On Wednesday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry held a media event in which he and City Councilman Al Ferraro filled potholes in roads in a Northside industrial park.
Curry wanted to focus on the hard work being done, day in and day out, by city employees to maintain public infrastructure.
A laudable goal. Especially given where things have been lately.
Politics in Northeast Florida has been particularly parlous since the beginning of the year, as you will read below.
The Texas Death Match between Al Lawson and Alvin Brown. The No DQ tag match between those close to the Mayor and those on the side of the Council Resistance. The “JEA on the pole” match.
The prevailing image of the Curry event was the mayor on a steamroller.
Some quipped that it was apropos — symbolic of a political machine that overwhelms opposition as a matter of course.
Curry, the kind of Jacksonville public official who tweets from “On War” by Clausewitz, often uses these public works events as a “back to basics” reset when time or events riddle smooth narratives.
They are a reprieve from the heated narrative of February, spats with Council members, and the like.
They are what the business of running a city comes down to.
No one argues about the mechanics of filling potholes; yet, Tallahassee hasn’t figured out how to take away home rule for that local function.
The takeaway from the event: sometimes it’s nice to just get on the steamroller and smooth out the rough road.
Even if it’s hard to steer sometimes.
More drama in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.
On Monday, as has been the case for weeks, challenger Brown laid into Rep. Lawson.
The former Jacksonville Mayor noted, via a media release, that Lawson was the sole Florida Democrat to take money from the National Rifle Association.
“Despite Rep. Al Lawson’s statement last week decrying the ‘stranglehold of the gun lobby,’ Rep. Al Lawson is just another Washington politician who has taken campaign contributions from the NRA in return for inaction on gun violence. Late last year, Lawson proudly took $2,500 from the NRA — making Lawson the only member of Florida’s Democratic delegation to accept money from the gun lobby.”
However, Lawson said he had NOT taken any NRA money.
Lawson responded Monday, saying flat out that Brown was “lying” about his record.
“Once again, Alvin Brown and his campaign are lying. Not only have I not taken any money from the National Rifle Association or any of its affiliates, [but] I also have scored a zero on issues important to the NRA,” Lawson began.
“If Mr. Brown did some actual research, he would see that there are no contributions from the NRA on my campaign report, or any expenditures from the NRA, or their political action committees to my campaign,” Lawson added, saying that “Brown is trying to use this national tragedy to fundraise and revive his failed political career.”
Lawson has a history of being friendlier to the gun lobby than many Democrats.
Will that matter in the August primary?
Lawson pans Trump’s ‘heartless’ budget
The “irresponsible and extreme budget that would slash spending on Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, transportation and other essential government services, all while increasing the deficit … hits our most vulnerable citizens the hardest, reflects a terrible disdain for working families, as well as a disheartening lack of vision for a stronger society.”
This editorial includes recurrent Lawson themes, including noting the high rate of poverty in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, and decrying proposed changes in the food stamps program.
The president proposed sending boxes of food to people instead of the SNAP disbursements.
Save the Date
Nancy Soderberg, a Democrat running in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, opens her campaign HQ in Daytona Sunday afternoon.
Soderberg recently hired a campaign manager and field director, and she is testing the theory that the seat currently held by gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis can be flipped.
Soderberg, who served as Ambassador to the United Nations during Bill Clinton’s presidency, has shown momentum since entering the race in summer 2017. She raised $207,949 last quarter, putting her above the $544,000 mark. She has $376,000 cash on hand.
While this does not give Soderberg the total cash on hand lead (Republican John Ward has $644,216 on hand), Soderberg will have the resources to be competitive.
In a quest for more resources, Soderberg has a DC fundraiser lined up for March 8. On hand: James Carville and Rep. Darren Soto.
Levine makes the scene
Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a candidate for Governor, was in Jacksonville Monday evening to address Duval County Democrats.
Levine, on his second trip to Jacksonville in recent weeks, had a “living room” conversation earlier in the day. Even as Gwen Graham has a strong foothold in the area, what is clear is that Levine thinks Northeast Florida is in play as part of his “67 county strategy.”
