When the Jacksonville media finally begins paying attention to 2019 City Council races, bet that the at-large contest between Bill Bishop and Ron Salem will feature.
It has to.
Though media turnover on the television side necessarily dictates many TV reporters won’t remember Bishop’s audacious play for mayor in 2015 (an underfunded run that nonetheless garnered 17 percent of the vote in a four-way race in the “first election“).
But for locals — especially certain activists — the Bishop phenomenon was real.
He carved out a unique role in the race: he was seen as the truth teller candidate. Despite being a relatively conventional conservative Republican in his eight years on City Council, Bishop brought together a unique coalition of Democrats disaffected with Alvin Brown and Republicans that, for reasons that seem esoteric in retrospect, weren’t willing to support Lenny Curry.
That race ended and Bishop vowed to run in 2019 — but not before endorsing Brown’s re-election.
From there, most reading this know what happened next: Curry won the election, and Bishop couldn’t pull the trigger on challenging Curry, opting instead for an at-large run to replace termed-out incumbent John Crescimbeni.
Bishop has moved toward a more doctrinaire Republican stance, appearing at events put on by the Duval County Republican Party (that endorsed Curry over Bishop in 2015), and showing up to a meeting of the Southside Business Men’s Club with conservative radio talk show host Ed Dean as his special guest.
While Bishop is making moves to shore up his GOP bona fides, opponent Salem is widening the gap with the former two-term district Councilman in the money race.
Bishop had a respectable first month in the race in October — bringing in $13,325 off of 24 contributions — though Salem almost matched him, with $11,125 collected in what was Salem’s best month since May.
When it comes to cash on hand, Salem is running away with it: just under $114,000, and that number looks likely to widen on the November report.
A Salem fundraiser on Wednesday night contained a veritable “who’s who” of the Jacksonville Republican power base.
Mayor Curry was special guest, and former Mayor John Peyton was just one name on an impressive host committee that also included Peter Rummell, Michael Munz, Jamie Shelton, John Rood and others who typically back winning candidates.
A source connected to the Salem campaign noted Curry’s presence reflects continued “support,” a proposition questioned by some GOP consultants in recent months.
Curry, we are told, is “for Ron, not against anyone” — a seeming allusion to the bad blood between Curry and Bishop in the wake of Bishop backing Brown in the runoff in 2015.
The total haul is yet to be determined; however, 50 people showed to the event, including Councilman Al Ferraro.
Salem also has a resource that Bishop — as of yet — does not: a political committee: “Moving Jacksonville Forward.”
Bishop has the advantage in name identification; however, one wonders if that will translate by 2019, especially when Salem has the Curry machine behind him, while Bishop is — as he was in his mayoral bid — compelled to go forward without that kind of institutional support and the stability it affords a political operation.
There is, of course, a chance that wildcards — including money from outside Northeast Florida — could come into play in this race. Salem is a candidate of Tim Baker and Brian Hughes; some are suggesting that money from Sen. Jack Latvala‘s political committee could be deployed against their clients.
Even Bishop attending events with Ed Dean could be seen as a jab at the Baker/Hughes machine, as Dean and Hughes are not aligned.
This race may be about much more than a City Council seat in the end.
Bill Bishop photo courtesy of Folio Weekly.