When it comes to statewide races in 2018, does Northeast Florida have a dog in the hunt?
That’s a matter of interpretation.
One of our big scoops this week — Congressman Ron DeSantis (insiders affirm) is ramping up for a possible run for Florida governor.
DeSantis’ wife is on local television; he represents a district a few miles south of the Duval County line.
Is DeSantis “local”? Depends on your definition.
Geographically, sure. But regarding actually appearing responsive to Jacksonville concerns, that’s an open question. There are few local Republicans who sing his praises.
Meanwhile, down the ballot, local state Rep. Jay Fant is running for Attorney General.
While Fant is positioning himself as the local candidate, regional endorsements have been split between him and his two primary opponents, Ashley Moody and Frank White — who got Reps. Cord Byrd and Cyndi Stevenson to back him right after entering the race.
Northeast Florida punches above its weight in Republican primary turnout, but there are very much open questions as to whether local pols can compete statewide this cycle.
DeSantis for governor? It’s happening
The race for the 2018 Republican gubernatorial nomination could soon pick up even more star power, this time in the form of Congressman DeSantis.
Obviously, that would open DeSantis’ congressional seat just south of Jacksonville, meaning the end of a somewhat anticipated general election battle against former Clinton Administration U.N. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg.
For one thing, DeSantis spent the summer meeting with conservative donors discussing the governor’s race.
There has also been a shift in online presence: DeSantis2016.com is now being redirected to RonDeSantis.com.
Likewise, the tagline on the new website speaks to a new emphasis: “Ron DeSantis for Florida.” As is a change in imagery, with lifeguard towers replacing Capitol Hill-style graphics.
All of this points to a pivot in focus — perhaps to a statewide run many anticipated back in the 2016 cycle when DeSantis dominated fundraising in the U.S. Senate race until Marco Rubio reconsidered his presidential bid and ran for re-election.
Time is of the essence for DeSantis’ launch, which looks likely to be in November; on the Republican Party side of the ledger, fundraising is already fast and furious. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is still the clubhouse leader, with $19.19M raised thus far between committee cash and money in the campaign account.
DeSantis’ entry could prove most damaging to Putnam, who is attempting to stake out the right flank in the primary.
Corrine Brown wants sentencing delay
There may be a chance that the Brown saga sprawls out into 2018, as her team wants to postpone her November sentencing at least four months.
A brief motion from her legal team contends that Hurricane Irma “caused extensive damage to her home and destroyed many of her personal papers and effects … severely affected her and others in their ability to assist defense counsel in preparing for sentencing.”
“In addition, she was recently informed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that her home is inhabitable,” the motion reads, adding malapropism to the miscarriage of justice.
The feds don’t support this motion, and a full response is expected later in the week.
Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown asserted in the past that he would launch a race against Rep. Al Lawson once Corrine Brown was out of the news.
More recently, he told local Democrats at the Duval Democratic Executive Committee that he will be on a ballot soon and to expect an announcement.
Cord Byrd ramps up re-election bid
Next month, Byrd begins ramping up his House District 11 re-election campaign in earnest, with few worries about a primary challenge as the Fernandina Beach Republican looks to defend a deep-red seat.
Byrd is slated for a Nov. 3 event at Ed Malin‘s Angie’s Subs in Jacksonville Beach, a usual stop for Republican candidates.
Nov. 13 finds Byrd making his Nassau County launch at the Fernandina Beach Diner.
Both events have 5:30 p.m. start times.
Thus far, Byrd’s fundraising this cycle has been in low gear: he raised $400 in September, against $2,549 spent, bringing his total cash on hand to just under $16,000.
Byrd’s fundraising started slower than some candidates in 2016’s Republican Party primary election, yet it didn’t matter in the end. Expect the first-term Republican’s fundraising to fall into place in the coming months.
NE FL House members buck Jay Fant in AG race
Questions about Rep. Fant’s bid for the Republican Party nomination for Attorney General weren’t abated late last week when two of his Florida House colleagues endorsed a primary opponent.
