Lenny Curry talks about fatherhood, family and public service

Joy Purdy speaks to top mayoral candidates ahead of March 19 election

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects, Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is vying to keep his job as the city's top executive, and the race has become a public feud between Curry and his leading challenger, City Council Member and fellow Republican Anna Brosche.

Positive and negative ads and statements from both candidates have flooded websites and TV broadcasts. News4Jax anchor Joy Purdy has spoken to both Brosche and Curry in one-on-one interviews to give our television viewers and online readers more insight into who both mayoral candidate are prior to Jacksonville's First Election on March 19. 

The below story is what Curry had to share with us. Here's a direct link to Joy's interview and in-depth online feature with Brosche that appeared online and on television Feb. 21.

Curry's personal life

Curry was born in Key West, and after his father's U.S. Navy career, he and his family made their way to Northeast Florida.

"My mom and dad met in Key West in high school. Fast forward -- my dad's parents settled in Orange Park, so we decided to be closer to him and that's how we ended up in this area."

How Lenny met Molly

It's the workplace that brought Curry and his wife Molly together. While they graduated in different years, both majored in accounting at the University of Florida. 

"I was working for an international accounting firm. (Molly) went to work for another international accounting firm," Curry explained.

When those two firms merged -- so did they.

Fatherhood

"I always knew I wanted to be a father, and I always knew I wanted kids," Curry told Joy.

Curry grew up as an only child and before he married Molly, he told her he wanted six children. It sounded reasonable -- after all, Molly is one of four siblings herself.

"She didn't say no at the time, but after three (children)", he said chuckling, "I'll say we agreed together."

"I'm a hugger," he said with a broad smile. "I just want to hug and hold (my kids) to the point where it annoys them. But I don't care."

Curry said his own family helped him learn how important it is to have that personal connection with people in the community.

"I came to this job as an introvert by nature. But during the campaign, and now that I've spent time with constituents, one of the things that I've learned: You never know what people are going through," Curry explained. "There may be somebody in a community or in a neighborhood that needs a hug, or hasn't had someone pat them on the back for a day or a month. I think it makes all the difference in the world."

Balancing everything

Curry admits it can be a challenge to squeeze in family time.

"We have three chickens, we have two cats, we have two dogs," Curry said as he went through the checklist in his mind. "We have a bird. So it’s a pretty busy house."

He also carves out time to get in a good workout.

"I like to run, I like to lift weights," Curry said. "I like to cycle, stay in shape."

And, if you follow him on Twitter, you know he's a diehard football fan.

"Even my son, who loves football, is like, 'Dad, that game you've got on, you've seen that game twice. Can you turn it off?'" he said.

So how does he manage to fit all this into a busy work week?

"With family stuff, I just want to be together, I mean I'm pretty easy," he admitted.

He recalled one weekend several years ago, when the family was supposed to go camping, but plans didn't work out.

"So I set up a tent in the family room, and there's a picture of this big tent in the family room. We had a Great Dane at the time, there's a big Great Dane trying to stick his head in!" he laughed. "You just create times in the moments."

Faith

"I have believed in God and been a Christian since I was a child," said Curry.

He admits he's constantly questioning and delving deeper into his religious beliefs -- thanks in part to what he calls his wife's unwavering faith.

"I remember going back to when Molly and I first met, and we had a conversation early on about our faith," he said. "Molly's faith is like rock-solid. There's just no doubt it just exists, and I've been jealous of that."

On his continuous quest to learn more about God, Curry said, "It just grounds you and gets you back to what's important."

WATCH: Curry's uncut interview focusing on his family

Curry's political life

"There are mornings when we are driving in," he said of his security detail, "and I'll say, 'We're going to go to another neighborhood and we're going to walk into a little mart or a grocery store or coffee shop and just see what people are thinking, what's on their minds, what can I take back with me?'"

That connection, Curry said, helped him solve a decade-old battle over the police and fire pension fund, and bring renewed attention to after school, summer school and summer jobs programs for youth through his "Kids Hope Alliance."

Crime

He also said the connection he's made with the Jacksonville community has helped him make combating violent crime his top priority.

"Before I got here (into office), police officers had been cut. 147 officers had been fired, laid off, put on the street," Curry said bluntly. "Not only did I restore those, I added 180 (officers)."

Curry also points to another promise he made on his first campaign trail.

"I said I would invest in crime fighting technologies," he said. "I’ve done that."

During his tenure as mayor, Curry has overseen funding for the ShotSpotter technology used to detect gunfire in different areas of Jacksonville, and the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS) that allows investigators to link guns used in different crimes, faster.

Curry credits his efforts for stopping the spiked increases in violent crime, and showing even a slight decline.

"The four years before I came into office, there were 39-percent spikes in murders and homicides."

