated last year. “There was a lot of manipulation and back-room arm-twisting around the sale of JEA. Many people in the community who don’t talk to one another, whom I’ve had the chance to speak with, shared that he was absolutely behind the sale of JEA, and he wanted people to think differently. It was being done underhandedly, and when I declined to have a meeting, because I thought it was too soon, he utilized a procedure in our council rules that no mayor has ever used in the history of our consolidated government. He used the rules to call a meeting, but didn’t realize that I was still running it.”
At some point, the clash in personalities metastasized into a full-blown blood feud that has come to dominate discussion of local politics for the past year, with the candidates both tossing around trigger-words like haymakers in a bar fight. “Respect is a big deal to me,” she says, “and we’ve all been elected. You don’t get to these positions without a certain amount of ego.” Critics who’ve alleged her campaign to be a vanity project fail to understand how vanity could be served under such precarious conditions. A brazen power play would’ve surely been conducted much differently.
Brosche is the second woman to run credibly for mayor in this city in this century. Audrey Moran would have made history eight years ago, but shenanigans ensued, and much of what’s happened since extends (un)naturally from there. Brosche was elected that same year, and now she’s picked a spot even harder to parlay. Duval County Supervisor of Elections reports that 53 percent of registered voters are women, most of whom haven’t had the chance to elect one of their own to a position of executive power.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” she says. “It’s exciting to see so much activity. We need a more balanced representation of women in elected activity. It would be an honor to be the first.” But this is Jacksonville, and out of the last 10 mayors we’ve had, only three (Ritter, Hazouri and Brown) lost their reelection campaign. Brown was defeated by Curry, and Hazouri has endorsed him. Lenny Curry is the smartest guy in the room, and a tactician nonpareil.
“We only have one branch of government right now,” Brosche says, inveighing against what some have perceived as Curry’s autocratic style. “He tells you he’ll run people against you. He tells you he will cut off projects in your district. I think jobs, funding and contracts are threatened, every day.” She claims that his personal style, and that of his adjutants, has undermined the effectiveness of local government and helped contribute to some of the issues the city faces. “I’ve experienced a lot of bullying, dictatorship, intimidation and fear that kind of overlays our entire city, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s the case in other places.”
In attacking Curry’s handling of the crime problem, Brosche is essentially doing the same thing he did against Alvin Brown four years ago—a tactic that, if successful, would likely be used against her four years from now, because this crime thing isn’t going to stop. “I don’t fear the loss of opportunity to serve the community,” she says. Sheriff Mike Williams and JSO have thrown all their chips in behind Curry, reiterating the charges of absenteeism during Brosche’s tenure, but she’s had nothing but nice words for Williams and his team. “Every time that I’ve had a question, or that they’ve had a proposal that they wanted to run through the council, he’s been accessible to me, and I’ve been accessible to him.”
With just two weeks left, Brosche faces an uphill climb on a slippery, mud-slicked slope that leads to the precipice of power. There is only one debate scheduled, for March 6. She’s impossibly behind on fund-raising, and the polls have written her off already, along with many insiders, but none of this seems to bother her. “According to polls, Clinton would’ve been president, and Gillum would’ve been governor,” she says, “so I think I owe it to the city to keep plugging along, keep doing what I’m doing, keep connecting with people, and give people a chance to have their city back.”