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'Face To Face,' Brown, Curry Tackle Racism, Economic Growth In Mayoral Debate

Kerry Speckman via Twitter

Democratic incumbent mayor Alvin Brown and Republican mayoral challenger Lenny Curry went head to head Monday night in the second of three candidate debates, this one sponsored by First Coast News, the Florida Times-Union and WJCT.

First Coast News Anchor and debate moderator Shannon Ogden used the first question of the evening to set the tone of the hour-long event, which he promised at the outset would be a different kind of debate.

Ogden asked, "Who will you vote for for sheriff? Mr. Curry, two-word answer only."

Curry replied, "I will work with the next sheriff. It's critically important—" before Ogden cut in, "Not the question. I'm sorry. We're going to keep this on focus tonight. You're not going to say who you'll vote for?"

Brown similarly dodged the question with the reply, "Well, I'm going to make sure that, at the end of the day, that I'm going to work with whomever becomes the next sheriff.”

Ogden said, "All right, my math is bad, but it was just two-word answers, so hopefully we'll be a little more forthcoming throughout the evening.”

It didn’t seem to help, however, as both candidates continued to duck and weave around some of the more sensitive issues. Brown, for instance, did not say whether he would support expanding the city’s human rights ordinance to protect members of Jacksonville’s LGBT community from discrimination. Or whether he supports the Affordable Care Act, known as ObamaCare.

Curry did not answer whether he knows any families living on minimum wage nor what steps he would take to prove to Jacksonville residents he'll listen to points of view other than the Republican Party's. Curry served as state GOP chairman until recently.

Throughout the evening, Curry stuck to a theme that Brown fails to take responsibility for shortcomings, including the city's Police and Fire Pension meltdown and lopsided budgets.

Each candidate was given the chance to ask the other a question.

Brown highlighted Northeast Florida's economic growth, asking Curry how he can say Jacksonville is worse off than it was four years ago with thousands of new jobs. Curry responded that job growth has been only in certain parts of town, while entire communities have been left out.

Curry asked Brown, "Do you think I'm a racist?" in response to a Brown campaign mailer implying Curry suppressed black people's votes as GOP chairman by fighting for shortened early-voting days. Brown defended the mailer, saying he believes a Curry mayorship would "turn back the clock" because Curry opposes raising the minimum wage and equal pay for women.

As soon as the cameras stopped rolling, the two candidates argued about negative attack ads and who was running more personal attacks.

The third and final mayoral debate is Thursday night at Jacksonville University. It’s sponsored by WJXT and JU’s Public Policy Institute.

Cyd Hoskinson began working at WJCT on Valentine’s Day 2011.
Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP