There have been a number of political bosses in Jacksonville.
In the 1930s and ‘40s there was Daughtry Towers. His mantle passed to his son Charlie Towers in the 1950s and ‘60s.
In the 1970s, Lacy Mahon was considered the power behind City Hall in the new consolidated government.
All of the above were lawyers, and all now are deceased.
Since then, there have been people like Paul Harden, Paul McCormick, Mike Tolbert and a few others who have either been highly successful lobbyists or political campaign operatives or both. Behind them and generally out of the public eye are the people who contribute large sums of money to political campaigns, and those who raise large sums from what one politician calls “the donor class.”
But today Mr. Big in Jacksonville politics is Timothy Brooks Baker by almost anyone’s account.
He is a lawyer who doesn’t seem to practice law. Instead, as a political consultant, he gets people such as Lenny Curry elected.
One insider told Eye on Jacksonville that Baker “effectively runs the Republican Party in Duval County.”
According to various sources, Baker grew up in California, served a stint in the Marines, then came to Florida and graduated from Florida State University law school in 2011. He became active in the state Republican Party, along with Curry and a guy named Brian Hughes.
Baker started a company called Data Targeting, which sources say was based on his specialty: opposition research. He also heads Bold City Strategic Partners.
When Curry got a yen to be mayor of Jacksonville – his first try at political office – Baker and Hughes made it happen. Hughes now is Curry’s chief administrative officer.
About 12 of the members of the current City Council reached office with Baker’s help, something the others grumble about when the Baker’s Dozen vote in lockstep.
Baker supported the local gas tax increase and allegedly attended the council meeting when the vote was held. Under his watchful eye, it passed readily.
Baker also helped John Rutherford graduate from sheriff to congressman.
Baker got his wife, Jessica, elected to the Florida House of Representatives last year and reportedly is pushing her for the speaker’s position.
Those who know him say you don’t want to be the opponent of someone Baker is backing. It can be uncomfortable.
“He put the negative in negative campaigning,” one person said.
There was a curious case a few months ago when a candidate for City Council named Mike Gay parked a fire truck he owns on private property, displaying his campaign sign.
Emails started floating around inside City Hall, some involving Hughes, and soon Gay got a “cease and desist” notice from a lawyer in the Office of General Counsel, alleging that he was in violation of this and that.
Gay moved his truck but later his lawyer sent a letter to the general counsel, assuring them Gay had broken no laws and calling their letter “overzealous.” He advised them Gay would continue using his firetruck.
We can’t tie Baker directly to that incident but coincidentally the campaign of one of Gay’s opponents is run by Baker’s able ally, another talented political kingmaker named Alexander Pantinakis, who recently was profiled by Influence magazine as a rising young star.
Together they hope to make Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Davis the next mayor and seem likely to succeed.
Eye wanted to quiz Mr. Big about his amazing success. But his phone number, which according to his Florida Bar profile is both his cell phone and his office number, went to voicemail. Sources say he isn’t very chatty with the media in any case.
Those who know him say he has become even more shy since getting a lot of media attention as a central figure in the failed effort to sell the JEA, which is understandable.
Baker clearly is someone who likes to work behind the scenes – or, one might say, in the shadows. But he works very effectively, according to his fans.
On the other hand, not everyone is a fan. One non-fan Eye spoke to alleged that every candidate Baker has backed who won was the favorite in the race from the outset. It’s less difficult to win when you back the person most likely to win.