The Semiotics of Dress: Angela Corey for Governor? Maybe…

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Angela Corey, as painted by George Zimmerman

Angela Corey, as painted by George Zimmerman

October 1 was arguably the most important day in Angela Corey’s political career, and future historians of the state may see it as a watershed moment, for reasons we cannot really grasp at present. Angela Corey took the podium following the announcement of Michael Dunn’s guilty verdict in the first-degree murder of Jordan Davis, a conviction she failed to obtain earlier this year.

First Coast News cut their coverage of the presser just as the Q&A session had begun, while WJXT sustained their feed. She looked almost like a different person, in that moment, which makes sense. Any professional of any type can appreciate the feeling that comes after the successful resolution of a long-term, intensive high-stakes project, and can easily recognize that look on another’s face when they are in that moment. All the more so for Angela Corey, who hasn’t had a lot of those moments as our State Attorney. She took power amidst the proverbial firestorm of controversy, much of which was not her fault, and has steadily stoked those flames into a conflagration that many assumed would’ve consumed her fully by now. Without reaching for the obvious Phoenix reference, let’s just say that it appears the exact opposite has been the case. And the question now becomes: What next?

In her green blazer, her turquoise-and black scarf, gold earrings and a phat gold chain with a cross at the end, the city’s lead prosecutor could’ve passed for Iggy Azalea’s mom—and that is a good thing, in terms of politics. No velvet ropes at any bougie nightspot from South Beach to the South Bronx would impede her progress in an outfit like that, no more than the glass-ceilings have so far.

If clothes make the man, then even more so for women, and the message of Angela Corey’s clothes was simple: Even after botching the Zimmerman case and failing once to nail Michael Dunn for the murder of Jordan Davis, and with many observers predicting another public humiliation for her office, Corey dressed like someone who was absolutely certain of victory. And certainty is something we see very little in Florida politics.

If Michael Dunn is Corey’s first major trophy, one expects to see more. Whether she has found vindication in the public eye, or simply earned temporary respite from criticism that will never really go away, depends on what she wants to do. Any plans she has for her own future remain publicly unstated; if anyone knows, they’re not letting on. But Corey’s performance today raised an interesting possibility, one that many Floridians would surely find horrifying: Angela Corey could be governor someday.

Florida has never had a female governor, and Florida Republicans have never nominated a woman to hold that position. Democrats, of course, failed to get Alex Sink over in 2010, which has in all likelihood cooled the party on any effort to make history again, for the near future. Indeed, poor Nan Rich got steamrolled by the famously former Republican Charlie Crist, who refused to even debate her. Andrew Cuomo did the same against Zephyr Teachout in New York, and in both cases their state parties essentially went along with that. Whether anyone cares to admit it or not, at no point did Nan Rich ever have any chance whatsoever to be the Democratic nominee, that was plainly obvious six months before the election even happened.

Nan Rich was humiliated, and even if that wasn’t directly attributable to gender bias, it damn sure looks that way. One rarely heard Republicans ask if Florida was ready for a female governor, in part because they knew the momentum for gender equality in state politics belongs to them—a delicious irony that will pay off huge over the next decade or two. Whomever Florida’s first female governor is, she will almost certainly be a Republican—and it might very well be Angela Corey.

Getting the Dunn verdict gives her immediate credibility in the African-American community, which recognizes that Dunn was already set to die in prison on the other charges, but that Corey personally put her own career at risk to “do the right thing” for Jordan Davis’ parents and give them a rare symbolic victory in this bloody year for black youth. It doesn’t negate the damage done by the Marissa Alexander case, but the ball is really in Governor Scott’s court on that. If Corey didn’t get a few photos with Davis’ family and the crowds of black women cheering the verdict outside the courthouse, that would represent a huge missed opportunity.

The Alexander case illustrates that, ironically, Corey’s biggest political weakness right now remains her support among women, in particular the longstanding perception that she soft on issues related to violence against women and children. Given that this particular problem is only going to escalate in the years ahead, she would do well to get out in front on the issue and establish a record of action that can hyped when the time is right. (Her views on DCF, in particular, would be useful.)

Corey’s traditional law-and-order bonafides should be sufficient to keep her competitive in any GOP primary, especially if she continues to rack up high-profile convictions, so there will be plenty of room for her to appeal to elements of a progressive base whose own interests will be more or less ignored for the rest of this decade. The abysmal turnout for this year’s primary merely formalizes the widespread apathy and disgust that the majority of Florida voters already have with the leadership (such as it is) of both parties—a power vacuum ripe for filling. But, again, by whom?

Putting gender issues aside, the reality is that Northeast Florida has not held the top position in state government since Haydon Burns retired in January 1967. Several of Jacksonville’s subsequent mayors were at least discussed, Democrats and Republicans alike, but none were ever nominated. The election of Alvin Brown raised some hope of breaking that drought in this decade, and making even more history in the process, but he’s so far failed to build what could have been a very formidable statewide organization. Between Occupy and the HRO, he had the opportunity to establish himself as the logical successor to whomever wins in 2014, but instead he’s been occupied by defending his spot against opposition he should have simply neutralized from the get-go.

If Brown wins reelection and governs as the forward-leaning centrist his core supporters expect him to be, the governorship is entirely within his grasp. The I-4 corridor has had its run, and South Florida’s traditional dominance in the post-Consolidation era is weaker now that it’s ever been; it would be flat-out stupid for the north not to exploit that vulnerability while it exists. But if he stumbles, or just has no interest, it is imperative that Northeast Florida have someone ready to roll when the time is right. Regardless of who it is, Florida’s next decade should begin with Duval firmly in control. Time, as it does, will clarify these things, but right now Corey’s looking golden. And if the idea of Angela Corey being governor of Florida frightens you, good. You should be afraid—especially if you’re her opponent!

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