Robert Montgomery: Bill Bishop the Unlikely Liberal


An unlikely political alliance has formed in the race for Mayor of Jacksonville. A coalition of self-described "Bohemians", moderate Democrats, Republicans, and members of the LGBTQ Community, have thrown their support behind two term City Councilman Bill Bishop. The coalition is an expression of dissatisfaction with the legacy of Alvin Brown -- not altogether too unreasonable given his record. The interesting part is the fact that they would find their answer to a disappointing incumbent in a candidate who identifies with the Tea Party. … Check out our House Progressive Editorialists take on Bishop after the jump!

In all truth to using the word "unlikely" seems to imply that some worm hole has opened and pieces of an alternative universe spilled out engulfing parts of the community. There has to be a rational explanation as to why a man, who was a ranking member of the campaign to elect Herman Cain as the GOP nominee in 2012, would be the moderate left's ("center/right" for those into political science) answer to what turned out to be a tragically corporatist Democrat. During that time when presented the evidence that Cain had committed several acts of sexual harassment in an interview with the Time-Union, Bishop simply dismissed them as, in so many words as, "questionable." One would think that the average woman, identifying politically as a Democrat, might be a little alarmed by that alongside her "male feminist" friend, colleague, or "other". However the consensus among the crowd in a recent meeting hosted by the Young Voter's Coalition in Riverside seemed to imply that this wasn't an issue.

From appearances, at least from those caught up in this situation, the move appears to be some expression of pragmatism, but to the political voyeur the move is, as most contradictory moves made by Liberals, dubious. As a traditional Liberal Alvin Brown has acted to uphold the status quo in keeping with the tradition. Not calling for any new taxes was, as long as one is willing to turn a blind eye to Brown's attempt to get the JEA to fund Pension Reform last year, is a glaring example of how Liberals attempt to please everyone, and especially the union lobby. Adopting a neutral position over the issue of amending the city's Human Rights Ordinance, to appease the more conservative interests of the Boondock Calvinists among us here in Jacksonville, over keeping a campaign promise to the numerically smaller LGBTQ Community, is another shining display of the "lesser of two evils" Liberal mindset at work. From appointing Jack Meeks to the Downtown Investment Authority, facilitating an open line of taxpayer funds to millionaires and billionaires like Shad Khan, joining in with known "Social Justice Warriors" Denise Lee and John Rutherford in "Northside redevelopment" efforts such as Operation Ceasefire, how could any local Liberal not see Alvin Brown as anything other than a reasonable representation of themselves?

But that's not the case. In a gathering hosted by an esteemed local writer and historian, Wayne Wood, many came out to show support for Bill Bishop. The man who was endorsed by the First Coast Tea Party in 2011 as a fiscal conservative had a reasonable amount of support from people who likely supported Alvin Brown in 2011. Certainly the HRO issues weighs heavily in this matter along with general dissatisfaction over the way Brown has not really taken a stand, at least superficially, on a lot of issues. But why support Bill Bishop -- why not support, say, Omega Allen?

To answer that question, Omega Allen, although rather enigmatic up until recently, said in an interview on First Coast Connect, to paraphrase, that the city should represent the will of all people, and that a choice (being gay) was not a right. So with one statement Omega Allen dispelled any notions that she may be an alternative to three candidates who, aside from perhaps one or two issues, are very similar ideologically.

During the "Clay Yarborough/MOCA Scandal" most people, including your's personally, were appalled that a councilman would devote even a moment of his time attempting to pull a nominal amount of funding from an art museum over a work depicting a nude pregnant woman, in a relatively unprovocative pose, on display. At the time in an article I reasoned that although Yarborough's pettiness was, "yet another example of a city's cultural backwardness". I pointed out that an even bigger crime was Yarborough's lack of attention in dealing with serious issues of poverty and unemployment in his own district in which most of Arlington sits; the unemployment rate for 32211, according to the most recent American Community Survey, is at 12.4% and the total poverty rate is 19.4% with 11.4% of those people underneath that mark by 50%. Yarborough, with these sort of numbers within his own district clearly should have bigger fish to fry as a civil servant. But since 2007 Clay Yarborough isn't the only councilman ignoring 32211. Just to the south of him, he has had a partner in neglect of this part of the city's urban core for the same amount of time -- a man named Bill Bishop.

Any person who has ventured down the service roads that run along side the Arlington Expressway is met with one reality: rampant poverty, blight, and a criminal element largely created by this environment. The average household size in 32211 is 2.5 persons earning a median income of $40,345 per year in 2011, which translates to per capita income of $13,412. The poverty rates in the more populous parts of Bill Bishop's 32211 are a high as 19.9 and 24.9%, at worst, and at best 7.2 and 8.9% at best compared with an unemployment rate of 2.5% up to 6.7%. What this implies is that a lot of people are working predominant low wage service sector jobs and are unable to furnish the purchasing power necessary to bring up the standard of life. The neighborhood to the south, known as "Sin City" is in about as worse shape. So where are the partnerships among city Councilfolk within these zip codes to address these issues? Even Alvin Brown went as far as to step in front of the press to announce his moral support for Arlington redevelopment whatever that means. The lack of leadership may also explain, within reasonable certainly, why such area economic pillars, like the Regency Square Mall and much of the businesses around it are failing on top of competition from the Town's Center not far to the south. So what is Bill Bishop's attitude on poverty and unemployment.

Last year, Mr. Bishop took it upon himself in an op-ed published in Folio Weekly to provide his prescription to presumably reverse decades of neglect of the NW Quadrant. His argument in short form called for more money to be released from the NJEDF(about $7 million dollars) to provide a bit of "brick and mortar" and maybe bring in a satellite center to provide job training. He went on to add that a lot of the Northside's problems were due to young unwed mothers and unemployed fathers. As far as an op-ed goes one has to concede that it was, perhaps, the most thoughtfully written by a local politician in this city.

No mayoral candidate is this race really has much of a plan more than "business as usual" and Bill Bishop is really no exception. People who are siding with Bishop over the HRO may want to remember that Bishop initially voted against the amended bill due to the inclusion of transgender people, voting for it once their protections were removed. Bishop has been a part of a City Council that has, for a large part, been relatively combative with the current mayor and, in many cases, rightfully so. But when it comes to his feelgood rhetoric about transforming the city, one only need look at Bishop's District 2(now redrawn around The Mile Point Project), see the stark inequalities between the areas west of Regency Mall, to the east, and they will find Bill Bishop's vision. And then, upon hearing Bishop discuss his vision again, one has to hopefully feel the need to ask the questions, "Bill. You've been in City Hall since 2007, where are the partnerships with representatives in Northside districts to combat "their" issues? And, equally as important, what about those folks suffering a similar fate within your own district?"

But more than likely that question won't be asked among the majority of those within the odd coalition that has chosen Bill Bishop as their champion -- no more than anyone, still behind Alvin Brown, are asking him any of the same questions.