Democracy Autopsy

An article in The Florida Times-Union the other day noted that right after Mother’s Day, the homicide rate was at 59. One assumes that whatever it was the Duval Democratic Party had done since the beginning of January doesn’t factor into that number. It’s hard to imagine a more botched cycle. It’s hard to imagine more squandered promise after a triumphant November. But for the next four years, there will be plenty of time to hem and haw and fume about how it all went wrong.

The Dems didn’t run a mayoral candidate or a candidate for supervisor of elections. They ended John Crescimbeni in the tax collector race, with no air support. Property Appraiser hopeful Kurt Kraft and the candidate to head up Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Tony Cummings, couldn’t fundraise. And no one could push the Democratic brand, because of whatever deal was cut to clear the field for Anna Brosche. In a narrow sense, betting on Brosche was plausible; she was the strongest opponent in City Hall to Lenny Curry, frustrating Suite 400 for two years. But in the party-building sense, it was a disaster. Young talent like Chad McIntyre and Darren Mason were swept away with the red tide. There could be no synergy on the ticket because of the arranged marriage between Brosche and a far more progressive base than the Republican CPA.

If March was a blow to the solar plexus for Democrats and progressives who could be Democrats, May was the coup de grâce, a Sunday punch one could see coming a time zone away. I could tell some jokes here, but I couldn’t beat the one Terrie Rizzo, the head of the state party, dropped: “The voters of Jacksonville have spoken! With the victories of Democrats Brenda Priestly Jackson for City Council District 10, Ju’Coby Pittman for City Council District 8 and Tommy Hazouri for At-Large 3, Florida Democrats have an amazing team that will turn Duval blue and take back the White House in 2020.”

Where to begin? The state party sat out the first election, completely, even though there were at-large candidates who could’ve used some TV. Instead, they parachuted in when polls started to go south for former chair Lisa King, and popped TV and phone calls for council races at the end.

The results? King and Sunny Gettinger both went down. Priestly Jackson and Pittman both won against other Democrats. Pittman, recall, was one of two councilmembers appointed to the body by Gov. Rick Scott, after Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown went down on fraud charges. So one of the two Democrats thus far could be called a Rick Scott Democrat. If someone were serious about challenging her, that case would have been explicitly made.

Tommy Hazouri? Well, he’s strong support for Mayor Lenny Curry. He ran the Rules Committee like a non-union factory, shutting down his nemesis Garrett Dennis every two weeks for the last year. Hazouri will probably endorse Joe Biden for president at some point, but he doesn’t pass the Democratic purity test, if the fact that the Dems ran opposition to him this year is any indication.

If you’d told Duval Dems last November—after Andrew Gillum turned Du-val into BLUE-val—that they’d be celebrating Hazouri, Pittman and Priestly Jackson as the few game-changing wins in May, they would’ve called you names unprintable in a family publication. The party is in such a weird place. Ron DeSantis is the center of Florida’s political world, and whatever momentum Democrats had was flash paper and fool’s gold.

However, the road to 2023 starts now. There are some plausible candidates. Councilmember Garrett Dennis could make some noise in a big-enough field in a March election. The weed decrim bill is a good start, but he needs to score some real wins. Sunny Gettinger ran a principled, thoughtful campaign in District 14, proving she could fundraise. Same with former House hopeful Tracye Polson. Democrats are going to have to find a way to unite disparate coalitions. As I type, I feel a certain pessimism.