Hair-Raising Political Tales of Jacksonville
It’s a lovely afternoon at Sawgrass, pristine almost. The sun is shining, a light breeze riffles the palm trees. The tennis courts are empty and only a few stragglers mar the golf course. Modern condominium townhouses of award-winning, design blend perfectly into the planned landscape. An advertisement for Florida: The Good Life. None of the urban hassles, no winter, no crowds.
Very few people at all, in fact. One townhouse cluster — Bermuda Cove — is completely vacant. It is stunningly white and modern, a naked string of two-story buildings — priced from $65,000 to $90,000 per unit — along a gently curving road. They’ve been standing there, empty, for at least a year. The rest of Sawgrass isn’t doing too well either: it is, in effect, a clustered, modular ghost town.
The saleswoman at the main gate, tanned and blond, is optimistic. Even though the developer recently turned Sawgrass over to the bank, “it wasn’t really a bankruptcy,” she says. The economy is getting better and soon people will start coming around.
Soon, too, a long tentacle of highway will stretch out from the city of Jacksonville to incorporate Sawgrass. The road will connect with I-295, a freeway around the city, and I-295 will be climaxed by the Dame Point Bridge, a massive span across the St. Johns River which links the populous south side with…well, there really isn’t all that much on the other side. In fact, most people in town haven’t the vaguest idea why anyone would want to spend several hundred million dollars to build a bridge that goes nowhere. But the City Fathers (there are few City Mothers in Jacksonville; it’s a man’s town) look across the river and see thousands of acres waiting to be developed. Land for more industry, more jobs, more taxes, more residents for Sawgrass. Land that will make Jacksonville the economic jewel of the Southeast, surpassing Atlanta. A pipe dream, perhaps. But it doesn’t pay to be pessimistic — pessimism is akin to socialism here.
It’s not for nothing that Jacksonville calls itself the Bold New City of the South.
At the outset, it should be noted that this is a story about the presidential campaign in Jacksonville. Having said that, we can proceed: It began on the morning of January 17th, 1974, with the mail delivery at the Mandarin Supermarket. Joe Cury, the owner of the market, sat in an elevated cubicle near the cash registers which serves as his office, opening the morning bills. And then he screamed, “What the fuck is this?” It was the market’s electric bill, and it had doubled — from $700 to $1500. Immediately, he called the Jacksonville Electric Authority.
The young woman who answered said, in what appeared to be a prepared statement, the increase that Mr. Cury may have noticed in his electric bill was caused by an adjustment necessary because of the high price of oil. Joe Wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to know the exact price of oil, where it was coming from, how many barrels…. The woman didn’t know.
For the rest of the morning Joe fumed, talking to his customers and finding that they, too, had received ridiculous electric bills. That afternoon, he jumped into his new black Lincoln Continental and went downtown to the Electric Authority headquarters and started yelling at one of the receptionists. “I want facts,” he said.
Joe Cury can seem rather threatening when he is angry. He isn’t especially tall, but he is built like a sumo wrestler — thick neck, barrel chest, massive arms. All his clothes look too small. The receptionist went for help.
She came back with a middle manager of mild appearance, and Joe began to yell at him. “Who’re you buying this oil from? How much is it a barrel? Lemme see your books…I got a right. I’m a citizen, ain’t I?”
“We don’t have to show you shit,” said the middle manager.
Joe was somewhat taken aback by this response. “He actually said that,” Joe recalled. “I could have killed the little bastard. But I wasn’t about to give up. That’s how all this shit started.” The trip to the Electric Authority had been the first overt political act of Joe Cury’s life, but within a couple of months he had formed power — People Outraged With Electric Rates — and had filed a class-action suit demanding an open hearing on the rate increase. Soon he was at war with the entire political establishment in Jacksonville.