Bill Bishop is the smart one.
Among the three major-party candidates running for mayor of Jacksonville, he’d likely bring the most brainpower to the job. He’s an architect. He designs buildings — buildings that have to work, buildings that can’t fall down. That takes math skills, mechanical and management skills, a level of reasoning most people can’t match, a detail-oriented and analytical mind. He’s got all that in spades.
There probably isn’t much that would come before city government that he wouldn’t understand well enough to at least ask a couple good questions. Along with his wife, fellow architect Melody Bishop, he also has a keen interest in urban planning and development, in what makes cities work. That’s something architects study. That’s something he cares about deeply.
And Bishop has a deeper breadth of experience with the nitty-gritty workings of our particular local government than either of his major competitors, incumbent Mayor Alvin Brown and former Republican Party of Florida chairman Lenny Curry. He’s served on the 19-member City Council for nearly eight years. Before that, he was an advocate for successful referendums that enacted a tree-protection ordinance and eliminated most billboards in the city. He served on a longstanding citizens’ board that studied the city’s financial health, affordable housing and racial inequalities. He’s grounded in — and can talk at mind-numbing length about — all manner of city business, whether it’s police and fire pensions, the pros and cons of deepening the port, long-range transportation plans, budgets and contracts, or whatever else you bring up.
Facts don’t intimidate him.
Bishop is a candidate who is not easily papered, lacquered, rolled out and put on public display. That makes him stand out, considering neither Brown nor Curry deviates too often from the script. Bishop does. Sure, he calls himself a conservative Republican, but he is, by any measure, the most progressive candidate in the race, even if he chafes at that word. He supports antidiscrimination protections for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals, supports light rail, and doesn’t think the city has enough information on the environmental consequences of dredging the port. Oh, and he says it might be necessary to raise taxes. That’s not something most of the city’s Democrats, especially Brown, care to talk about. That anybody talks about, really.
All of that explains why Bishop has garnered support among not just the city’s small cadre of progressive activists, but also people like Lad Hawkins, an urban planner and Arlington community leader who has known the Bishops for more than 30 years. Bishop, he says, talks honestly about the cost of improving Jacksonville’s quality of life, and that’s something the city desperately needs right now.
“I think Jacksonville has so much potential,” Hawkins says, “and it’s crying out for a leader who has the vision to bring that potential together and to convince the people of Jacksonville that it is worth investing in.”
On paper, William H. Bishop III checks all the right boxes — brains, experience, connections, energy, affability if not gregariousness — things that should make him a first-tier contender. But elections are not fought on paper. And therein lies the rub.
Nobody expects Bishop to win, or to even make the runoff. The folks that The Florida Times-Union referred to recently as the city’s “donor class” have rallied behind Curry, and both Curry and Brown have raised more than $1.5 million in contributions. By comparison, Bishop’s $63,000 war chest is meager.
Bishop isn’t good at asking for money — he admits that — and he hasn’t cultivated relationships with kingmakers like Peter Rummell and Gary Chartrand the way
“I believe people’s actions should speak for themselves,” he says, but he knows that’s not how big-city politics works. “In the political world, one of the factors that gives you instant credibility is how well you’ve been able to raise money.”
On that score, he hasn’t done well. He gets that, but points out that the top fundraiser in 2011, former General Counsel Rick Mullaney, came in third place in the primary, so there’s hope. Even as Curry pads his coffers and racks up endorsements from national Republican A-listers, and even as Brown banks on the power of his record, Bishop is counting on ideas to carry him through. If there’s an issue in the news — former Duval County GOP secretary Kim Crenier’s racist Twitter rant, for example, or Duval County Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell’s refusal to allow his staffers to officiate at same-sex marriages — it’s Bishop, not Curry or Brown, who’s most likely to get himself in front of the media and say something forthright (and printable) about it.
And he thinks that when he debates those other guys ahead of the March 24 primary, and bests them, people will start to take notice.
That’s why, as supporter and University of North Florida history professor Alan Bliss put it at a recent rally, you shouldn’t count out Bill Bishop just yet. “It takes votes, that’s all.”