“The message has been resonating … I’ve been to towns you’ve never heard of … with a message many Democrats has never heard before.”
That message: deliberately “pro-business.” Levine notes that corporate HR policies tend to be progressive.
“The only way we’re going to win a general election is to make purple … mix red and blue,” Levine said.
The Constitution Revision Commission came to Jacksonville Tuesday for a marathon public hearing on the 37 proposals that are still live.
And some that weren’t, such as Proposal 22, perceived as an affront on abortion rights, and Proposal 62, which would allow for people to vote in primaries regardless of party identification. The green cards of support outweighed the red cards by a factor of 20.
“There are 3.4 million Floridians whose right to vote is denied,” said Jackie Bowman of St. Augustine on Proposal 62.
“To me, this looks like taxation without representation.”
Jackie Rock, a mosquito control commissioner from St. Johns County, bridged from closed primaries to consequences, noting that the Legislature did not pass an assault weapon ban, eliciting a gasp from the crowd.
The same held true for a nonexistent proposal to ban assault weapons. Anytime a speaker sounded that theme, the green cards flapped.
If there was a leitmotif to the six-hour meeting, it was a distinct lack of enthusiasm for proposals. Read more here.
Brown makes it official, challenges Gibson
The paperwork was filed Friday: Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown threw down the gauntlet for a primary challenge against state Sen. Audrey Gibson.
But Florida Politics readers knew already.
“I am running,” Brown said in mid-January.
And contrary to what some in Gibson’s orbit are saying, it’s Brown’s decision and his move to make.
Gibson — the Senate Democratic Leader-designate — would seem like an unlikely primary target.
She has been in elected office since the 1990s and gets donations from national corporations and political committees. Gibson carried $121,000 in her campaign account at the end of January.
Brown thinks he can bring more money to the district, however.
Gibson doesn’t want to talk about the challenge, which sets the stage for the most compelling primary race in Northeast Florida this year outside of the Brown/Lawson demolition derby for Congress.
WJXT, typically a friendly outlet to Curry, postulated this week that his office may be a “boys club.”
The article focused on the aftermath of a conversation between Chief of Staff Brian Hughes and Council President Anna Brosche’s assistant, Jeneen Sanders, which led to Sanders saying she felt threatened.
The Office of General Counsel backed Hughes’ version of events, saying no laws were broken.
WJXT asserted that “some people” said they felt uncomfortable around Hughes after the initial charges were made.
The money quote: “One prominent Republican in Jacksonville who works outside of City Hall said that he’s ‘very headstrong’ and ‘a classic bully’ who can ‘get in a person’s face and invade their personal space.’”
Brosche asserted that ”if my name was Allen Brosche, I would not be receiving the kind of feedback some are offering me: Take the high road, understand he is a competitive person, learn to bite your tongue, and (repeatedly) don’t take things so personally.”
“The questions to the community, the media and leaders who want me to be quiet, to be nice,” Brosche added, “are: Is competition among community leaders the best thing for Jacksonville? As a man, is Mayor Curry getting the same advice I am?”
Meanwhile, a mysterious poll is probing Brosche’s appeal versus Curry, leading to claims and counterclaims in the consultant set as to who is pushing this poll and why.
GOP gun control push?
Peter Rummell is among the leading names in Jacksonville’s Republican donor class, and he made news himself this weekend as part of a New York Times article detailing prominent GOP donors who no longer will back candidates who support assault weapons sales.
Rummell, described as “a Jacksonville-based donor who gave $125,000 to Jeb Bush’s ‘super PAC’ in 2016, said he was on board with Mr. Hoffman’s plan and would only contribute to candidates supportive of banning assault weapons.”
Rummell said, per the NYT, “the Parkland shooting was a turning point: ‘It has to start somewhere,’ Mr. Rummell said, of controlling guns.”
