Winners and losers emerging from the 2017 Jax Council leadership elections - Florida Politics

Winners and losers emerging from the 2017 Jax Council leadership elections

The Jacksonville City Council Officer Elections have wrapped, and now comes the inevitable post-game analysis….

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PROLOGUE

A year ago, the Jacksonville City Council – like Jacksonville itself – was in a different place.

Pension reform was a concept, ethereal on some distant horizon.

And you couldn’t go a week without a thinkpiece on the expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance, which finally was expanded in February to include LGBT protections.

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The two biggest policy issues facing the City Council a year ago were resolved under the current leadership team: Council President Lori Boyer and VP John Crescimbeni.

Crescimbeni, according to sources familiar with the thinking of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, was especially key to pension reform; the theory was that he, along with Councilman Bill Gulliford, could be the major impediments to the effort on the Council.

But they were supportive – of the referendum measure last year, and of the actual process this year.

With Crescimbeni’s willingness to go to battle for a key city priority in mind, Curry stayed out of the council leadership scrum.

However, other parties didn’t stay out of it. Outside influence, say many councilors, was unavoidable in the just-concluded leadership races – specifically from the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, which one veteran hand said was the “new First Baptist Church” (the previous power behind the throne).

The Chamber wave was most felt in the VP race, decided by a lopsided 14-5 margin. Scott Wilson, who had the 5 in 14-5, had the most heartbreaking quote on Tuesday: “If I’d known how they felt, I would have withdrawn from the race.”

This was a watershed election, capping a watershed year. The winners are well-positioned for the future. And those on the losing side have existential questions to resolve.

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WINNERS

Jax Chamber: Over the last few years, a stealth story has been the Jax Chamber, slowly but surely, getting business-friendly candidates into leadership positions – a necessary condition to take advantage of the last bits of the Quantitative Easing driven economic boom nationally.

While the national and state economies are on less certain ground with each passing month, the city is as well-positioned as it could be going forward with Council President-Designate Anna Brosche and VP-Designate Aaron Bowman.

Both can be counted on to back business-friendly policies – especially Bowman, whose role with Chamber arm JAXUSA puts him in the position of recruiting many of the companies that end up receiving incentive deals.

John Peyton: Yes, the former mayor and the 2018 Jax Chamber Chair-Elect. Here’s why.

Peyton worked behind the scenes to build unique coalitions of support in favor of Chamber-friendly candidates. And indeed, the coalitions supporting Brosche and Bowman both were notable.

The African-American district council members who voted as a bloc in both elections and white social conservatives like Danny Becton and Matt Schellenberg often don’t overlap on policy. But they clearly had reasons to go with the candidates they did. And among those reasons: a need to shake up the council power dynamic to ensure that the same five people aren’t wielding most of the influence.

Peyton, meanwhile, had a personal reason for wading in – that being long-standing friction with John Crescimbeni. Ironically, many of those on the council – notably African-American Democrats who felt slighted by Crescimbeni historically – had their own personal reasons that proved to be dispositive.

African-American Council Dems: Months back, there was some skepticism about the influence that the City Council members from Districts 7 through 10 (Reggie Gaffney, Katrina Brown, Garrett Dennis, and Reggie Brown) would have on the vote Tuesday evening.

In 2016, splits among what would be a bloc in 2017 diffused the power of the quartet, and by and large created a business as usual environment on the City Council, where concerns of those councilors and their districts weren’t addressed any more than in previous years.

2017 saw a concerted effort to function as a caucus, which included a long public notice meeting with Council Leadership candidates to discuss concerns and goals for the upcoming year.

That momentum could have been diffused. However, the foursome resolved to hold out to maximize their power as a bloc. And they were the decisive margin in the race for Council President.

What does that mean in real terms?

For one thing, the very real possibility of an African-American chair of the Finance Committee (Garrett Dennis, sez the rumor mill, though Brosche and he both deny such) … and, perhaps, an inclusion of two councilors from Minority-Access Districts on that panel.

For another thing, a reset button on other concerns – with the city able to take advantage, perhaps, of reduced legacy costs from pensions to fulfill promises for neighborhood investments that were made decades ago.

