An incredulous Jacksonville City Councilman was laughing on the phone with me.
“I never thought there would be a chance that Lenny Curry wouldn’t be re-elected,” he said.
But the JEA issue, he added, might be dispositive.
The decision to sell JEA, right now, is like that Zen Kōan J.D. Salinger cited in one of his books. The one where 12 blind men are walked up to an elephant, their hands placed somewhere on its body, and asked to describe what they felt.
You know where this is going: One describes the trunk, one describes the feet, and the unluckiest of them all describes the elephant’s ass.
In doing so, they feel like they described the entire elephant.
But in reality, their perspective was choked off, limited to only the part of the elephant they personally experienced.
Right now, the JEA discussion is much like that. It depends on who you ask.
Some people, such as Council President Anna Lopez Brosche and Councilman Garrett Dennis, note that the mayor’s team was actively seeking suitors, via the same company that did a wildly optimistic JEA valuation report that said the city could clear up to $6 billion on a sale, to help broker the deal.
That was described as a “smoking gun,” as proof positive that Mayor Curry was running an Iran Contra-style shadow operation to dump the utility almost as soon as council passed emergency legislation to authorize the next steps in exploring a sale.
People in the Mayor’s Office believe that’s bullshit.
They say that a JEA sale would not be lock, stock and barrel—rather, that there are components involved, interlocal agreements, intergovernmental agreements, property rights deals and so on.
However, cynics counter/allege, some in the mayor’s political orbit have met with certain councilmembers trying to grease the wheels as unregistered lobbyists. And of course, there are energy lobbyists in town, such as Marty Fiorentino, who also lobbies for the City of Jacksonville.
Curry said the move to release documents that make his administration look like it’s pushing a sale is a “political hit job.”
Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa says that the city is routinely exploring the valuation of assets, as private companies contact the city to cut deals on airports, bridges, parking garages and so on.
Whatever the case here, even if the mayor’s office is telling the truth completely, and the council critics are trying to undermine him as Curry allies like Bill Gulliford claim, the narrative divergence leaves an opening for a real-deal challenge to Mayor Curry—and, by proxy, the donor class/Good Ol’ Boy structure that has dominated Jacksonville politics for ages.
So who will or could buy the ticket and take the ride … to either the mayor’s office or political oblivion?
Let’s start with Councilman Garrett Dennis.
He told me the JEA revelations essentially undermine Curry’s ability to govern.
Finance chair Dennis has been a persistent irritant to the mayor. He pushed back on pension, on the Kids Hope Alliance and now on the JEA sale.
He’s said Curry has a “bounty” on him and other councilmembers (Council President Brosche, Katrina Brown, Reggie Gaffney and Danny Becton).
He urged his council colleagues to “turn the gun” on the mayor, weeks after saying that a member of the mayor’s staff said he was a “walking dead man,” a turn of a phrase that led Dennis to get a concealed weapons permit.
Though Curry has the NRA endorsement on lock, Dennis clearly likes to talk ammo. He’d be a spirited challenger, even though he says he’s not interested.
Council President Brosche, for whatever reason, is still a Republican—even though at this point she fits in with the Trump/Gorka/Hannity/assault weapons party as well as Lawrence Welk fits in at a Slayer concert.
Brosche has battled a persistent drumbeat from the mayor. Most recently, she was called “disgraceful” for saying Chief of Staff Brian Hughes was trying to push emergency legislation on her.
Brosche has found a political ally in a party chair—however, that’s Democratic chair Lisa King, who lost the Planning Commission chair when Curry moved in his cohort. The Republican Party chair put out a statement effectively disowning Brosche for not letting Curry speak at a council meeting.
Could Brosche run as an NPA with the Democrats’ endorsement? Could she win? Someone is worried—there was a poll out this month matching Curry/Brosche.
Even those in Curry’s political sphere think he’d struggle to top 55 percent against a legit challenger head-to-head. Of course, if Brosche, Dennis or someone else filed, a stalking horse candidate would enter the mix to shear away votes.
All that said, 2019 is actually shaping up to be more interesting than I thought just weeks ago.