Audrey Moran, considered one of the early frontrunners in the race to become the next mayor of Jacksonville, visibly flexed her campaign muscles May 27th at a reception sponsored by Wayne and Delores Weaver and Tom and Betty Petway. Set in the massive East Club Room of the Municipal Stadium, a crowd of hundreds--- including some of Jacksonville's most beloved luminaries,--- clapped and cheered and coalesced into an early juggernaut. Most observers believe that it is too early in the campaign to make any assumptions, and some would claim that the election is so far distant that no campaign can properly be considered as having truly begun. But whatever the conventional wisdom, the campaign for mayor is On. Join MetroJacksonville as we report on the Audrey Moran Reception.
Earlier in the week, I got the phone call from Bernadette Moran, the indefatigable family majordomo of the "I'm With Audrey" Campaign. It was a reminder to come out to one of the first major public events of a campaign which has been concentrating on smaller events in private settings.
MetroJacksonville last caught up with Audrey (and Bernadette) at the Five Points Theater debate, during which she and Kevin Hyde dominated a panel otherwise composed of the well meaning neophytes of the minor campaigns.
This event was set against a view of downtown not customarily chosen for its sweeping or beautiful vistas: The extreme east end of the Municipal Stadium.
The entrance into the East Club however, is soaring. Inside the gates and through the Club doors, we were surrounded by eager looking young people and the welcoming smiles of tasteful, committed, vigorous looking women volunteering for the campaign.
Behind us, a group of young men with expensive looking tans and even more expensive suits strolled up to the tables. In tailoring costs alone, between them there was probably enough in the lobby to fund half the budget of one of the minor campaigns.
Up two flights of graceful modern steps to the East Club.
This is a bit ambitious, I thought, considering the sheer size and scope of the room.
There was another battery of tables and volunteers, all wearing the trademark "I'm with Audrey!" t shirts. I recognized the uncharacteristically dapper young Adam Beaugh fully suited up, combed and pressed at the end. He admirably filled us in on where to find the open bar, and gave adequate instructions to the buffets and carving stations.
We chatted up a few people in the campaign, stopped by the vast open bar, and surveyed the chow. Thin crust gourmet pizzas, a supply of roasted marinated vegetables, a carving station, and a variety of hummouses and dips with fresh dipping vegetable strips.
The Crowd began to trickle up the stairwells.
Wayne Weaver is nothing at all the way he comes across on television. In video he is by turns infectiously smiling and taciturn, but in real life he is a very calm confident and easy going kind of a guy. He was unfailingly kind and gracious, and not at all standoffish to anyone in the room, whether it was fellow megapower Tom Petway or the various service staff.
In fact as we passed with acknowledging smiles, he stopped us and thanked us for showing up. Its easy to like the guy. His wife Delores, the austerely manicured brunette whose philanthropy and civic involvement have brought her the warmth and gratitude of the community for the past decade is a similarly comforting, patient kind of a person. Everyone wants to talk to Delores to impress on her the worthiness of their cause, and I watched her through the night listen intently to several pitches and extollments without ever seeming strained or distant. A remarkable trait, if you consider how frequently this has to happen. I suppose one suspects them to come across as more driven caricatures of themselves. It was refreshing to find them very human scale and warm in person.
Tom Petway is an intense, charismatic fellow, with a certain dynamic energy that keeps you on your toes whenever you are around him. The two men spent a good bit of time chatting each other up by the bar, looking a bit dashing for their silver years.
Wayne Weaver and Tom Petway
Elaine and Richard Brown, the political couple whose careers have covered 20 years of City Council and a Mayordom of Neptune Beach, were perched at the bar, looking very well rested and bright and at peace. Two of the good guys.
Michael Munz looking a bit larger than life in a very well cut suit and a tie of an indefinably brick/salmon shade strode around looking very Master of the Universey with expansive smiles.
JTA Apparatchik, Mike Miller, and Dick Brown
Hope McMath, the executive director of the Cummer Museum and Gardens, very sassy and stylish was in the midst.
