Joseph H. Cury (November 6, 1928 – January 11, 1977) was the owner of the Mandarin Super Market and a resident of Mandarin, Florida. He was widely known as the founder of POWER, an advocacy group on utility rates, and as an opponent of the Dames Point Bridge and nuclear power plants.
Joseph Cury was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania. At the age of eighteen, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. After the Marines, he became involved with heavy-weight boxing. Once, he won 27 consecutive fights. After he married Betty D. Cury, he opened a successful hardware store. He then opened a grocery store, the Mandarin Super Market, a very successful business (featured in the video tape, "History of Jacksonville" a PBS publication, narrated by Dick Stratton). It was his principal means of business until his death. "Joe" often referred to the people of Mandarin with love and adoration as "his people", and, they were for the duration of his life and thereafter. Joseph and his wife Betty had two children, Charles (deceased) and Pamela.
Founding of POWER
Cury became alarmed at an electrical bill that he had received from the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) which was double the cost of the month before. He called the company to inquire and they said it was because of the high cost of oil. Later that day, Cury drove up to the JEA offices to talk with a manager. The manager refused to tell him anything. In outrage, Cury founded People Outraged With Electric Rates (POWER), a local advocacy group. The treasurer was Harry Shorstein, now the State Attorney for the city of Jacksonville, Florida. When Ralph Nader found out about POWER, he decided to get involved. He came to Jacksonville and became Cury's friend. Joe was so inspired by the visit he changes P.O.W.E.R. to Consumer P.O.W.E.R.
He strongly opposed the construction of the Dames Point Bridge, and was the vocal leader of the opposition to the project. His efforts lead to years long delays in the inception of the project. He was also an enemy of the movement to bring an Offshore Power Systems (O.P.S.) assembly facility to the Jacksonville area. In honor of his work in this and other areas, the local Southside Business Men's Club established the Outspoken Citizens Award less than a month after his death. Cury was a large part of the opposition of the Dames Point Bridge movement. His main opposition in this project was Wesley Paxson, the chairman of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA). He was also opposed by George Truett Ewton, the chairman of the JEA. At his store, he sold a copy of Ralph Nader's newsletter, Critical Mass.
Opposing nuclear power plants
In 1972, two corporate giants, Westinghouse Electric and Tenneco announced they were forming a joint company "OPS", to build floating nuclear power plants. They decided Blount Island would be the location for their production facility. JEA formed a contract to buy the plants, even though it meant going instantly bankrupt. It turned out JEA bought oil from Ven Fuel. Ven Fuel had one customer, JEA. No one knew who exactly who Ven Fuel was. Ven Fuel was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service and the FEA, and found it illegally did business. The city of Jacksonville, represented by Harry Shorstein, sued Ven Fuel, which settled for $1.2 million and went out of business. In 1976, the JTA voted in an illegal meeting to build the Wesley C. Paxson Memorial Bridge across the Atlantic Ocean. When built, the bridge went from Arlington to Blount Island, where no one lived, only a company constructing two power plants. The bridge was going to cost $150 million of taxpayers money that would ultimately never be used.
From 1972 to 1976, a number of related events occurred. They all involved Jacksonville's government, price gouging, and suspect reasoning. These were:
- The Jacksonville Port Authority (JPA) gave OPS 850 acres (3.4 km) of choice land on Blount Island.
- The JPA gave OPS a money-back guarantee.
- The Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) decided to build a bridge to nowhere, except to the nuclear plant assembly facility.
- The JEA would buy the plants for $2.2 billion
Why did these events occur?
- The businessmen who headed the authorities also had their own businesses
- They would personally profit from the OPS business
- The taxpayer would pay the bill
- Wesley Paxson, chairman of the JTA and owner of company that would do electrical contracting for OPS
- George Truett Ewton, chairman of the JEA and fellow who would insure OPS through his company, Gulf Life.
Cury frequently traveled to Washington D.C., Tallahassee, and the Jacksonville City Council to openly voice his opinions. With the help of his friends, he was a major force in the community. The city council decided not to approve JEA's contract. Tenneco pulled out of OPS, leaving Westinghouse alone with OPS. OPS had a half-built production facility and no customers, so they fired 500 employees and went to Washington to lobby unsuccessfully.
Cury's protest resulted in the removal of OPS from Jacksonville, exposed all of the authorities that would harm Jacksonville, and protect the citizens of Jacksonville from government corruption. In 1975, Cury considered running for mayor of Jacksonville and realizing that he would have to borrow too much money, he considered city council instead. However, someone blackmailed him with a conspiracy to robbery conviction Cury had from Pennsylvania and Cury always suspected it was OPS vice president William Staten. Cury notified the FBI who started investigating the attempted extortion. The day Cury died, he was scheduled to speak before a federal grand jury but the case was later closed when Cury died. Hans Tanzler, the current mayor at the time, felt Cury could beat him and told him as much. Cury became known to the community through his public interest work and was frequently in the local press, including
- The Florida Times Union
- The St. Petersburg Times
- The Jacksonville Journal
The TV stations in the area also featured him frequently. A good friend and radio personality was Steve Kroft. Joe became nationally known when Joe Klein featured him in the Rolling Stone Magazine, March 25, 1976/issue no. 209 in a 6-page article entitled "Tales of Jacksonville." Apart from receiving many local awards, there is an award named after him awarded annually in Jacksonville.
He died from heart disease in 1977 at age 48.
Colleagues and associates of Joseph Cury and his work
- Joe Klein, Writer for TIME Magazine
- Steve Kroft, Reporter for 60 Minutes
- Ralph Nader,Consumer Advocate and Inventor
- Richard Bernard Stone, U.S. Senator
- Edward Parker Westberry, Judge, Circuit Court 1922-1985
- Robert Shevin, Florida Attorney General 1971-1979
- Harry L. Shorstein, Florida State Attorney,
- Tommy Hazouri, Florida Representative and Jacksonville Mayor,
- Memphis Wood, Renown Published Artist (Paintings).