As Jacksonville gears up for the holidays, it’s typical that mayoral campaigns are also gearing up—some more obviously than others.
All over television right now: Lenny Curry’s latest re-election spot, narrated by First Lady Molly Curry. Mrs. Curry was an effective exponent of the election argument in 2015, but she just might have outdone herself in this 2019 spot. Witness the Curry family, huddled around a Christmas tree, opening presents, all wide-eyed and happy. With that domestic tableau established, the argument boils down to this: the mayor has done a lot, but there’s a lot more to do, and Jacksonville is still on the rise.
Money won’t be a problem for Curry. His campaign banked $3 million, and the mayor himself has said that the effort thus far has been a “light jog.” He hasn’t had to stretch too hard to fundraise. In fact, the buy-in that Mayor Curry has from the city’s capital class is something that couldn’t have been imagined in elections since the 2008 crash.
Curry has also said the fundraising isn’t an end unto itself. The goal (and here I paraphrase) is getting things done, building and leveraging relationships and finding ways to work together.
As we head into 2019, there is at this writing considerable uncertainty as to who the serious candidate might be to face Curry. No disrespect intended to anyone filed, but a word-of-mouth campaign isn’t going to cut it against Curry’s political machine.
If you have any dirt buried, they will bring it to the surface, exfoliating and defining you by your worst moments. And if you’re trying to operate in the policy space, it’s “death by a thousand knives,” with Curry allies ensconced on boards and in commissions and on the legislative dais.
The gossip gets more lit every week. From speculation about interpersonal relationships to narratives about deals negotiated then rejected, the consensus is, “If you’re not with us, you’ll get shivved by us.”
So if you are stepping into the arena against this group, you better have resources. This isn’t the 2015 Alvin Brown re-election, where hired guns who don’t know the score are pushing oppo one news cycle too late. This is the most serious and hardball political operation of the post-Consolidation era.
So, to mount a challenge, some preconditions: there needs to be real money, real profile, and a real reason to run.
One would have strongly counseled any aspiring city political candidate to have long ago set up a friendly political committee and stacked checks in there. Even if that candidate wanted to stay in stealth mode through the summer and fall for some insane, poorly advised reason, said candidate would have been well-advised to leak, or have leaked, evidence that there is a legit operation waiting.
As it stands, there are rumors that Councilwoman Anna Brosche is going to launch a campaign. People are saying New Year’s Day would be the launch date.
This avoids issues like reporting December fundraising, if true. But it also avoids the money itself, the very thing you’d want to have to make your case that the City Hall machine socializes costs, privatizes profits and buys things today that voters won’t live long enough to pay off. (See pension reform and recent infrastructure spends.)
Brosche is keeping all her options open, she says.
If she launches, what do Democrats do? There are actual Democrats filed right now. Maybe they don’t qualify. But if they do, how can active Democrats abandon a party registrant to back a rogue Republican?
Also, word is that surveys are being done, and they show Brosche closer to single digits than the runoff.
Rest assured that once/if Brosche launches, the oppo bombs will start to pop. Everything from policy to the personal realm will be shopped and dropped.
Councilman Garrett Dennis, meanwhile, is a Democrat and gives some indications of running. A public records request last week called for documents involving the mayor’s office and JEA, the police and fire unions, SMG, and an accounting of everything Brian Hughes has done for the last year.
Dennis is clearly willing to attack Curry. He’s the fiercest critic of the administration, its tone and its perceived hypocrisies. And he occasionally gets some retweets for all his trouble. He’s been kissing up to cops more, which is a traditional prelude to a flash of ambition. (Note to those stuffing pols’ stockings this year: definitely think lip balm—’tis the season).
But, well, the St. James Building is a gossipy building. Whether he runs for mayor, for supervisor of elections or for council again, rest assured: those walls will and do talk.