Now that the less-than-exciting primary political races are over, we get to really start looking ahead to the one election that means the most to the citizens of Jacksonville - the election of the next Jacksonville Mayor.
Remember the Hayden Burns Library and the talk that started about what to do with it, after the opening of the new library - in 2004? Remember the possibility of Peterbrooke Chocalatiers moving in to renovate that section? When Peterbrooke fell through, did the City go to the next bidder (Main Branch, LLC)? No, it began talking about using the old library for STORAGE! Such a great building in such a fantastic location and those we have trusted the leadership of the city to had the bright idea to use it as a storage locker! But that didn't happen. In fact, nothing happened with the Hayden Burns Library. It sits vacant and deteriorating today just as it did 3 years ago.
Remember all of the courthouse discussions - back in 2003? Remember how the citizens of Jacksonville passed a budget of $192 million for a brand new civil AND criminal courthouse (in one site) within the Better Jacksonville Plan? The estimated cost now for the same thing is close to $400 million. And the current plan has split up the court system into two disparate buildings (a quarter mile apart). Can you think of any other major cities that have this compromised court system? So...the new estimated budget is at $400 million (twice of what was voter-approved) and, I forget... construction costs tend to go up or down? Remember back in 2003 when we were talking about the new courthouse? Nothing has happened at the courthouse site today. The seven sprawling blocks that are the proposed site sit collecting weeds.
Remember back in 2004 and all the surrounding hoopla concerning the possiblity of Cecil Field becoming a Navy base again? We saw Mayor Peyton on TV telling us what a wonderful thing it will be to have the Navy back at Cecil Field. Westside residents quickly assembled and protested. We then see our Mayor on TV reversing his position, stating that the Navy would NOT be welcomed back to Cecil Field. Yes, Cecil Field was in the news in 2004. And you still hear Cecil Field in the news today - at times it seems the city is practically on the verge of strife as neighborhood groups form to do battle with signature petition groups. Do you think there could have been a slight lack of leadership there by the one occupying our city's highest office?
Are we a city chasing its own tail?
At a recent town hall meeting, When a citizen brought up the topic of how slow city government is moving on so many projects, Mayor Peyton quipped something to the effect of "it IS government after all". So, this is where we are? In 2003, much of Jacksonville bought the public relations line that was spun our way by Peyton's campaign that he was a reformer and that, if he was elected, it would not be business as usual. Peyton said he would be bringing in "a business mentality" to the city. We were led to believe that Peyton's extensive business experience (in his dad's company) would unravel the red tape that entangles city hall. And now we are confronted with the admission from our "reforming mayor" that he can't get things done because he "works in government"? Four years is ample time to at least make a DENT in projects such as the Hayden Burns Libary, the Courthouse and Cecil Field. Yet here we stand today, nearly four years later, facing the same challenges of 2003 and 2004, only now it will cost us much more to overcome them.
Remember back in 2003 when we were talking about electing John Peyton as mayor? As the 1.15 million dollars in Peyton's campaign war chest begin to be transformed into slick TV and radio advertisements, no one will fault you for wondering, "Is it 2003 again?".