The scandal rages on for Duval County Republican Party Secretary Kim Crenier, who — as I first reported on Folio Weekly’s website — let loose with a stunning fusillade of racist tweets on Nov. 24, the night a Missouri grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Most of them appeared on her personal Twitter feed, but one, an exhortation for God to bless Darren Wilson, was apparently errantly posted to the @JaxGOP account, which belongs to the Duval County Republican Party. Urging police in Ferguson to “turn the fire hoses” onto the “thugs” who “probly [sic] needed a shower,” Crenier tea-partied just a little too hard on Twitter that night.
The local GOP didn’t want to reveal who the poster was, saying that she was better off “disconnected” from the media because she would get “too emotional,” but it came out soon enough, in the form of a Facebook campaign from David Vandygriff, the founder the LGBT publication City Xtra, who went on Crenier’s Twitter feed, before she made it private, and preserved her rantings for posterity. After I revealed her identity, the party was left giving some whitewash to the Times-Union and a harried Action News crew, the latter of which was treated to an apology from Crenier herself, albeit an apology without any actual explanation of the comments of the nihilism behind them.
And that’s because she wasn’t sorry, not about what she said. She was only sorry there was a controversy at all. She thought she was serving up red meat for a ravenous base, nothing more.
Instead, it was the other side’s activists who worked themselves into a frenzy, keeping pressure on Crenier to resign and her party to denounce her, even as her old friend Lenny Curry, the well-funded Republican mayoral aspirant, refused to comment and Mayor Alvin Brown’s team sat back and laughed as the GOP began to implode, just in time for the 2015 campaign.
On Friday, the game changed. Bill Bishop, the former City Council president who’s also a Republican running for mayor — albeit a Republican who supports the Human Rights Ordinance and thinks the city’s artistic tastes should not be dictated by Clay Yarborough’s prudishness — broke ranks with the establishment and called for Crenier’s resignation. In a press release, Bishop said her comments were “deplorable and must not be tolerated,” and that “the chairman must do what is required to restore credibility and respectability to our party” — a party that Bishop says is “not the party of racial oppression.”
Crenier represents one strand of the local GOP. The more prominent strand until recently was actually that of the socially moderate Republican, whose patron saint around here was former two-term Jax mayor and current University of North Florida president John Delaney, who memorably pitched for the HRO a few years ago. (There, Delaney got to the left of our squeamish Democratic mayor, who sat that fight out.)
I talked to Bishop Friday afternoon about his call for Crenier’s removal.
“I felt it was important to make a statement,” Bishop told me, describing her comments as a “grenade in the room,” one that “does not reflect official Republican thinking.”
Bishop has known Crenier for a few years in a casual capacity, and says he was surprised by her intemperance. “I never would have thought she would have said anything like that,” he said, describing her comments as “out of character,” “shocking” and a “Christmas present” to Brown.
And it may be the gift that keeps on giving. After Bishop demanded her ouster, Crenier finally responded to my request for an interview, painting this as a sort of misunderstanding.
“I have apologized for the insensitivity of the fire hose comment numerous times now,” she wrote. “The civil rights implication never even entered my head when I posted the tweet in response to tweets advocating mace and tear gas and rubber bullets. I just thought those people should disperse and go home and water seemed to be less severe than mace.”
Crenier had a message for her critics, too: “Unfortunately, there are those who will paint me as a racist and a hateful person regardless of what I have to say because they want it to be so.”
Asked about Bishop’s call for her resignation, she had no comment.
Translation: She’s not going anywhere, unless she’s forced out. That puts the onus on the Duval GOP, which has done an excellent job pissing away the political advantage it held just days ago.
Bill Bishop has sounded the alarm. Will the party’s leadership hear the bell?
Curry, the GOP establishment candidate by every measure, did not respond to calls seeking comment.