"Since I've gotten into office, we saw those spikes flat line," he said. "Slight increases, and a slight dip this year. That's not a celebration. There's a long way to go, but without my commitment to public safety, the trend would've continued."

However, Curry's closest competitor in the race for mayor, Brosche, points to recent crime and suggests Curry's efforts aren't enough.

Attack ads

Two weeks ago, the political action committee "A New Day" released a political ad referencing what it calls "The Curry Crime Wave," using dramatic sounds of people screaming and a baby crying.

"I'll let your viewers make their own judgment (about) that ad and what kind of campaign they're running," Curry said, shaking his head.

He goes on to question Brosche's motive.

WATCH: Curry's uncut interview on political issues, attack ads

"This person was on city council and has been on city council the same length of time I’ve been mayor of Jacksonville," he said. "[She] was the city council president, and has yet to introduce a single piece of legislation or a bill that deals with public safety or deals with kids’ children’s services."

The Brosche campaign contends the Curry administration hasn't utilized children's services to their full potential.

"I'm the one who challenged the status quo," Curry said of his creation of the Kids Hope Alliance, which has combined the resources of the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children's Commission, creating a smaller oversight board that Curry says gives the newer group a better focus.

"(Brosche) ended up voting for it. She's voted for all my budgets and all my big initiatives," Curry said, also referencing his recommendation for the recently approved head of the Jacksonville Electric Authority.

Critics, including Brosche, have accused Curry of hiring friends to fill top positions in city leadership.

"There's a 19-member body, City Council, that I can do nothing without their approval," Curry said. "If this person or anyone else disagrees with my policies, they should vote against it or offer an amendment. None of which has happened."

"So I hear the accusation, but it doesn't make sense," he said with a single chuckle, shaking his head. "It just doesn't."

Brosche has said there's not enough access to Curry and there's a lack of transparency.

"I am accessible and available and in the community on a regular basis," Curry told Joy. "I am happy to put my record of actually being engaged with people face-to-face, person-to-person, one-on-one -- not just for four years but even in the previous campaign -- to those who are running against me now that either have held public office or have not, and have not shown up for the community and not been visible until they decided they thought they wanted to hold a higher office."

"It's about results," Curry said of anyone asking to help lead the public. "What's their vision? What did they tell you they were going to do? And did they do it?"

Joy asked Curry why the political committee supporting Curry, Jacksonville On The Rise, released its first TV attack ad against Brosche before she officially filed to run for mayor.

"She was putting out press releases for six months saying, 'I'm thinking about this, I'm thinking about this, I'm thinking about this,'" Curry answered. "She put a press release out in early December that said again, 'I'm thinking about this', so that political action committee decided, 'Okay, keep thinking about it. We're going to go ahead and put your record out for the people to judge.'"

Curry on his record

When discussing his record over the past four years, Curry highlights several milestones, including what he describes as a huge benefit for the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.

"We just announced four new rescue units at four fire stations," he said proudly. "Jacksonville has never in its history had a rescue unit at every single fire station. In two-and-a-half years, I've accomplished that."

Curry also said his budgets have increased investments in city infrastructure five-fold.

"I have a record to run on and they expect me to be here for another four years," Curry told Joy.

Curry recently received the endorsement of Democratic City Councilman and Jacksonville native Tommy Hazouri, a mainstay in state and local politics.

However, shortly after Curry released a TV ad featuring Hazouri, the leader of the local Democratic Party posted on Twitter that not all Democrats believe Curry has done a good job the past four years.

"The political party apparatus," he said referencing the tweet, "does not represent the hundreds of thousands of Democrats, the hundreds of thousands of Republicans, the tens of thousands of independents in this city. I know that because I've spent four years now talking and meeting with them."

"I am proud of the support of Tommy Hazouri," said Curry. "Tom is a former mayor, a former state legislator, a former school board member, well respected by all of Jacksonville, and by his party. When I say by his party, I mean rank and file Democrats, people that are out every day trying to take care and feed their families."

First Election March 19

While the March 19 election may appear to be a primary, it is technically called the First Election and is open to all registered voters -- no matter your party affiliation.  

If you have not yet registered to vote, the deadline to register in time to vote for this election has passed.  

Besides mayor, Duval County voters will also vote for other constitutional offices: sheriff, property appraiser, and tax collector. 

The position of supervisor of elections is up for election this year, but only one candidate qualified, so incumbent Mike Hogan will automatically win. 

Additionally, all 19 city council seats (14 districts and five at-large seats) are up for election, although some of those offices only had one candidate qualify, making them the automatic winner. 

In order to win, a candidate must get one more vote than 50 percent of the votes that are cast.  If no candidate breaks that margin, then the top two candidates -- regardless of party -- advance to the May 14 general election.  

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