Florida businessman Lenny Curry on Tuesday scored a rare win for big-city Republicans by ousting Jacksonville’s sitting mayor.
Curry, the former chairman of the Florida Republican Party, defeated Democratic Mayor Alvin Brown 51 percent to 48 percent, a margin of fewer than 5,500 votes out of about 200,000 cast.
Registered Democratic voters outnumber registered Republicans in Jacksonville, but not by as wide a margin as in most major cities. But Republican turnout operations paid dividends this year: More than 87,000 Republicans showed up at the polls, an increase over the 2011 election that Brown won, while the number of registered Democrats who voted slumped by a small margin.
Both Curry and Brown called in big-name supporters for campaign help. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) appeared in a television ad for Curry, who also campaigned with former Texas governor Rick Perry (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Brown held a fundraiser with Bill Clinton earlier this year, according to the Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville’s local newspaper.
Curry joins a small cohort of Republicans who lead major U.S. cities. Jacksonville is the 13th largest city in America; only two larger cities, San Diego and Indianapolis, have Republican mayors.
The mayors of Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, N.M., Fresno, Calif. and Mesa, Ariz. are also Republicans.
Democrats control the vast majority of big-city mayoralties, though Republicans do win control on occasion. New York has elected only three Republican mayors, John Lindsay (who later became a Democrat), Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg (who later became an independent) in the last 50 years. Los Angeles has only elected one Republican, Richard Riordan, in half a century.
Chicago hasn’t elected a Republican mayor since 1927, when William Hale Thompson won a single term. Houston elected its last Republican mayor, Jim McConn, in 1978. And Philadelphia elected its last Republican in 1947, when Bernard Samuel won his third and final term.
But Curry took advantage of Jacksonville’s dismal financial shape and rising crime rates to make the case that it was time for a change. Jacksonville owes more than $1.6 billion to its police and fire pension fund; Curry, an accountant by trade, pledged to fix the city’s books.
And Republicans have had more success winning conservative Jacksonville than other big cities. Before Brown won in 2011, Republicans had run the city since Mayor Ed Austin switched his party affiliation during his first term in 1993.