fightin' words

Political PARADISE?

Beneath poll numbers, turmoil at Jax City Hall

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The University of North Florida released an interesting poll last week, in which it was revealed that virtually every incumbent politician in town is popular.

The State Attorney, the Public Defender, the Mayor, the Sheriff—all are above water in polls, with even Mayor Lenny Curry polling around 60 percent approval with Democrats.

Even the City Council is popular, relatively speaking. In fact, the only politician underwater with any group is Council President Anna Brosche, who is -3 with Republicans, as a consequence of advocating removal of the Confederate monuments in the wake of Charlottesville. (To put that in perspective, Mayor Curry, who sat out that controversy, is +95 with Republicans in the poll.)

These dreamy numbers led pollster Michael Binder to say that Downtown Jacksonville is a “political paradise”—an interesting irony for any of those who have sat through contentious council meetings in recent months.

From budget and swim lessons to summer camps and Kids Hope Alliance, there has been so much territorial pissing that the carpet should be replaced with kitty litter.

The conflicts we are seeing right now are shaping the political landscape of the 2019 campaign. And make no mistake, we will see real money in this cycle, even though the Mayor’s Office and Sheriff’s Office look to be on lock.

The major conflict, at the moment: Mayor Curry and Council President Brosche.

Brosche voted for the Kids Hope Alliance—Curry’s children’s program reform package—on Tuesday. That likely surprised those who heard her, just hours before, stand up from the president’s chair and accuse the Curry Administration of locking the public out of a chance to review the legislation. (Despite pressure from the mayor, Brosche didn’t walk that back.)

That was the culmination of a number of interesting news cycles for Brosche, who cut a TV interview on the same day that Councilman John Crescimbeni, who wanted very much to be council president himself, did an end-run around Brosche, cancelling a Monday meeting to discuss the KHA legislation by getting councilors to sign on to his request for a Tuesday meeting.

That meeting led to a vote to move the bill to the floor; 18-1, and Brosche was the one in opposition—a stunning rebuke of the council president.

The dynamic between Brosche and Curry has never seemed particularly natural. As I wrote months back, the mayor’s office preferred Crescimbeni to Brosche in that office. It came down to trust.

Undeterred, Brosche built her winning coalition from people who were not dealt into to what had been the hierarchy, one dominated by second-term councilors who lined up with Curry and Sam Mousa on policy.

It was never pretty. Now it’s ugly. And it’s likely Brosche will not be so lucky as to run for re-election against Kim Daniels in meltdown mode. And if a legit challenger should manifest, there are all kinds of third-party mailers that can be sent out from political committees hither and yon—the kinds of mailers that take a quote or two and twist it up, the kinds of mailers that flooded mailboxes in 2015 and sent Alvin Brown packing.

Can Brosche counter that?

(A corollary conflict: Curry and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, who did everything possible to kill the KHA bill. Dennis failed there, and marginalized himself in the process. There’s no reason to think that, despite the outcome, Team Curry won’t look for payback at the ballot box in 2019.)

Another battle to watch: that of Councilwoman Katrina Brown and the Fraternal Order of Police.

FOP Head Steve Zona has already said there will be a union-backed candidate in Brown’s District 8. During budget discussions in August, Brown irked Zona with comments that were, shall we say, skeptical of policing as it’s practiced in this town.

And when Councilman Reggie Gaffney was pulled over for a quasi-stolen tag in September, Brown drove up and accused cops of racial profiling.

And then, even when Gaffney rolled over and begged forgiveness, Brown stood her ground and wouldn’t walk back.

Zona wrote a letter demanding she apologize or resign. She did neither. And even when heads of the state and national FOP waited until almost midnight to compel an apology during public comment, Brown didn’t back down.

It played well. But is it good for business? Will donors be willing to match money coming from Fraternal Order of Police affiliates from Key West to the Kenai Peninsula? Because it will get personal.

If you were digging for opposition research, you wouldn’t have to go too deep. Her family business defaulted on a few million dollars of grants and loans, incentives which were supposed to create jobs. The city is doing forensic accounting on corporate records. Even the most incompetent operative can get something out of that mess.

The cops’ candidate won’t have an incompetent op.

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