Jim Bailey is widely considered one of the front runners of the race for mayor. Solid, respectable, quietly powerful, and ready to step up to the plate. The publisher of the Daily Record (his grandfather's paper), longtime downtown advocate and bedrock member of the business and legal community kicked off his campaign with a brilliant buffet, open bar, and the sure and hard granite support of friends and family.
This candidate declaration season has been almost suspiciously blessed with a series of perfect spring evenings: Clear skies and fragrantly fresh Florida air. The evening of April 20, 2010 is no exception. The waters of the St. John's are a playfully rippled as a vigorous, salt flavored wind agitates the surface giving a restless feel to the clean blue and white lines of the downtown Skyline.
We are overlooking the sails and masts of the marina on the riverwalk, which give the entire event a preppy, well heeled nautical feel. The smell of cooking shrimp and an undercurrent of beer and other simmering flavors faintly suggests activity and The Good Life. The crisp clean skyline looks effortlessly Utopian from the south bank.
Jim Bailey's kickoff party is on the top floor of the River City Brewing Company, and MetroJacksonville is there with a vengeance. I am joined by Sarah Harper. Already at the space when we arrive is Dan Herbin, armed with video and still cameras, and we will presently be joined by the iconoclastic Ennis Davis.
Jim Bailey is most commonly introduced as the publisher of the Daily Record, the longtime official paper for Jacksonville's legal community. While true, most of the people involved with the inner workings of the business community and downtown know this is a lazy way to sum up the multilayered roles he has played. For the past twenty years he has been part and parcel of this City and the daily life of the city core.
He is a known sportsman, a cultured (sometimes incongruously so), man of substance and humble gentility. In the 1920's he would have been known as a Sport. In the 50s he would have been called a Booster. In the 80s, they would have called him Old Guard and meant it as flattery. In the present, he is a Modern Gentleman, known for possessing the Southern Virtues without their liabilities. He is a man with a Compass.
He has dark good looks and a well bred southern drawl that manages to make everyone he addresses feel welcome and considered. He is incurably preppy: Well dressed, well spoken, well bred, and rarest of all: well regarded.
His only challenge will be whether or not the low profile he keeps as a matter of temperament and taste will be able to transition into a household name that strangers in Mandarin, Julington Creek, Commander Apartments and the Northside will recognize and root for.
Sarah and I arrive with no fanfare, and spot a tasteful sign discretely mentioning the affair upstairs. We climb the little spiral staircase and walk into the midst of the Campaign Proper, which looks suspiciously like the reception room of the erudite offices of the Daily Record. I spot Karen Brune Mathis, the elegantly understated, supremely competent woman who has taken over the post of editor at the Record as Jim begins to campaign for real. I point her out to Sarah. She is a woman that any person could aspire to be like, really. A legend.
I think it's a comment on Bailey that he is literally entrusting Grandfather's paper to her. Perhaps it's a comment on the times that no one else seems to notice his good fortune or her fair gender.
Also darting around nervously, watching the unfolding of every single detail, is Jim's campaign manager: the silky, lovely, sharp-as-a-razor Joey Kelly. Joey is a smart operator, and to be frank there are a million details to this evening that would only be apparent to another event planner or a caterer.
We sign in, say the hellos, do the somewhat nerdy name badges and step inside the upstairs bar.
Whatever other angles might be discussed, there is no doubt that the Bailey Campaign has spared no expense on the catering. Bright chrome and stainless steel chafing dishes with napkin flourishes, linens, and decorated tables are steaming along the buffet line. There is an open bar, featuring microbrews and wines. Busy service personnel are buzzing around finishing last minute preparations.
The crowd begins to assemble fairly rapidly, and the room is getting full when Ennis arrives. There is no sign of David Hunt from the Times Union, nor the camera crews from the television stations, we begin to suspect that the event is private.
Judges and pillars of the business community, there is a common element of the invigorated gentility and the engaged men and women of commerce to the crowd.
And then there are the Bailey Women. Jim's cracklingly energetic wife Donna is making the rounds, and most of their six daughters are also there, working the room with a combination of their father's casual confidence and their mother's dazzling smiles.
Chris Flagg, the indefatigable landscape designer and planner is there: a wiry giant with a shag of barely tamed hair and trademark glasses bobbing above the crowd of crisply tailored, suited men.
Jonathan Garza the young President of Garza Constructors Inc. is there with the Worths of Worth Construction. His beautiful young wife is quite the center of attention in a simple but devastating white gown and strappy high heels. Sarah points them out immediately. The rest of us make note of the financial firepower of the Builder Community.
