As is typical with Jacksonville straw polls this campaign season, the parking lot was full and the building brimmed with people at the WBOB “Stump” event, one that some people say is “Tea Party” and others say is simply conservative. I walked in from a cold, persistent rain and saw Sheriff’s Candidate Lonnie McDonald, and we greeted each other like old friends.
We might as well be at this point. As the candidate said to me, “you see the same people at all of these things.”
And there’s a reason for that. Candidates, especially the “grassroots” ones whose opponents have more money and resources, need these events — both to message and to create the perception, if only internally, of viability.
I saw another veteran of candidate forums, Terry Reed, an At Large City Council candidate up against Reverend Kim Daniels and Anna Brosche in Group 1, and asked him what he hoped to get out of an appearance at this event.
“The Tea Party’s been good to me,” said Reed. “They’ve afforded me an opportunity to speak.”
Does the message change in front of a different crowd? He answered honestly.
“It’s the same message, but I tailor it toward the audience”, which he delicately called an “older crowd”, a “mature crowd.”
Sheriff hopeful Tony Cummings got the same questions.
“I like the turnout”, he told me, adding that no matter what crowd he was addressing, he aims to be “consistent”, to “hammer home the message” of battling rising crime with “public input” via citizen review boards and accountability panels.
“The Sheriff has to be open and transparent”, he added, “because we’re in it together.”
This event was hosted by WBOB personality Bill Hay and his co-host, former meterologist turned animal rights activist Julie Watkins, which created a certain cognitive dissonance in the questions and certain other aspects of the event. Such as the vegan snack bar, tucked away in the back.
I asked the affable tattooed gentleman working back there how business was going. He told me it was “kind of quiet”.
Perhaps it was quiet because the room was stacked with politicians and their staffers. Bill Bishop, Omega Allen, and Lenny Curry were all in the house, along with still more sheriff and Council hopefuls.
It was so stacked, in fact, that the early parts of the program involved Hay and Watkins having to talk over the din of the crowd, which was involved in its own conversations. Candidates like Ryan Taylor, a lightly-funded Republican Council Candidate, talked of being “part of the solution” and “getting our fiscal house in order”. But no one really heard him.
By the time two of the three Mayoral Candidates spoke — Bishop and Curry — the room had quieted down somewhat. Each candidate got approximately three minutes to speak.
Hay asked Bishop about the impact of negative advertising; the 8 year Councilman was fired up.
“People are sick and tired of negative campaign hit ads,” Bishop said, adding that they are the “last vestige of people with no vision” — a clear shot at the Curry campaign, which has sent out anti-Bishop mailers in recent weeks.
Bishop opened and closed to some applause; Curry got still more as he grabbed the mike and answered a similar question about negative advertising.
Curry, who has dealt with this criticism while on the campaign trail, defended the practice, describing “fact based” spots that deal with a “sitting Mayor with a record” and Bishop, “on council for 8 years.”
Watkins came down from the stage, Phil Donahue style, and thrust a mike in front of this writer, so that he could ask Curry a question. And I obliged, asking Curry about the Mayor’s play for conservative voters at the Tea Party “leaderboard luncheon”. Is Curry worried?
“I’m the only conservative in this race,” Curry said, adding that “I take nothing for granted.”
The best reaction of the night, however, went to Jimmy Holderfield, the Sheriff’s candidate who stacked the room with supporters, as he likes to do at these events.
“I’m running to connect, protect, and serve,” exhorted Holderfield from the stage.
Asked about the controversial process by which the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed him some months back, Holderfield instead outlined other endorsements, from firefighter unions and the National Rifle Association.
Then, Julie Watkins dropped a question that her co-host probably didn’t expect.
Where does the candidate stand on the issue of marijuana legalization?
The Republican said it was a “legislative question”, going on to discuss the myriad people with “substance issues in the system”, and his hope for further “medical advice” on the matter.
The crowd started to thin out as the event moved toward the 8:00 hour, but candidates continued to speak. One such: the aforementioned Reverend Kim Daniels, who showed up in a denim jacket, tight jeans, and cowboy boots, looking somewhat disheveled.
When Reverend Daniels was asked about her greatest legislative achievement, her answer was surprising.
“My most outstanding achievement was the first bill I got passed,” said Daniels, “$750K for furniture for the public.”
She was referring to a bill authorizing the purchase of furniture for the new courthouse a few years back. One that the Mayor vetoed, but was overridden nonetheless.
Results of the straw poll, provided by Bill Hay, are below. The top 2 choices are listed for most offices:
Supervisor of Elections:
City Council at Large GRP 1
City Council at Large GRP 2
City Council at Large GRP3
Geoff “Jeff” Youngblood
City Council at Large GRP4
City Council at Large GRP5
City Council DIST1
City Council DIST2
City Council DIST3
City Council DIST4
City Council DIST6
City Council DIST7
City Council DIST8
City Council DIST9
City Council DIST10
City Council DIST12
City Council DIST14
Would you be inclined to vote for a Candidate that openly favors an HRO amendment to the City Charter?
Voters answered : Solidly: No
Would you be inclined to vote for a Candidate that favors a Runway Extension at Craig Airport?
Voters answered : Closely: Yes
Thank You to the Ladies of FCTP that help run the balloting process.