I suggested, begged, cajoled and badgered Audrey Moran to run for mayor for 6 solid years. Usually after some crashingly disappointing bumble from the 4th floor of City Hall, she would patiently listen to me insist that she run via cell phone. But when it came down to a choice between Audrey and Rick Mullaney, I hesitated, in order to check out the ideas of Rick Mullaney, whose intellect and energy I had come to respect and appreciate.
Now this opinion is entirely my own, independent of the board of MetroJacksonville's other publishers or editors. I know that some of them share my support of Audrey---and some don't-- but they can certainly speak for themselves, as I am doing in this essay.
We were really blessed with some excellent candidates, and all of the major ones are good people, who are running because they believe they are the best answer to Jacksonville's issues. Regardless of whether I personally agree with anything they think about public policy, the motives of the candidates, in my opinion, are beyond reproach.
When Audrey first started running, I was happy with her vibe, and her inclusiveness and the categorical imperative of her decision making. However, I was a little dismayed with her grasp of transit when MetroJacksonville's board chatted with her in the first days of the election.
Rick on the other hand had an interesting idea going with the Medical University concept which he would place in Downtown Jacksonville. 'Now this is a policy that I can definitely get behind, 'I thought. It makes the city money, brings college kids and instructors into the downtown, and establishes the city as a medical economy, which is a pretty far thinking idea with lots of happy consequences, if you think about it.
So I waffled a bit on my personal choice. Perhaps Audrey was just a nice, very intelligent person whose life choices and character I admired, I thought. True, she is surrounded by people whose leadership and personalities I have long liked and admired, but does she actually have the intellectual grit to serve as Mayor in the extraordinary conditions that this particular juncture in history will present to the next occupant in this office? In the early days, the jury was out in my mind.
After all, Mullaney had also managed to surround himself with equally admirable people. Bob Shircliff's support, in my mind, was a powerful reason to like Mullaney. If you do not know who Shircliff is, well there is a reason that they renamed the street leading to St. Vincent's Hospital "Shircliff". At his campaign gatherings, I was likewise impressed with the fact that Mullaney had reached out to the ethnically diverse businessmen of the Southside--a group of people whose interests in this city are largely unrepresented, in my opinion.
However as the campaign soldiered on, I watched something happen with Audrey, that was a delight to behold. She applied herself, she listened to ideas, she educated herself, and she grokked the importance of transportation and transit.
Now as important as transit/transportation is, it is after all only one component of the forces that a Mayor either directs with leadership or a lack thereof. But what confirmed for me that Audrey was up to the task of the office was that she is able to recognize that this issue is larger than can be explained in a few catch phrases or ideological prisms. She was able to take advice, and more importantly grow her understanding of the larger world around her.
Within a few months, we were able to ask her questions that required that she think about the answer. And her answers couldn't really be faked. Either she understood the principles or she didn't. Her responses on the issue were not canned, there were no catch phrases, she anticipated potential shortfalls and problems in the hypothetical, and she had actually educated herself on the questions that she could not answer the first time.
I had to contrast this to Rick Mullaney's approach to the same issue. His opinions were set before we spoke with him, and they were (to be frank) incomplete. He does not have the depth of knowledge that he should on this issue. This is not to say that he has opinions with which we disagree (I'm sure that there are) but rather that his knowledge of transit/transportation issues was only slightly better than Audrey's. However, a key difference was that where Audrey recognized that there were issues that she needed to have a better personal understanding and was willing to take the personal time to educate herself, Rick's response was the metaphysical opposite.
His opinion was set, and in order to discuss the issue with him in a meaningful way, he needed to first have it proven to him that his viewpoint was incorrect. Instead of listening for what he did not know, he listened instead for proof that other people did not know as much. In the intervening 7 months, he has shown no apparent curiosity on the subject and his only public pronouncement on the issue has been to say that he wants to summarily mothball the skyway.
Whatever you might think about the skyway in its present iteration, his statement reflects an opinion formed more than a decade ago, which hasnt changed or even evolved.
While intelligent people are often confident and stubborn, (I flatter myself that I have provided this exasperating example on more than a few occasions ), the prospects of this next few years require stepping out of the box a bit, and a stiff neck on something so important is not a quality in my opinion.