We catch sight of and chat with Brooks Terry the ambitious young marketing director of Florida Coastal School of Law, speculating as to when the Law College is going to get off it's suburban campus and locate where it belongs: Downtown. Brooks was a writer for Jim in the distant past, he is full of details.
Also in the crowd is Terri Davlantes, Vice Dean of the school. In fact there are many, many temple gods of the legal profession in the room, including the incredibly respected Tony Zabouni.
Larry Peterson, Administrative Chief of the Firemen for Mayor Peyton, and a Bailey Partisan is at the next table. His group and myself are the closest things in the room to working class crackers. And by this I mean that we are the only ones wearing blue jeans in the room. Having Peterson on his side is a good weather vane of the political winds, but it remains to be seen if he brings the Fireman Union with him. The support of the Firefighters is paramount for any Mayoral race. It's probably what cost Carlucci the election to Peyton 7 years ago. The Union is one of the most powerful and political unions in the county. Three days off a week and limitless pick up trucks. At election it's the equivalent of having your beaches stormed at Normandy.
Back to the Bailey Women for a moment. We chat with Emily and Casey (14 and 18 respectively). It turns out that Emily is schoolmates and best friends with Richie Mullaney, whose father Rick, is also running for Mayor. We are told later by Donna that she is delighted that the two have already agreed to keep their friendship intact despite the campaign and its eventual outcome. The children are yet another reason for the candidates to keep this election civil and friendly.
Casey and Emily
Casey has just returned with her mother from Brazil. (A trip they shared with Terri Davlantes and her daughter.) They have been to visit Curitiba, the city whose renewal and planning success is being discussed all over the world. (look it up on Google). She is a dark eyed, mysterious little beauty, with whimsically indigo and black hair. She is studying cosmetology and a bubbly delight once she starts talking.
There are a few young golden boys standing around: Dazzling teeth, tan skins, square cut features, impulsive smiles. They mingle with the solid men of business, board chairmen and professionals.
Bruce Barcelo is circulating. A noisy grey eminence, to purloin the old descriptor.
The room looks like a set from a movie starring Anthony Hopkins and William Hurt.
In talking to the crowd, a few common themes keep getting discussed, but the most universal one is trust.
Trustworthy. Competent. Honest. Also, and a little strange to my ear: Moral.
At first I assume this to be a religious reference, but after a short while I realize that people are using it to mean Ethical. Ethical in business and in his personal life.
There aren't any policy wonks in the crowd. No fanatical devotees of policy or strategy: The crowd doesn't seem to have any specific policy demands at all in fact: of course they want more commerce, more trade, more prosperity. Everyone wants lower taxes, and they want government to be administered more effectively. But the overwhelming sense is that they will be content to let Bailey make his own policies and decisions. It is because he has their trust, and this is clear in no uncertain kind of a way.
He understand business, they have seen him operate, and he has that most elusive quality of all for any man. He has respect. Their respect, and that is the source of the trust that the men and women of this group of people have in him. It's palpable. And lets face it, this group contains many of the most respected people in the city. Some of them for generations.
The speech is short and sweet. He speaks about the future, and it's a good, well reasoned speech. No theatrics, no boosterism.
These people don't need anything more, after all they have already made up their minds. They have measured him and they are here to support him in their surefooted, well financed way. These people are going to work for him, help him, donate to him, and vote for him. There's no need to sell these people or convince them he should be mayor. All that apparently happened years ago.
No matter how the election goes, it was very satisfying to see Jim in a moment which has to be a pinnacle in anyone's life: To be surrounded by so many good decent people who are willing to trust you with their futures, their businesses, their families, their city, and their money. The recognition of so many of your peers and heroes is no thing to be lightly appreciated. You could see that it was a humbling moment.
Now it remains to see what the campaign itself brings, and whether or not Jim can do what it takes to get elected. Can he leave the drawing rooms and the tastefully appointed conference tables and sell himself. Can he bring the vote from people who are strangers to the downtown business and legal circles. It's against his grain to ring his own bell after so many years of letting his work and accomplishments speak silently for him.
And again, perhaps it comes back to the Bailey Women: Both his family and the women who are running his campaign. Luckily they are irrepressibly energetic women, and I suspect that they are up to the task of Selling Jim Bailey. They might even be looking forward to embarrassing the guy a little with all the attention.
We shall see in the months ahead.
Text by Stephen Dare and photography by Daniel Herbin