As the sun peeked through the diverse canopy of the flora that inhabits Hemming Park, an indifferent breeze rustled leaves and appeased the last throes of the late lunch crowd on Thursday afternoon. Weather-wise, it was as good as it gets in this little coastal enclave. It was easy to imagine many a downtown employee coaxed from their offices, whether for a vagabond coffee, a post-power lunch stroll, or an endorsement press conference.
Even so, for the majority of the small crowd of media and campaign people gathered just 15 feet from the steps of City Hall — under the auspicious and prophetic Hemming Park campaign slogan “Let’s Be Friends” — after all that’s gone down over the course of the last few months, the sight of Mayor Alvin Brown and Councilperson Bill Bishop casually promenading up Duval Street still generated some cognitive dissonance.
After all, the last time Bishop stood in front of a podium to make an announcement concerning the next mayor of Jacksonville, he all but invited his supporters to remove their footwear and join him in stomping his sour grapes. At that time, Bishop said he’d been offered up each candidate, and decided to pass. He said the race illustrated “the need for strong leadership and clear direction so that the city can prosper.” He decided, “to that point, I’m not endorsing either candidate.”
But Bishop also did some foreshadowing. He said he’d be studying up on what the candidates plan “to do and how they’re going to do it.” He instructed voters to do the same.
One month later, Bishop emerged from his cram session to endorse the current mayor from a small podium in the park that has become the heartbeat of the urban renewal efforts instituted under Brown’s tenure. Bishop said part of his research was meeting with both candidates. Though Bishop (reading from a prepared statement) said he didn’t agree with the mayor on everything — and admitted he probably never will — he said he thinks Brown’s efforts on pension reform and the “teamwork” the mayor’s office displayed in decisions regarding the port were enough to convince him the incumbent should stay.
Not to be outdone, in his prepared statement, the mayor enthusiastically agreed to not agree with Bishop. As he has in the past, Mayor Brown recognized Bishop for his work as a “dedicated public servant” and, to no one’s surprise, predicted the newfound alliance between them would help take the city to “the next level.”
For Bishop, the move makes sense on many levels. He’s been open about his desire to run in 2019. He and the mayor are often on the same page when it comes to Downtown development. Is there a position for him inside the mayor’s office when his term expires?
That remains to be seen as Bishop dodged the question Folio Weekly columnist AG Gancarski lodged regarding that specific topic.
When asked about his campaign season criticisms of Mayor Brown — disparagements ranging from failure to lead to outright ineptitude — Bishop’s response was enlightening. While both the Curry and Brown campaigns have used hyperbolic language alluding to the fragile future of the city in an effort to inspire voter turnout, Bishop said the differences between him and Brown were not insurmountable because “the seminal philosophical issues of our day” were not at stake in this local election.
An interesting way of putting things and possibly inspired by Curry’s April 28 Times Union letter to the editor — which criticized Brown’s solicitation of a general counsel inquiry into anti-discrimination legislation.
Curry has carelessly moved to the right in the past few weeks. The visits to the Beaches. The Romney party in Ponte Vedra. And then the letter to the T-U. Feigning de rigueur right-wing righteous indignation, he chided the mayor for inviting D.C. into our little Northeast Florida hamlet, while proposing an alternative plan — a conversation with the city’s residents – which illustrated more inaction than anything he’s criticized the mayor for. Curry, like many of his generation, still sees Jacksonville as a Big City with a Small Town mentality, politically. Nothing illustrates the naïveté of such thinking more than the HRO, but the changes to Downtown, and the momentum created in part by the Downtown Investment Authority are signposts as well. Did Curry’s ignorance hurt him here?
Bishop said the mayor’s anti-discrimination “move” was evidence enough to align the two men on the issue. In all likelihood, the General Counsel will advise the city to move on anti-discrimination action regarding LGBT and transgender individuals. Though the mayor passed the ball on the issue, he knew it’d be carried over the goal line. Curry’s letter didn’t trump up his leadership credentials as much as it did his lack of foresight.
Whether Curry’s campaign was blindsided or not by the Bishop endorsement, spokesperson Brian Hughes’ reaction attempted to downplay the significance of the announcement, saying Curry “wishes this single voter well” and that he’ll continue reaching out to “the thousands of undecided voters.”
Curry’s people may have wanted to consider that before moving to the right of all those voters.