fightin' words

Where the BOYS Are

Jacksonville politics—and political media—is a man’s world

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On Saturday morning, as I drank coffee, I read an editorial in the Florida Times-Union that almost made me spit it out.

The editorial premise: that City Council President Anna Brosche was “out of line” when she exercised her prerogative and refused to recognize Mayor Lenny Curry to speak at Wednesday’s special council meeting on JEA market value.

The quotes embodied the kind of casual patriarchy that one rarely sees in print in a purportedly mainstream product anymore. Here are my favorite three:

“City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche let her personal dispute with Mayor Lenny Curry spill over into the public sphere last week. That was a mistake.”

“Pure and simple, Brosche’s conduct went over the line last week—way over.”

“You’ll have to search the archives of city history to find a more blatant lack of respect between one city leader and another.”

If only there had been more space, they could have included a rumination on “women drivers” and how hard math is for the little ladies.

That first quote joins the movie in progress, after months of backbiting between both offices. That second quote, specifically the “over the line—way over” bit, likely wouldn’t have been used if we were talking about a male council president (i.e. Clay Yarborough/Bill Gulliford disrespecting Alvin Brown). And that third quote is utterly myopic, given that at least once in city history, a sitting council president had black council members arrested and brought in to compel them to vote.

The subtext of the T-U editorial is that Brosche was somehow out of line for exercising the prerogatives of the chair. Never mind that Brosche, in running for president, found her first flank of opposition from older males (all but one of them white), who flat out said they didn’t think she could handle the job.

The timing of the editorial was interesting too, coming at a time when one local broadcast outlet (WJXT) advanced the theory that the mayor’s office is a “boys club.”

WJXT has had a friendly relationship with the mayor’s office for going on three years now. An illustration of that: Mary Baer, longtime anchor for the station, is married to longtime city lobbyist extraordinaire Marty Fiorentino. And the “boys’ club” article posted to the web last week went in a different direction than much of THE Local Station’s coverage of the mayor.

“Some sources are wondering if City Hall is becoming too much of a boys’ club,” the article contended, adding that “one prominent Republican in Jacksonville who works outside of City Hall said that Chief of Staff Brian Hughes is ‘very headstrong’ and ‘a classic bully’ who can ‘get in a person’s face and invade their personal space.’”

This is notable because it really is the first piece of coverage, in three years, to even make the case that the mayor’s office is a “boys club.”

That is a rebuttable presumption: Curry’s comms team is helmed by women. Ali Korman Shelton is a key liaison to the City Council. Women run departments in the mayor’s office, such as Stephanie Burch in neighborhoods. But in terms of the decision-making triad, the perception is that it’s Curry, Hughes, and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.

Until last year, Kerri Stewart was chief of staff, but there were grumbles that she was unwilling to push as hard for the mayor’s agenda as she could have. There are no such grumbles currently.

One may wonder why it took over half the mayor’s term for gender to be discussed as a factor of decision-making. Well, take a look at the city hall press corps and see what they might have in common.

The Daily Record guy. Three dudes from the T-U. Me. And Jim Piggott from WJXT.

Not exactly a women’s realm.

The “boys club” reporter, Lynnsey Gardner, started working this story after Council President Brosche’s assistant alleged that she felt like Hughes “accosted” her when discussing the mayor not being cc’d on an email. She didn’t get official backup. By the end of the week, the General Counsel backed Hughes’ version of events, saying no laws were broken.

Gardner is moving to Atlanta soon, meaning that she won’t be on the scene to continue following this story … which means it will likely die.

The T-U has female reporters, good, experienced ones who are tasked with secondary beats. Would city hall coverage be different, in terms of gender dynamics and gender issues, if a woman were in the building? If they were pressing the mayor and his comms team in gaggles?

I think so. 

Council President Brosche (as I’ve written for a year now) is being submarined: a mysterious push poll out last week was probing her exploitable weaknesses ahead of the 2019 election. The T-U editorial page is helping in that regard, creating the perception that, gosh darn it, she might be too emotional to wield the gavel.

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