Many voters are wondering why no Democrat is challenging incumbent Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican. From my perspective as a longtime Democratic Party activist, I am afraid it has a lot to do with lack of political courage. However, there’s also a pragmatic reason.
Here in Northeast Florida, incestuous political and economic relationships discourage qualified, deep-pocket Democrats from taking on a Republican political machine financed for decades by the same group. That group of elites calls the shots in this city—for their financial benefit. Want confirmation? Look at the names of those who finance candidates and their PACs.
The one-party choice has become a hot topic, particularly since the release of a recent television ad in which Curry gets an endorsement from Democratic city councilmember Tommy Hazouri, a former state house legislator (1974-1986), one-term Jacksonville mayor (1987-1981) and Duval County School Board member (1987-1991). Hazouri, who is also campaigning for his own re-election, went further than simply endorsing Curry; he excoriated the mayor’s leading opponent, his fellow councilmember Anna Lopez Brosche.
Social media is abuzz with criticism of Hazouri’s endorsement and filled with speculation about his motives. Longtime friends and supporters, those who helped Hazouri climb the political ladder, are particularly perplexed. Some suggest he is grasping for political relevancy.
Among the harshest remarks are those of former law professor Ann Shorstein, a key advisor in Hazouri’s past campaigns and deputy chief administrator when Hazouri was mayor. In a Facebook post she wrote: “Follow TH’s history. He only does something if he gets a quid pro quo . . . Why is he endorsing Curry now? I am sure there is something in it for him, just don’t know what. He is a parasite . . . Tommy has abdicated his responsibilities to the constituency that voted for him. He should not be returned to office so that he can be a toady for Curry.”
Shorstein told me that she is also disappointed that Hazouri helped Curry secure a regressive sales tax to finance the city’s pension obligations, a tax that puts a disproportionate financial burden on the city’s poorest citizens.
Another longtime Hazouri friend and supporter who feels deeply upset is Bill Hodges, who served as a legislative liaison while Hazouri was mayor and who has been by his side during Hazouri’s political pursuits. Hodge’s wife Connie is one of Brosche’s top campaign advisors and fundraisers. At a recent Brosche event, Bill Hodges told me that he still considers Hazouri a friend despite the political betrayal. Shortly before Hazouri’s TV attack ad, Hodges wrote a Times-Union letter to the editor that raked Curry over the coals and expressed confidence in Brosche’s candidacy.
Count me among those perplexed and disheartened about Hazouri’s embrace of a Republican Party boss who embraced Donald Trump and then failed to speak out about the president’s outrageous policies, especially the caging of migrant children after snatching them from their parents. Curry’s failure to challenge Trump makes him complicit. That’s what I was thinking when I decided to send a note to Hazouri’s personal e-mail. We were classmates at Andrew Jackson High School in the early 1960s, and my Jacksonville University roommate was a beautiful young woman he wanted to date. He finally married her years later.
I’ve spoken (mostly casually) with him probably a dozen times in the 50 years since college, which is why his response is so puzzling. His unexpected reaction to a personal e-mail is now part of the public record since he decided to send a copy to his City Hall aide. I suspect the vehement tone reflects his realization that he made the worst political mistake of his life by attacking Brosche and endorsing Curry. Obviously my words struck a nerve. Here is our exchange:
On Feb. 5, 2019, at 4:36 P.M.
Tommy, I just have to ask what possessed you to cozy up to Lenny Curry? You cannot imagine how many Democrats are upset with your supporting him in that TV ad. What did Anna Brosche do to get you to stoop so low as to embrace a man who embraces Donald Trump?
But then I guess you don’t really care, because as long as I have been active with the party (since 2003), I have not seen you making much effort to help the Democratic Party or its candidates. I only recently learned how many of your relatives are tied to the Curry machine. Maybe that explains it all. You really squandered your political capital.
Since last June, when I ran for office, I have knocked on hundreds of doors and spoken with hundreds of voters, including Republicans. Curry is not held in high regard. He is seen as a puppet of the same area power brokers that have for decades siphoned tax money to fatten their own wallets at the expense of the poorest areas of this city that are now plagued with violence and homicides. Plagues have ways of spreading to other parts of a community, and people are beginning to realize the failure of a generation of Republican rule in this city.
I sat on a plane one time next to an executive of a big company that told me his company bypassed this city because of the good ol’ boy network. Until the old guys die off, it’s unlikely Jacksonville will ever be considered, he said. I am just hoping I live long enough to see that day.
Tommy Hazouri’s Response:
Sent: 2/5/2019 11:44:36 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
Subject: Re: So disheartened and disgusted by your Curry ad – Billee Bussard
How many more insulting remarks are you going to say to or about me? Persons have sent me your very derogatory remarks and the revisionist history of which you have made about me. You are a very bitter person. I support Mayor Curry because, our local government is not about party. Stoop so low you say? I guess that you can support another candidate for mayor, who also is a Republican, but I can’t because he is not your choice. How hypocritical. Yes, while the mayor and
I may not agree on every issue, at least he is a leader whose many issues I do support. His support of the President is his choice, certainly not mine. But let’s get back to our local leadership. I have worked with his Republican opponent for nearly four years, and if you did as well, you may not be so generous with who you support. It has been very clear to me that Anna Broche [sic] has never demonstrated one iota of leadership. And, if you want examples on major issues, this text would be too lengthy to list. We need sustainable leadership, if we are to move our city forward, leaving no one behind. That is and has always been my mantra. So next in your criticism of me, the former reporter has recently learned that I have relatives tied to your so called “Curry machine”? Did you learn that from one of your friends, or would you dare base your inane thoughts on seeking the truth, which is indeed, Fake News. You have become so disingenuous over the many years we have known each other, that your conversations have become inexplicable. Please remember that no one is running for a national or state office, where party politics has halted real progress. There are no Democratic or Republican pot holes. And, though I am and have always been a loyal Democrat, when it comes to my city, I want leaders regardless of party, who will be a United [sic], and not a divider. You may disagree, and that, of course, is your prerogative. Good luck!!
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate money to flow to candidates, the Republican Party has gotten more powerful, vengeful and corrupt. The Jacksonville mayoral race is a case study in how some Democrats will be tempted to abandon principal in hope of maintaining political relevancy.
Bussard is a Democratic Party activist and a retired Jacksonville journalist. In 2018, at age 73, she unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Republican Aaron Bean for the Florida Senate seat for District 4.