We're now three months past what is still the watershed moment in the Jax mayoral race — Peter Rummell throwing Alvin Brown overboard in favor of Lenny Curry — and those skeptics who once thought that Brown's alliance with Shad Khan would allow him to continue his fundraising advantage over the field are now recalculating their political GPS.
June was a fundraising bloodbath. Curry raised $568,730; Brown, just north of $108,000. Brown still has the cumulative advantage, with more than $1.3 million total, but the trends are not in his favor.
To rectify this, Mayor Brown must demonstrate that, in the words of George W. Bush, he is a "uniter, not a divider." We saw this strategy in his budget address earlier this month, in which the mayor had something for everyone — a park here, extra cops there — as if to tell balking councilmembers, "Vote for this or you're voting against your district."
Who will pay for all this pork? That remains to be seen. Brown still holds to his No New Taxes pledge; his new budget would borrow $230 million and draw another $38 million from the city's reserves — which, as the mayor's office has pointed out, are quite robust — for what one councilperson called "Christmas in July." Why pay as you go when you can pull neat ledger tricks?
Notwithstanding the speech's odd delivery, which often sounded like Brown hadn't seen that particular draft, it's easy to see the incumbent's strategy: Run to the center and assure potential friendlies, with a wink and a nod, that the second term might give him more flexibility on social issues like the human rights ordinance. Curry is making that same centrist ploy.
I asked Curry about the ramifications of his recent fundraising success, and his responses were, as always, interesting for what they say — and what they don't say: "Many people, with many different ideas, have joined the team … [demonstrating] support for my candidacy and the vision that I've laid out in personal and group conversations with them. I will always listen to a wide range of opinions on issues, and I will always advocate for policies that are in the best interests of Jacksonville. That's the bottom line."
Those who wonder if he's going to be more forthcoming on specifics needn't worry. He'll get there. Right after he gets enough money in the bank.
"In order to run against a powerful incumbent with access to millions of dollars in campaign money, and build an organization with grassroots support, our initial focus is on raising financial resources to accomplish this," Curry told me. "Once we build that foundation, I will roll out specific policy initiatives that fulfill this vision of success for every neighborhood."
In other words, write him a check and wait.
It's hard not to wonder why the two concepts — raising money and policy specifics — are mutually exclusive. But Curry knows local politics. He seems comfortable punting on issues like the HRO in order to sell an image. But that sales job only works if folks privilege packaging over substance.
That's the bet both frontrunners have made.
Like the mayor, Curry keeps his remarks anodyne and positive. He tells me that he does not believe there are any "bad neighborhoods in Jacksonville," but "neighborhoods where good people are living in fear of those who commit violent crime." Another talking point we'll hear again: Curry claims that out of the $400 million in venture capital that came into Florida last year, Jax got a mere $6 million.
There's something to be said for Bill Bishop, who speaks more forthrightly on the budget and social issues (he's actually in favor of the HRO and not afraid to say so) than either of those guys. Bishop knows the issues inside and out, arguably better than the frontrunners. But the moneymen see empty platitudes as sunny optimism that low-info voters can digest, and so a campaign of platitudes is what we've got.
Trouble is, the people listening right now want more. They expect more. Yet these candidates seem determined not to deliver.