The political career of Jacksonville City Council President-Designate Anna Brosche hasn’t been all that long, but has been characterized by a triumph per year.
In 2015, Brosche shocked some observers by defeating the iconoclastic Kim Daniels in the pastor’s re-election bid to the City Council.
In 2016, Brosche – a CPA and a managing partner at a local firm – took the helm of the Finance Committee.
And in 2017, Brosche took the Council Presidency in a contested vote, dashing John Crescimbeni’s dream and surprising some observers – both in the timing of the run, and the decisiveness of the 11-8 win.
Brosche made no secret of an intention to pursue Council leadership – she told us about it last year.
Despite some in council (and outside the building also) saying Brosche was too quiet and too callow, she won the race with a combination of signature characteristics: boldness, honesty, empathy, and understanding of the diversity of the Council and how to appeal to them.
This week, we conducted the first deep-dive post-victory interview with Brosche, the next Jacksonville City Council President. It is full of revelations and candor, giving the best possible vantage into her mindset weeks before she assumes the top job in the Jacksonville City Council.
Here we discussed what drove her candidacy, who supported her and who didn’t, how she intends to work with those who worked against her, how she looks at pension reform and budget management, and what the next year will look like with her at the helm of the Council.
Get your popcorn ready.
Why now?: The first question we had was the most elemental: what drove the decision to run this time?
“Early on, I had people share that I would be a great choice for leadership in my first term. I was trying to think of when the appropriate time was, and I got some great advice from past presidents, who said that year four was probably not the wisest time to decide to take on such a big commitment,” Brosche said.
“It came to a point where I had to decide: do I do it or not this time?”
While Brosche appreciates Crescimbeni’s work ethic, “willingness to dig in and challenge things,” the stark contrast between their “different approaches and leadership styles” helped inform her decision to run.
“It was a pretty close race last year,” Brosche said about the 10-9 win Crescimbeni had in the VP race.
And that narrow margin – the antithesis of a mandate – “pointed to providing my colleagues with another option,” Brosche added.
Despite the tension of the race, Brosche described Crescimbeni as “cordial and congratulatory” after the vote, suggesting the healing will begin sooner than later.
Regarding Bill Gulliford, and his stated aversion to serving in a committee in the Brosche administration, Brosche noted she didn’t take it personally, saying his reaction is “his stuff” and that she reached out to Gulliford just like everyone else to determine committee interests.
“Every council year,” Brosche said, this kind of conflict is put behind councilors, who inevitably move on to do the work that’s “important to the city of Jacksonville.”
Service, said Brosche, is in Gulliford’s “blood.”
Chamber candidate? Not quite: Much of the noise from Crescimbeni supporters came back to the Council veteran being more “ready to lead” than Brosche, given his experience on the Council and in the VP role.
However, no such qualms came forth from Brosche’s advisors and supporters – none of whom she wanted to name specifically.
“There are a lot of people in the community who want to make sure we have great leadership in the City Council,” Brosche said. “I have a large group of supporters.”
Of course, the idea of outside support was a leit motif of the campaign itself. Even before her first pledge meeting, one councilman – Bill Gulliford – disparaged “outside entities trying to play in [Council’s] sandbox,” which was a reference to such as the Jax Chamber.
Some reliable sources have said that former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton and Daniel Davis – both of the Chamber – twisted arms and made calls on Brosche’s behalf.
Not necessarily the case, Brosche said.
“I wasn’t dealing with the Chamber or John Peyton,” Brosche noted, adding that the story “fit the narrative that people wanted to create.”
“Was there a distinction? There are certain distinctions between John [Crescimbeni] and me. I’ve been labeled the ‘Chamber candidate’ since my election, and you know that I received other labels during my campaign as well,” Brosche said, with a bit of an edge in her voice.
“I’m not necessarily shying away from things,” Brosche continued, “but I know my relationship with the Chamber in service to the business community, and in service to women business owners.”
“I served on the Chamber board for one or two years in a group of 50 people, when you really don’t have a lot of opportunity to drive the agenda. That happens in a small group, in an executive committee perspective.”
“It’s my understanding that John really didn’t have a relationship with the Chamber,” Brosche continued. “He might characterize it as one that’s not good.”
“I think I have met with Daniel Davis two or three times since I was elected. He had no involvement in my race,” Brosche affirmed, adding that Davis told her personally that – contrary to rumors – he “hadn’t made one phone call” for her candidacy.
Meanwhile, there was another irony Brosche wanted to spotlight.
“Last year,” she said, “I was lobbied from people on the outside to support John Crescimbeni. That’s just how it works. I think it’s disingenuous to suggest that people don’t have supporters in the community that want to see them succeed in positions of leadership.”
Brosche also addressed the perception of a “ticket” with VP-Designate Aaron Bowman.
“We don’t know each other that well … I haven’t necessarily come and carried any bills for the Chamber,” Brosche said.
Brosche and Bowman pledged to each other after John Crescimbeni and Scott Wilson exchanged pledges of support.
“In some regards, the ticket was created for us – and certainly not by intention.”
Coalition building: Much of the surprise to some outside observers – Brosche’s coalition of supporters, which included African-American Democrats, people outside of the inner circle of a lot of recent council decisions, and so on.