Reps. Byrd and Cyndi Stevenson went with Rep. Frank White, a Pensacola Republican who is targeting NE FL as a hotbed for votes in next year’s primary.
Stevenson called White a “principled conservative who will stand up and fight for our shared values while always upholding the rule of law.”
Byrd called White a “consistent conservative and strong defender of the Second Amendment … an effective advocate for Florida and a man of principle and integrity.”
For his part, White included Byrd and Stevenson in his “statewide network of leaders who agree that we need a proven conservative as the next Attorney General.”
The case for White: Ashley Moody can be hit from the right, Fant can’t even lock down his home base. Expect more endorsements to go White’s way from this region.
Charles Cofer: PD office broke
In the Jacksonville Daily Record, 4th Circuit Public Defender Cofer made a startling claim.
When Cofer took office at the start of the year, its budget was in tatters.
“It was projecting out very poorly. We had six months to make adjustments,” Cofer said.
Cofer trimmed staff, including a $70,000 public information officer position, early on.
“That got us caught up on the salary and benefits side. It gave us a little breathing room,” Cofer said.
Lower unemployment in September
Last week saw Gov. Rick Scott‘s Department of Economic Opportunity release September job numbers for Northeast Florida, a mixed bag in the wake of Irma.
The good news, via the DEO: the Jacksonville area’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.4 percent in September, down 1.4 points from September 2016.
Unemployment rates ranged from 2.7 percent in St. Johns County to 4.5 percent in rural Putnam County.
The governor’s office prefers year-over-year comparisons, and to that end, some interesting results.
Two industries that have lost jobs over the year augur a potential economic slowdown: leisure and hospitality (-3,800 jobs) and mining, logging and construction (‐500 jobs).
All told, nonagricultural employment in the Jacksonville MSA was 677,000, an increase of 2,900 jobs (+0.4 percent) over the year.
Room for improvement
A new study reported by WJXT reveals room for improvement for Duval County State Attorney’s office at the end of the Angela Corey era.
Using 2016 numbers, the Caruthers Institute noted that 469 Duval youth were arrested for minor offenses and that 72 percent were eligible for civil citations.
Duval’s Sheriff’s Office and School District were given an “F” for their use of civil citations. Clay County got a similar score. Both counties are in the 4th Judicial Circuit.
Melissa Nelson took over the SAO in January, and in May issued a memorandum of understanding with local sheriff’s offices and other authorities to use civil citations wherever practicable.
“This new agreement for pre-arrest diversion will expand and enhance the juvenile civil citation program uniformly throughout the circuit,” read a release from Nelson’s office.
No censure for cop-conflict Councilors
Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche mulled censure against political allies Katrina Brown and Reggie Gaffney after they bickered with cops last month — but decided to leave punitive action to “other entities.”
Potential censure was floated two weeks ago, in the wake of a highly publicized and highly charged confrontation between Gaffney and Brown and police officers after a Council meeting last month.
Weeks ago, Gaffney walked back an attempt to leverage his power as a Councilman to check the officers who pulled him over for driving around on a tag he reported stolen.
However, Brown — who accused officers of racial profiling when she arrived at the scene — has yet to apologize. And has no plans to.
Ethics commissions — local or state — may be one recourse.
Another possibility: local Fraternal Order of Police head Steve Zona encouraging an ally on Council to file a censure resolution.
Things could get very real very quickly if that happened. But this Council prizes collegiality over most other considerations.
Opioid suit, Hart Bridge study, Section 8 rehab
The Jacksonville City Council passed a few bills of note ahead of next week’s timely “fifth week” break from committee hearings.
— $1.5M for Hart Bridge study: Jacksonville is looking at a way to get federal money to reconfigure the offramps from the Hart, with the current justification being to improve freight traffic headed to Talleyrand. In 2016, the argument was routing people to the Sports Complex; however, that wouldn’t get a federal grant.
Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa pushed in committees last week for $1.5 million for a “design criteria project.” Tuesday saw the full Council green light it.
This $1.5 million is important, said Mousa, because the city is pursuing a federal infrastructure grant of $25 million, with $12.5 million from Florida in matching money and $12.5 million from the city.
