Manufacturing consent: Lenny Curry scores Duval GOP endorsement

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Second-ballot endorsement with intrigue beforehand

After a solid few weeks of endorsements and control of the news cycle, the Lenny Curry campaign garnered the official party endorsement Monday night at the Duval County Republican Party meeting.

The Curry team offered a statement on the endorsement: “We appreciate the grassroots supporters for asking Chairman Lumb to hold a vote, and for inviting Lenny to present his vision for Jacksonville’s future. Duval Republicans voted to send a message to Alvin Brown; our candidate is Lenny Curry and he is bringing a brighter future to our city.”

Those familiar with Curry’s thinking know that he prioritized unifying the fractious local Republican Party, and tonight’s vote did just that – but not without some complications with regard to parliamentary procedure.

The first ballot – which seemed like it would be the final one to some who were on hand – gave Curry 88 votes, just short of the 89-vote supermajority needed to endorse. So it seemed, momentarily, that there would be no endorsement in the mayoral election. However, that non-endorsement was short-lived, as Curry partisans had objections to the mayoral vote, according to sources on the scene.

Three members who were sworn in on Monday night initially were not allowed to vote – and a motion was made to allow them to vote on a second ballot.

Curry got the supermajority on that ballot, which took place after some voters had left; this led one person in attendance to sardonically Tweet, “How many votes do you need to get what you want?”

The answer would be two. When contacted for comment, Bill Bishop texted: “If you don’t like the outcome, change the rules,” adding that tonight “definitely was not one of the party’s finest hours.”

When this writer spoke to GOP Chair Robin Lumb, he dispelled the more conspiratorial interpretations of last night’s events, calling them “nonsense.”

“The error last night [in not allowing the three new voters to vote] was mine. The [requisite] transmittal of paperwork took place before the meeting,” he said, which conflicted with his understanding that the transmittal had not taken place.

“At all times last night, there was a supermajority,” says Lumb, who adds that the first ballot would have gone Curry’s way if 22 voters had not pocketed their ballots – a move which mitigated against Curry attaining a supermajority. “22 ballots were returned blank. If they had put those ballots in their pocket, those ballots would not have been part of the voting universe. If the ballots had been pocketed, the voting universe would have shifted.”

“This was not a do-over,” Lumb said regarding the second vote. “My position was an error. I was overturned. There was a quorum present at all times. There was clearly a supermajority,” continued Lumb, who asserts that “the will of the REC was expressed” and “there was a good-faith effort to ensure the outcome reflected the will of the REC.”

Bylaws are being created, says Lumb, to ensure that blank ballots don’t alter the outcome of future debates of this type.

The evening had a bit of drama beyond the ballot brawl when Jesse Wilson, a former Republican City Council candidate, writer for Void Magazine, and supporter of Republican candidate Bill Bishop, was kicked out of the meeting for potentially being a different writer.  Wilson Tweeted, “Apparently I write for @folioweekly and was asked to leave the REC meeting.” The meeting was apparently closed to media, but the mistaken identity angle spawned a large discussion on Twitter as the evening progressed.

Wilson went on to claim, in a conversation with this writer the next day, that “They made an announcement that there was a Folio writer in the room and that they needed to leave immediately. No one left and a few minutes later the sergeant at Arms came to me from where I was and said come with me and escorted me out.

Wilson also claimed that Lenny Curry spoke about the human rights ordinance being extended to the LGBT community.

“Before I was taken out I heard Lenny’s stance on the HRO and it wasn’t good. He said he doesn’t believe Jacksonville is a discriminatory city overall and that we don’t need outsiders dictating how we run things in Jax. He said he would sit down with all parties if the issue came back up.

Curry, meanwhile, disputed Wilson’s interpretation of his position, using language consistent with the position he has taken since launching his campaign months back.

“First of all, I reject the idea that the people of Jacksonville are by and large a discriminatory people. However I recognize that there are some individuals who discriminate, and I reject oppression and discrimination in all its forms. Oppression and discrimination are wrong, and as mayor I will work with all people in our city to solve any and all instances of discrimination or oppression.  I will bring the people of Jacksonville together.  This includes people that have faced discrimination, small business owners concerned about litigation, and people of faith who value religious freedom. We don’t need people from outside of Jacksonville solving our problems.  We will solve our problems together in our community with our people. Any instance of discrimination and oppression will not be tolerated in Jacksonville,” said the candidate in a statement.

Chairman Lumb did not know who Wilson was, meanwhile, and claimed the sergeant at arms was exercising his best judgment.

Local Democrats pounced on the seeming discord. In a written statement, James Poindexter of the Duval Democratic Party claimed that the mechanics of the endorsement “speak volumes about Curry’s leadership. When the long-time boss of the State and County Republican Parties cannot garner the Party’s support without these types of mob-style strong-arm tactics, voters really have to wonder what kind of Mayor he would be. This also serves as a peek behind the Curry camp’s curtain. Here we have a candidate, claiming he is ‘not a politician,’ using bully politics to force out another Republican candidate.”

Clearly, the Democratic Party sees an opportunity here to peel off disaffected Bishop supporters. Time will tell if that works. If history is any guide, certain of the aggrieved parties will come back into the fold before the March 24 election. Others will recuse themselves, perhaps, from the 2015 race, or may even support the incumbent. Regardless, tonight’s events show yet again that Team Curry has an iron fist in its velvet glove.

During this evening, the Duval County GOP also endorsed the following candidates by acclamation: Lawrence Jefferson for the Florida Legislature; Mike Hogan for supervisor of elections; and Greg Anderson, Geoff Youngblood, Doyle Carter, and Jim Love for City Council.

A.G. Gancarski has written a weekly column for Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly since 2003. His writings on politics, culture, and sport have appeared in the Washington Times, the Daily Caller, and the American Conservative. His radio and TV appearances include frequent contributions to WJCT-FM (Jacksonville’s Public Radio station); additionally, he has been a guest on Huff Post Live and the Savage Nation radio show. Gancarski can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.