“I was not surprised to get the support I did. I felt like I had the option of receiving support from the majority of my colleagues,” Brosche said.
“I have a style and demeanor that is heavily guided by respect and appreciation for my colleagues and for our differences,” Brosche said. “We shouldn’t have a lot of Annas walking around. The diversity of opinion is what makes us better.”
“When I do disagree with my colleagues,” Brosche added, “I do so in a way that honors what they’ve had to say and what they contribute. I take the time to listen attentively, I hear their concerns, and I try to understand them in a way that I can advance the initiative or the matter.
“People appreciate being heard,” Brosche said. “I feel it’s my role to represent us and make sure [it’s clear] that this isn’t about me – this is about the collective body and service to the city, which is why [we] got elected.”
It was slow going getting pledges at first, but there came to be a tipping point recently where Brosche realized the Presidency was within reach.
“I also noticed that … when Crescimbeni wasn’t advancing, I felt some optimism. And I felt much better when I got the email from Katrina [Brown],” Brosche said. “When I received that, that was a big deal.”
Brown and Garrett Dennis gave Brosche the lead with emailed pledges at the end of last week.
Another somewhat surprising supporter on hand for the vote: Duval GOP Chair Karyn Morton, last seen at Council when a controversial GOP insider nominee for a city commission was withdrawing his nomination – a request of Council Democrats who supported Brosche in the chair race.
Morton, seen as a few ticks to the ideological right of Brosche and Aaron Bowman, nonetheless was grinning ear to ear as the GOP took the Council Presidency.
“I appreciated having her support and help. At least in the President’s race, she had a Republican running against a Democrat. I’m not sure she had a choice in that race. She’s about supporting Republicans,” Brosche said.
“The Democratic Party was just as interested in seeing a Democrat elected,” Brosche said, though there is some question as to why the lobbying wasn’t as robust as it was in 2016.
“It didn’t show up in the votes. But word got back to me that calls on both sides were being made,” Brosche said.
Mansplainin’?: One interesting wrinkle in the race: what seemed to be a certain commonality among many of Crescimbeni’s supporters – largely older, white males.
Did issues of youth, gender, and other demographic demarcations sway their positions?
On that question, Brosche was careful in her answer.
“I think that everyone took this choice very seriously and brought their perspectives and experiences to the decision-making process and made what they thought was the right decision for the Council,” Brosche said.
“I certainly picked up on what you said… I had not picked up on it until you pointed it out,” Brosche added. “You pointed it out well in terms of the picture that was made. I didn’t necessarily reach that conclusion … at the outset.”
“I had not picked up on it until you pointed it out,” Brosche continued, adding that she’d “spent a lot of time and life in the CPA World,” in which only 20 percent of partners are women and even fewer are managing partners.
“You just have to do what you have to do. Be the change,” Brosche said.
Pension tension: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry did not wade into the race, in large part out of respect for Crescimbeni and the councilman’s stalwart support for pension reform, from the referendum onward.
Brosche was more cautious than Crescimbeni when it came to pension reform, voicing concerns even at the vote.
“I think there were triggers and tools,” Brosche said, to ensure oversight on the process to keep it as “intended.”
“I don’t think anybody intended for us to pass the legislation and put it on autopilot. I am certainly cautious because there was no one who said every part of that legislation was a homerun,” Brosche added.
“It re-introduced some things that I was glad we had gotten rid of in 2015, but on the whole the value of the dedicated funding source weighed pretty heavily to me,” Brosche said. “I got some feedback that when I spoke to you in the atrium, my remarks weren’t glowing enough on the package I had received six days prior to you asking the question.”
“So I reiterated to those that had expressed concerns about my position on pension reform that I was going through the process I needed to go through to understand what was there and that it made sense to me, and that it was the right thing to do, and that my commitment to a dedicated funding source wasn’t derailed by any other piece of the legislation,” Brosche said.
“We did move through it … pretty quickly. I did need more than six days to reach my conclusion,” Brosche said, “especially when I hadn’t received the answers from the administration to my questions.”
Moving forward: Brosche still hasn’t made her committee assignments; these will come in June.
Regarding the city’s budget, and “budget relief” from pension reform, Brosche noted that “enhancement requests” are piling up from stakeholders.
“We’re seeing it in head count requests as well … I don’t really have any hard and fast [answers],” Brosche said, “and I don’t know if getting back to pre-cut levels is necessary” given that the city has learned to function with fewer people in those roles.
However, Brosche added, “it’s important to make sure we’re delivering the quality of life citizens expect, doing what we can to create jobs, and keeping people safe.”
That list of priorities jibes reasonably well with that of the Curry Administration, for what it’s worth.
“I’m going to hope we are cautious in the use of those savings,” Brosche said, including making sure that money is set aside to address potential needs on the pension front, including accelerated paydown along the lines of what was proposed in a bill by Danny Becton in May.
“I look forward to his Jun. 5 meeting to understand more,” Brosche said. “It sounds like a smart thing. At the same time, I want to be careful that we have the flexibility to accomplish what the administration was suggesting that we need to do over the next few years.”
“We’re going to have savings now,” Brosche added, “and there will come a point when we don’t.”