JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After a long, expensive and sometimes bruising campaign, Jacksonville voters elected a new mayor on Tuesday.
When the first early votes and absentee votes were reported just after 7 p.m., Republican Lenny Curry had a 1 percent lead over incumbent Mayor Alvin Brown. Two hours later, with 98 percent of the 200,000 votes counted, that lead was only slightly larger, but enough to declare victory.
"Soak it in," Curry told supporters in a ballroom of the Hyattt Regency Hotel.
After thanking his family, his volunteers, his donors and the Republican Party of Florida, Curry turned to the future.
"The work starts right now. This is about one Jacksonville and about one people and our future," Curry said. "The message that I carried through this campaign comes from deep within me. This is what I believe. This is what we're going to do."
Just 30 minutes earlier, Brown had stepped in front of supporters at his watch party to congratulate Curry.
"I want to thank all my supporters, who were there from the beginning, all the way to the end," Brown said. "I also want to thank my team for the last four years. I'm so proud of the progress we made. We left a strong foundation to build on."
At the end of the night, with all 201,227 votes counted, Republican Curry drew 51.3 percent of the vote -- a 5,285-vote margin over Brown.
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For both men, Tuesday's election ends well over a year of campaigning and a campaign that cost millions of dollars.
Brown registered to run for a second term two years ago, and Curry filed his paperwork in January 2014. The two came out on top in a four-way primary in March and spent a record amount of money on this campaign.
"We have almost tripled what was (spent) in the previous mayoral race," Election Supervisor Jerry Holland said last week."The dollars are just amazing."
Curry was able to tap into friendships he earned while leading the state GOP as well as party resources to defeat Brown, who four years ago became Jacksonville's first black mayor and the first Democrat to win the position in 20 years.
Brown narrowly won office then by positioning himself as a conservative Democrat who tried to avoid partisan politics. He said he wanted to work with Republican Gov. Rick Scott to bring jobs to the area and upset local Democrats by not appearing with President Barack Obama at a 2012 campaign rally.
Tuesday began with the candidates voting at their respective precincts with their families.
Curry voted at the Southside United Methodist Church off Hendricks Avenue and San Jose Boulevard about 9:30 a.m.
The former Florida GOP leader arrived with his wife and three children and said he was feeling good and is proud of what he said was a successful campaign.
Curry said since day one his biggest goal has been making Jacksonville a safer place to live. He said that remains his top priority.