Alvin Brown makes history
Alvin Brown. Courtesy of WJCT.
In 2011, Alvin Brown made history when he won the election for Mayor of Jacksonville. In so doing, he became Jacksonville’s first ever African-American mayor, and the first Democrat elected for two decades.
Brown was the main Democratic candidate, and he faced a packed field that included Tax Collector Mike Hogan and well known attorneys Audrey Moran and Rick Mullaney. Heavily supported by conservative and Tea Party-leaning Republicans, Hogan was the front runner, while Moran and Mullaney split much of the moderate and “business Republican” vote. Though widely considered a dark horse, Brown’s grass roots campaign and hopeful message inspired Democrats, and he finished the March general election in second place behind Hogan. Soon after, many donors and voters unhappy with Hogan’s Tea Party stances and disinclination to make public appearances rallied behind Brown, propelling him to a historic victory in the May runoff election.
Brown’s single term as mayor was marked by a renewed focus on Downtown. Perhaps his biggest legacy is the creation of the Downtown Investment Authority, the first city agency focused specifically on downtown since the former Downtown Development Authority was effectively eliminated in 2006.
Shad Khan buys the Jaguars
Courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In November 2011, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver issued an earthshaking announcement: he was selling the franchise to Illinois billionaire Shad Khan. Jaxsons were pensive at first, but were almost immediately won over by Khan’s personal charisma and American Dream story - he moved to the U.S. from Pakistan at 16 as a broke college student, and worked his way up to becoming one of the richest people in the country. He immediately became one of the most recognizable faces in the city.
Khan ushered in a new era of excitement around the Jaguars. Under his ownership, the team has undergone a series of massive off-field changes: a major rebranding, a huge rise in annual revenue, and the inclusion of an annual home game in London (so far, a transformation into a consistently good team remains elusive). Khan has also led the franchise into real estate investment, partnering with the city for stadium upgrades and Daily’s Place amphitheater, and proposing developments at the Shipyards and Lot J properties, which have molded the discourse on downtown investment.
The rise and fall of One Spark
In 2013 the biggest new event in years exploded onto the Jacksonville scene. Boasting the backing of former Disney executive Peter Rummel and modeled after nationally renowned events like South by Southwest and ArtPrize, One Spark was a “crowdfunding festival” that allowed attendees to vote for and support projects pitched by dozens of creators set up throughout Downtown Jacksonville. With hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money and events across five days, the first One Spark attracted 130,000 attendees and showed Jacksonville what a vibrant downtown could be.
The next two years drew even bigger crowds, but One Spark had trouble converting the explosive energy it generated into sustainable revenue. Three years in, the festival remained heavily reliant on Rummel and contributions from the City of Jacksonville to cover its expenses. In 2016, the event was greatly scaled back, with the street festival restricted to one night (a monthly Art Wark night) and the creator showcase moved indoors. It was scaled back again in 2017, and subsequently fell off the calendar altogether.
One Spark had a positive impact on Downtown Jacksonville and is fondly remembered by many of those who attended. It served as proof that Jaxsons are ready and willing to support Downtown events and bold new ideas.
Crime doesn’t go anywhere
Crime has continued to be a highly influential topic of discussion. After seeing violent crime, and homicide in particular, tick up in the first decade of the century, Mayor John Peyton, Sheriff John Rutherford, and City Council launched the Jacksonville Journey, an initiative dedicated to turning the tide. Thanks to those and other efforts, homicide saw sharp decreases in 2010 and 2011.
From that point, however, the numbers started rising again. In 2015, Republican mayoral hopeful Lenny Curry placed blame on Mayor Alvin Brown, and declared the battle against crime a major plank of his platform. Curry won the election, but crime has continued to rise through the end of the 2010s, despite significant investment in police budgets and technology. It would appear that crime is one issue that will plague Jacksonville into the next decade.
Lenny Curry defeats Mayor Alvin Brown
Alvin Brown and Lenny Curry. Courtesy of WJCT.
By 2015, Mayor Alvin Brown was facing criticism from various quarters over issues in his administration. Many Democrats were frustrated with his overtures to conservatives, notably in his opposition to the Human Rights Ordinance, while the donor class that had supported him in 2011 became disillusioned with his budgets and management of the city. He drew two significant challengers in the 2015 race: former City Council member Bill Bishop, and former state Republican Party chair Lenny Curry.
Curry had little name recognition among the general public at the time, but he soon emerged as the Republican favorite. Promising sunnier prospects for the city’s finances and management, Curry also blasted Brown on topics like crime and pension reform. He came ahead of Bishop in the March general election before rallying his base for a victory in the runoff in May.
In office, Curry continued Brown’s emphasis on Downtown, especially focusing attention on projects in the stadium district. Significantly, he also turned his attention to the city’s appointed boards, removing members appointed by Brown and replacing them with his own picks. This has been a major change that has impacted the way the city has operated - notably with JEA’s prospective sale - throughout Curry’s tenure. In 2019, the Democrats failed to run a mayoral candidate for the first time since 1999, though Curry faced a challenge from fellow Republican Anna Lopez Brosche, former City Council member, and several other candidates. He won 57.6% of the vote in the general election, precluding a runoff race.