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Confederate monuments and an eclipse of political capital in Jacksonville

Last week in Jacksonville politics, it was the Anna Brosche show. She was at the center of every news cycle for a provocative proposal to mothball Confederate monuments.

There are some who would say that, just as Jacksonville was set to experience a solar eclipse Monday afternoon, there was a commensurate eclipse of political capital for the aforementioned Council President, whose streak of almost uniformly laudatory coverage came to a halt when confronted with a seemingly intractable political reality.

Seven days before, Brosche took the most compelling position of her political life. She made the strong case that Jacksonville should conduct an inventory of the city’s Confederate monuments ahead of eventual removal.

“I intend to propose legislation to move Confederate monuments, memorials, and markers from public property to museums and educational institutions where they can be respectfully preserved and historically contextualized,” Brosche contended Monday.

Very quickly, the Jacksonville Civic Council backed her play.

Then, momentum slowed — even as the narrative cycle spun on.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was more cautious, saying that he wanted to see what came out of the process before taking a position. Very few Council members seemed enthusiastic about the proposal, with one of Brosche’s political opponents (fellow Republican Bill Gulliford) calling the proposal a “knee-jerk reaction” to the street violence in Charlottesville.

Hate mail came in, as predictable as an afternoon thunderstorm. It was brutal.

“I find your caving-in to nasty commie anarchist hebes and their black jungle-bunny friends to be repulsive,” the emailer wrote.

“You are an Asian!  You don’t belong here. You aren’t from here.  You just can’t cave-in to these sorry people and screw everyone else.  You should not even be on the city council,” the emailer added, saying “liberals and their n*** allies are making you look bad.”

We asked Brosche her thoughts.

“While I’ve received an email with a closing salutation of ‘FU,’ that was the worst email so far. It does not change my position either way,” Brosche said last week.

The position was to change, however.

On Friday, the Jax Chamber backed the call for inventory, but not for removal.

And Brosche, having given those who equate these monuments with the defense of slavery and white-supremacy hope that these monuments would eventually be out of public parks and squares, had already told those same people not to hold their breath waiting for anything to happen.

“We can develop a measured plan of understanding what we have — why it’s there, why it was erected — and be able to develop a very measured response, including understanding private funding, over how many years what’s going to happen, (and) where would they go if they went anywhere,” Brosche told WJXT Thursday.

We asked Brosche about the seeming daylight between her position at the start of the week and the end, and she told us the following: “I asked for an inventory to start a process of understanding what we have to determine next steps. Removal of the monuments remains an option,” Brosche said, “and I’ve received many alternative suggestions for consideration this week.”

By the time Brosche filed her “Sunday’s Lead Letter” to the Florida Times-Union, she had clearly taken those “alternative suggestions” to heart.

The letter: a few hundred words of spackle, one in which Brosche bandied about bromides (“Now is the time for a conversation, one that will be difficult, but one we must have if we are to truly become One City, One Jacksonville”), while avoiding any mention of removal of the monuments.

Indeed, Brosche managed to avoid taking a position at all — a neat trick just days after she took a genuinely iconoclastic position.

“I respect and appreciate the divergent perspectives regarding the Confederate monuments. To some, they are primarily symbols of our heritage and history. To others,” Brosche wrote, “they are primarily symbols of oppression of an entire race.”

Quite a gulf between those two positions. The same held true when those statues were erected; in Jacksonville and elsewhere, Confederate monuments were intended as a visual reinforcement of the Jim Crow social order.

For poor and lower-middle class whites, said monuments were affirmations of their superior position in the caste system of the post-slavery South. And for most African-Americans, those monuments were intended to remind them that the social order hadn’t appreciably changed.

The most controversial Confederate monument in Jacksonville, in Hemming Park, is just a few hundred feet from where the violence of Ax Handle Saturday commenced decades ago. Was that a “heritage not hate” moment? Or was that an outbreak of mob violence designed to reinforce a social order that was every bit as toxic as the polluted ground at the Shipyards nearby?

Brosche still got lit up in the comments for her “Lead Letter.” Her political adversaries sense vulnerability, and will exploit it.

Regardless of — or perhaps because of — Brosche’s position evolution on this matter, Jacksonville City Council public comment Tuesday evening is expected to be lively.

How lively?

Sources tell us that, instead of parking out in front of City Hall Tuesday evening, Council members and staff are being told to park in a garage inside the building.

They are gearing up for one of those marathon public comment events, with Southern partisan types on one side, and the group seeking to tear down the monuments on the other.

Brosche is all but guaranteed to preside over the most rancorous and unproductive public comment period of her presidency, and her allies and frenemies alike will be watching closely to see how she deals with it.

Jacksonville will witness a near-total solar eclipse on Monday. But that’s a temporary phenomenon. Will the eclipse of President Brosche’s political capital in the light of monumental pushback likewise be temporary?

Or is her tenure as Council President mortally wounded?

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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