Over the course of this campaign, I’ve had my share of conversations with Lenny Curry. A recurrent motif, when it comes to him describing the campaign process, is that it’s gradual, rooted in the personal appeal, the one-on-one conversation, the handshake.
That’s how Curry has lifted himself from no name recognition and polling worse than almost a half-dozen Republican mayoral hopefuls in the past year. It was in evidence Wednesday at the influential Southside Businessmen’s Club, a Bill Bishop stronghold in the First Election (they endorsed him, and he’s at most every meeting). Bishop sat next to Curry at the head table, and the two connected like old friends in a way that would have been an anathema to Bishop’s devoted staff from just five weeks ago.
Curry clearly wanted to win the room, and as a Southside businessman himself he was in his element.
“I understand that the original invite was for me and the mayor together,” Curry said, as he has had to often during this campaign season. His requests for multiple debates and forums have been rebuffed by the Alvin Brown campaign as “partisan tricks.”
Curry acknowledged Bishop, and the room’s support for the councilman in the first election, making note of the “heavy lifting” Bishop has done in council.
Much of what Curry’s initial remarks came from his stump speeches. The new material included the mayor having “little to no regard” for precision in financial record keeping, and, especially in light of Brown’s news conference Wednesday on the Northside, “the spike in violent crime and murder” required renewed focus.
Contradicting Brown’s position that Rutherford has enough resources at his disposal, Curry talked about the city dropping the ball on crime prevention, intervention, and enforcement. He asserted that the city defunded Jacksonville Journey programs and created a shortage of police officers. That in turn, Curry said has prevented officers from “getting to know people and building trust.”
Many wonder how Curry will pay for his initiatives. A staunch believer in the transformative power of “economic development,” Curry cited the examples of Rick Scott and John Kasich, who were told, when elected, that they needed to increase taxes. Instead, he contended, their commitment to economic development led to both states “flourishing without raising taxes.”
Curry rejected contentions that such tax increases are necessary. He would prefer more stringent accounting, insisting that there’s “very little trust” in the city’s financial management practices, citing the “half billion dollars of accounting errors” recently found by Republican Councilwoman Lori Boyer.
Curry also fleshed out his education proposals, renewing his commitment (found in his written plan) to STEM education. If elected, he said, he would see that teachers who volunteer for after-school academic enrichment programs be eligible for the same stipends as athletic coaches.
Curry also elaborated on his free-enterprise approach to urban core development, saying, “Jacksonville is not an easy place to do business” and that “Downtown would flourish if we got government out of the way.” He cited difficulties with getting money from outside Jacksonville for the development of the Brooklyn neighborhood, saying developers wondered “how long does my money have to be tied up.”
The Republican also turned his sights on City Hall, saying that they are not cooperative with businesses looking for help with permitting and regulations; if elected, Curry pledges to help business owners “navigate” the process.
Curry then turned his attention to government-mandated wages, both in terms of gender equity and the minimum wage increase the mayor advocated last week.
“My wife is a CPA, and she definitely had to fight battles that I didn’t have to fight,” he said, regarding Molly‘s time in the workforce.
“However,” Curry said, “I’m a free enterprise guy. The market works.”
Then he turned his attention to Brown’s recent evolution toward a minimum wage increase.
“Three weeks out, and this is the first time anyone’s heard this,” Curry said, adding that if Brown were serious, he’d follow Seattle’s lead and “put a bill before council.”
Staying on the attack, Curry turned his attention to Brown’s positions on crime, prompted by a question from the moderator.
“This morning, the mayor held a press conference” where “he laid the problem at the feet of the sheriff” and “said he cared about things that I said I’d invest in,” again making the case that Brown is shifting positions for the sake of political expedience.
Undoubtedly, the Brown side will disagree with Curry’s interpretation. Perhaps those matters will be discussed in the two debates the candidates will have in May.