Back in 2015, when Lenny Curry defeated Alvin Brown for Jacksonville mayor, arguably the most important factor was Curry’s ability to control the narrative.
Curry’s take: Brown was weak on public safety.
Proof? After Brown took office in 2011, the city lost 147 police officer positions and another 92 community service officer positions.
That force attrition engendered the violent crime we were seeing on Jacksonville streets, specifically an uptick in the murder rate, per the argument.
The contention percolated through the campaign, as Curry began to climb in the polls. Some people associated with the Brown campaign saw Curry as beatable in March: giddy optimism that Brown could clear 50 percent even with Bill Bishop and Omega Allen in the race. That didn’t happen, and Brown struggled from 43 percent in March to 48 percent in May, with Curry surging almost 15 points in the same timeframe.
A big contributing factor was the Soft on Crime spiel, one hammered home conclusively during the third debate between the two, days before the election.
Curry hit early on messaging about violent crime, helped along by someone shooting up a school bus earlier that day, wounding two young women.
Moderator Kent Justice noted in questions that some thought there was a “war going on in Jacksonville.” Brown called the latest violence “heartbreaking,” before mentioning root causes.
“Over the past four years, the mayor has been absent … not in the game,” Curry retorted.
While that wasn’t strictly true, it didn’t matter—not with Sheriff John Rutherford hammering home messages about the JSO budget being held together with bale wire and duct tape, insisting that Brown rarely met with him.
We know what happened next. Curry won. JSO has gotten its wish list, which includes 180 new officers, 80 new community service officers, upgrades in equipment, raises for employees amounting to 20 percent over a three-year period.
None of that stopped what happened at Raines Friday. Or at The Jacksonville Landing Sunday.
A triple shooting after a football game left the following tally on the scoreboard: one dead, two wounded. Then #TheLandingMassShooting, as it is hashtagged: with the unlikely setting of a Madden tournament serving as the latest scene of a mass shooting driven by mental illness and easy-access guns.
The open question: Can Curry (a “Constitutional conservative” who does not oppose assault rifles) solve the problem that hasn’t been solved in the last three years?
Will the Real Time Crime Center fix the issue? Will the new cops fix the issue? We know there were multiple cops and security at Raines for the football game—that didn’t stop the shooting. And The Landing generally is fortified as well, but this didn’t stop that shoot-’em-up either.
In much of Jacksonville, the reality is far different than the shimmering newness of the Town Center.
Half this city looks like it lost a war decades ago—a quiet war. One of systemic disinvestment. One fueled by the carceral economy, one that employs one group of people left behind by the economy to hold guns and take metrics of those who move in and out of the criminal life—because it’s the only place that pays enough to live.
Those were the “root causes” that Mayor Brown talked about on that debate stage three-plus years ago, albeit in a half-hearted way, as if fully cognizant of the fact that the people deciding the election didn’t care much about root causes.
Curry, of course, is banking heavily on his Kids Hope Alliance. The verdict on that is years down the road, though.
Meanwhile, despite Curry having all the money he needs for a re-election campaign, there’s still indication that Garrett Dennis or Anna Brosche are thinking of making a move.
If they do, they may pose a familiar question: “Are you safer today than you were four years ago?”
Dennis alluded to just that question, trolling Curry on Twitter Saturday morning before he dropped his statement: “Football is Family.....in San Marco. Where are you Mayor @lennycurry? Oh yeah, it’s game day. It’s not feeling like #1City1Jax.”
The open question is whether a majority of voters actually care. Even after a Friday Night Gunfight and the carnage at the gamer tourney.
Republican voters probably don’t. This runs before the primary results come in, but the fact that Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis cancelled Jacksonville stops Monday rather than talk Landing mass shooting is telling.
Despite the pitched shrillness of the primary, it’s clear: On the important issues, such as dodging questions about the gun lobby, the GOP is as united as ever.