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- 2014 - August - 14th -

Mayoral race shaping up to be city's most expensive, due to fundraising by Mayor Alvin Brown and Lenny Curry

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

For more than a year, the path to re-election was relatively quiet for Alvin Brown.

There were rumors of challengers, but none emerged as he continued to accumulate donations to his campaign.

In May, the Democrat incumbent topped the $1 million milestone.

Less than a month later, the race took its first major turn.

Two months after City Council member Bill Bishop announced his candidacy, Lenny Curry officially jumped into the contest after months of speculation. The former Republican Party of Florida chair has connections and local political science professors say raising money is his strength.

Two months in, Curry has done just that, raising almost $768,000.

“That’s a formidable war chest,” said Marcella Washington, Florida State College at Jacksonville political science professor.

Brown continued to build his trove to almost $1.4 million. That’s more than the mayor has raised in any other campaign, said Dave Beattie, president of Hamilton Campaigns who is helping the mayor in his re-election bid.

Yet, in two months Curry has raised 54 percent of Brown’s total.

The money race is on.

Brown followed Curry’s entrance by raising almost $215,000 in May through his Taking Jacksonville to the Next Level state committee and local campaign account.

Beattie called the $1.43 million raised “definitely a strong start.”

“We’re very happy with his level of support,” Beattie said. “The main focus is running the city more than anything.”

However, Stephen Baker, a retired Jacksonville University political science professor, said “I think he (Brown) certainly should be concerned … it’s a big amount of money.”

The gubernatorial race slated to end in November will dominate headlines and voter’s consciences — and possibly wallets — for the next several months, Baker said, but there will be plenty of time for mayoral candidates to raise funds.

Beattie said there always was the assumption there would be an opponent and Curry is an experienced political fundraiser. His early showings haven’t been surprising, Beattie said.

Money won’t be the only important factor, Washington said. Yet, she said, Brown has so far been too “laid back” in responding to the Curry challenge, which Washington said surprises her.

“He needs to punch everything he can punch,” she said. “He can take nothing for granted and needs to fight tooth and nail … he needs to be a much more engaged mayor.”

Matt Corrigan isn’t so sure Brown needs to financially respond. The University of North Florida professor and chair of the political science and public administration department said the mayor will have “plenty of money” for the race.

He said that typically incumbents raise more during their campaigns, but he wouldn’t be surprised if Curry outraises Brown because of his connections.

That’s the goal, said Marty Fiorentino, Curry’s campaign finance chair.

It will be difficult, he said, because Brown has a financial advantage as an incumbent with easier media access and outside donors.

“We know we are the underdogs,” he said. “This is a mayor who is politically active in Washington and is reaching out to a lot of friends.”

At the very least, “we know we are going to have to raise dollar-for-dollar,” Fiorentino said.

For now, Beattie said the goal is to continue to build resources for a strong campaign and add staff later.

Brown has other advantages, Washington said. He’s now a known quantity that’s often appealed to conservatives and has remained popular.

A UNF poll released in February showed Brown leading the way over several possible Republican challengers, including Curry.

Squaring off in the hypothetical, Brown received 45 percent of the vote compared to Curry’s 25 percent, the largest gap in the poll.

The poll also showed Brown had a 59 percent approval rating, though it was down from 70 percent the year before.

“People really do like Alvin Brown and like his personality,” Washington said, “but will those be the voters that turn out in 2015?”

Corrigan agreed Brown has been “very good” at making himself known to the public, which is the next step for Curry.

With no candidate experience or history in office, raising his profile and introducing him to the public more is the next step, he said. But, one thing helps.

“It’s easier with money,” Corrigan said.

Part of that will come with advertising, with most of the TV spots common in high-profile races likely to ramp up around the start of the New Year, the pundits said.

Overall, the race could be the most expensive in Jacksonville history, Corrigan said.

“This is going to be a competitive race,” he said.

dchapman@baileypub.com

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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