CFO Jeff Atwater says Mayor Lenny Curry should be in mix of candidates to replace him

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Gov. Rick Scott will appoint a state chief financial officer to take the Cabinet seat after CFO Jeff Atwater vacates it following the 60-day legislative session that starts March 7.

Atwater doesn’t know if Mayor Lenny Curry is interested in the position, but wouldn’t be surprised if he is a contender.

Curry is an astute, fiscally disciplined, “talented guy and he should be in that mix,” Atwater said Monday after a presentation to the Economic Roundtable of Jacksonville.

As his political adviser Brian Hughes said Monday evening, Curry “is enjoying and 100 percent committed to being mayor of Jacksonville.”

Scott has at least until May, when the 60-day legislative session is scheduled to end, to make the CFO appointment.

Hughes said Curry is a skilled fiscal manager, a smart leader, a loyal friend to the governor and a leader who can present big ideas and build a consensus around them.

“I certainly would encourage him to sit back and let the process unfold,” Hughes said.

Asked whether Curry is interested in the position, been approached about it from the governor’s office or would accept it if asked, Hughes said he didn’t know.

The mayor and Scott have had a strong relationship for years.

The News Service of Florida reported the appointee could have an advantage in running for the full term in 2018.

The service said no one has opened a campaign account to run,  but potential appointees’ names, in addition to Curry, include Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, former state Rep. Tom Grady and state Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, Tom Lee of Thonotosassa, Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers and Jack Latvala of Clearwater.

Atwater, 58, announced Friday he will leave his elected position to join Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton as CFO and vice president of Strategic Initiatives.

As the state’s CFO, the former banker runs the Florida Department of Financial Services, including its 15 divisions like Consumer Services, and is state fire marshal.

He was elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Whoever is appointed could run for the office in 2018.

Curry, 46, took office July 1, 2015, after a career as an accountant, business owner and leader in the Republican Party, including as chair of the statewide GOP as well as in Duval County.

As CFO, Atwater is paid $128,972 a year. His predecessor at FAU was paid almost $250,000 last year, the news service reported.

Atwater serves as one of three members of the Florida Cabinet along with Attorney General Pam Bondi and commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Adam Putnam.

Atwater is a banker by trade and started in politics in 1993 at the North Palm Beach Village Council. A Republican, he was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2000 and moved to the Senate in 2002, where he later served as Senate president.

His banking career with Barnett Bank included time with the former Barnett Bank of Jacksonville, staying in town for a decade from 1981-91.

Politics run in the family. His great-grandfather, Napoleon Broward, was Florida governor from 1905-09.

Atwater’s Friday announcement said he has had a lengthy relationship with FAU, first as a banker, then as a legislator and as a parent.

He told the Economic Roundtable that serving in state government for 17 years has “been the honor of a lifetime.”

But, he said, the opportunity has come to return to his hometown.

After the Roundtable, Atwater said a new CFO would be “creating the conditions for broader economic long-term success and working with our Legislature to support the kinds of policies that would achieve that, so fiscal discipline is going to remain significant.”

Atwater, while obviously happy with the FAU position, realizes the privilege and responsibility of holding the elected CFO job.

He said he “truly had second thoughts about making the decision. I asked for this opportunity, I was granted this opportunity by the voters. And I know I am departing before the established timeline would have presented itself, so certainly I have misgivings about that.”

Atwater said his team would “continue to fulfill the promises that we made.”

“I think my successor would step right in and I’m sure will be a strong force of good fiscal discipline,” he said.

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