For reasons that no one on hand could guess, mariachi music flooded Hemming Plaza, across from City Hall, in the minutes before the joint press conference of Sheriff John Rutherford and Republican Mayoral Candidate Lenny Curry. One reporter on hand suggested that it sounded the soundtrack of a fight scene in a western movie. And indeed, the Curry/Rutherford press conference, held on the steps of City Hall, had all of the earmarks of an epic showdown.
The media advisory sent out by the Curry campaign this morning set the tone: LENNY CURRY AND SHERIFF RUTHERFORD REACT TO BROWN’S “TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE” ANNOUNCEMENT ON CRIME was the title.
The subject of the presser: “Mayor Alvin Brown’s decision to suddenly acknowledge his catastrophic record on public safety 68 days before an election.”
No ambiguity there. And there was no ambiguity in the remarks by the longtime sheriff and the Republican candidate. Rutherford got yet another opportunity to lobby devastating critiques of the incumbent. And Curry, meanwhile, was able to burnish his law and order credentials that had been bestowed upon him by the Rutherford endorsement, as well as the endorsement of Attorney General Bondi.
Lenny Curry started the event off with some brief remarks. He claimed that since Brown’s election “murder and crime” have spiked, and we’re now “even seeing kids dying on the street.” These problems, claims Curry, stem from the Incumbent’s “inability to manage a budget”, leading to “fewer cops [and a] spike in crime and the murder rate.”
Regarding Brown’s initiatives today, Curry was blunt. “What he did today was another photo op. He announced [this] 68 days out from the election” and “demonstrated that he was not serious about [reducing] crime over the last four years.”
This theme was echoed immediately thereafter by the Sheriff, who claimed that today’s speech at the Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast was “another in a long series of government by announcements” and merely a “restatement of the Jacksonville Journey, which the Mayor is responsible for defunding.” The Sheriff reiterated his familiar complaints about a shortage of manpower; being “woefully understaffed”, he maintains, has led to a spike in crime of all types, especially drug and violent crime.
“Prevention, intervention, and enforcement”, continued Rutherford, was the “three legged stool” on which effective law enforcement is predicated, and “you can’t cut any leg off that three legged stool.”
Curry claims he would “make that investment Day 1” because the “#1 priority… is public safety”. He would give the Sheriff whatever he needs to maintain that.
As locals know, violent crime in Jacksonville is largely concentrated in the Operation Ceasefire zone, and consistent with that is Rutherford’s statement that “drugs drive most of our violent crime.” His claim is that the manpower shortage limits the JSO’s ability to perform manpower intensive operations ranging from raids to undercover ops, and because of that, there is an increase in the murder rate.
The relationship between the Mayor’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office has been increasingly strained throughout Alvin Brown’s first term, and today’s policy initiative announcement reflected that, with Rutherford insisting that he was not consulted before the public announcement of these plans.
The Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Chris Hand, offered written responses to various of the claims made. Unsurprisingly, that narrative diverges from that of Curry and Rutherford on some key points.
“I personally met with Undersheriff Dwain Senterfitt yesterday and informed him of the announcement that Mayor was making today. Additionally, Mayor Brown and Sheriff Rutherford recently met with local faith leaders to discuss crime. One of the subjects of that meeting was the Pastor Interruptors initiative that Mayor Brown announced today,” wrote Hand.
Hand also categorically refuted another of Rutherford’s contentions.
“The Sheriff’s charge about the Mayor defunding the Jacksonville Journey is categorically false. Under separate cover, I will send you Jacksonville Journey budget summaries for each of the last four years. As you can see [from a provided chart], the Mayor’s proposed budget always exceeded the final budget approved by City Council.”
Indeed, Mayor Brown’s proposed budget for the Jacksonville Journey exceeded the proposed budget in every year – the most striking example being 2012-2013, when the Mayor requested ~$7.4M and the Journey was only allocated ~$2.3M.
|Fiscal Year||Mayor’s Proposed
Jacksonville Journey Budget
|Council Revised/Approved Final Jacksonville Journey Budget|
|FY 2011-2012||$ 10,567,162||$ 9,912,953|
|FY 2012-2013||$ 8,645,006||$ 8,320,915|
|FY 2013-2014||$ 7,434,705||$ 2,300,553|
|FY 2014-2015||$ 2,300,553||$ 2,096,727|
Hand also refuted the Sheriff’s contention that his office is “woefully underfunded.”
“As to the woes regarding funding and staffing, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) has an annual general fund budget is $400 Million — more than half of all departmental expenses in the City budget — and yet typically has unspent money at the end of each budget year. The current budget provides for more than 3,000 JSO employees.”
The divergence between the two narratives is significant. And as convincing as Hand’s points were – as he said in the email, quoting John Adams, “facts are stubborn things” – the Administration’s problem is as much one of optics than it is of substance.
This press conference will play well on the evening news in Jacksonville, yoking Curry to Rutherford, establishing for low-information voters (the ones most impacted by the sensationalism of local television news) that Brown is “soft on crime”. This was not the intended result of Brown announcing “crime prevention and intervention strategies” at the MLK Breakfast, and it’s got to be concerning to his team that the Republicans managed to hijack the news cycle and undercut the impact of what is intended to be a signature initiative.
The press conference that began with mariachi music in the distance ended with an even more bizarre event: a homeless man, in an army jacket and a Cookie Monster skullcap, coming up behind the press gaggle and growling scatological non-sequiturs toward the Sheriff and the candidate. Rutherford put his finger to his lips and shushed him, as if the interloper were an unruly child in the library. If he and Curry sought to illustrate gaps in public safety, that intrusion was Exhibit A.
The joke after the event: for which campaign did he work?