PerspectivesA.G. Gancarski Jacksonville Today Contributor
This 2018 file photo shows co-host Brian Kilmeade on the set of "Fox & Friends" in New York. | AP Photo/Richard Drew

OPINION | The day Brian Kilmeade silenced Jacksonville’s political class

Published on April 3, 2022 at 9:47 pm
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On Thursday morning, the Fox & Friends program began the 7 o’clock hour blasting the city of Jacksonville.

The catalyst was a long shot of the Main Street Bridge, and that’s all it took for host Brian Kilmeade to go off.

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“The city of Jacksonville’s got such great potential. They’ve got these bridges. Beautiful scenery. They’ve got to rebuild that city,” Kilmeade, who has property in Ponte Vedra, said. 

He went on, for whatever reason.

“It’s just a mess. The city needs to be revitalized. It has all this potential, overlooking the water,” Kilmeade contended.

Soon after the remarks, I posted about it to Florida Politics. It took nearly eight hours for any of our city’s leaders to respond, and that one – City Council member LeAnna Gutierrez Cumber – did so to agree with the Kilmeade critique. 

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“Kilmeade is right. We are a decade behind where we should be,” Cumber, who has been on the Council since 2019, tweeted.

“As your next Mayor, I will right the course, make smart investments and ensure gas tax dollars aren’t raised to fund boondoggles. Jax can be the best city in the South!”

Cumber, who was once aligned with Mayor Lenny Curry, is now running a direct challenge to Curry and his expected choice to succeed him, Chamber CEO Daniel Davis, and she cannily used the Kilmeade quote as a peg for her messaging.

Cumber made a play. But no one else did. The office of Mayor Lenny Curry, which has messaged around reviving Downtown, did not offer clapback or counterargument. Nor did the mayor tweet the kind of fire for which he is known.

Democrats, who in theory could offer a “see, even Fox & Friends thinks the city needs help,” likewise demurred. Even the quote machines.  

Here’s the reality: We have dozens of politicians running for office in this city, and most of them are fundamentally flawed, deleveraged by the system or terminally mundane. Some are all three. 

All of them need earned media, given the reality that so many people who will be voting are either new to the city or otherwise unplugged from the process. 

How hard would it have been to demagogue the point? To defend the city, flaws and all, against the latest outsider to get breezy about the Bold New City of the South. 

To say, “Kilmeade, brother, you got it wrong, and if you have any guts, we’ll discuss it on Fox and Friends or the radio show.” 

These politicos have nothing to lose by defending their home turf. Yet they stayed mum. 

If I’m a voter, I would assume that if they can be cowed by a Fox & Friend, they can be cowed by lobbyists, donors, governors, and anyone else who applies a bit of pressure. 

Amazingly, this was the second of two recent outrages perpetrated on the region at large by national conservatives. 

As you may recall: Commentator Buck Sexton attempted to ingratiate himself with “Northern Florida” with an attack on plant-based milk substitutes, because of course.

“In northern Florida, when you ask for ‘milk’ in your coffee, they just put in milk. There’s no long discussion about ‘do you mean oat milk?’ or ‘soy’ (come on) or even almond (chalk water),” Sexton tweeted. “Milk means milk. It’s civilized down here.”

It’s always the same thing: this idea that the people of this region are too dumb to know when Acela corridor professional conservatives pander to our faces and mock us when they think our backs are turned.

And too, we get the practical jokes closer to home, with DeSantis telling Northeast Florida what he thinks of it by putting the Q-friendly Esther Byrd on the Board of Education, as what could be the front end of an ultimate Byrd BOGO for the gov. 

Neptune Beach resident Byrd, who just had her first meeting as a member of the board setting education policy statewide, continues to swashbuckle on social media. 

Last week, as Times-Union reporter Emily Bloch pointed out, Byrd celebrated that a teacher in St. Johns County was compelled to change out of his “Protect Trans Kids” shirt.

“Unacceptable teacher attire + Parent Complaint to School = Shirt is Gone,” Byrd Facebooked Thursday.

Rep. Cord Byrd, as we observed last week in this space, is linked to the Senate race, where rumors that he might be Ron DeSantis’ frontman have not gone away. 

The Byrds very well may end up as the ultimate Gen X power couple in Northeast Florida politics. If DeSantis wants him in the Senate race, he likely has a clear path to the nomination and to the Senate itself: The map is drawn for a GOP winner. 

Current candidate Clay Yarborough, as we observed last week, would have some decisions to make if that comes to pass. 

DeSantis has made the Byrds, lifting Esther from obscurity to one of the most prominent rubber-stamp panels in the state, where she will be central in forging a new and exciting path for teachers and students. 

And if Cord gets in the Senate race, it’s so he can be DeSantis’ man in the Senate, a check against incoming President Kathleen Passidomo, who has a political independence that seems to concern the governor. 

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A.G. Gancarski's columns were a staple in Folio Weekly for nearly two decades, and he has been the Northeast Florida correspondent for Florida Politics since 2014. He writes about the intersection of state and local politics and policy.

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