The skeptics doubted Lenny Curry. They doubted him when he announced that he was thinking about running for Mayor. They doubted him when he announced. They doubted him when the first TV ads aired. And some of them are still doubting him now.
They are mistaken. Those who still need evidence that the Curry campaign is legit should have been in the jam-packed conference room at the Salisbury Boulevard Marriott on Jacksonville’s Southside today for the Women’s Coalition Fundraising Luncheon. The room brimmed with Republican women activists – and a few men – with over 229 attending, and adding $20,000 to the campaign coffers, according to Curry Spokesman Brian Hughes.
The proceedings began a few minutes after 11:30, when Let Freedom Sing performed a few standards, including Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American”. The crowd continued to build – organizers had not expected such a turnout – and then, a few minutes before noon, the candidate himself walked in the double doors. He turned to me, shook my hand, and surveyed the crowd, telling me “this is wild”, before greeting his supporters.
Some candidates can be said to “work a room”. With Curry, it never seems like he’s doing that. He hugged one or two people in attendance, shook hands with some others, drawing on the personal connection he has with local Republicans. When talking to people, though, he always looked to be in the moment and engaged in the conversation. One of the paradoxes that party-line critics had better understand about Lenny Curry is that he is able to engage people for who they are – a temperament that would lend itself to that of a parish priest as much as a would be mayor.
Cindy Graves, the Event Organizer, got the ball rolling, extolling the virtues of Curry’s wife Molly, whom Graves described as “the hardest working spouse in politics.” In an event celebrating women and their role in the Curry campaign and the GOP at large, this was an expected theme. What was unexpected was how heartfelt the emotional appeal was, throughout the event.
Brian Swensen, Curry’s campaign manager, spoke next of the operational realities of a campaign against a strong incumbent, reminding the party faithful that “races are won and lost on the ground” and “because of Lenny, we have that ability [for] a one on one dialogue” with voters, to tell them “to go vote for Lenny because he’s an awesome guy.”
Susie Wiles was next up – arguably the most important woman in city politics during the John Delaney and John Peyton eras, and 2010 Rick Scott Campaign Manager. Wiles was “amazed by this turnout”, and she too had words of praise for Molly by way of introduction, describing her as “patient… relaxed… yet fully engaged”, a partner in life who “knows how to motivate Lenny, yet keeps him balanced.”
Molly Curry took the mike next, and she is the campaign’s not-so-secret weapon, a charming and engaging political wife who very clearly is the candidate’s partner in life and driving force.
Mrs. Curry, upon surveying the crowd, reiterated the emergent theme, observing that “what started as a little ladies’ luncheon – look what this turned into”. She spoke for a few minutes, mentioning that, when Lenny was deliberating a run, she urged him: “get off your butt and just do it”. She then told a story that resonated with the crowd, about Lenny having business in Orlando the same weekend as one of her son’s first tackle football games. The candidate drove back to Jacksonville, coached the game, then returned to Orlando.
The message: not lost on that crowd, who understand the importance of family, and who value leaders who understand that political power is a hollow thing when it comes at the expense of those formative experiences for children.
The final speaker: the candidate himself. “When I walked in today, I had no expectation that there would be this many people”, he said to his “old friends and new friends” in attendance.
Curry spoke of the women who inspired him next: his grandmother, who inculcated him with a love oif scripture; his mother, who taught him to “do the right thing; that’s what the expectation was”; and his wife, the “most important woman in my life”, whom he met when trying to recruit accountants for his firm on the University of Florida campus, only to find that he knew she was destined for a far more important role very quickly.
“Here’s what I know eleven years later”, he told the crowd. “It’s much better than I ever could have imagined.” The crowd let loose with a collective “aw”, and in that moment it was easy to see why Curry is ahead of Brown in recent polls with women: for all of his oratorical skill, Mayor Alvin Brown does not create that “aw” moment.
Curry’s remarks kept returning to the theme of family – that he wanted his kids to say that Jacksonville “is the city I want to live in”, that the city be a place “where people want to stay”. In his view, “Jacksonville is at the crossroads” right now, yet overall, this has been a “city of action because people decided to leave Jacksonville better than they found it.”
From there, he offered a history lesson, and a pantheon to which he aspires, namechecking the historical high points: the River City Renaissance under the Ed Austin administration; the acquisition of an NFL team and the Super Bowl; and John Delaney’s Better Jacksonville Plan and the Jacksonville Journey of John Peyton.
Absent from that list: Mayor Alvin Brown, whose “budgets just don’t work” and are predicated on sketchy accounting and borrowing, according to the candidate. Beyond taking Brown to task for the budget, he also hit the Mayor hard for recent increases in violent crime on Jacksonville, saying that “children must be safe, people must be safe, and we must invest” in crime prevention strategies.
Curry’s remarks also addressed Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan’s comments last year that a homeless person in Detroit had more “mojo” than a Jacksonville millionaire.
“Does Jacksonville have mojo? Of course we do,” Curry maintained. “We just need to step up and talk about it.”
Curry reiterated his major campaign goals, pledging commitment to economic development and job creation, to creating “the best public schools we’ve ever had”, to “safe streets” and a concomitant investment in children and neighborhoods – which would be connected to and integrated with a “vibrant downtown.”
“You can’t be a suburb of nowhere”, Curry said, accentuating his point made throughout the campaign that great cities have great urban cores.
The candidate closed with a heartwarming story about his daughter’s dance recital. Curry discussed how hard she had prepared, and at the end of it, she told her father that it was “the first time I ever cried because I was happy.” As the crowd let forth with one final collective “awwwww”, Curry pledged to fight on, so that his supporters would be able to cry “tears of joy” on Election Night.
Lenny Curry was not the only Mayoral candidate to have a women’s fundraiser this week. Mayor Alvin Brown had one on Monday, co-chaired by his wife and Grace Nelson, wife of Senator Bill Nelson. We asked for details on that event, and Fabien Levy responded, “We were excited to have so many women from throughout Jacksonville come out to support Mayor Brown today. The grassroots coalition of both women and men supporters is a testament to all Mayor Brown has done over the last four years to put Jacksonville first.”
Specifics regarding the attendance and the money raised at the Brown event were not offered.