Since there was a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Candidate Debate on television Thursday night, I wondered whether attending this month’s Tiger Bay forum was necessary. What would happen that didn’t before the TV cameras? Quite a bit, almost all of it from Tony Cummings, a longshot candidate.
Before that drama, here’s a bit of prologue to set the scene.
For starters, I shared an elevator going in with outgoing Sheriff John Rutherford, going up to the University Club on the 27th floor of Riverplace Tower, where the Tiger Bay forum takes place. Conversation turned to his plans after leaving office.
He said he’s considering running for a state House seat next year, but didn’t commit to it. If he does run, he might well run unopposed: Local Republican heavyweights assure me he’ll likely have more resources than any House candidate ever from this area. Meanwhile, he’ll be spending time with family, Rutherford said.
Before the forum began, longshot Lonnie McDonald and recipient of Rutherford’s endorsement Mike Williams were locked in conversation. Republican Jay Farhat, a pragmatic man, was availing himself of the excellent seafood buffet. Democratic frontrunner Ken Jefferson shook hands. Tony Cummings sat at a table collecting his thoughts for his final opportunity to speakt at a candidate forum before Tuesday’s election.
Cummings is an interesting case. He has run for a couple of years, largely a self-financed candidate. The polls indicate he has little chance. Yet he’s saying things the other candidates aren’t about the need for civilian review boards like those in Seattle, and an increased need for civil citations, an anathema to State Attorney Angela Corey.
Cummings is about done, but at the forum he gave a “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore” performance, doing as much as anyone running to shake things up. It won’t get him votes, but it did draw murmurs from ultimate Jacksonville political insiders gathering.
Cummings’ introductory statement was unremarkable, but he heated up soon after when answering a question about body cameras. He veered off topic and advised the audience not to confuse “cronyism and favoritism” with “experience” then describing a “community hemorrhaging from violent crime,” which drew a crowd reaction.
He was similarly pointed about the contention that more officers on the street will lead to a reduction in violent crime, a position taken by Williams, Rutherford and mayoral candidate Lenny Curry.
“When Nat Glover was sheriff we had 1,800 officers on the street, and we still have a violent crime problem,” Cummings said.
Cummings was similarly pointed when discussing the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s attempts to stop the drug trade.
“We’ve been fighting the war on drugs since Ronald Reagan was president,” Cummings said, drawing a clear distance between himself and Rob Schoonover, who contends DARE programs in middle schools will help keep young people away the drug culture.
Cummings mentioned that there were two directors on the stage with him, saying, “They have not done a good job” at winning the drug war.
He also advocated instituting Civilian Review Boards with subpoena power, a position not shared by his opponents.
“You have to be held accountable,” said Cummings, who added, “I’m sure the Lord believes in Civilian Review Boards as well. I hope my colleagues will change their minds.”
Cummings likewise blistered the promotions within the department. He attributed them to “nepotism, cronyism, and favoritism,” as he remarked that people with DUIs were promoted to director positions and “individuals with high school diplomas” were in leadership roles.
In an inflammatory close he drew a comparison between the Sheriff’s Office and Enron, saying the latter was a “collapsed organization because they lacked character to do what was right by people.”
In a race where candidates have raised a lot of money and mostly kept things positive, it provided welcome contrast to see a candidate with little chance issuing the most excoriating attack on the Sheriff’s Office from a candidate for Jacksonville political office I’ve witnessed this season. And perhaps ever.