Lenny Curry, the energetic and relentlessly competitive Jacksonville businessman-turned chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, defeated Mayor Alvin Brown Tuesday, only the second time in recent history a sitting mayor has lost re-election.
With all 199 precincts reporting, Curry had 51 percent, or 103,256 votes, to Brown’s 48 percent, or 97,971 votes.
“Just soak it in with me,” Curry told raucous supporters at his election-night party at the downtown Hyatt. “The work starts now.”
Outsiders will suggest the race — the most expensive in city history, largely run by outside operatives — has shades of the 2016 presidential election because both candidates have ties to national political figures.
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But at home, the stakes were clear: Jacksonville is a cash-strapped city with a $1.62 billion debt to the Police and Fire Pension Fund. Violent crime dominates the headlines. Long-persistent divides of wealth, race and schooling define the differences among the sea of neighborhoods in the largest city by area in the continental United States. UF Health Jacksonville faces a potential — and imminent — funding crisis.
Curry’s campaign, centered on rescuing the city from violent crime and using his accounting background to fix financial books he said were in disarray, resonated with voters.
“This will be a safe city again,” he said. “For every family, every person, every kid, every neighborhood, will know that we care about them.”
Brown, who never led as returns came in Tuesday, nonetheless struck an upbeat tone with his supporters at The Jacksonville Landing.
“We left a strong foundation to build on,” Brown said. “I’m excited about it.”
Brown made history in 2011 when he was elected as Jacksonville’s first African-American mayor, emerging from the pack of more well-known candidates. His re-election bid didn’t have the same historic dimension, but he was trying to become the first Democrat to win re-election as mayor since Jake Godbold.
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Browns’s remarks Tuesday also suggested that even though he won’t be mayor past the end of June, he is interested in continuing to be engaged in Jacksonville’s civic life.
From the beginning, the Curry campaign was pining for a partisan, Republican-versus-Democrat election.
And in the waning weeks of the campaign, Brown finally gave them one.
After four years emphasizing a bipartisan and above-the-fray approach to governing, Brown in recent weeks adopted new messaging.
For the first time, Brown said he would advocate for the state to increase its $8.05 an hour minimum wage. He talked about making college affordable and pushing for equal pay for women.
It wasn’t enough.
Curry’s down-the-line GOP messaging often put his campaign at odds with some of his most prominent donors behind the scenes, many of whom are Republicans but hold views on taxes, city spending and social issues that are to the left of the Republican line.
The architects of Curry’s campaign faced skeptics within Curry’s circle of donors, some of whom bristled at Curry’s attack ads and orthodox Republican messaging.
Despite its partisan overtones, the race carried some signature Jacksonville political quirks.
For example, local gay rights activists had to watch an election unfold in which neither candidate would commit to supporting an expansion in the city’s discrimination protections to the LGBT community — despite public polling that shows it has wide support of Democrats and Republicans and the backing of the right-of-center business establishment, among whom Curry had many supporters.
Jacksonville is one of the few large cities in the country without such protections.
The number of Democrats casting ballots was 91,508, which was close to the 92,214 Democrats in the May 2011 contest. But Curry’s campaign turned out 87,752 Republicans, a sizeable increase from the 81,547 Republicans who showed up in 2011.
Turnout also increased among other voters not registered with either party. There were 23,793 of those voters this time, compared to 19,832 in 2011.
Curry faced a long and uncertain road to City Hall since filing to run last summer.
He was the former head of the Duval GOP and chairman of the Republican Party of Florida until last year. A familiar face to the state’s elected officials and political reporters, Curry was nonetheless a virtual unknown in Jacksonville one year ago.
Curry built a business career — an accountant and later co-founder of a professional services firm — as well as a political future around a remarkable ability to make connections with the right people. He set those skills to use when he began his mayoral campaign.
He had to beat out more well-known and obvious choices during an invisible primary among the city’s Republican donor class, including Sheriff John Rutherford and City Councilman Bill Gulliford. Those two later became Curry campaign supporters, as did others who were initially skeptics of Curry’s bid.
He brought in veteran Tallahassee operatives: Brian Hughes and Tim Baker, helped by Jessica Laird, a young Florida-based political director.
He amassed more than $5 million, thanks in part to the support of the city’s Republican-leaning business establishment: Jacksonville insurance executive Tom Petway emerged as a major donor, as did former Disney and St. Joe executive Peter Rummell.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio stumped for him. Former Gov. Jeb Bush cut a 30-second TV spot for him.
Brown, a former appointee in the Clinton administration, had significant help of his own. Hundreds of thousands of dollars flowed to his campaign from the Florida Democratic Party. His staff was made up of former Obama campaign operatives and other Democrats from around the nation. Bill Clinton held a private fundraiser for him earlier this year; Jaguars owner Shad Khan was a major donor.
But his campaign made missteps from the beginning: In September, he attended a campaign fundraiser at an upscale New York club the same night the City Council worked to pass the city’s $1 billion budget. In the first election and the runoff, he allowed Curry to go up on air with TV spots for weeks without responding.
Gov. Rick Scott — the elected official discussed most often by both candidates — congratulated Curry.
“I look forward to working with Lenny to continue to grow economic opportunities in one of Florida’s greatest cities,” he said.
Curry’s father, Roy, an electronics repairman, offered a personal assessment of the mayor-elect: “He has the character.”
For the rest of the article and other great news articles, see: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2015-05-19/story/lenny-curry-takes-city-hall-defeats-mayor-alvin-brown