Lenny Curry reaches out to, dialogues with Grand Park
Lenny Curry campaigns in Grand Park

Curry Grand Park

Early voting in Jacksonville starts on Monday, and Lenny Curry made the decision to spend a big chunk of the weekend beforehand in Grand Park and NW Jacksonville, defying many of his most vocal critics who have told him, in no uncertain terms, that he might as well cede these areas to his opponent, Alvin Brown.

Curry, who came from a blue collar background, has said throughout the campaign that he wanted to represent all of Jacksonville. Spending the last two days before Early Voting in what all the experts say are Alvin Brown strongholds can only be seen as an example of that.

He started off Saturday working with former Councilman Johnny Gaffney and other community leaders at a monthly cleanup event at Jacksonville Heights Elementary School, a success story in the making.

From there, Curry went to Tony’s Crab Shack on Division Street, one of the best seafood places in the area. Curry told me that he wasn’t sure of the reception he would get, but when he went in, two customers approached him immediately to shake hands and demonstrate support. The owner was a tougher sell. After asking Curry a series of questions about what the Republican would do for NW Jax, he was satisfied with the answers enough to want a picture with Curry.

Those who have spent any time in NW Jax, and the Grand Park area specifically, know that nothing has abated the tide of violence, driven by the drug trade and fueled by a lack of alternatives for those who grow up in the neighborhood. The infrastructure is like something out of a period piece, essentially unchanged, except by natural deterioration, from the days of Lou Ritter and Hans Tanzler. It hasn’t changed in the last four years, as anyone over there will tell you. Despite this lack of tangible results when it comes to improving the lives of those in the area, the residents are still expected to turn out in droves to vote for the mayor’s reelection.

It’s a paradox, to be sure, and Curry’s play for Grand Park hopes to combat that. But Curry is also thinking about the dialogue at large. Talking to people in the community, getting to understand their aspirations and needs, and, if elected, making those come to pass.

Part of that dialogue included a meeting with a few dozen supporters at the Johnnie Walker Community Center near the intersection of MLK and Division.

Curry was introduced by Charles Moreland, a former fire chief and director, who let those on hand know what he thought of Curry.

“Lenny is a man that is interested in solving problems; not talk, action.” He asked the crowd, seemingly rhetorically: “how has the city helped you succeed?”

Pointing out the crime problem (an assertion reinforced by the Sunday morning news, which documented a drive-by shooting hospitalizing a man shot in the chest by a spray of bullets that hit both a nearby car and house), Moreland reminded those on hand that Curry called for 147 new police officers, telling them: “Don’t leave here with just a full belly; leave here to vote for Lenny Curry.”

Curry spoke next, leading off with his message about running for Jacksonville’s families, and saying that his legacy would, if elected, go beyond his time in office.

“If I do my job,” Curry said, “whoever comes after me gets the credit.”

One of the things he would do for Grand Park and similar areas is to get government “out of the way” to those looking to start small businesses.

“If you want to start a business,” he said, the city would make sure that you don’t have to “sit on your cash for 60 or 90 days” while navigating the permit process.

Curry also reaffirmed his commitment to education, vowing to allow for parental choice in pre-K programs, and the restoration of after-school programs, many of which Curry contends were defunded over the last four years, with the de-emphasis on the Jacksonville Journey initiatives.

Curry then turned his focus onto crime, a daily preoccupation in the area. Curry reiterated previous claims that violent crime and murder had “spiked” due to the mayor’s “lack of budget priorities,” and talked at some length about why crime in Grand Park affects him on a personal level.

A year ago, when he was starting his campaign, Curry heard of a “14 year old who was where he should have been who was shot down.” On Saturday, he saw the memorial for the first time.

“This has to stop,” Curry said.

He then talked about Anthony Stinson, a friend of his who runs the Grand Park Pop Warner league, who Curry has known for years (well before running for office) and who has, over those years, given Curry more insight into what was really happening in the area.

“What I didn’t understand was that Anthony… was solving the problems of the city.”

Anthony’s commitment to the area came at a price, Curry related. “Anthony’s own son was shot down.” This shooting, a drive by, happened in May of 2013. Stinson was just a few days from turning 21.

Curry showed the emotion of a father who knew very well what it would feel like to lose his son. “How many more kids have to die?”

There is a paradox between the stereotype of Curry, promulgated by what Democratic Councilwoman Denise Lee called “race baiting” ads pushed to the African American community (ads that the Florida Times-Union finally noticed a week after we had an interview with her; kudos, as ever, to the Paper of Record for its always timely reporting) and Curry’s own approach to the African American community.

Curry is the first to say that he doesn’t claim “to know how to solve every problem.” Yet he has proven his commitment to dialogue, to understanding, and to improvement.

He and his team will be out knocking on doors in Grand Park on Sunday, having one on one conversations with voters over there. One gets the feeling that Curry is as interested in the dialogue and developing a deeper understanding as he is in getting out the vote.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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