“Mayor Curry is doing a great job, but I’m worried about the session right now.”
That’s the answer Gov. Rick Scott gave this week when the Daily Record asked if he was considering Mayor Lenny Curry to be Florida’s next chief financial officer.
In February, Scott accepted the resignation of CFO Jeff Atwater, who leaves in June for the same role at Florida Atlantic University.
The opening presents the opportunity for the Republican governor to appoint the next CFO, a cabinet position normally elected by voters.
With the passage of pension reform and a controversial human rights ordinance, Curry is said to be on Scott’s short list to fill the position.
Scott’s non-answer only adds to that speculation.
It was the first question asked of Curry, moments after signing pension reform into law at an April press conference.
His answer was more direct.
“I am mayor of Jacksonville, and I have had no conversations with anyone about being chief financial officer, so let the media do their thing,” Curry said.
Curry has plenty of financial experience. He’s a CPA by trade and led the Florida GOP before being elected mayor.
Curry isn’t the first Jacksonville mayor to have his name come up for a state position.
Former Mayor John Delaney, now University of North Florida president, also was courted by Tallahassee.
Delaney said he was offered state cabinet positions several times during his two terms in office, from 1995 to 2003.
“I was approached about being what was then called the state comptroller, what is now the CFO and I turned it down,” he said. “That’s because being mayor of Jacksonville is a much better job.”
Delaney said speculation comes with the territory.
“Every Jacksonville mayor is going to be on the short list for something in the governor’s cabinet,” he added. “We’re one of the most populous cities in the country, so there’s always a lot of eyes looking at us from Tallahassee.”
Adding to the speculation is the resignation Tuesday of Kerri Stewart, Curry’s chief of staff.
Stewart said she’s leaving to take on an executive role with JEA at the end of this month.
“There’s usually some adjustments,” Delaney said of the change.
He said the mayor’s inner circle always has some turnover during the first two years.
“Mayor Curry has had a surprising degree of stability,” Delaney said.
For Curry, a move to Tallahassee could be a sign of larger political ambitions — the argument being CFO comes with statewide exposure and access to fundraising.
“I may be in the minority here, but I’m not sure a statewide position is as good for him in the long run as finishing his term as mayor of Jacksonville would be,” said Matthew Corrigan, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at UNF.
“While I think a state cabinet position would help raise his profile, being in an executive position, like mayor of a large city, puts him in a unique position,” Corrigan said.
Corrigan said Curry still has a lot he could accomplish, such as lowering crime rates and winning major development projects, which could be just as advantageous to his future.
“He’s still got a lot on his plate,” Corrigan said.
One thing is certain. If Curry does step down before July 1 to accept a state job, the changes would reverberate through the City Council.
That’s where timing could get tricky.
Currently, Lori Boyer serves as council president, with John Crescimbeni serving as vice president.
If Curry steps down before the next council president is elected later this month, Boyer would become interim mayor — but only if she didn’t have longer-term mayoral ambitions.
According to Section 6.06 (b) of the city charter, anyone who takes on the role of interim mayor is not allowed to run in the special election.
That election would have to take place no earlier than 30 days and no later than six months from when the mayor leaves office.
If Curry were to leave after July 1, the interim mayor would serve a two-year term.
It’s a law that goes back to the early days of consolidation when former Mayor Jake Godbold was elected.
He served as interim mayor after Hans Tanzler stepped away to run for governor.
Delaney said it was seen by many that Godbold handily won the race because of his perch as interim mayor, hence the restrictive law was created.
“I think it honestly works out better that way,” he said.
If Boyer doesn’t take the job, Crescembeni would be next in line, followed by the chair of the Rules Committee, currently Garrett Dennis, and the current chair of the Finance Committee, Anna Lopez Brosche.
Of course, all that changes after the council elects a new president and vice president on May 23.
“It would definitely cause huge implications for the City Council,” Corrigan said. “But it also opens up an opportunity for Democrats.”
Corrigan said Democrats don’t really have a shoe-in candidate for mayor right now, but could find a fresh face to take on the GOP in a special election.
“We live in an era where outsiders are having a much better chance getting elected,” he said. “But I’m not sure we’d see a race as close as the last one in 2015.”
Gov. Scott, who was in Jacksonville again Thursday, reiterated his stance that he’d focus on filling the CFO position after the current legislative session ends.
When asked if he’d spoken with Curry about the position, he once again sent mixed signals.
“I’ve talked to lots of people.The mayor’s a good guy,” he said.