Rummell has donated majorly to candidates and causes in the Jacksonville area also, including but not limited to the last two successful mayoral campaigns and the pension reform referendum of 2016.
“Al Hoffman has made a bold and decisive statement and his ultimate point is we need to do something major and radical-nipping at the edges isn’t working. Starting is hard and he’s taken what he considers to be an important first step. And, I totally agree that we as a nation need to focus on laws that would create a safer world for all. I am not sure that starting with just an ‘ultimatum’ is the right first step,” Rummell told Florida Politics in a statement, drawing a subtle but important distinction between his position and the rhetorical absolutism of Hoffman’s as documented by the NYT.
“We need a plan, a strategy and tactics. Starting any process is hard — especially one that is as serious, complicated and emotional as this is. Now is the time for us to have a debate that is honest, thoughtful and complete, taking into account all the important issues about how we live practically under the Second Amendment, which I fully support. The discussion needs to end with real transformation and actionable items that bring about real reform, protections and change,” Rummell said.
Keep it 100?
The National Rifle Association endorsed Curry for Jacksonville Mayor in 2015, yet when we asked Curry about NRA support, he said he wasn’t in “100 percent alignment” with donors and supporters Wednesday.
“Not issue specific. Any supporter, any donor, any endorser, you’re not going to have 100 percent alignment on,” Curry said at a media availability.
“At least I don’t. They don’t expect that. They expect independent thinking,” Curry said of donors and endorsers.
We asked Curry where he diverged from NRA positions; he offered no answer, potentially a reflection of the balancing act Republican politicians currently face with the gun lobby.
“I’m a constitutional conservative, believe in the rule of law, and the firearm issue is regulated at the federal and state level,” Curry said. “My commitment to public safety has been demonstrated in real investments and real actions here in Jacksonville.”
When asked about the assault weapon ban that the Florida House effectively voted down Tuesday, Curry said it was another example of a state regulation and offered no comment on the Republican legislators in this region who voted to not even give the bill a hearing.
“Recognizing that we are in very sad times right now, tragic times, I’m going to do what I can in Jacksonville to keep our city safe,” Curry said, citing his reforms of children’s programs via the Kids Hope Alliance as an example of such action.
Reimbursements will come sooner or later for the city of Jacksonville from the federal government for Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.
Until then, however, the impact of the storms will be felt in the city’s general fund budget.
The Jacksonville City Council Auditor’s quarterly report for the final three months of 2017 puts the figures in sharp relief.
“The latest Hurricane Matthew projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $45.1 million. As of Jan. 31, 2018, the City incurred expenditures of $28.0 million related to Hurricane Matthew,” the report contends.
“87.5 percent of the total allowable expenses are subject to reimbursement, leaving the City to fund the remainder. The fiscal year 2017/18 approved budget includes an appropriation of $7.0 million from the GF/GSD to cover the City’s estimated obligation,” the report adds.
Irma is worse: the fiscal impact will be approximately $86.4 million, with no less than a $10.8 million charge to the city even if all reimbursements come through.
With slow reimbursements, one wonders if the discussion of reserve levels will be a more forceful one this summer.
The city has already been dinged by analysts for high fixed costs. These, combined with a reluctance to hike taxes, are leading influencers and policymakers to take a hard look at JEA privatization, which could net the city $3 to $6 billion.
Meanwhile, the city has worries regarding increasing interest rates and the equity market volatility of recent weeks.
Conditions to JEA sale for Curry
While on the JEA subject, Curry tells the Florida Times-Union that he’s not, contrary to opinion in some quarters, married to a JEA sale.
Curry said: “There’s a whole lot of questions that would have to be answered.”
“From my perspective, I would not be supportive of anything that took a lump sum of cash in any scenario — JEA or anything else — and spent it,” Curry said. “Future generations and future taxpayers always have to be protected … people working at JEA need to be protected as well, and their families honored.”
The sale could net the city $3 billion to $6 billion, though there is a lot of salesmanship ahead between Curry and members of Council.
On Tuesday, Council President Anna Brosche took a proactive measure, setting up a special committee that will run through June looking at the issue.
