President Donald Trump barely carried Duval County in 2016. Yet, for Jacksonville power brokers, the Trump era has meant access to the White House.
The most recent manifestation of that was just this week, as a JAX Chamber delegation was received by one of the more important people in Trump’s orbit: Omarosa Manigault.
Manigault has a Jacksonville connection. She recently married Pastor John Newman, and she is spending many weekends here in Duval County. (Newman was also at the White House event).
Manigault organized the event, also, which had a significant guest appearance: Kellyanne Conway, the omnipresent campaign spox for Candidate Trump who now helps with messaging from inside.
The event would have had more star power: VP Mike Pence, who came to Jacksonville this year selling health care reform, had planned on being there, but the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise saw an alteration in plans.
Conway knew her audience and spoke specifically to them, lauding the size and the visibility of the Chamber, and signalling a commitment to the long-awaited river dredging for JaxPort — with federal money, sought since 2003, finally reaching the project.
“Jacksonville is better positioned now with the White House than we’ve been in a long time,” said one source who was inside the room.
Receptions are nice. But reality is nicer.
Marty Fiorentino, of the Fiorentino Group, has done significant work already with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao — a relationship worth its weight in gold as Jacksonville’s crumbling infrastructure may get a restorative reprieve from the Trumpian infrastructure plan.
Susie Wiles, as campaign chair during the stretch run, arguably won Florida for Trump, rescuing a Sunshine State operation that couldn’t get out of its own way. The President and his staff won’t forget that.
Fiorentino, Wiles, Manigault: no one would have predicted that troika as having a direct line to the Executive Branch in 2016, when Trump’s political obituary was written daily as he battled Hillary Clinton.
And compared to last year’s White House reception, which our source saw as pro forma, Jacksonville representatives received a lot more enthusiasm from the Trump staff than the Barack Obama staff.
This comes just days after Jacksonville’s Mayor, Lenny Curry, made his own visit to D.C. for the White House Infrastructure Summit — accompanied by an ally of singular importance to Curry and Trump both, Florida Governor/Senator-in-waiting Rick Scott.
Curry met with staffers and Cabinet Secretaries, making the case for the JaxPort dredge, and taking the opportunity to talk about specifics with actual people in person, rather than through a proposal on paper.
Curry had been on conference calls with White House officials before, but this level of access to the White House is new.
“Relationships are evolving,” Curry said.
Two meaningful events in fewer than seven days equal one very big signal that Jacksonville has a unique opportunity on the federal level in the Trump/Pence Administration.