Graceful, delicate, passionate Susan Sulzbacher. Lanky drywitted Fred Elefant. The Jacobsons.
James and Sandra Hull-Richardson, the handsome engaged couple from the City were there, as well as Michael Miller, the excitable spokesman for the JTA (doing his best to avoid photographs which might land him in the article)
Wiatt Bowers, the socially networked planner/engineer was observed making the rounds.
The crowd had swelled to about 200 people when Ennis Davis arrived, and suddenly it became apparent that the room wasn't going to be 'too big' in the least. People were pouring up the stairs and joining the buzzing, elaborately circling room.
Sandra Hull-Richardson and her husband James Richardson
We decided to take advantage of the food for a few at one of the many tables (conveniently right next to one of the carving stations)
Like a bit of a rockstar, Matt Carlucci, flanked by his ambitious handsome sons, walked in. He was embraced by the genuine affection and enthusiasm that greets him pretty much wherever he goes. He came over and chatted with us, and I couldn't help but imagine what this city would have been like if he had won the mayor's seat instead of John Peyton.
Many people were recently outraged over the treatment and cavalier attitude of Outgoing Council President, Richard Clarke in the matter of the Historic Preservation Trust Fund (which Matt set up). Clarke capriciously denied a request to delay a committee hearing on the failed conversion of the money to parking lot construction fodder, and it is a testament to Matt's reputation and stature in this community that quiet but serious outcry ensued.
The Promise of What Could Have Been? Matt Carlucci, far right.
Former Council President and longtime councilman Eric Smith also present.
Carlton Jones, the giant of a man whose various enterprises have made him a part and parcel of the urban community held court at a table of his many associates.
And still the crowd kept growing.
Bob and Elisabeth Head, graceful, genteel, and scholarly looking buttoned up the well bred contingency in their corner of the vast hall, and suddenly the crowd coalesced and became impossibly dense.
So many people arrived, old faces and names, conspicuously absent over the past few (and somewhat dark years), and I realized that one of the reasons the room had such a magic and thrill to it was because it had suddenly become an immense gathering of the Good public servants. In a moment of shock and nostalgia you realized how much genuine civic leadership has been swept aside during the Peyton regime. All it lacked, really was Sam Mousa and Suzanne Jenkins and the reunion would have been complete.
Then Jenkins showed up.
By this point, the room had become a sensation in and of itself. It seemed that all present were simultaneously aware of the strength and numbers of the Moran Campaign.
Although the crowd was still majority white, it was by far the most diverse of any of the campaigns except that of Glorious Johnson.
In the room too appearing at about the same time that the crowd became aware of its own size and quality, there was tangible Civic Optimism.
As Hope McMath said: "I'm here because of Audrey's inclusiveness. She is amazing, and while I am usually not attracted to local elections, this campaign, her campaign has actually inspired me to engage."
Former Mayor Ed Austin couldn't make the event, but having Wayne Weaver introduce you to a crowd is hardly cold potatoes either.
Moran, at the Podium
Audrey was vintage Audrey. Her keynotes were growth, compassion, vision and experience, all of which are her strong points. The crowd was ecstatic. And it wasn't just about what Audrey was saying, although that drew ridiculous amounts of applause----there was another element to the event. The crowd was thrilled, partially because the crowd itself was so thrilling.
There is no rational reason why so many people would come out to a political event on the East End of downtown in such numbers, with such deep pockets, and composed of so many of the city's True Civic believers. Every age and generation was represented, from the nattily dressed ancient little old men and their delicate wives to the robust 20-40 year old power couples, to the dapper young permanent bachelors and the sportshirt wearing children.
I counted more than three hundred (and I was well past that when Bernadette asked me how many there were, making me lose count in the process)
The Moran campaign unquestionably has an early head start. No doubt about it.
They knew they would have to Bring It, if they were going to have a real shot at it, and The. Campaign. Has. Been. Brought.
Its On. And while yes, it is still early, the other campaigns are going to have to step up their game.
We sought out and bid Bernadette a good night, thanked our hosts and two flights of steps later, left the event behind.
Photos and video by Daniel Herbin