— Opioid lawsuit moves forward: Resolution (2017-674) will allow the city’s general counsel to “investigate and pursue” a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, and choose outside representation. Each firm’s financial capability to pursue the matter is among criteria considered.
— Big-ticket rehab for Section 8 properties: Jacksonville City Council resolution 2017-671, which would authorize $90,000,000 in Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority bonds for Millennia Housing Management (MHM) to “finance, acquire, rehab & equip four Multifamily Rental Housing Developments,” was approved by Council committees of reference last week. It sailed through Council at large.
Rose Conry to CareerSource Board
This week, Gov. Scott announced five reappointments and three appointments to the CareerSource Florida board of directors.
One of them is a Jacksonville City Council candidate.
Conry, of Jacksonville, is the CEO of Stafftime. She is reappointed for a term ending July 6, 2019.
Conry is running to replace termed-out Matt Schellenberg in City Council District 6.
Council VP Aaron Bowman, who also has a gig with the Jacksonville Chamber’s JaxUSA business development wing, tweeted affirmation, saying he “could not think of a better board member.”
Justice for Keegan movement soldiers on
It looks as if State Attorney Nelson is no closer to filing charges against Michael Centanni IV for shooting and killing Keegan Von Roberts in a neighborhood dispute.
However, First Coast News reports that advocates for Von Roberts’ side are continuing to keep the pressure on, with a vigil/press event over the weekend.
Protesters/mourners want a “police accountability council” — the latest in a series of proposals by Jacksonville activists to provide more oversight from civilians to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
Charter can’t impose a citizen’s review board; Jacksonville’s sheriff is an elected, not appointed, official.
Von Roberts’ mother vows to continue the fight for justice.
“I told Melissa Nelson, you get to go home to your kids. Mine laid there and died. I had to carry mine on my shoulders and my granddaughter I buried. So it is not a joke to me, it may be a joke to them,” First Coast News said.
Amari Harley death points to Jax infrastructure crisis
On Sunday night, 3-year-old Amari Harley went missing from a birthday party in a Jacksonville park.
His body was found in that park the next day in an underground septic storage tank usually topped by a “heavy rubber lid screwed down,” as Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry put it Tuesday.
Harley’s death, it will be argued soon enough, might have been avoided if he’d lived near a park where holes in the ground were adequately secured and fenced off.
During remarks to the press Tuesday, Curry spoke of “neglected infrastructure all over the city,” adding that Tuesday was “not the time to point fingers” at past administrations.
“Major infrastructure issues,” such as road resurfacing and public safety vehicle problems, “have been festering for years.”
Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa noted in a budget hearing last summer that the city could use a $400M capital improvement budget.
“I would ensure our roads and infrastructure are up to the standards that the residents of Jacksonville both expect and deserve,” Curry vowed in 2015 after the Liberty Street Collapse — which called attention to previous administrations neglecting infrastructure.
Clearly, there’s still a way to go.
Duval drone company gets DoD deal
Good news for a Jacksonville drone company.
Per WJCT, Drone Aviation Company got $800,000 from the Department of Defense for its Winch Aerostat Small Platform.
“With its multimission capabilities operating at the edge, the WASP delivers persistence in a mobile, small footprint tactical solution, one that enables our military to see and do more, without the high costs and significant support requirements of larger existing aerostat solutions,” asserted a company rep.
The WASP system also works at night and can be operated by two or more soldiers.
Orange Park goes green
A rollicking column from Folio Weekly takes a look at the Orange Park town commission’s 3-2 vote earlier this month to extend medical cannabis dispensaries to Orange Park.
“The new rules stipulate that dispensaries cannot be within 500 feet of a school, or of each other, and cannot have advertising signs that can be seen from the street. The city’s first dispensary has already gotten around that by having a delivery vehicle, which I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about soon,” per Folio writer Shelton Hull.
Folio notes that, regarding MMJ, policy lags behind the body politic.