She believes that if the proposal is sound it will survive scrutiny. And she, along with other skeptics, will be on the panel.
More skepticism abounds: the city’s ethics commission wants to firm up rules to avert the temptations and potential abuses of the sale process, should it go forward.
JEA straw poll bill coming, and so are ‘bounties’?
Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis is introducing a bill that would force a straw poll on JEA privatization, he said this week at a meeting of the Duval Democrats.
Privatization, Dennis said, would be “bad for our city … a cover for a shortfall for a bad pension plan that we were all duped into passing.”
Also of note: Dennis claims there is a “bounty” on five Council members from the mayor’s office.
“The mayor, who we all know is a bully, has bounties on five Council members’ heads.”
Those Councilors: President Anna Brosche and Danny Becton, two Republicans, along with Democrats Dennis, Reggie Gaffney and Katrina Brown.
Dennis, Becton, and Brosche are all on the JEA privatization committee.
‘Senseless violence’ again on Jacksonville streets
Seven-year-old Tashawn Gallon was gunned down in Durkeeville Sunday night. Per the Florida Times-Union, he died hours after being shot in a drive-by.
Curry took to Twitter hours later.
1. Last night a 7 yr old was killed in a drive by shooting in our city. We must come together as a community and stop this senseless violence to give our kids a sense of hope and peace.
— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) February 19, 2018
2 This happened Less than 2 miles from City Hall, Within 2 miles of our government and churches and schools and FSCJ and fire houses and sheriff substations, all institutions designed to help keep a community safe and allow kids the security to grow and learn how to make choices
— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) February 19, 2018
3 And follow dreams. In the shadow of all that opportunity and assistance, a 7 yr old had life stolen by someone so hopeless and directionless that they didn't hesitate to recklessly turn our streets into a war zone.We have to break through to these young people.
— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) February 19, 2018
4. We have to find a way to make them recognize there is so much more for them than they can imagine, if they choose to believe in hope and peace.
— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) February 19, 2018
“Last night a 7 yr old was killed in a drive-by shooting in our city. We must come together as a community and stop this senseless violence to give our kids a sense of hope and peace.”
Durkeeville, a rough neighborhood for decades now, is on the periphery of Downtown Jacksonville.
“This happened Less than 2 miles from City Hall, Within 2 miles of our government and churches and schools and FSCJ and firehouses and sheriff substations, all institutions designed to help keep a community safe and allow kids the security to grow and learn how to make choices and follow dreams,” Curry continued.
“In the shadow of all that opportunity and assistance, a 7 yr old had life stolen by someone so hopeless and directionless that they didn’t hesitate to recklessly turn our streets into a war zone. We have to break through to these young people. We have to find a way to make them recognize there is so much more for them than they can imagine, if they choose to believe in hope and peace.”
Small children being shot: a running theme in Jacksonville homicides, and something that Curry has all too routinely had to address during his two-and-a-half years in office.
Fishweir Creek to be swimmable, fishable again
A Jacksonville creek restoration project awaited by Avondale area residents for over a decade is finally on the verge of a City Council green light.
Urbanization and development over the course of decades made the tributary inhospitable to swimming and fishing, per the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The USACE outlines some benefits to the project. Included among them, making the creek “swimmable and fishable,” creating a navigable habitat for the still endangered manatee, improving water quality generally, and creation of a marsh island.
The project is estimated to cost $6,549,000; the city of Jacksonville has appropriated $2,566,375, with the USACE picking up the other 65 percent of the tab. If the federal contribution goes up, the local share will do likewise. The federal cap is $10 million.
Construction is expected in 2019.
A Jacksonville City Council candidate left the Public Service Grants Council this month, while the head of sports and entertainment also moved on.
Tameka Gaines Holly, running in District 8 to replace fellow Democrat Katrina Brown, resigned the PSG by email.
The candidate leads the money race: she posted $10,800 in January — her first month as an active candidate. Holly is the cash on hand leader, with candidates Diallo-Sekou Seabrooks and Albert Wilcox each under $2,000 on hand.
