The wisdom of the Jacksonville City Council has always been a matter of debate.
This is the same group that once saw a former councilman (Reggie Brown) argue for the better part of two months about whether people had the right to back their cars into their driveways. His theory was if they did so, they could use their trunks to hold illicit cargo.
That bill was ultimately squashed, and it’s worth mentioning that councilman is no longer in politics, not because of that bad idea, but because of another one. His term was truncated when he was indicted and then convicted as part of a scheme to misuse economic development funds.
Bad ideas and bad logic are nothing new to the Jacksonville City Council. But last week’s votes by three standing committees recommending against spending $1.3 million to move a Confederate monument from Springfield Park — a proposal by Mayor Lenny Curry to get a symbol of division out of the public space while respecting the work’s artistic value — was one of those moments seemingly unique to this group and the miasmic swamp that is the first floor of the St. James Building.
Mayor Curry made the vow during a Black Lives Matter rally in 2020 (an endeavor where very few elected officials showed up). He said the monuments were coming down. The one in James Weldon Johnson Park was removed without real incident. The one in Springfield Park, however, has proven to be a more intractable problem.
It’s currently tarped over. Despite a state law making it a felony to deface war memorials, there is no taking the chance that the tribute to the Women of the Southland would survive for too long even with that legislative shield.
The Council has been cowed, as it always is when it comes down to asserting a path forward beyond some sort of retrograde vision of the world. They can’t move a marijuana decriminalization bill, even though they have a jail perpetually stuffed with people and don’t even have the budget to pick up the trash. They took six years to expand the human rights ordinance to protect LGBTQI+ citizens in municipal code, and only then after the legislation was watered down considerably.
And here, three of the five standing committees of this City Council, which has proven so useless when citizens appeal to it for quality of life issues, caved yet again to the most bellicose voices. And they caved, importantly, when the mayor’s office did not.
Lenny Curry’s tenure in office has seen more twists and turns than a coal road in the Appalachian Mountains. And after six years in office, he has genuinely evolved on some issues, and this monument move would seem to be one of them.
Not all members of the Council are opposed. But most haven’t evolved with him. Certainly not a supermajority.
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Republican Matt Carlucci gave a statement in multiple committees indicating support, but it didn’t move most other white Republicans. He will give the same statement Tuesday night. We will see if it gets more traction.
Democrat Reggie Gaffney appealed to pragmatic concerns, noting that keeping a monument up after this process could draw the whole nation to Jacksonville to protest. That didn’t move the needle either.
But the opposition is such that a number of flimsy excuses become a latticework of rhetorical reinforcement of the status quo. The worst of the bunch in committees was a “history lesson” from Republican Danny Becton. He wondered if Revolutionary War monuments would be the next to be torn down. No one even told him he was wrong when he referred to “the Liberty Bell in Boston.”
If they can agree to get facts wrong, they can agree to get anything else wrong as well. And they have no reason not to. For white Republicans on the City Council, none of whom will be held accountable in their districts for this issue or any other, there is no material incentive to evolve between the time you read this and Tuesday night. The incentive to do the right thing hasn’t moved them beyond craven self-interest in the past on social issues. So why would it now?