An interesting email exchange between Republican Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Democratic Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn in recent days concerned a subject salient to Curry: “how to be a Republican mayor.”
Buckhorn emailed Curry Monday: “Sounds like you have a lot going on in Jax. Came across this and thought you would be interested. Not sure I subscribe to all of it but certainly an interesting read.”
Curry, for his part, said that the article was “a great read and speaks well to the real challenges and opportunities we face.”
The article linked to in the email: a piece about San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who, like Curry, was characterized by an “inoffensive, no-frills manner” on the campaign trail.
Beyond that, though, there are other parallels. As Curry did in the weeks before the runoff election last May, Faulconer also made concerted outreach to historically underserved communities.
“I went to neighborhoods that Republicans had traditionally surrendered and Democrats had ignored,” Faulconer said. “I said: ‘Look my job is to provide opportunity. My job is to ensure we’re providing equal access to services. And we’re going to do things differently.’”
Sound familiar? Curry, in his rhetoric about the Jacksonville Journey, and in his pre-election work in Grand Park, hit similar themes on the trail.
“In the almost two years since his election, Faulconer’s advisers can tout approval numbers above 50 percent across the board, including from Latinos and voters who described themselves as ‘very liberal.’ Plus, in a city where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by 13 percentage points, Faulconer has attracted zero meaningful opposition to his re-election bid next year,” says the article.
Yet, there is a catch.
But if Faulconer is ultimately going to succeed in building a movement that can lead the GOP out of the wilderness and into the city, he’s going to have to do more than run a savvy campaign and be likable. And that is where he runs into trouble: Faulconer has yet to propose any big-ticket items targeted toward the communities he says he wants to help. Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidates’ increasingly inflammatory remarks about people of color, which Faulconer hasn’t publicly rebuked, undermine his efforts to connect with those same voters … It’s tough to imagine Faulconer becoming a model for GOP mayors if he doesn’t raise his voice or deliver on policies that meaningfully improve the lives of those targeted by his political rhetoric.
Indeed, the paradox between being a mayor of inclusion and the deliberately incendiary rhetoric of GOP national standard-bearers, which seems calculated increasingly to the Cracker Barrel crowd, is one that Curry has struggled with: His commentary on Syrian refugee relocation, which put Curry in line with Rick Scott and Lake Ray, got a lot of pushback from everyone not singing from the GOP Hymnbook.
Curry, as a former leader in the GOP party structure, faces a paradox between serving up red meat and addressing the needs of a diverse community.
Faulconer’s approach to this issue probably will remind locals of Alvin Brown staying out of Democratic Party affairs to a fault:
“Faulconer has been reluctant to speak out about the Republican Party’s rightward tilt nationally … I asked Faulconer about Donald Trump’s idea to put a wall along the U.S. southern border. Even though he disagrees with Trump, Faulconer evaded the question. More recently, I asked him why he punted: ‘I tend to focus on things that I have an effect on locally here in San Diego,’ he said. Talking about national issues, Faulconer said, is a distraction.”
There is a rhetorical freedom when one is in campaign mode. PACs can go negative on “liberals” and reassure the base. We are seeing this on the Presidential campaign trail. It’s great theater, even if some candidates think Hamas is a chickpea/tahini dip and Hummus is a terrorist group.
However, whether a mayor is Republican or Democrat, the needs of a community don’t change.
How Curry balances these two seemingly incompatible political worlds is going to be a signature challenge of his term.