THE BRAWL TO SETTLE IT ALL

These words from outgoing Councilwoman Denise Lee are in reference to Corrine Brown’s Quick Picks. But in reality, they pertain to more than one piece of paper with endorsements. Everyone, from the Jax Chamber to the Florida Times-Union to the various wacky right-wing groups, issued endorsements. That’s their prerogative, but let’s be real.

Each of those parties’ endorsements comes with strings attached. Tacit or explicit support of agendas, in all cases. They all also have institutional impact. The credibility, the gravitas, the imprimatur. The grandiosity.

It’s enough to make you cynical. With that in mind, this Election Preview, just like the one I wrote for the first election, lacks endorsements. I wouldn’t presume to be able to anticipate or represent the needs and desires of individual readers of this magazine. What I can do is offer insight into what I’ve seen. I’ve covered these campaigns as closely as anyone has during this cycle. In every contest, from the mayor and the sheriff races to At-Large and District City Council races, I’ve been watching. And here’s what I’ve seen.

 

In the mayoral race between Alvin Brown and Lenny Curry, the narrative has moved quickly. Curry brought in a lot of GOP heavy-hitters to endorse him over the last few months, including GOP presidential candidates (Rick Perry, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush) and former Republican mayors (John Delaney and John Peyton).

Brown, attempting to gain leverage with No Pary Affiliation (NPA) voters and Bishop Republicans (is that still a thing?), countered with endorsements from other Republicans, including former candidate Bill Bishop and his fellow Councilmen Stephen Joost and Ray Holt.

Now, those endorsements probably come with asterisks. Curry says that Bishop lobbied him so hard for a job that he called his lawyer after the two of them met in early April. Joost supposedly was promised a gig, and Holt reportedly has something at stake as well. That being said, for a mayor who is in a dogfight of a re-election battle, these endorsements represent moral victories, if nothing else.

Each candidate spent much of the post-first-election-period rallying their respective bases. The Curry side has messaged around the published plan, and tried to hit that sweet spot between conservative Republican and Delaney Redux. The mayor, meanwhile, has moved left with increasing alacrity, at least when it comes to rhetoric and presentation, with a more passionate delivery on social justice issues mixed in with quotations from Martin Luther King Jr.

As it is, though, both candidates are playing to their bases, and there are two schools of thought about the ultimate ramifications of this.

Team Alvin will tell you that Curry has no draw with Dems and all Brown needs is to shear off a small portion of GOP support. Those Republicans, theoretically, would hve missed Team Brown’s constant recalibration, since the local media (bless their hearts) is too busy with the autofellatio of endorsement pieces to bother covering the evolution of message in this campaign. For most of the media, it is not particularly interesting that Brown’s rhetoric has moved across the spectrum so quickly that the mayor’s gotten dizzy. Maybe they think the words are just empty and, after the re-election, business as usual.

Team Curry will tell you that Lenny has overperformed in polls and that their campaign has been positive since before the first election. Folks will scoff at that. The deluge of mailers the Together for a Greater Jacksonville PAC sent out during the winter is still fresh in their minds. That may resonate outside the media bubble and the Urban Core, but those who discount the impact of Lee Atwater-style tactics haven’t been too deep on the Westside — where it’s still 1988 and Mike Dukakis is forever popping his head out of the top of the tank.

The culture war is still alive and well in Jacksonville. The transplants from elsewhere ask WTF when they look at the failed HRO expansion to LGBTs. The people who start off every conversation with “were you born here?,” “what high school did you go to?,” and “what Superfund site did you play in as a kid?” look at the HRO and see a threat to how things have always been.

Alvin Brown ran a solid-enough campaign in 2011, but everyone knows the Hogan operation beat itself when it made too overt a play for the Cracker Right. Curry, a much more moderate person despite the party apparatchik machinations in the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) era, has not made that mistake. Indeed, he has been careful about splitting the difference between the relative liberalism of the Jax Chamber and the hard-right rhetoric of the church crowd. Despite this, there’s a reason that the Brown team felt comfortable airing a “Curry will turn back the clock” ad on black radio. They’re playing to their base’s fears.

