In the roughly half-century since Jacksonville consolidated its city and county governments, there is precedent for sitcom-style arcs like the rise and fall of the 2020 Republican National Convention.
The city will chase an event or entity out of its league, get rebuffed, and then the cycle repeats.
The most obvious example of such remains the city’s relationship with the National Football League. Like no other city in the country, Jacksonville’s leaders thirsted for that identity.
The chase for the franchise currently in town may have been the greatest civic effort since consolidation itself. However, along the way the city did some pratfalls.
The most vivid example: so-called Colts Fever in 1979, when Jacksonville tried and failed to steal the team from Baltimore.
As veteran sports journalist Sam Kouvaris notes, the city hotshotted a pep rally at the stadium, drawing 50,000 people in what was a much smaller town, holding up matches and chanting “We want the Colts.”
They didn’t get the Colts.
Jacksonville got its team eventually, and then got its Super Bowl, a calamitous affair where so-called Super Bowl parties were happening in some of the city’s gnarliest nightclubs, where taxicabs and hotels ran short for the out of towners. Sportswriters of a certain age had their “Jacksonville hosts the Super Bowl” jokes, sort of that genre’s version of Jackie Gleason‘s riffs on Bayonne.
But there’s a difference: Bayonne doesn’t need to punch above its weight. Jacksonville historically is desperate to do so.
With the Republican National Convention falling apart this week, with buoyant promises and projections of a full-scale convention having crumbled in light of an array of concerns, it was left to President Donald Trump to help the city save face by pulling the event.
“The timing for this event is not right. It’s just not right with what’s happened recently, the flareup in Florida. To have a big convention is not the right time,” Trump said at the White House Thursday.
There are those in the Mayor’s orbit who were relieved by the reprieve.
The President, in recent days, has messaged particular concerns about COVID-19 rates in the state, calling the virus’ spread “flamelike” in an interview that aired Sunday. That framing allowed him to be seen as Taking The Virus Seriously, but also obscured another main issue with the Jacksonville event: security concerns that became public early this week.
Sheriff Mike Williams going public with concerns about not having resources didn’t shock Mayor Lenny Curry, the event co-chair, and it functionally offered the Mayor an out in terms of outlining the reality that no scenario was present for a safe event.
“At this point, we are simply past the point of no return to execute the event with safety and security that is our obligation,” said Williams Monday, in a statement on Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office letterhead.
Curry, in his second term and with mounting unfavorable numbers, has made moves to quell unrest among a younger population that is skeptical of corporate Republicanism generally and City Hall’s version of power politics specifically.
From marching with Black Lives Matter to vowing to remove the city’s Confederate monuments (a work in progress), the Mayor has attempted pivots, while simultaneously branding with the Republican establishment that sees them as props in the culture war.
That has left him, to some degree, without a base. Some of his sharpest criticism has come from Republicans who anointed him the savior against “liberal Alvin Brown” half a decade ago.
But there is no savior for Jacksonville’s inherent contradictions. A mid-tier city that wants to be seen as big league.
A city that wants the big leagues so badly that the city swings at pitches outside the strike zone.