Despite local drama, Lenny Curry still believes in ‘One City, One Jacksonville’
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry takes questions after his re-election victory speech. [A.G. Gancarski: Photo]

Lenny Curry (2)
"Why the constant combativeness?"

It’s halftime for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry after a consequential first term (Pension Reform, and the Kids Hope Alliance among the major accomplishments, with the Human Rights Ordinance also becoming settled law).

However, it wasn’t a blemish-free first term.

The attempt to have a “mature conversation” about privatizing JEA devolved into accusations that the mayor wanted to “sell” JEA and an all-invective-all-the-time re-election campaign.

Curry won, scoring 57 percent against two rogue Republicans and an independent candidate. But turnout, at 24 percent (though higher with Republicans), was anemic.

Ahead of his second term, President George W. Bush asked rhetorically, ‘what good is political capital if you can’t use it’.”

Curry’s last couple of weeks have observers questioning his political capital period, a remarkable position to be in given having won (almost) every political battle in the last few years. The Mayor has sparred with local media, especially the city’s daily paper, at multiple points over the years.

A recent poll from the University of North Florida saw Curry at +9, with a mere 46 percent approval. (For his part, Curry and his consultant Tim Baker discount this poll’s methodology]. The very suggestion of that number represents a narrative change.

Curry also has dealt with a tax-ready Duval County School Board, which wants a vote this year on a half-cent sales surtax to handle $1.9 billion in needed capital maintenance and construction. Optics in the press have been brutal, with Curry (skeptical of the mechanics of the proposal) framed as standing between kids and facilities that meet 21st century standards.

Curry has said he’s “ready to work together,” but after weeks of pitched rhetoric, the mood in some quarters far away from the “One City One Jacksonville” paradigm the Mayor promulgated four years prior.

Protesters are expected at Monday’s inauguration.

On Thursday, he assessed the current situation, noting that the 1C1J paradigm is a “fragile thing.”

However, he thinks the overall trajectory is in that direction, differentiating between insider chatter and what average people care about.

“The political battles that are reported in this city … in any city, I would guess, are largely inside baseball stuff,” Curry said.

“The average person in the average neighborhood, they’re not engaged in this stuff,” Curry added. “They’re not caught up in this narrative that appears to be constant infighting.

That extends to the squabble with the School Board over the timing and process on the school tax. We noted that vocal segments of the community doubt his sincerity in finding a solution, despite statements saying just that.

“That’s just nonsense,” Curry said. “I’ve said with great clarity I’ll lead the charge for a 2020 referendum.”

“I’ll bring every political skill, talent, winning strategy … to pass that referendum, if they put together a plan with the clear things that are needed,” Curry said.

He would even work with them on that plan, which would need to address debt service and  priorities.

Curry noted that a plan must include how the money is to be spent, lest the district be left like Manatee County, which he said has a tax but is unable to figure out how to allocate the funds.

“They’re fighting about where to spend it,” Curry said, noting that plans, including architectural schematics and permitting paths, take a while to come to fruition.

“You can’t spend without a plan,” Curry said. “They can get it right, I’ll work with them, lead the charge. The schools need help, no doubt about it.”

Regarding the precise cut charter schools should get, Curry said “that would have to be negotiated with the people who care about that issue deeply … I do think charter schools should be part of the equation.”

“I believe they’re serious about getting this done,” Curry said. “But why the constant combativeness?”

“I’ve said on the record: Let’s Go! Let’s do this! I’m in!”

Curry noted that a “my way or the highway” approach is not how he does business, citing pension reform and “collaboration” at all levels of state and local government and public unions that made that a reality.

“If you think the earned media is going to bully people into a decision,” Curry said, “that’s not how it works.”

Moving on to JEA, another flashpoint, Curry noted that the conversation he wanted to have last year is happening anew, with the utility exploring new revenue streams.

“What they’re doing now … a very tough, realistic conversation about the strategic challenges, which is what I wanted to do a year ago,” Curry said. “They’re going to have to face these challenges down and come up with solutions.”

“They can’t do nothing. They have to act,” Curry said.

Curry also addressed a key veto from Gov. Ron DeSantis, $8 million for a Vestcor workforce housing project that would have come from the Sadowsky Fund: a change in process that was too far for the first-year Governor.

“I respect his decision,” Curry said. “Nobody knew where he’d land on it. He vetoed it for a philosophical reason. I respect that.”

Curry hopes to “pursue those dollars” in future terms, via a mechanism the Governor can support.

The Mayor was reluctant to look past his term, saying he’s “not a lame duck yet.”

“The strong mayor form of government is important. Whoever sits in this office should be decisive and action oriented … utilize the strength of this office to get things done.”

“There’s been a lot of talk in Jacksonville … [topics] we task force and committee until we’re blue in the face,” Curry said. “My four years have been about action.”

He has no plans for a future election.

“I’m not going to rule something out, but if I were leaving office today, I’d be back in the private sector,” Curry said.  “I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about what my next office could be.”

A.G. Gancarski

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


  • Frankie M.

    June 27, 2019 at 4:52 pm

    Bryan Anger called. He wants his old job back. MC Curry punts more than BA. He punted on the pension…you’re welcome kids. He punted on the HRO…has he weighed in on the latest JPL saga yet. Now he’s punting on the kids. Thoughts & prayers. Enjoy 21st century learning with 3rd world infrastructure.