Will the Get Out the Vote (GOTV) operation, both the local volunteers and the paid imported canvassers, make the difference? Looking at financial reports, the Brown camp seems to have a lot more overhead than the Curry crew. And the Curry fundraising looks stronger. With that overhead, is there real accountability on the Brown side? The quotes from operatives for the loser will be particularly interesting, especially if Curry confounds his haters and pulls this thing out.

 

The sheriff’s race between Ken Jefferson and Mike Williams illustrates the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt. Just before early voting began, Jefferson joked at a forum that the two had debated roughly 40 times. The most remarkable thing is, while the messages are pretty much always the same (slight evolutions that only people who are listening closely are really going to catch),
the real question with these two guys is the inside baseball.

The reality of this race is this: Party label is meaningless. Mike Williams, the Republican endorsed by Rutherford, is on one side, and he does have the full-throated backing of the party regular types. Ken Jefferson, yes, is a Democrat. But a Democrat with a difference.

Central to the Jefferson apparatus: Jimmy Holderfield, who has as deep a knowledge of the JSO as anyone. Holderfield and Jefferson are good friends, and Holderfield, you’ll recall, was the FOP candidate, endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police without much debate almost a year before the first election. This creates some interesting paradoxes.

Mike Williams, who doesn’t seem to be a reform candidate in most senses, is the guy linking problems with morale among the rank-and-file to the “scandal” that brought Nelson Cuba down.

Jefferson, who speaks with great passion and specificity about the drug trade and drug war that have turned areas from Grand Park to Cleveland Arms to the Ceasefire Zone to Eureka Gardens into post-industrialized hellscapes where civil liberties are a casualty of the guerrilla wars between gangs and the overmatched cops, does not go along with the mayor on certain issues. Their crime messaging has not been linked, and Jefferson’s words always come back to a central theme: He’s ready to work with whichever candidate gets elected mayor.

One reason for this ecumenical approach is that Curry is the FOP candidate. Another reason may have to do with some Democrats not being as thrilled with Alvin Brown as the official rhetoric says. Whatever the case, a key difference between Republicans and Democrats on this issue is that there is more message unity between Curry and Williams than there is between Jefferson and Alvin Brown. It’ll be interesting to see which race gets undervoted by Democrats on election night; that will reveal a lot about the cognitive biases of the electorate.

For whatever it’s worth, Williams has a serious fundraising lead right now, and as he is within the margin of error in the polls, that shouldn’t abate.

 

The At-Large Group 1 race between incumbent Kim Daniels and Republican Anna Brosche is just amazing. We have an incumbent Democratic councilwoman who once said, “You can talk about the Holocaust, but the Jews, they own everything!” Who spent campaign money advertising her book, The Demon Dictionary, in a religious magazine that few actually read. Who has a divorce trial going on right now that reveals what looks to be tax fraud, abuse of non-profit status, flouting of residency requirements, and so, so much more. She has 13 cars and almost that many homes. And she somehow got money from Shad “Scoreboard” Khan and Lee Ann Rummell, in what can only be read as proof positive that the people who control Jacksonville think that the average IQ of those voting is around 82.

And maybe it is. Daniels hasn’t authored a meaningful piece of legislation in four years. She hasn’t led on any issue. She missed more council meetings than anyone else, up until last year, when that sham of a South Florida marriage started to finally go south.

Meanwhile, her opponent, Brosche, is a socially moderate CPA, who is briefed on the issues, available for comment in a reasonable manner, and who may be the strongest candidate of anyone running for Council.

And yet Daniels may win. That would set her up to run for mayor in 2019. And me? I might be shacking up with her husband in Davie if that happens.

 

At-Large Group 3 has Tommy Hazouri and Geoff Youngblood facing off. Youngblood knows how to piss the old blood off, expertly talking shit about Tommy and riling him up at forum after forum.

Youngblood is pretty dadgum far-right. And yet he has grown throughout this campaign, downplaying the social conservative messaging and playing up the fiscal rectitude language. Youngblood hates the HRO, though he manages to avoid the Daniels “it was a very, very bad bill pushed by the biggest meanies in the world, and oh yeah, Jews own everything” diatribes. Hazouri is the strongest advocate of the HRO currently running. Youngblood has never held office. Hazouri has held every office. And yet, Youngblood might win.

