General Counsel Rick Mullaney kicked off his surprising campaign speech with a bit of a bang last night on the Jacksonville Riverfront beneath a statue dedicated to Tillie Fowler. With the people and supporters in attendance, Mullaney established himself as a major candidate with a real shot at taking the Mayor's Office.
It was the perfect balmy end to a spring day, and the St John's River was probably the best of all possible places to be. From the River park behind the YMCA, the downtown looks impossibly clean and beautiful. Its a stunning backdrop and the mingled scents of brackish river salt and fresh cut grass invigorated the affair.
A fine time for a speech.
Dan and I expected a small gathering to make the official announcement respectable, what we found was a festive crowd, heavy on hitting power and packed with young people of the decidedly civic minded hue. Power ties and fabulously white teeth gave the whole crowd a decidedly legal feel, a feel which proved to be correct before the event was over.
We found Susie Wiles, former Chief of Everything for Every mayor, at some point or another,--and one of the savviest political operators in the city. She is also the chair of the Mullaney for Mayor committee.
The expected gaggle of press was there: David Hunt of the Times Union, looking swashbucklingly casual and clearly journalistic in jeans, press pass and sunglasses. David Chapman, from the Daily Record (owned by fellow candidate for Mayor, Jim Bailey) looking earnest and a bit flushed at all the activity, people from the minor blogs, television news and crews, the merry whirl.
Then we spotted an unassuming man in the front row and realized that Herb Peyton, the father of the current mayor and landowning titan of industry, was in attendance. Around him, well fed businessmen in powerties and navy blazers were fussing and jockeying for position,----a little amusing considering the down to earth, no-nonsense appearance of the baronial giant.
Tom Slade, the Republican Shogun, looking a bit regal with his clipped white beard, slowly surveying those attending, clearly making mental notes and filing them away in neat little categories.
Springfield Pioneer Sara Neilds (recently remarried), Jason Teal from the GC's office.
Heavyweight lobbyist Marty Fiorentino, standing with his son.
Dozens and dozens of well wishers, backers. Really quite a spectacle.
On our way into the parking lot, Dan was having some difficulty in locating a spot, leading to our blocking all access to the lane. A huge truck, large enough to carry redwoods recently chopped down by Paul Bunyon, clearly impatient, honked. I waved to let the driver know that we would soon be out of his way, all was well, only to discover that instead of Paul Bunyon, the driver was closer to Babe the Blue Ox. And he looked angry.
Looking up from comparing notes with the enterprising Ms. Wiles, I noticed that the fellow was in the crowd and realized that I'd hoped he'd been hellbent on getting into the Y instead.
He turned out to be Tony Boselli, a friend of Rick's and a supporter. In looking up his Wikipedia entry, it turns out this Boselli person is not only quite well known, but has managed to do quite a bit of good for the world around him. He gave us an interview.
Rick's address centered around quality of life issues as well as job creation. He gave a pretty inspirational speech, abjuring the crowd to work together to a brighter future, and I have to say he certainly picked a perfect backdrop to make believers out of everyone.
Fiorentino, in addition to being a living legend turned out to be a pretty likeable guy.
One of the best interviews was with the aspiration laden number one son of Mullaney, Richie.
The soon to be frosh gave us a credible list of reasons why he was supporting his dad for mayor, and managed to come off as a disinterestedly passionate political observer. The boy is going to be a handful in the future.
After the rest of the media had shark frenzied Rick we hung out a bit with him. Rick Mullaney has written with us for a year or so, and even sat down to listen intently (there isn't really another option when Ocklawaha is full of the Trolley Spirit) to transit issues with us. With the hubbub gone he introduced us graciously to other members of his campaign.
We interviewed him, asking how he felt on the very launch of his campaign, and you can listen to the results yourself.
I think this campaign is going to be kept surprisingly on the issues.
Most of these candidates are friends in their personal lives, so I don't expect much mudslinging. (Little known fact: Many of them belong to a little rotating dinner club where they sit down and eat supper at alternating places with each other).
In fact, I had spoken to Jim Bailey a bit earlier in the day, and he mentioned that he had called Rick to wish him good luck. I coyly invited him to join us at the speech, but he demurred.
Aside from the detail and the substantial issues reflected in his speech, Mullaney showed at this event that he has backing that people might not have expected and he is a real contender.
(as illustrated by brief interview with Herb Peyton)
Article by Stephen Dare
Video and Photography by Daniel Herbin