    The king of inside baseball politics laments inside baseball. Oh the irony! What are his accomplishments again besides getting reelected thanks to abysmal turnout? Kicking the can down the road on pension costs? Reorganizing the children’s commission so he can give kickbacks to KIPP and political donors? Trying to sell JEA? Rising violent crime?

    This is the first time MC Curry has mentioned supporting a sales tax referendum for schools despite cherrypicking information reported by the TU. The mayor clearly has his hand in the cookie jar and wants a seat at the table despite it being none of his business. Last time I checked BK was not a public school. I wonder who would benefit from more charter school $$? Hint: it’s not the kids.

    The most combative person in local politics complains about combativeness? Does he read his own twitter feed? I wonder why everyone but AG question his motives. Sometimes I think AG moonlights as MC Curry’s personal press secretary. Must be what MC Curry means by “earned” media.

  • Susan

    June 27, 2019 at 5:33 pm

    Yes indeed. The optics look bad for Curry.
    Quote from article:
    Optics in the press have been brutal, with Curry (skeptical of the mechanics of the proposal) framed as standing between kids and facilities that meet 21st century standards.

  • Susan

    June 27, 2019 at 6:09 pm

    When people speak of charter schools especially when they call them public schools, I often wonder what rules they have to follow and which rules they don’t have to follow.

    For example HB 741, 1003.42 and 1000.05 I wrote the below email but never received a response. Perhaps AG could get a response?

    Honorable Representatives Fine and Fischer,
    ​P​lease amend HB 741 before it reaches the Judiciary committee
    I am writing you Mr. Fischer because you’re my representative and a co-sponsor of the bill.​ I am writing you Mr. Fine because you’re the sponsor of the bill and you were willing to make one amendment already.​ I am copying groups that I hope might either support my position or tell me where I’m wrong.
    ​Hopefully it is obvious why I am asking for support and/or advice from Americans United for Separation of Church and State; the ACLU; and the Southern Poverty Law Center since the main focus of HB 741 is to include religion in 1000.05 of the Florida Statutes.

    The reason I am including the other groups is because my guess is their goals include:
    Support a statewide accountability system….. for all schools that receive public funds, directly or indirectly.

    ​My guess is all the groups would support adding religion to 1000.05 of the Florida statutes if 1000.05 would also apply to all schools receiving public funds, directly or indirectly. 1000.05 and HB 741 should cover charter schools and private schools receive voucher money.

    HB 741 will add “religion” to the list in 1000.05 (2)(a). This is how 1000.05(2)(a) reads now:
    Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, disability, or marital status against a student or an employee in the state system of public K-20 education is prohibited. No person in this state shall, on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, disability, or marital status, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any public K-20 education program or activity, or in any employment conditions or practices, conducted by a public educational institution that receives or benefits from federal or state financial assistance.

    ​I see no reason why religion shouldn’t be added to 1000.05 of the Florida Statutes.​ ​I am ​​merely asking you to amend HB 741 in the following ways:
    1. Where possible, make the wording broader so it clearly covers all minority religions that have experienced the brunt of religious bigotry
    2. Make 1000.05 of the Florida statutes apply to all K-20 schools receiving local, state, or federal financial assistance. Unless I am mistaken, 1000.05 currently only applies to neighborhood and magnet schools. There appears to be a movement within the current legislature to expand vouchers and charter schools. These kinds of rules need to apply to those schools also.
    3. As part of the bill, require civility and sensitivity classes for all schools that receive local, state and federal financial assistance.
    4. Include the wording in the Do No Harm Act (H.R. 1450) because we don’t want people to use religion as an excuse to harm OTHER people.

    The comments and debates during the Education Committee meeting on March 21st made it clear why we need civility and sensitivity classes in all the schools receiving local, state and federal financial assistance. Representative Daniels has a bill before the Congress which (if it passes) would make it a requirement that neighborhood and magnet schools offer an elective class teaching the Bible. Instead of doing that, why not make it mandatory that kids take a class on world religions, civics and civility? It seems to me a course which teaches religion (i.e. the Bible) as a guide post to lead your life should be taught in the religious institutions which could also offer the strength of the religious community.

    I made these notes as I was listening to the video of the presentation of HB 741 to the education committee:

    Audience member Amy talked about the discrimination she experienced in her life. I interpreted what Amy was saying to indicate the bill needs to include a requirement for a class in sensitivity. The bill also needs to apply to all schools receiving taxpayer money.
    A Rabbi from the audience starts around the 2 hour and 9 minute mark. I appreciated the Rabbi mentioning the murders in New Zealand. I felt he was saying that we need to include Islamophobia in addition to antisemitism in the bill. I would add that in addition to specifically mentioning antisemitism and islamophobia, we should also specifically mention anti-atheism.

    Rep Massullo mentions that discrimination is partly caused by ignorance. Doesn’t that mean we need to teach classes in sensitivity?
    Rep Valdes said she wished we could change hearts. We need sensitivity training! And this bill needs to apply to ALL schools receiving taxpayer money.
    Shouldn’t Representative Daniels’ remarks regarding Messianic Judaism indicate another example as to why we need classes in sensitivity? I know many people were outraged when Vice President Pence invited a Messianic Jewish Rabbi to give a prayer after the killings at the synagogue. Here is one quote from an article I read:
    The Jewish groups argued that allowing the rabbi, whom they don’t recognize as Jewish, to offer a prayer for victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting sowed religious division at a time when Americans should be standing with Jews.
    A statement from the Rabbinical Assembly, a Conservative Jewish group and one of several to object, declared that “so-called ‘Messianic Judaism’ is not a Jewish movement.

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