Hazouri and Brown don’t seem to have any particular use for each other. There are times, apparently, when the two men share a room and the mayor doesn’t acknowledge Hazouri. Tommy doesn’t seem to mind too much. Conversely, Youngblood is a fixture at Curry campaign events, which suggests again that the Republicans believe there are coattails in unity.

Just as I hailed Youngblood for playing up the fiscal conservative tropes, his dad’s church goes and puts up a “Homosexuals Repent or Go to Hell” sign. Way to reach out to the swing voters. The question now is: Will the Brown campaign successfully link this hard right messaging to Curry? 

 

At-Large Group 5 is a binary choice between black conservative Sam Newby and his Democratic opponent, Ju’Coby Pittman. 

If Newby is close in this, it suggests that the Dems have serious problems with the brand. Newby is a very likable guy, but lacks the administrative experience Pittman has under her belt working with the Clara White Mission. Newby also doesn’t seem to have a credible command of the issues; Pittman often speaks in generalities, but drills down with enough specific detail to where you’d be comfortable with her on Council from Day 1.

The district races are a mixed bag.

 

The District 1 race between veteran TV reporter Joyce Morgan and Republican Mike Anania doesn’t have a particularly inspiring choice either way you go. Morgan has the polish of a WJXT-TV Morning Show personality and exhibits about as much depth. Anania, meanwhile, is a stolid Republican who can be counted on to stay with the party line on votes. I guess you have to vote if you live in that district, but if you’re Melody Shacter, you may still be wondering where it all went wrong. Morgan probably wins, which will at least help the HRO/anti-discrimination ordinance go through.

District 2 has an impassioned Democrat, Lisa King, against a very nice Republican who doesn’t really like to debate, in Al Ferraro. 

The problem with that? A big part of the job of councilperson is, in fact, debating. Ferraro got the coveted Jack Daniels endorsement after the first election. King then neatly invalidated the weight of that endorsement by saying that Jack Daniels tried to sell her the endorsement first, and Al Ferraro simply was last call. King is a pit-bull and would be a formidable representative for District 2, a Democratic version of Lori Boyer.

 

In District 4, it’s Scott Wilson against Ramon Day. This looks like Wilson’s to lose. Day has been a strong proponent on the HRO; however, some activists most invested in that issue believe that Wilson would be willing to listen to the issues, and were encouraged by comments he made in the League of Women Voters debate. The district breaks Republican, and Wilson’s got the money.

 

District 7 pits Reggie Gaffney against George Spencer. There’s some real history here. Gaffney was really close to Corrine Brown, taking consultant money from her PAC as recently as 2014 and, according to one supporter, Reggie saw Corrine as a maternal figure. Well, Gaffney’s an orphan now. Spencer is the Quick Pick.

And Gaffney is toast, if a debate last week at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) building is any indication. Spencer shredded Gaffney for his Medicaid overbilling scandal. The room was stacked with his family members, who also piled on. Spencer held up a fake Quick Pick that Gaffney purportedly put out, which incorrectly said he was a Republican. Gaffney got so shook he left the debate early, but not before praying: “Father, I ask you to remove Satan from this room.”

Gaffney is done.

District 8 has Pat Lockett-Felder taking on Katrina Brown, a proxy war for Denise Lee and Corrine Brown. Katrina comes from a family of barbecue experts; PL-F, meanwhile, is known for having erected an obelisk to herself while in office way back when.

Katrina has had some issues. Failure to pay taxes in her family businesses being one of them, which led to Felder stating, “I pay my taxes,” then asking, “why don’t you pay yours?” at a recent forum. Felder clearly senses weakness from the callow Katrina Brown, and Brown doesn’t have a compelling response to Felder’s personal attacks.

In Districts 7 or 8, the reality is this: No matter who wins, the people are screwed. The infrastructure is decades old, and when the sun goes down, the gunshots ring out. Sometimes in the distance; sometimes not. No one running has much of a solution. At least there are fish fry events for the next few days. Everyone loves fried fish, right?

Overall, in these elections, Jacksonville has a unique opportunity for transformation. Rutherford is moving on. The mayoral race represents what looks much more like a real choice than it did six months ago, when I kept writing about these guys racing each other to the middle. The Council races, well, are a mixed bag. But what was it H.L. Mencken said about democracy? “It’s the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

That’s guaranteed to happen.

About EU Jacksonville

october, 2021

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