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Odd Positions Make Mayor's Race in Jax Worth Watching

February 15, 2015 - 6:00pm

Was Jacksonville's historic mayor a flash in the pan?

The question will be decided soon in upcoming elections for city offices.

Four years ago, Alvin Brown, a black Democrat, ran for mayor. He had never held political office. Before that he had been one of countless thousands of mid-level bureaucrats in the federal government.

White and black liberals in the city flocked to his cause in 2011, as the race got state and national attention. Still, it appeared that he was losing to conservative Republican Mike Hogan, a former legislator and city councilman.

Then, Democrat operatives from out of town flooded Jacksonville to help turn the tide. In addition, wealthy Republicans -- concerned that Hogan might not be willing to spend enough of the taxpayers' money on projects they favored -- got behind Brown.

Brown ran second in the primary but won a close runoff race by generating a huge increase in turnout among black voters. His win was duly described by the liberal media as historic, as is every case of first black man to (fill in the blank).

It was assumed Brown would coast to re-election, unless Hogan decided to make another run. One analysis had concluded Hogan's chances were pretty good because of his favorables and name recognition.

Then, recently a poll reportedly found Brown to be more vulnerable than some thought.

This year, Republicans who supported Brown last time are rallying behind Lenny Curry, an accountant, businessman and former chairman of the state Republican Party. The Chamber of Commerce also is on board.

On his website, Curry is citing his business experience and attacking Brown, mostly on minor points regarding financial disclosure that every candidate faces. Ominously, he uses the dreaded word investments," which too often signals more spending, and repeatedly talks about providing more resources to various government operations. His camp says the investment reference is to private capital that will follow Curry's policies.

The problem may not be Curry but his backers. Four years ago they chose a novice Democrat over a conservative Republican with a proven track record who pledged to oppose unnecessary spending. Why did they switch? (In the interest of disclosure, I did some work for the 2011 Hogan campaign.)

Privately, Brown is telling friends that the city's fat cats are dumping him because they wanted tax increases and he declined. Polls indicate Brown's stance met favor with the voters, who have spent tons of money in recent years on civic improvements with the Better Jacksonville Plan, River City Renaissance, etc.

In the meantime, Hogan has decided to run instead for the job of supervisor of elections, making Curry's effort easier, although Republican City Councilman Bill Bishop, considered an able administrator, also is in the race.

Curry got 60 percent of the vote in a straw poll held by the local tea party, where 60 percent of those voting were Republican. His camp appears confident of a first-primary victory.

Brown still could win, especially if the state and national party decide to devote the same effort as before. But the mere fact that a Democrat who is reluctant to raise taxes is pitted against Republicans who seem bent on draining more money from the budgets of local families makes the topsy turvy race one to watch.

Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. After retirement he served as a policy analyst for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

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