“If there’s one thing that election cycle taught us, it’s that the will of the voters really means diddly-squat, in terms of the political endgame, which is why OP (where 67 percent of voters assented to the referendum) remains the only city in the county to actually do it, so far. The response from neighboring burgs, including Green Cove Springs, has been a resounding ‘Meh,’” Folio’s writer observes.
Scott names Victor Raymos to St. Augustine- St. Johns County Airport Authority
This week, Gov. Scott announced the appointment of Victor Raymos to the St. Augustine — St. Johns County Airport Authority.
Raymos, of St. Augustine, is the Association Executive and Chief Executive Officer of the St. Augustine — St. Johns County Board of Realtors and the former Chief Executive Officer of Sellers Choice, LLC. He is a U.S. Army Veteran and previously served as the chairman of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce.
Raymos is appointed to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Mark Miner, for a term ending January 2, 2018.
Jax nonprofit gets $4.8M Walmart grant for retail career advancement
Generation, a global youth employment nonprofit, announced a $4.8 million grant from Walmart to launch a new Retail Career Advancement program. The program will support career advancement within retail and adjacent sectors in Jacksonville.
The grant was announced during a symposium this week at the downtown Hyatt Regency Riverfront to connect retail employers and local agencies including CareerSource Northeast Florida, the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund, the Chamber of Commerce and Firehouse Subs, on how to retain and support high-performing retail employees.
In 2016, Jacksonville’s retail sector had nearly 1,700 job openings for supervisors.
With a goal to reach 1,200 Jacksonville workers, Retail Career Advancement is a six-week, free-of-charge program for training on decision-making and ethics on the job, sales tactics, theft prevention and handling escalated customer concerns. Students will prepare to earn a nationally-recognized certificate from the National Retail Federation.
In addition, trainees can get individual mentors for personal and professional support, from mock interviews to coordinating child care services to transportation issues. Since 2015, nearly 200 students have graduated from Generation’s two existing Jacksonville programs — Technology and Hospitality. This new program will expand to the retail sector.
To date, 14,000 individuals have graduated from the Generation program, which prepares individuals for careers in 50 cities and 120-plus locations across five countries, in the technology, health care, retail/sales, and skilled trades industries.
Interested students and employers can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Admissions and enrollment are now open.
JAXPORT cargo moving sets record
Jacksonville Port Authority set a record for the number of automobiles and cargo containers moved in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
The Florida Times-Union reports that the Port Authority’s terminals passed the 1 million benchmark for cargo containers, a 7 percent increase. As for automobile shipments, JAXPORT saw a 9 percent gain, with 693,241 vehicles.
“We’re challenged with space, and we’re trying to work through that,” JAXPORT CEO Eric Green told the port’s board at a meeting Monday.
Part of the growth came from Crowley Maritime, which shifted its Jacksonville-based shipping from privately owned land over to the JAXPORT Talleyrand Terminal near downtown. Crowley is among the top shippers to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.
The T-U noted that Asian-based cargo grew to almost 400,000 container units, a jump of 19 percent.
“It continues to be our strongest trade lane,” said Chief Financial Officer Michael Poole.
Aviation Authority launches JAX Hall of Fame
Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA) begins celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) which happens in 2018. The kickoff event at Jacksonville International Airport included a special unveiling of the first Hall of Fame honorees at the Aviation Gallery.
Bessie Coleman, Ruth Law, Laurie Yonge, Charles Lindbergh, and Thomas Cole Imeson are the inaugural Hall of Fame inductees of the Gallery’s permanent exhibit.
“I believe Jacksonville International Airport to be an excellent venue to honor Jacksonville aviators,” said JAA CEO Steve Grossman. “With the amount of traffic, we have through our terminals, millions of people will be able to witness the important contributions these individuals made to aviation history.”
Bessie Coleman, 1892 — 1926, was the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license. Because flying schools in the United States denied her entry, she taught herself French and moved to France, earning her license in just seven months from France’s well-known Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation. Coleman specialized in stunt flying and parachuting, earning a living barnstorming and performing aerial tricks. She remains a pioneer of women in the field of aviation. She tragically died in Jacksonville April 30, 1926, when she was thrown from her aircraft while preparing for a flight demonstration.
