A recurrent theme in complaints about this column is that I write too many favorable things about how Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry games the political process.
For nearly three years, he went without a real setback.
Got through the mayor’s race despite Bill Bishop teaming up with Alvin Brown at the end. Sold pension reform in Tallahassee, then to 65 percent of the voters, then to the unions. And for two years, with Greg Anderson then Lori Boyer serving as council president, there was little daylight between council priorities and mayor’s office priorities.
Curry, upon taking office, instituted a simple action that was designed to show the new collaboration between council and his office; he unlocked the door between the two abutting office suites.
“The council president and a number of others of council suggested to me that they thought that the door sent the wrong message,” Curry said, according to WJCT. “So it’s pretty simple, we’re just going to unlock it.”
Pretty simple, indeed.
With the last two council presidents, Curry started off the term with expectations that they would meet regularly. The meetings were never quite as regular as weekly; things come up as the year goes on. Yet what came through was that, no matter what the mayor wanted, it mysteriously came to pass.
Consider Tommy Hazouri’s first attempt to get the Human Rights Ordinance through. With the national media descended on Jacksonville to interview such bombthrowers as Raymond Johnson, and with now-convicted pedophile preacher Ken Adkins serving as the bloated bulwark of public morality in stout opposition, Hazouri told media he was pulling the bill one Saturday afternoon.
Hazouri fell on the sword, but the real reason was as basic as tights, Uggs and a frappuccino: The mayor’s office needed to get pension reform through via an August 2016 referendum, and the possibility of an HRO repeal referendum was significant enough to reorder priorities.
HRO was brought back shortly after November, and moved through the process, with a big assist from Shad Khan whipping votes (Khan apparently read my work saying that he alone could make the difference), and from Curry, who had a statement ready saying that, see, he couldn’t veto it if he wanted to, because it was a super-majority.
Those two years—where some unseen hand directed the mayor’s office and council to work in concert—were interesting times for Jacksonville. But that could be a thing of the past.
The biggest misconception right now in local politics is that the mayor had no rooting interest in the council president race between Democratic VP John Crescimbeni and Republican Finance Chair Anna Lopez Brosche.
There was, in fact, interest—they wanted Crescimbeni in.
Crescimbeni represented an extension of the Era of Good Feeling. As did Anderson and Boyer, he knew what the mayor’s office wanted and would work with them, as he did selling the pension referendum.
Sure, Curry is a Capital-R Republican, but City Council and Jacksonville government have always been more than D and R constructs. Crescimbeni can do business. And was willing to; the council presidency was something he sought for decades.
Crescimbeni had some help. A senior staffer in the mayor’s office, one with a particular council liaison role, was said by pro-Brosche forces to have pressed the administration’s Vote for Crescimbeni case. And, contend those same forces, Councilman Hazouri pressed Fire Union Head Randy Wyse into making calls on behalf of Crescimbeni—a rich historical irony on the order of Marco Rubio being photographed in a Che Guevara shirt.
They didn’t want Brosche in there, allegedly. And they were, allegedly, playing hardball to keep her out.
Brosche wasn’t “all in” on pension reform; she had questions and qualms about the plan being a magic bullet, about the added cumulative debt burden, and so on. Yes, she voted for it—after those questions were resolved. But, unlike Crescimbeni and Hazouri (Democrats who recorded ads in favor of the plan) and Bill Gulliford, she was in the skeptics’ column.
(Notable: between them, Gulliford and Hazouri have one committee post. And Crescimbeni is also marginalized.)
Brosche got a coalition of support outside the good ol’ boys club: backbencher Republicans (Danny Becton, Al Ferraro, Doyle Carter) and all four Dems from minority-access districts. All got treated well in committee assignments, with black Dems holding a margin that could win any vote in Finance.
Speaking of those Dems, at least one has heard stories about the mayor’s office looking for someone to run against them—all because of this vote.
The City Council has bristled at being described as an adjunct office for the mayor’s suite. In picking Brosche over their candidate, they made that case known. Curry’s team is going to have to find a way to work with them in year three. But how do you walk back a power move that failed?