FIGHTIN' WORDS

Marriage of CONVENIENCE

All smiles from Jax Mayor, City Council … for now

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One of the limitations of political rhetoric is the idea that every disagreement is a zero-sum game. That may be true in the posturing of initial positions, but history teaches us that each party learns sooner or later that they have to find a way forward after a disagreement.

As readers of this space know, this year’s race for Jacksonville City Council President was a contentious one. Some who backed the eventual winner, Anna Lopez Brosche, thought the Mayor’s Office waded in on behalf of the defeated John R. Crescimbeni. Others acutely familiar with the thinking of the Mayor’s Office assert that if the Mayor’s Office had waded in, everyone involved would’ve noted it—in other words, NBD that JRC took the KO loss.

Whatever happened, it’s all over now—and everyone is going to learn to work together again, for what Lenny Curry calls a third year in a row of “winning.” Even before the official budget drops Monday morning, we have a good indication of how the Curry Administration intends to offer positive and negative reinforcement, all of it designed to ensure that One City, One Jacksonville doesn’t end up in the slogan graveyard (See: ‘Where Florida Begins’) before Curry files for re-election.

Councilors—specifically, new Finance Committee Chair Garrett Dennis—got a special tutorial last month.

Dennis wanted $200,000 of unencumbered general fund money for swimming lessons for underprivileged youth, even though there was no plan to deploy this money, no staff to teach the lessons, among other issues.

Against the dismal backdrop of kids drowning in backyard pools every other news cycle, Dennis’ pitch had emotional appeal. However, there was also a competing reality: the Mayor’s Office didn’t support the bill on the grounds that such allocations should be made during the August/September budget process and not shoehorned in at the end of a fiscal year.

Dennis carried his bill through committees, saying that it should pass for the same reason that Bill Gulliford’s opioid treatment pilot program bill (“Guilt Trip,” July 5) passed.

“If they don’t support my bill, they don’t support Bill Gulliford’s bill … They are both crises … opioid epidemic and the drowning epidemic,” said Dennis, with funds from the “same pot of money.”

And Dennis labored to make that point—he and his allies tore down the Gulliford legislation, with one (Danny Becton) labeling entreaties to vote for opioid treatment a “guilt trip,” and another (Katrina Brown) saying that “death is death.” A recurring theme throughout committees that week: Just maybe, the overdose crisis is the fault of those pumping the needles in their own arms. That’s how pitched it got.

Of course, Gulliford’s bill was approved. Dennis ended up withdrawing his, though he was able to save face because Mayor Curry has a much bigger swimming lessons program planned for Monday’s budget.

So win/win. Sort of. But Dennis learned a lesson. The Mayor’s Office could’ve endorsed the play; what’s $200K, after all? But, as one person familiar with the office’s thinking put it, they destroyed the bill.

It wasn’t about the money. It was about the principle of the thing. And the principle was that Dennis and Brosche’s allies who got her elected were getting a bit too breezy … and, goes the narrative, the Mayor’s Office worked behind the scenes to sink Dennis’ play for headlines and heroism.

Glub, glub, glub.

No matter how it went down, the swimming lessons bill was dead. But hope springs eternal, and Dennis was given a re-election talking point last week when Curry announced plans to spend $8.4M on Edward Waters College.

Money would go to dorm rehab, including $4.4M for mold abatement, a persistent problem in many EWC structures. And $4M more would go for a community field.

On hand at EWC for the photo op/presser: Garrett Dennis and the three other Finance Committee African-American Democrats … the swing votes in Brosche’s win.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown flipped the script on the mayor by conducting an interview with him and the aforementioned committee members at the event.

Curry looked less than thrilled as he soldiered through talking points in the early part of the segment, but he pushed through anyway, giving Brown what she wanted.

“The mayor’s committed to working with everybody to make sure it’s One City, One Jacksonville,” Brown said during her energetic spiel.

That was a celebration—and a warning shot. And all Curry could say at the end?

“One City, One Jax.”

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