Ruth Law, 1887-1970, who lived and trained in Jacksonville, enjoyed one of the longest and most colorful careers of early female aviators. She bought her first aircraft from Orville Wright in 1912 in which she became the first woman to fly at night. In 1916, Law broke the American cross-country and nonstop record on a flight from Chicago to New York, and had the honor of carrying the first official airmail to the Philippine Islands in 1919. In 1917, she was the first woman authorized to wear a military uniform, but was denied permission to fly in combat. After the war, she formed “Ruth Law’s Flying Circus,” a three-plane troupe that amazed spectators at state and county fairs by racing against cars, flying through fireworks, and setting altitude and distance records.
In 1923, a local pilot named Laurie Yonge (1896-1985) offered airplane rides from the beaches. Rates were $5 for short hops, $10 for long rides, and $25 for aerobatics. His transport pilot license was the first issued in Florida, and his National Aeronautics Association card was signed by Orville Wright. In 1929, Yonge set the world’s lightplane endurance record in a 90 hp. Curtiss Robin. He flew continuously for 25 hours and 10 minutes, a record that stood until 1939. For many years, Yonge was Jacksonville’s official Santa Claus, arriving by amphibious aircraft for the downtown Christmas parade. No other aviator has brought such fame and success to Jacksonville both as a visionary pioneer and instructor pilot.
Jacksonville Municipal Airport No. 1 opened Oct. 11, 1927. Charles Lindbergh, who flew to Jacksonville in the “Spirit of St. Louis,” attended the dedication ceremony to promote the new airport, Jacksonville’s aviation industry and assure city leaders that passenger air service would span the nation. In the 1950s, the facility was renamed after Thomas Cole Imeson, 1880-1948, city councilman and later longtime commissioner in charge of airports and highways. Imeson’s work led to the creation of Jacksonville Municipal Airport, as well as improvements to its runways, hangars and terminal buildings. This facility was the city’s main airport for 42 years.
The Aviation Gallery and Aviation Hall of Fame are in the Jacksonville International Airport terminal lobby.
In Armada-Cosmos draw, Jack Blake excites
Jacksonville Armada FC midfielder Jack Blake continues to show why he’s one of the most exciting young players in the North American Soccer League (NASL).
The Englishman played a direct role in three goals during Jacksonville’s 4-4 draw Sunday against the New York Cosmos. The performance was good enough to earn Blake this week’s NASL Player of the Week honors.
The result also kept Jacksonville within touching distance of New York for the fourth and final NASL playoff spot.
The 23-year-old Blake has made a name for himself as a dead ball specialist this year. In a span of four minutes midway through the first half Sunday against New York, he whipped in a pair of free kicks that led directly to Armada goals.
In the 22nd minute, Kalen Ryden met Blake’s free-kick and headed it off the post, giving way to Drew Beckie to clean up the rebound.
Just four minutes later, another Blake free-kick found its way to Ryden, who was able to convert the second time around.
After relinquishing a 3-1 lead, Jacksonville trailed, 4-3, late in the game, but Blake came to the rescue again. In the 79th minute, the Nottingham native played a through ball to Charles Eloundou, who buried the equalizing goal. When it was all said and done, Blake left the field with a pair of assists in the 4-4 draw.
The performance capped off an already strong week for Blake, who fired home Jacksonville’s lone goal against FC Edmonton in a 1-1 draw Wednesday night.
The midfielder has been quite the find for Armada coach Mark Lowry. Blake was quiet in his first NASL season with Minnesota in 2016, but he has since blossomed into one of the league’s top midfielders. Going into the final weekend of the Fall Season, Blake has nine goals and four assists on his ledger in league play.
Sunday’s result kept Jacksonville’s postseason hopes alive, but Blake and his teammates surely left the field disappointed after watching their 3-1 halftime lead evaporate. Now, Armada needs a win over the second-place San Francisco Deltas Saturday, coupled with a New York Cosmos loss against Puerto Rico FC in a match that will be contested the same night.
Jacksonville and San Francisco kick off at 8 p.m. ET Saturday at historic Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park.