Consolidation Disconsolation

These are times in which narrative arcs too often read like obituaries, times of radical change and the most grievous kind  of disappointment.

These are also times in which we cling to myth, because without myth, what else is there?

This Sunday, you’re going to be able to watch WJXT’s This Week in Jacksonville, a special broadcast of last week’s audacious, never-again-to-be-seen with this group, forum involving six living mayors talking about consolidation.

The live show was a treat. Alvin Brown speaking of the broken promises of consolidation—things like the city failing, 50 years later, to even get sewer services out to those older neighborhoods.

Brown and Jake Godbold were both emphatic, noting that consolidation divested the old core city of political power. Brown was the first African-American mayor; that honorific may have gone to someone of a previous generation if consolidation had not happened.

Another fun admission: Downtown has been the loss leader for the rest of the city; one panelist posited that it has been since the 1960s. And perhaps, looking back, with reason.

The former suburbs had their own identities and commercial structures. The malls were their own draw. But the new population in a place like Jacksonville, those émigrés typically weren’t thrill-seekers. They were just trying to escape the North, for reasons all their own. They didn’t want to embrace Downtown, they wanted subdivisions on drained marshland, the lives in the brochures full of clip art drawings of optimistic, perfectly groomed families enjoying the idiosyncratic draw of the tract home lifestyle.

The contrast between the five former mayors, together, and incumbent Lenny Curry was striking. All the guys now out of office could look back in sober-minded reflection. The purest example of that was the almost-collective admission that John Peyton sacrificed any political future he might have wanted to stabilize the city budget in the chaos of economic problems 
in his second term.

Mayor Curry? He’s not in the postgame wrap-up show, but he is in the game itself. There was a different kind of messaging—the aspirational language/shorthand of a mayor who is perpetually in campaign mode, but who is steeling up for the first genuine referendum in years on what some cynics call The Syndicate, a term coined by our own dearly departed Marvin Edwards.

Curry has played it to the hilt. He got his people on boards and commissions. He’s got Downtown Investment Authority on lock via Brian Hughes as interim CEO. Big incentive-driven projects—Berkman Theme Park Hotel, Convention Center, Sports Complex Whatever—can move through.

What was it Ludacris noted? “When I move, you move”?

We see how JEA reflects the positions of the administration. We know DIA does likewise. Those independent boards and commissions share a vision.

The Curry Administration is not shy about making moves. It has been an assertion of the strong mayoral form of government, and expect that the council elections will see those whom some call CurryCrats winning their races.

But what about the top of the ticket?

Curry has $2.5 million in hand, raises a quarter-million a month or so. He calls it a “light jog.”

His opponents don’t raise money. But potential opponents are a different matter.

Many people are saying Anna Brosche has a million dollars in commitments. How much money is needed to run citywide? Especially against that machine, which has staff who do nothing but dig up opposition research.

Brosche, were she to run, would be the candidate of the “broken promises of consolidation” believers.

Of course, were Brosche to file, you’d see some noise candidates thrown in to lower her totals. Perhaps a Curry-aligned Democrat would file to complicate Democrats backing Brosche (the Republicans certainly won’t, an interesting turn of events for a rising star fêted by national Republicans several times in recent years).

For those who see politics as theater (and really, why not? because the donors get what they want no matter who wins), a Curry/Brosche clash would be the most business-exposing spectacle in Jacksonville history.

Brosche would have to offer a deep-seated institutional critique, the sort of dirty laundry no one with real skin in the game wants aired. She will have to do so even as the machine crafts an unflattering, funhouse-mirror-style narrative on her. These are the realities of the game played at this level, where the stakes involve much more than just getting by for the investor class. The stakes are immortality.

The local mythology is that consolidation succeeded. A great deal of that is in the interest of the ownership class. For Anna Brosche to run and win, she will have to convince the people that capital is against them, and that she is their best chance
for advocacy.

It will be an interesting six months.