The big political story of 2015: Lenny Curry beat Alvin Brown for mayor.
Six months into Curry’s administration, that seems like much more of an inevitability than it did for most, even for Curry supporters, up until the beginning of May.
In January, the only people openly predicting Curry’s victory were Curry himself and his spokesman Brian Hughes.
Now? Curry is, as far as we can tell, a popular mayor. He’s kept his plays to the right wing minimal (a red meat speech at the Sunshine Summit and glomming on to Rick Scott’s calculated xenophobia on the Syrian refugees issue), and he’s by and large pivoted to the center time after time.
From his appearance with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum during a panel at the Operation Reform Summit in November to his renewal of the Jacksonville Journey, Curry hasn’t governed like the Party Boss that nearly half of Jacksonville feared before the May election.
Yes, he gave former Duval GOP Head Robin Lumb a gig as his policy director. But he also gave gigs to two other former Council Dems: Denise Lee and Johnny Gaffney.
There are some who, during the campaign, presumed that the tacit support of Curry by Lee and the open support by Gaffney were transactional moves. Those same people, who lauded Brown for working with “Democrats, Republicans, and Independents,” didn’t give Curry credit for the same willingness to reach across party lines. In fact, there was someone from the Brown campaign (one of those out-of-state imported types) who claimed Lee had gotten paid off to come out against Brown’s race baiting “Lenny Curry will turn back the clock” radio ads.
Such loose talk has fallen down the memory hole now. And part of the reason why is that Curry has been careful not to govern in a partisan manner. He’s every bit as likely to appear at press events with Council Democrats as he is with Council Republicans.
Curry, way back when he first started running for office, told me that he never makes a move without thinking it through first. And that included running for mayor. He ensured his support was right; especially the money end that eluded Bill Bishop. And in covering him through that campaign, it was instructive to watch him give the hard right just enough to keep them hopeful, while simultaneously sending the important, meaningful, policy signals to the Chamber folks: the ones who have the biggest capital stake in Jacksonville, the ones whose vision ultimately is the vision that transcends ephemeral political arguments.
We can see Curry’s deliberative nature on issue after issue. The slow build to formulating solutions to solve the UF Health funding crisis, to finding a way forward on funding port dredging, and, of course, the deliberative process on the HRO: All of that has some measure of political calculation, but the main takeaway is finding a way toward a sustainable solution.
A good NFL quarterback has the ability to see the whole field. Curry demonstrated that, long before he ran for mayor.
Someone with firsthand knowledge of Curry’s thought process as the 2011 race was shaping up told me this month that Curry saw Alvin Brown coming before anyone else did.
Curry’s rationale: The other Democrat in the race, Warren Lee, was not a serious candidate; the Republicans, Audrey Moran and Rick Mullaney, would destroy each other; and Brown could stake out the center and beat Mike Hogan.
And verily, it came to pass.
In retrospect, Curry’s whole strategy in the 2015 election was simple. Consolidate the base and knock Bill Bishop out in the March election. Then push Alvin Brown to the left and stake out the center in May.
He pulled that off even as, during debates, he managed to exploit Brown’s debate inadequacies, by mentioning the LGBT community and saying Brown had done nothing on the HRO in four years and, when Brown went negative, asking the mayor if he thought Curry was a racist, effectively invalidating the requisite rhetorical appeal to traditional African-American Democrats.
Curry, framed as an outsider and an interloper a little more than a year ago, has cloaked himself in the raiments of Jacksonville’s political establishment.
Sam Mousa, Mike Weinstein, Kerri Stewart; former mayors Peyton and Delaney: all of these important hold cards.
Way more important than the wingnuts of the hard right, who fell in behind Curry, but who Curry doesn’t need anymore. Curry’s One City, One Jacksonville motif, roundly derided by many, has become the governing philosophy: one of consensus, even if it has to be manufactured at times.
The smartest politician in Jacksonville? Outside of Corrine Brown, no one will take that crown from the mayor anytime soon.