September 22, 2016
3 mins read

The Jay-Z/Rihanna song “Run This Town”would have to be rewritten if they were from Jacksonville. Because in Dirty Duval, no one really runs the town except the preachers.

Er, the “faith based community,” that is.

Consider a recent Jacksonville City Council meeting: One bill was up for passage.

But — as if there were a need to run out the clock — there were three “presentations.”

At least two of them were for pastors. That’s par for the course.

For people covering council, no harm, no foul. Gives us a chance to write our ledes or to chat with various administration members off the record.

For people in the audience, I guess it’s a thrill.

No one really complains. The rhythm is familiar to those who have been in the house for a minute: The preacher gets called down, entourage in tow, and is then extolled for as long as it takes by as many councilmembers as want to speak.

Ten minutes? Fifteen? Time is an elastic concept.

But what’s illustrated, every fortnight, is a reality. The denizens of St. James Building’s Fourth Floor need to give shoutouts to the preachers, just as they need affirmation from the God Squad.

Because, really, they have their uses.

Trying to sell a citywide initiative? You’ll want them on board. Just like both the last two mayors.

When Alvin Brown was becoming embattled in 2015, with Sheriff John Rutherford lambasting him for cutting police funding and causing the murder rate to go, in the words of Goodie Mob, “sky high, sky high,” Brown called a presser at the Legends Center in Northwest Jacksonville.

The preachers surrounded Brown as he gave one of those half-policy/half-politics speeches pols give when they want to be re-elected.

The preachers couldn’t pull the mayor through, of course. Brown took one last lap, after the election, when he gave a firebrand speech that had John Guns joking the mayor was a “bootleg preacher.”

Soon thereafter, Guns was firing up the crowd for the next mayor — giving the Let’s Ride speech at Lenny Curry’s inauguration.

Guns has been an ally for Curry, like he was for Brown, like he was for Angela Corey, and like he is and will be for every incumbent.

And like a Discover Card, that’s a smart move.

Despite serious cuts in the Jacksonville Journey alternatives to out-of-school suspension budget, one location — the St. Paul Church of Pastor Guns — survived the budget scythe and scored $244K in city money.

Not bad, especially since churches are tax-exempt.

Guns didn’t invent the game. Like Joan Didion, he plays it as it lays. And so do a lot of preachers, with more insidious effects for Jacksonville than skimming the public till.

Consider the HRO debate — because it’s about to happen again, as Tommy Hazouri is fixing to bring it back and there’s optimism among LGBT activists that it could get 10 votes out of council.

We’ll see. Not sure if the council can resist its neighborhood preachers.

They couldn’t even tell the Bishop-Designate Ken Adkins [R — Glynn County Jail] where to go when he was creating porno-Photoshops involving a former mayor and a council colleague … and he wasn’t even a Jacksonville preacher.

How do you think they’ll do when Garry Wiggins and his posse of banjo-playing, deodorant-eschewing, book-learning-averse rapacious crackers and hicks come a-callin’?

How will some of the softer-spined council members do when one pastor or another calls, threatening their political career if they vote for equal rights?

These are the same folks who pee their pants when cops show up during budget votes. If you’re looking for a profile in courage, better head up to Chamblin’s and buy John F. Kennedy’s book.

As well, there’s no chance that they’re going to get any more political cover from Lenny Curry than they did from Alvin Brown.

Brown dummied up like a mummy on the issue; Curry, however, is taking a position. And he believes that the issue is resolved after his departmental directive banning employment discrimination against LGBT city and vendor employees.

“Here in Jacksonville, under my leadership, we convened community conversations to consider the rights of people under the law. I moved to codify the City of Jacksonville’s policies and procedures to ensure that they are consistent with civil rights protections under federal and state law. I believe now, as I stated then, we have taken an appropriate action. There is no question in my mind we are an open and inclusive city.”

The mayor seems to sincerely believe this.

I believe he’s sacrificing the rights of a minority to keep the peace. And council — Republican and Democrat alike — are willing to strike the same bargain.

It’s easier to play hardball with the LGBT community than the pastors, who have nothing but time on their hands to lobby the fourth floor of city hall.

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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