As the 2015 mayoral contest takes shape, we see a real sense of Jacksonville’s political evolution in just four short years. With that in mind, a quick review of the 2011 race — which looked, before the runoff, like the year of the well-connected former prosecutor — seems in order.
Before the election got real, the smart people thought it would come down to socially moderate Audrey Moran or central-casting conservative Rick Mullaney. The frontrunners spent the early days drawing distinctions without a difference, in the style of Republican primaries throughout the country during the Bush era, and knocked each other out before the runoff, thus leaving two choices that struck voters as distinctly improbable: gaffe-prone Mike Hogan and enigmatic Alvin Brown.
Those looking for the swag of Hans Tanzler, the blue-collar pragmatism of Jake Godbold or the flinty realism of Ed Austin were grievously disappointed. Immediately, the city’s power structure was consumed in a protracted oh-shit moment, realizing they would’ve preferred Hulk Hogan over Mike Hogan because Mike Hogan was always a sound bite away from a new embarrassment.
With the evolved consensus that Hogan was unacceptable, the paradigm shifted. Peter Rummell led the Jax business community to fall in behind the Democrat, sending a message to the world that Jacksonville was open for business and done with the parochial messaging that had typified the city’s global identity for the last few decades.
Brown, a pro-business black Democrat, may have seemed an unlikely choice to those outside of town — but in Jacksonville, where Democrats controlled the mayor’s office until Austin, Rummell’s endorsement didn’t seem completely incongruous. And, of course, Brown would be inclined to do what was Best for Business. Offer, condition, acceptance: an implied contract if ever there was one.
Alas, Rummell has turned on Brown, in what stands as a breach claim. Called Alvin an ineffective manager and tagged him with showing too much deference to our tragicomic City Council. Drew a heart around a new name in his yearbook: Lenny Curry, the state Republican party boss, who combines a keen grasp of insider baseball with a self-effacement equal parts Charlie Crist and Rahm Emanuel. (He even does selfies with Speckman!)
Is Brown now in deep doo-doo? Absolutely. And so is everyone in the race who is not Lenny Curry. Because Rummell’s preemptive endorsement absolutely is a GTFO show of strength.
Folks like Bill Bishop may soldier on, but where will his money come from? The only other plausible candidate, Sheriff John Rutherford, doesn’t seem like he’s building an organization — and if there were a chance that a Draft Rutherford movement might have emerged, it’s been positively blunted by the power structure’s shift to Curry.
The most recent University of North Florida poll, in February, shows a mayor with healthy but declining popularity. His approval fell 11 points to 59 percent from the previous year’s 70 percent. More important: Brown lost almost half of his traction in the Strongly Support category — down from 26 percent to 16 percent. Telling, also: When pitted against four prospective GOP candidates, Brown was ahead of all, including Curry, but did not claim more than 50 percent against any, suggesting he has a ceiling of those who’d be willing to pound the pavement for him next year.
Curry doesn’t have to be all things to all people. Just serve up a little Audrey Moran, a little John Delaney, and a little bit of One Spark energy.
The real question won’t be if he can turn Republicans out, but if he can turn out independents. To do that, he’ll have to give the hipsters a little of what they want — at least make it look good. Some moderation on the human rights ordinance, coupled with Not Being Mike Hogan, should do the trick.