Also out the door: Dave Herrell, after almost four years handling Jacksonville sports and entertainment.
Herrell was responsible in a previous role for elevating the status of the Fiesta Bowl; however, the TaxSlayer Bowl was not particularly raised in his term.
Budget hearings between Herrell’s department and the Mayor’s senior staff, at times, were contentious, with Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and others questioning the necessity for the department as it was constituted.
Herrell’s Resignation Letter indicates that, while the resignation is effective April 10, the actual departure date was Feb. 9.
Katie Dearing is unopposed in her bid for 4th Circuit judge. And every sheriff in the circuit backs her.
“Katie is highly respected by her peers and the law enforcement community. She brings a wealth of experience and courtroom knowledge as well as practical wisdom. I proudly endorse her for Circuit Judge,” said Sheriff Darryl Daniels of Clay County.
Sheriff Mike Williams called Dearing “qualified, capable, and caring and she will be an asset to the judiciary.” And Sheriff Bill Leeper of Nassau “heartily endorse[s]” the candidate.
UNF names new leader
Jacksonville’s University of North Florida has a new president.
The UNF Board of Trustees selected University of Cincinnati business-school dean David Szymanski to become the school’s sixth president.
Szymanski currently serves as dean of the Carl H. Lindner College of Business and a professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati. The board authorized Chairman Kevin Hyde to negotiate a contract with Szymanski, whose appointment also is subject to confirmation by the state university system’s Board of Governors.
Anonymous gift brings special ed school closer to new campus
An anonymous $1.5 million gift has helped the North Florida School of Special Education get significantly closer toward a new campus.
The donation brought the school to $5 million of its $6 million goal in a three-year “Angel of the Woods” fundraising campaign. The new campus will be called The Christy and Lee Smith Lower School Campus and Therapeutic Center.
“This is a beautiful tribute,” school head Sally Hazelip told circlecharityregister.com. “The gift honors our past and helps plant the seeds for our future; we are so thankful for this donor’s generosity.”
The campaign is for the facility to build a 32,000-square-foot facility and a Therapeutic Equestrian Center on 5 acres of land bestowed to the school in 2014 by the Ida Mae Stevens Foundation and Doug Milne, trustee. One of the first donations to the campaign was a $1 million gift from Delores Barr Weaver to name the Therapeutic Equestrian Center.
The Smiths were among the first four families who founded the school in 1992. The school’s current Anderson Smith Campus is named after their son.
Groundbreaking is set for fall 2018 with a targeted completion sometime in 2019. The new buildings will join the current 9,000-square-foot classroom structure on the 3-acre campus at 223 Mill Creek Road. When finished, the school will cover 41,000 square feet over 8 acres.
Jax driverless vehicle prototype passes first on-road test
Soon, driverless vehicles will begin having a profound change on Jacksonville streets.
“This is not a question of if. It’s a question of when,” said Jacksonville Transportation Authority CEO Nat Ford to Action News Jax.
Rosalie Simcoe was one of the riders on a prototype autonomous vehicle operated by Transdev tested on the Easy Mile this week.
“It was incredible. It was very smooth,” Simcoe told reporter Jenna Bourne. “I felt very safe.”
— Jenna Bourne (@jennaANjax) February 20, 2018
It was the same type of vehicle that soon will be seen Jacksonville streets and the Skyway. Ford expects the infrastructure conversion to support autonomous vehicles on the Skyway to take five about years.
“This vehicle here is the one that we currently have on our test track over by EverBank Stadium,” Ford explained. “And we’ll be running that vehicle for the next few months and then we’ll swap out, every so many other manufacturers’ vehicles.
“So, we’re in a test and learn phase.”
White the model tested can travel up to 28 miles an hour, for the demonstration – at the University of North Florida – it only traveled about 10 miles an hour.
As for safety, the demonstration had a person step in front of the vehicle, which came to a full stop until he moved away.