JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The mayor and first lady of Jacksonville shared their renewed passion for the office as they head into the next four years.
I emphasize "they" because as I found out while sitting down with Mayor Lenny Curry and his wife, Molly Curry, this "job" at City Hall is very much about family and service.
"I wake up and I say, 'Wow, where did it all go?'" Mayor Curry said before he officially began his second term and was sworn in at an inauguration ceremony Monday. "So I want to be mindful of that this term and be as aggressive about getting things done, but also, just recognize the moment for what it is. I mean, this is public service. I mean, it's cool."
And the Currys said they don't want to miss anything this time around.
"We didn't know going into it four years ago what it would look like, what our roles would be, what we're supposed to do, what we're supposed to say, do you have to go to everything, do the kids have to? So we've just sort of adjusted it and made it our own," Mrs. Curry said. "It seems like just yesterday it was four years ago we were in this position."
Here are some of the topics we discussed and the excerpts from the interview with the Currys:
The couple's three children -- Boyd, Brooke and Bridget -- are growing up in front of their eyes, as well as the city's.
Mayor Curry: "It's very real to me that four years ago, I was running for office. I was sitting in a parking lot, watching my then-baby boy pitch a championship baseball game. I was calling voters because the campaign was going. That seems like yesterday. I look at those pictures and now he's like 5 (feet) 10 (inches tall) and change, and bigger than me."
Mary Baer: "He's taller than dad now."
Mayor Curry: "And he's like a young man and so it's bittersweet."
Boyd, 14, will be going into high school and just got his braces off. And he wasn't the only one in the Curry family -- so did his mother and one of his sisters.
Mrs. Curry: (Laughs) "I got my braces off -- mother, daughter, son."
Mary: "We get to see all this happening. How has that impacted your life, as well? You're just out there so much."
Mrs. Curry: "You are and we've had to teach our kids that they have to be careful on what they post on social media."
Maybe even more than their friends.
Mrs. Curry: "They didn't ask for it. They didn't sign up for it, but unfortunately, it comes with part of Lenny's job."
Mary: "How does dad feel about that?"
Mayor Curry: "Well, the thing I tell them is it's not that someone will intentionally try to be mean to you. But this is politics and someone that may want to bring me down will, unfortunately, use you, as my child, to do that and it's going to hurt you. So just be smart."
Issues that can be felt at home
"Lenny's job" involves finding solutions to problems that often hit close to home, such as the proposed half-cent sales tax for Duval County's aging public schools, which the couple's children attend.
Mary: "What was your reaction when you heard that there was no A/C in some of our schools?"
Mayor Curry: "Oh, just terrible."
Mrs. Curry: "Yeah."
Mayor Curry: "I mean, we're happy with the education our children are getting at their schools, but some of those, you know, the air conditioning units may not be the most efficient. I've been in some of my children's classrooms when it's been uncomfortable at times, so it's real,"
Mrs. Curry: "And I've gone to read in different schools and you see that not every school is kept at the same standard, unfortunately."
But the mayor insists the city should not rush into voting on a half-cent sales tax without a plan, citing an example in another Florida county.
Mayor Curry: "It's happening in Manatee County right now, reported in the news this week. They rushed a tax for schools without a list of priorities. Tax has been coming in for a dollar a year and they haven't spent a single dollar because they're all fighting over priorities. We can't let that happen in Jacksonville."
But while the mayor deals with some high profile issues at City Hall, there is one topic that he may need some help with at home.
Mayor Curry: "So before Blake and Bee, our two little dogs, we had a Great Dane that we tragically lost, but we started a conversation -- the kids and I did. Well, we're making a case to bring a Great Dane into the equation."
Mary: "Wow ... How do you feel about that? It's like bringing a horse in the house."
Mrs. Curry: "Exactly. Exactly. There will be some more discussions on that."
So it seems that the mayor and the children will have a lot more lobbying to do to land a Great Dane in the house.
Politics has long ruled Mayor Curry's life, as he was formerly the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. He said he's over the nastiness of national politics.
Mayor Curry: "I'll educate myself when we get close but to live in the day-to-day bickering and back and forth -- people are just tearing each other apart. It's out of my life now that I've quit watching that stuff and I don't wanna bring it back in, right?"
Mrs. Curry: "Yeah."
Mayor Curry: "Remember, I used to have FOX, MSNBC and CNN always running in our house. For the last four years, no offense to those networks, but I just don't need all that fighting in my house."
As for the local level, he is looking forward to working with the Jacksonville City Council.
"I think we're going to be good," Mayor Curry said. "I think you're going to see a lot of collaboration, a lot of unanimous or close to unanimous votes on big issues because we've all worked together."
As Mayor Curry's second term begins, he and his wife said they are heading into the next four years at City Hall with new energy and inspiration.
"The kids are excited," Mrs. Curry said. "We're excited."
She said this time around, she wants to immerse herself more.
"I'm excited to help out in the commune more," Mrs. Curry said. "I feel like I've gotten my feet wet in the first four years and (I'm) ready to help out some more."
They both hope to leave a lasting impact on the city they love.
Mary: "You're known as the mayor who tears things down -- old City Hall, courthouse -- now, the Landing. But so far we haven't seen anything rise up. We haven't seen any buildings. Are we going to see that?
Mayor Curry: "Absolutely."
Mary: "In the next four years?"
Mayor Curry: "Yeah. Oh yeah. So what we've had is years of talk."
But he said the city will see action soon.
"I expect, by the end of the summer, to have negotiated a deal for Lot J," Mayor Curry said.
As for the Jacksonville Landing, the mayor said he "believes something iconic should be there."
"There is no secret plan for what's next. I believe a little bit of green space for the public and then let's go to the community and the development community and see what works economically and let's make the Landing, that property, the space that it should be," he said. "Buildings will come and go. I want to continue to be focused on impactful things -- The Kids Hope Alliance, young people, public safety. That's not the stuff that anyone, you know, put your name on a building over. But that's the stuff that has internal purpose. So to me, that's legacy."
The mayor recently toured the formerly-named Eureka Gardens apartment complex, which is now called Valencia Way and under new ownership, four years after he first saw the deplorable conditions in the once trouble apartments.
"Oh, my gosh, the change. A flood of memories came back to me from four years ago when I went into units where moms were crying, kids were crying, they couldn't breathe, there was mold, there were roaches," Mayor Curry said.
But now, he can't believe the transformation.
Mayor Curry: "The units I toured yesterday that have been redone, I would live there."
Mayor Curry: "Yes. Yes."
And looking back on the last four years, he finds it gratifying to make change happen close to home.
"People stop me and they tell me they have a garbage problem or a bigger problem, and it's really cool to be able to pick up the phone and fix that problem for that person," Mayor Curry said. "I'll be getting a cup of coffee one morning, as an example, and a lady comes up to me and she says, 'You look tired. Are you OK? I just want to thank you for your public service.' And when people do that it's so meaningful. So, I just want to thank people for being so kind in public because, 99% of the time, they are."
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