Mayor Lenny Curry named Brian Hughes his chief of staff Wednesday, a move that formally installs a key figure in Curry’s political world into the machinery of city government.
Hughes, who has been a Tallahassee-based political operative since Curry’s election, was already operating as a kind of unofficial chief of staff: A common sight in City Hall, oft-advising Curry on a range of policy and political issues and sometimes meeting with City Council members. Curry has been without a chief of staff since May, when Kerri Stewart, a City Hall veteran, resigned in May to take a job as one of JEA’s executives.
Hughes has made thousands of dollars since Curry’s election in consulting fees — paid out of the mayor’s political committee — as well as having represented clients interested in running for City Council long before the 2019 elections take place. He is a registered city lobbyist for Buckeye Partners LP, an energy distribution company, and also signed up to work with the Jacksonville Port Authority.
He has remained one of Curry’s closest confidants and has helped push the mayor’s priorities through the City Council.
Hughes said he would make his Tallahassee firm inactive and has divested from a Jacksonville-based firm he was also involved in. He said he would de-list as a lobbyist for Buckeye Partners next week.
“I have no plan to have any outside employment and will work with (the Office of General Counsel) and Ethics to ensure all is in full compliance with law and established precedent,” he said.
Hughes said his salary has not yet been determined; Stewart made $190,000 a year, and he said to expect a comparable amount.
He plans to be a Jacksonville resident soon.
“To me and dozens of other elected officials, Brian Hughes has been a senior advisor on important matters of public policy and communications,” Curry said in a written statement. “Working with me, Brian has already put a powerful imprint on our city’s future.
Hughes, who along with Jacksonville-based consultant Tim Baker ran Curry’s hardball political organization, has an abrasive style that will have to mesh with City Hall, which is charged with running a laundry list of apolitical priorities like road maintenance.
During a stint with Gov. Rick Scott’s office as a communications deputy in 2011, Hughes helped oversee a period of icy relations with the Capitol press corps that included less access to Florida’s top official in favor of more controlled photo ops and media availabilities.
Jessica Baker, a former consultant with Ballard Partners and the wife of Tim Baker, also works in Curry’s administration.
Curry’s office will not lack for big personalities.
Hughes will round out Curry’s team of top administration officials. He’ll work with Sam Mousa, Curry’s chief administrative officer, and Mike Weinstein, the city finance director. Both men are longtime and respected City Hall veterans. Mousa is also known for his hard-charging persona. Curry himself is relentlessly competitive and talks often about the importance he places on winning.
Hughes has an extensive history in Florida Republican politics, including his time with Scott and as a consultant for former Florida chief financial officer Jeff Atwater. He was also a spokesman for Florida’s sugar industry.
Recently, Hughes has been connected to controversy in Tallahassee over sexual harassment allegations against state Sen. Jack Latvala.
Rachel Perrin Rogers, a key aide to state Sen. Wilton Simpson and Hughes’ wife, is one of Latvala’s accusers, according to Politico Florida. Latvala, who is running for governor, has tried to point to the relationship as evidence that the accusations are politically motivated. Hughes is not working for any gubernatorial aspirants, Politico reported.