Top GOP fundraiser Peter Rummell says he wants Lenny Curry for Jax mayor

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If Florida GOP Chairman Lenny Curry decides to challenge embattled Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, he will have the backing of a powerful ally: former top Brown fundraiser Peter Rummell.

In 2011, Rummell — a past Disney exec, St. Joe Company CEO and founder of Jacksonville’s highly touted One Spark innovation festival — surprised many by personally giving $150,000 to Brown’s campaign. His donation set off a wave of  downtown business and civic leaders to follow suit.

Eventually, the underdog Democrat won in the Republican-leaning city, making Brown the city’s first African American mayor with the help of $431,356 raised by Rummell’s political action committee, writes Nate Monroe of The Florida Times-Union.

Rummell, now disillusioned with Brown’s lackluster performance in office, is throwing his considerable influence behind Curry. He is also scorching in his criticism of the man he helped get into office.

“He does not know how to manage. That’s clear,” Rummell said in a recent Times-Union interview. “He has no courage. … He’s wimped out. He’s deferred to City Council. It’s embarrassing the way he’s handled himself.”

Curry said he was “encouraged” by Rummell’s support, but would not confirm if he will run.

Rummell’s loss of support is a major blow to Brown, but a substantial boost to Curry.

“Peter is a man who has made an unparalleled commitment to seeing Jacksonville achieve great things,” Curry said in a statement. “His support and confidence in my abilities as a leader are humbling.

“I look forward to soon sharing my vision for how I can serve our community.”

Rummell’s support, especially his public defection, opens the door for the big donors to fall behind Curry—if he should run.

As Brown struggles in his 2015 re-election bid, shown by a significant drop in early polling, he has little choice but to turn to look beyond “Jacksonville’s usual suspects” and reaching out to people of all political stripes notes Monroe.

“The mayor ran a bipartisan campaign,” said David Beattie, a senior consultant for the mayor’s re-election campaign. “He’s working to govern the same way.”

Not everyone agrees.

The manner in which Brown handled the city’s budget, as well a stubborn reliance on the flexibility of JEA — Jacksonville’s  community-owned utility — to help balance the city’s books, made many of his initial backers, including Rummell, lose confidence in the mayor’s leadership skills.

Making matters worse was Brown’s silence on a measure to expand Jacksonville ordinances to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation. The mayor’s wavering on the issue, which was voted down by the City Council, was “embarrassing,” said Rummell, a strong supporter of the human rights ordinance.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.