VISION Thing

Lenny Curry’s campaign for re-election has already begun, according to one senior staffer in the mayor’s office.

I reviewed the papers of Policy Director Robin Lumb last week, and Lumb had a September memo to Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart that was intended to formulate a policy strategy that plays into the strategy for re-election.

That strategy, posited Lumb, would be predicated on Curry’s “vision for Jacksonville,” a 12-page 2015 campaign document that expresses priorities, such as public safety, economic opportunity, education, neighborhoods and Downtown.

“[The] next six months,” Lumb noted, need to contain “specific policy recommendations and initiatives to address key features in all policy areas” in the plan.

All of these, Lumb added, will “require funding and need to be addressed in the FY 17-18 budget … . At a minimum, we need to be seen as having done two or three significant things in each policy area by July 1, 2018.”

“Lenny Curry’s ‘Vision for Jacksonville’ will be the benchmark against which we are measured in the 2019 election,” writes Lumb.

“For obvious reasons,” Lumb adds, “it’s important that we begin to act on it.”

Indeed.

Curry, in his 18 months of office, has accomplished some of those significant things already.

Public safety was what his campaign was predicated on, of course. Curry ran against Alvin Brown, at a time when Brown was dealing with a combination of a spike in violent crime and a sheriff, John Rutherford, who laid the body bags at Brown’s feet, asserting that a lack of funding inhibited his ability to run the sheriff’s office.

When funding did go up, Rutherford contended it went to the unfunded pension liability.

Curry committed resources to public safety — 80 new cops, 80 new community service officers, and some technological upgrades. But more will have to be committed. Sheer enforcement won’t prevent these crimes. And effects of the Jacksonville Journey model, if it’s able to fix anything, will be felt years down the road.

Economic opportunity must also be addressed.

People in what the euphemists call “underserved communities” know the score. They live in places, often without grocery stores, sustainable industry or jobs beyond struggling retail shops in dilapidated strip malls.

As we head into what appears to be yet another infusion of liquidity into the money supply, there may be tailwinds that the Curry administration can exploit to get industry into these areas.

Donald Trump promises to spend on infrastructure, which could be significant for these areas, especially if Mayor Curry is able to parlay being a rare big-city GOP mayor into Trump committing more to this area than the previous president did.

However, it’s worth noting that one driver of economic expansion in Florida — Jacksonville included — may be on the wane.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran sees Enterprise Florida, the state’s corporate relocation incentive program, as corporate welfare. The city has lured many businesses here during the last two mayoral administrations with incentive packages through that program. If the state won’t come through, then it follows the city will have to give up even more, in tax or other corporate incentives, to do so.

Education, meanwhile, is an area that’s been trending positively for some years.

Graduation rates continue to go up in Duval and elsewhere, and while it’s inconceivable that Curry can actually run on that, it’s potentially a talking point if Curry faces a competitive bid for re-election.

When it comes to neighborhoods and Downtown, meanwhile, Curry appears to be on firmer ground.

The reinstitution of the Neighborhoods Department was a talking point in his campaign and transition committees, and that came to pass within the mayor’s first year. Neighborhoods had a leadership glitch, when the first appointed head turned out to have a degree from an unaccredited college — but that’s been resolved.

It is, however, too early still to point to a real success the Neighborhoods Department has had – it’s more a function of reorganization than something that has shown results. Curry’s team will have to show results, and then find a way to weave them into a narrative framework.

Downtown, meanwhile, is predicated on a number of high-risk bets.

One such bet is the hope that the Duval Delegation can get $50 million out of cash-strapped Tallahassee to tear
down the Hart Bridge off-ramps and route exiting traffic onto Bay Street, to open up the Shipyards, Metro Park and the Sports Complex to that traffic inflow.

The mayor has yet to lose a major political battle, but getting money from this legislature this year
for that project will be tough sledding.

Curry doesn’t have to win on every issue, and if no one real steps up to run against him, it won’t matter. But for the mayor’s office, the campaign for 2019 is already underway.

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