Editor's Note: This story has been updated with a response from Mayor Lenny Curry's office.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry had lunch Thursday with City Council members who were touting the mayor’s support for their districts on the north and west sides of town.
However, one council member representing the same area wasn’t an invited guest, but that didn’t keep him from showing up.
The lunch was at Soul Food Bistro off Lenox Avenue. Before lunch, Curry and Council members Katrina Brown, Reggie Brown, Reggie Gaffney, representing the northwest side of town and at-large member Sam Newby, talked about projects they’ve accomplished by working together.
Reggie Brown said he’s happy about a city program phasing out septic tanks.
“We have appropriated $30 million, some people will say ‘that’s a small change,’ but listen, this is the biggest, big deal with this administration,” Brown said.
And Katrina Brown said the administration has invested in projects important to her constituents.
“I can tell you just within District 8 the administration has invested over $1 million with parks and senior citizen centers,” she said.
Council members listed off projects one by one, and Curry applauded the teamwork.
But the conversation soon turned to the elephant in the room, or council member in the room — Garrett Dennis, who represents the district Soul Food Bistro is located in, but said he wasn’t invited.
“I felt that I should have been a part, but again, this is the tactic of the mayor — isolation [and] division,” Dennis said.
Dennis stood with members of the media, while the mayor and other council members spoke. Dennis alleged he’s being bullied by the mayor’s office because he doesn’t agree with all Curry’s priorities.
“I was just told on January 11, that I’m a walking dead man,” Dennis said one of Curry’s “top lieutenants” told him, but wouldn’t name the person.
Dennis said the alleged intimidation tactics have occurred via phone calls and meetings.
Curry's Chief of Staff Brian Hughes responded to the allegations by email Thursday afternoon.
"These claims of bullying and victimization are nonsense, and we do not accept any of it as true," Hughes said. "The mayor was invited by members of City Council who he has worked closely with to highlight some of the major accomplishments and improvements in their districts. He welcomes invitations from any City Council member anytime, any day, who’d like to highlight challenges or collaborate on improvements in their districts. We’re here to work together," Hughes wrote.
Prior to Dennis' comments, Curry was asked about the councilman's absence.
“This is the first time I’ve heard someone say ‘why not me at this event?’ “ Curry said. “But I look forward to any invitations for specific projects in that district in the future and would be happy to work towards them.”
Curry said Dennis doesn’t come to him with project asks in his district, as the others do, but said he’s still championed District 9 projects, like an $8.4 million city investment in Edward Waters College.
Dennis said he’ll continue to stand up for himself.
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride