The Jacksonville City Council met Thursday to discuss the Lot J development proposal from the NFL Jaguars and the Mayor Lenny Curry administration, and ultimately the meeting did little more than raise questions among some about the current City Council President.
Democratic Councilman Tommy Hazouri, elected by a 16-3 margin earlier this year to helm the supermajority Republican legislative body with the strong backing of Curry, continues to push back against the pitch, moves that would seem to signal the end of a mutually beneficial pact for the two politicians.
Despite the Council having canceled its regular meetings since last week because of a COVID-19 case, Thursday evening saw an extraordinary “committee of the whole” meeting slated to discuss the proposal. The agenda included 45 minute presentations from the Council Auditor, the Curry administration, and the Jaguars.
The meeting went in a different direction, with Hazouri pushing for a vote on substitute legislation from Councilman Matt Carlucci that would refer the package to the appointed Downtown Investment Authority for a review of terms and conditions. That push was muddied by Council member LeAnna Cumber proposing an amendment to the current bill accomplishing the same thing.
Ultimately, neither was voted upon. By the time Hazouri got the body into posture for a vote, well over an hour into the meeting, only 12 people were present, falling short of a quorum.
One contentious exchange, documented in part by David Jones of First Coast News, saw Hazouri and Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes at odds.
Council members likewise were flummoxed, including Republican Rory Diamond.
Diamond was one of just three votes against Hazouri for President in the Spring, and time since has not mellowed his disquiet.
“Tommy Hazouri has no business leading this Council. It’s embarrassing. Epitome of corruption and incompetence,” Diamond tweeted Thursday night, in response to fellow Republican Aaron Bowman saying Hazouri was “unprepared for this job.”
On Friday morning, Diamond was not backing down.
“It’s pretty rough,” he said when asked if Hazouri can no longer handle the job.
Diamond questions Hazouri’s ability to run a meeting, saying he “makes up the rules as he goes along.”
“Never seen anything like it,” the first-term Republican from the Beaches said.
Bowman, who had questioned Hazouri’s judgement recently as Hazouri failed to implement coronavirus precautions in the chamber even as one council member tested positive, was likewise unmollified Friday, saying the spectacle was “sad and uncomfortable to watch.”
Those familiar with the thinking in the office of Curry, meanwhile, suggest that the cross-party symbiosis between Hazouri, a Democratic Mayor roughly three decades ago, and the current Republican Mayor may be nearing a terminus.
Hazouri is starting to remind some in Suite 400 of former Council President Anna Brosche, the Republican who feuded with Curry on moves to privatize the local public utility. Brosche ultimately ran for Mayor, but lost in what was a low-turnout election last year.
Indeed, Hazouri took a page out of Brosche’s playbook by appointing Councilman Garrett Dennis to the Finance Committee. Dennis, a Brosche ally when she was on Council, is persona non grata with Curry’s team. At least in the near term, he will have a chance to weigh in on most of Curry’s initiatives, offering more pushback to the Mayor.
While Hazouri and Curry feuded when both assumed office five years ago, the two found a way to work together on issues eventually. In 2019, Hazouri endorsed Curry’s reelection, saying that was his prerogative because no Democrat was in the race. A political committee associated with Florida Senate Republicans helped to promote that cross-party backing.
From the time he joined the City Council in 2015, Hazouri made no secret of his quest for the Jacksonville City Council presidency, a job that often represents the pinnacles of the careers of those who have it.
The political lifer had been a state legislator, a mayor, a school board member, and saw leadership of the Council as the capstone to a long career.
Though the Democrat won election by a 16-3 margin despite a Republican supermajority, storm clouds have loomed since he took the gavel in July, with personal health challenges and family legal woes compounding the difficulties of the job itself.