On Monday morning, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry will be inaugurated into office for his second term.
Curry, the most politically aggressive of any of Jacksonville’s recent mayors, may not run again for anything.
However, he’s in a position where unfavorable ratings (at least by some metrics, such as a University of North Florida poll) are climbing.
The Mayor started off his first term with an evocation of a vision: ‘One City, One Jacksonville.’ Curry himself admits it’s fragile.
A bare-knuckled polemical style has many virtues, but preservation of fragile constructs is not necessarily one of them.
Mayoral messaging ahead of Monday’s inauguration event suggests that the Republican is looking to recalibrate his branding.
On Thursday, the Mayor and his wife, Molly, did a series of soft focus interviews with local television outlets.
Molly has historically been key for the Curry operation. Whenever an argument needs to be closed, Molly Curry is brought in.
The co-branding suggests that Mrs. Curry will take a more prominent role over the next few years.
Some in the Mayor’s inner circle have suggested she could be a candidate for office down the road, even in what will be a packed 2023 mayoral race. It would be interesting if she were used as a key spokesperson for the tax referendum on the 2020 ballot.
With First Coast News, the two discussed “aspirations, challenges, and family life.”
Part of family life, for the Mayor, is that his children are not insulated from his political positions.
“It bothers me when one of my kids comes home and they were attacked because of me, or if they attacked me and it bothers one of them. We try to tell them to just brush it off and try to roll with it,” Curry said.
Curry also suggested a “kinder, gentler” persona could be possible.
“I’ve recognized everything doesn’t have to be a fight. Sometimes you have to fight to get a result, but with a little diplomacy on the front end. I’m trying to be mindful of that,” Curry said.
“If it’s a policy initiative I care about and we have to fight to get to the finish line I’ll do that, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a fight on the front end. Is that what you tell me [Molly]?”
“Yes, yes,” Molly said.
The Action News Jax interview likewise eschewed the kind of hot quotes this Mayor gives in the heat of battle.
“If we always think about perfection, which is one city, one people, one Jacksonville, we’ll be kinder to each other, we will make better policy decisions and less likely to point fingers at each other,” Curry asserted.
The door was opened here for Molly to take an active and visible role as the “face” of the referendum.
“I’ve been some of these schools where I’ve gone to read through Jax Kids Book Club and I’ve seen where the air isn’t working properly, some of them the schools aren’t kept up to speed, so I’m in favor and supporting and helping these schools get up to speed so everyone is on an equal playing field,” Mrs. Curry said.
A paradox seems to be evolving: to satisfy restive elements of the public and to consolidate his own legacy and post-Mayoral reputation, Curry has to ensure this referendum he never wanted succeeds.
It is as key to the School Board’s capital budget as pension reform/debt amortization was to resolving the city’s capital needs.
The television messaging is one layer of the external messaging, however. The Mayor continues to battle on Twitter with reporters for and the editor of the Florida Times-Union over coverage.
The Twitter back-and-forth, while good theater and boosts for social media metrics, may need to evolve into a more constructive relationship, and that would seem to be a second-term goal of the Mayor’s Office.
Given the realities of television news, where print and other text-based journalism one day can be a launch for the next day’s stories, it will be interesting to see if the Mayor can integrate media strategies vis a vis print and TV.
Some smoke signals will emerge over the next couple of weeks, with the July 14 budget release telling us more.