Also while I like Mr. Mullaney personally and like his idea of the medical university, we do not share many other ideas concerning the proper treatment of development and the role of the downtown. I dislike that his backers are heavily involved in the sprawl industry. However, backing comes from where it comes, it doesnt automatically guarantee a lockstep approach to policy. While he was instrumental to the largest sprawl limitations ever enacted in Duval County with the Land Preservation Project, in conversation he has expressed no interest in enacting legislation or policy which will curtail the deadly infrastructure sprawl that is sapping this city of all its strength.
I do not think that running a city can rest on the simple mantra of being anti tax.
If a simple tax cut were the only thing that a city needed to grow and prosper, then the city should have exploded with growth and quality of life over the previous sixteen straight years of tax cuts. It didnt. Like any gimmick, unless action is backed up with intelligent choices, and quality decisions, it is merely a sideshow sleight of hand.
Just like arbitrarily throwing money at something doesnt give it higher value or better quality, arbitrarily cutting money doesnt result in higher efficiency or better value. The proof can be seen in the underfunded parks, the rotting infrastructure, the cutbacks in police, libraries, firemen, and basic services.
And yet, other than this outdated mantra, repeated enthusiastically multiple times, combined with a truly worthwhile idea like the establishment of a Med University, I have heard very little from Rick's campaign about how we are going to correct the mistakes of the past and move on to a brighter future.
If it comes down to it, I suppose its the vision thing. He clearly has some vision as evidenced by the University idea, and some grasp of how people become change agents. And he is running on a necessary set of principles: Getting our house in order, thinking smartly, etc. And I do think he would make a brilliant administrator.
But I think Audrey has the edge on this one.
And it boils down to the single trait which she unwittingly displayed in her approach to the issues of transportation.
She knew there was more to know, and she made it her business to learn it. She found advice, she listened, and she honored the facts above the sanctity of her own opinion.
Finally there is the matter of the negative campaigning and the disingenuous nature of the political dialogue of these past few weeks.
Like Christine Parrish, a brilliant young attorney, preservation activist, and mother of two, I think that the writing on the wall is clear. We cannot predict the shortfalls of the upcoming budget. It is extremely disingenuous to claim that taxes will not be raised. To promise not to raise taxes in the face of a deficit, after all waste has been eliminated is the very peak of irresponsibility. It leaves soaring interest payments and debt to other generations, and increases costs exponentially over time. Given the extremities of our situation statewide, only a fool or a liar would claim that raising taxes is truly off the table.
What is the alternative? Saddling our children with debt payments on borrowed money, or cutting so deeply that rebuilding the lost ground will also be exponentially more expensive as you try and recreate the lost institutional capacity and experience? It is a foolhardy choice, in my humble opinion, and as a scotsman by heritage, I'd rather suck it up and man it out as soon as possible than be confronted with much larger expenses later.
That this sensible statement of sane, fiscal stewardship has been through a process of transubstantiation that results in painting the only candidate telling the truth as a taxhappy spendthrift, underscores a disingenuousness that doesnt bode well, in my opinion.
I don't need to be bullshitted. I don't need to be equivocated.
I would like to have a clear assessment and a set of choices. I don't need false pictures or misleading campaign slogans in order to make a decision. I suspect that I am joined in this my many many other people.
Of course both of these candidates are far and away more intelligent about good government and substantive issues than the candidate Mike Hogan, who is apparently running his entire campaign based on a couple of political slogans and mischaracterizations of the other candidates. So compared to this candidate, its truly the difference between an armadillo and two pedigreed cats, but in my opinion, the slight difference is perceptible enough to give me a clear choice.
And that choice is Audrey Moran. Rick Mullaney would make an excellent mayor, but Audrey will be better.
She has demonstrated to me (and many others) that she has the necessary toolbox to lead this city, make informed choices, and potentially become one of the most extraordinary mayors of the city's history. The times are large and uncertain, and they call for extraordinary leaders.
Audrey Moran is that person, in my opinion, and I hope that you agree with me at the ballot box.