On March 31, Bill Bishop, who finished third in Jacksonville’s First Election, held a press conference on the steps of City Hall, where he said he was not endorsing Alvin Brown or Lenny Curry for Mayor.
A couple of weeks later, an email went out from the Bill Bishop for Mayor campaign account. The campaign staffers endorsed Brown’s re-election. Bishop called the email an “operator error.” Though the staffers clarified that the email was not from Bishop, the damage seemed to have been done, as many readers and some news outlets read the email as an endorsement from Bishop himself.
On Wednesday, April 29, Bishop and Curry sat together at the Head Table at the Southside Businessmen’s Club meeting. They were convivial as they shared a lunch. Curry complimented Bishop for running a “good campaign” and doing “heavy lifting” on City Council. All appearances were that Curry was lobbying for Bishop’s support.
On Thursday, April 30, Bishop broke his silence on the race and threw in behind Mayor Brown for re-election, saying that he was “the right guy for me to vote for,” in a move that delighted the left wing of his coalition, which has by and large jumped to Brown World already. The move likely surprised those who heard Bishop say on the campaign trail that Brown was a “lousy mayor.” And it undoubtedly forces the hand of the Duval GOP, which chose Curry over Bishop in January as the endorsed party candidate, much to the consternation of Bishop and his supporters in the room.
At 37 minutes after the 2 p.m. hour, Bishop and Mayor Brown stepped to a podium across the street from City Hall.
Bishop spoke first, saying that he had met with both candidates since the election, and his choice came down to who he thought was “most qualified” to lead Jacksonville forward. He “concluded” that Brown was the best choice, saying that he was “the right man at the right time” when it came to his administration’s work resolving the pension issue, and that Brown has “gone farther than any other” Mayor in this quest.
He also lauded Brown’s “good teamwork approach” to the Port, and said that they both are “dedicated to downtown redevelopment.” For these reasons, he said, he endorsed Alvin Brown for re-election, saying that “we don’t need to start over.
Brown stayed on message, saying that he and Bishop were “both willing to put politics aside” and lauding Bishop as a “true public servant,” citing collaborations on issues related to the St. Johns River and a commitment to making Downtown a “destination, not a pass through.” He was, of course, “honored and humbled” to accept the endorsement of the Republican Councilman.
In the Q&A, Bishop was asked about whether the HRO issue, which was a driver in his strong 3rd place showing. Bishop indicated that the letter to the General Counsel that Brown sent last week represented movement, and that Jacksonville ultimately would be in a “good place” because of that inquiry.
Bishop stressed that his endorsement was a “unilateral exercise,” and contended that “city elections should not be political,” and that “everyone in the city needs to work together.”
He has “no intention of changing parties,” and he has no idea whether the Brown campaign will use him in commercials. He was asked whether he would be tapped to replace Chris Hand as Chief of Staff next term; he demurred an answer.
“We don’t always agree,” Bishop said, but “we share a love of the city [and have] a common desire for Jacksonville to be great.”
For Brown, this is a chance to repeat his strategy of bringing together “Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.” One thing that helped him in 2011 was bringing the aforementioned Chris Hand in from the Audrey Moran campaign, as a liaison to establishment types first, then as Chief of Staff in City Hall. Moran, meanwhile, was co-chair of the Transition Team.
For the Curry side, which has tacked to the right since the Delaney endorsement on issues like the HRO extension to LGBT community members, saying that such a move would be capitulation to outsiders, such as the Human Rights Campaign, who wish to impose changes in Jacksonville’s laws that may not be “necessary or appropriate,” this move by Bishop likely will spur some message recalibration.
However, evidence of such was not in Curry spokesman Brian Hughes‘ response to the Bishop endorsement announcement, which took the high road and downplayed the impact of the endorsement, suggesting that Bishop endorsed Brown because he didn’t want to face Curry in four years.
“As a third place finisher who already announced his intention to run for office yet again, politician Bill Bishop has clearly made a calculation that facing a strong incumbent in 2019 would present too great a challenge to his own political ambition. Having received more than twice as many votes as Bishop in the First Election, Lenny Curry wishes this single Jacksonville voter well and is going to continue to share his positive vision for the city’s future with the remaining thousands of undecided voters,” Hughes stated.