The year 2017 has started off with people trying to pressure Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry into positions he thus far has resisted.
Social liberals want the mayor to offer the kind of full-throated support of expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance that thus far has proven elusive.
And the city’s unions, especially police and fire, want Curry to sign on to putting new hires into the Florida Retirement System — something the mayor has resisted thus far.
Those political forces were in the background as Curry kicked off the Meninak Club‘s slate of meetings at a Monday luncheon.
While Curry avoided making news in his statements, he gave a pretty clear rendering of where Jacksonville’s news might go in the weeks and months ahead.
Curry’s prepared remarks eschewed those hot button issues, focusing instead on topics ranging from the book he gave his senior staff for Christmas (“Relentless” by Tim Grover, which distills lessons about how to win consistently) to other governance issues.
Among them: the city’s response to Hurricane Matthew, which Curry said involved a lot of planning on the front end to push effective delivery of storm cleanup and other recovery functions.
Curry then pivoted to the discussion of the unfunded pension liability. He discussed the “bold” approach in Tallahassee and through the referendum, sold without “promising voters a chicken in every pot.”
“Straight talk and solutions” got the referendum through with 65 percent of the vote.
Curry then gave an optimistic spin to collective bargaining, which he framed as part of the process, and a means toward “putting [the issue] to bed so we don’t have to deal with it again.”
Curry then pivoted to public safety, and his administration’s moves to remedy “significant cuts” and a “lack of investment” from the previous mayor in police and the Jacksonville Journey, which “was almost cut to the bone.”
The mayor discussed adding more officers, replacing “archaic” equipment, and “investing in these at-risk youth” via the Jacksonville Journey.
Budgets came up next, with the mayor discussing the “very robust budget review process,” including meetings with senior staff and other safeguards.
Jobs: another talking point.
“Our international brand is real now,” Curry said, noting jobs gains ranging from the relocation of City Refrigeration’s international headquarters to Amazon expansion locally.
“Identifying a prospect and going after it,” Curry said, “gets results.”
The pivot from there to infrastructure, such as moves to fix neglected projects, such as the Liberty Street span — a fix started without a tax hike, Curry said.
Curry then closed his prepared remarks with quoting a song his wife and he love: “the best is yet to come.”
And for those interested in Q&A sessions that gave an insight into the mayor’s agenda for the rest of the term, it was.
Questions from the audience came next.
Among them: a question about sluggish downtown recovery.
“Let me go back and remind you how bad things got,” Curry said. “The police force [budget] was basically gutted.”
Curry noted that, with 160 new officers hired (80 of them community service officers), “we are digging our way out.”
Curry noted the RFP for riverfront development, and his desire to see construction begin.
Related: a discussion of the Jacksonville Landing.
“The place is a mess,” Curry said, vowing not to “get caught up in the arguments of the past.”
“I’m going to continue to try — to do something with it,” Curry said, but his focus is on “where development can happen.”
“The Landing is embarrassing,” Curry affirmed.
Regarding Hemming Park — a recurrent pressure — Curry noted that he asked to take back control of the plaza.
“I just want results, and somebody’s got to be accountable,” the mayor said, noting a final decision hasn’t been made on who will run the park.
“I’ve looked out my window before and I’ve seen drug use happening in the middle of that park,” Curry said.
“There has to be oversight and a clear statement of goals,” the mayor stated, related to park management.
Curry was asked then about how to deliver on his “ambitious” programs without a tax hike.
“We did infrastructure the first two years, we added to public safety and the Jacksonville Journey without raising taxes,” Curry said, before ruling out a tax hike even for unfunded pension liabilities.
“We’re going to solve it … and we’re going to do it without raising taxes,” Curry said.
Fixing “inner city crime” (to use the questioner’s memorable phrase) was on tap next.
Would Curry accept a federal solution?
“I will be reaching out both to Congressman Rutherford and the Trump Administration to ask for help. We have an opportunity here and I will take advantage of the opportunity.”
To that end, Curry seeks to “lock up the bad guys and get them off the street,” working both with State Attorney Melissa Nelson and Sheriff Mike Williams to “make this city safe.”
Curry noted that the city actively chases state and federal money, and a new Department of Justice grant applicable to the Jacksonville Journey exemplifies that.
“The shootings and the violence in this city is what keeps me up at night … if I could go out today and arrest a gang member,” Curry said, “I would do it.”
The HRO came up next.
Curry noted his extension of “protections to city employees,” before passing on a commitment.
“Council’s job is to legislate,” Curry said, noting that “the results speak for themselves in terms of job creation,” a statement that seemed related to his administration’s performance, rather than to the departmental directive that offered employment protections to LGBT employees of the city and its vendors.
Former police pension fund head John Keane came up next, with a questioner discussing stripping Keane’s pension altogether.
“The suit that he filed he filed against the pension fund board; he didn’t file it against me.”
Curry was asked about running for re-election.
“Love the job. Love what I’m doing. But if I started thinking about re-election, it wouldn’t be the right thing to do,” Curry said.
After the meeting, Curry stressed that he has had “zero conversations” about running for statewide office, addressing the speculation that might be in the cards for 2018.
Deepening the port came up also.
While the port hasn’t made an official ask of the city, Curry said, the governor is “bullish.”
“When it’s time to move, we’ll be able to move,” Curry vowed.