Jacksonville is nearing the half-century mark as a consolidated city. And yet the promises of Consolidation go unfulfilled. Brosche must take a lead on redressing that condition.

 

The Class of 2015: When Brosche ran for office against former Councilwoman Kim Daniels (now representing NW Jacksonville in the State House), Daniels held forth against the danger of “political neophytes” taking control of the City Council during an election with 11 open seats.

Fast forward to 2017, and so-called neophytes control the process. Brosche and Bowman both come from that Class of 2015, and their ascendance to leadership in their third years on the council effectively means that those elected originally in 2011 have likely had their last shots at the brass ring.

After all, does anyone imagine that Bowman – who won the VP race 14 to 5 – will get serious competition when he runs for the Presidency? Especially given that most on the City Council will want Chamber backing in their re-election bids?

Duval GOP: Some grumbled that Brosche and Bowman were too “liberal” in 2015. But Party Chair Karyn Morton was on hand to fete their victory in Council Leadership races. The party still has its schisms, but if there is a window to move toward the pragmatism of Brosche and Bowman – and away from the Raymond Johnson/Gary Snow model – they need to exploit the opportunity. The Trump wave has crested and crashed; the Tea Party is at last call. It’s time for the adults in the room to be the models, not aberrations.

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LOSERS

John Crescimbeni: Yes, it’s tautological to put the guy who lost the Presidential race in this column. But there are reasons why he leads it off.

For one thing, there was the way Crescimbeni’s bid launched – in a room full of older white Republican men (by and large) who talked about the importance of “tradition” and dismissed the bid of Brosche (who after all was only the Finance Chair).

Crescimbeni had used his “experience counts” argument in myriad pledge meetings in 2016 as he took the VP slot by one vote from Doyle Carter. However, once he got out of that first meeting – and a follow-up with Arlington neighbor and fellow Democrat Joyce Morgan – he couldn’t get any more traction.

Part of the problem was that Crescimbeni’s rep was set in stone already. When councilors from your own party are willing to go to the press and talk about how you come off as imperious and unresponsive to their concerns, guess what? Dude, you have a major perception problem with your base.

Crescimbeni tried to reach out as the campaign progressed. But it was “too little, too late.”

That point was made most resoundingly by Garrett Dennis – the closest political ally of Duval DEC Chair and State Sen. Audrey Gibson – on the City Council.

Dennis, in seconding Brosche’s nomination, was very emphatic in rooting Brosche’s story in the history (indeed, the tradition) of Jacksonville.

There was talk that in 2016 Gibson and Corrine Brown both pulled some strings behind the scenes for Crescimbeni. If Gibson was pulling any strings this time, they weren’t connected to anything. And Corrine Brown? She’s otherwise occupied at the moment.

Meanwhile, Crescimbeni doesn’t know what his next political move is. However, here’s something worth monitoring: will he play ball with Brosche? Or will he throw salt in the game of council leadership’s agenda?

Councilman Reggie Gaffney told us — despite voting against Crescimbeni — that he should run next year. Current Council President Boyer said that “stranger things have happened.”

And yet? To quote Leonard Cohen, the rain falls hard on last year’s man.

Bill Gulliford: The problem with saying quotable things is that people remember them. And Gulliford, a Jacksonville Beach Republican, had the hottest quote of the whole Council Leadership process when he said he would not want to serve on a standing committee in the Brosche administration.

While that comment could be seen as brinksmanship, or as something said – as Brosche suggested – “in the heat of battle”, the reality is that for Gulliford, that moment may have been the zenith of his stroke on the council.

He’s going to have to walk back his criticisms of Brosche, and he may have to do it publicly. It was clear, based on multiple references to Gulliford as a “grenade thrower,” that Brosche took it personally.

How could she have not? Gulliford’s comment – offhand as it was – spoke to divides (age, gender, and otherwise). If he wants to be a player for the next two years, he’s going to have to find a way to mend fences.

Matt Schellenberg: Schellenberg, who has clashed with Crescimbeni on myriad occasions, backed the right horses in the race and should do well in committee assignments. But he’s under scrutiny from certain parties, not so much because of what he might do on Council until he’s termed out in 2019, but because he hasn’t ruled out a run for State House against Jason Fischer in 2018.  He may want to formally rule that one out.

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