With competitive Democratic primaries, the tail end of the Legislative Session, and local City Hall intrigue, there is a lot to unpack.
However, we have not arrived at the point in the narrative with a great deal of resolution.
At least not yet.
In a literary sense, this is known as foreshadowing.
Money has not been raised or even reported. Endorsements have not been rolled out.
It is sort of like Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Power lines fill with feathered animals … a classic trope to build tension for actions ahead.
And what is to come could make some political careers … and break others.
Brown fundraises off Martin
Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, a Democratic primary candidate in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, used the anniversary of Trayvon Martin‘s murder six years ago as part of a fundraising pitch Thursday.
In public remarks as Jacksonville Mayor, Brown did not mention Martin, who was gunned down in 2012 by George Zimmerman in Central Florida.
However, Brown’s fundraising in 2018 is a different matter.
“It is hard to believe, six years ago this week Trayvon was fatally shot for what can only be described as ‘looking suspicious.’ We must always take a moment to reflect and remember the loss of lives like Trayvon,” Brown asserted.
“As we have conversations and push for gun reform, it is important to remember the Trayvons. His death and all those highlighted in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement and those before them must serve a reminder that reform is needed. No one should be killed or discriminated against because of the color of their skin,” Brown added.
Brown’s mentioning of #BlackLivesMatter was also interesting, given that in two years in which his tenure as Mayor overlapped with the movement, he didn’t mention it explicitly either.
Money changes everything
U.S. Rep. John Rutherford thinks that stopping school shootings is “about how much we want to pay,” he told WJXT late last month.
“I think more is going to take place at the state level. And I also think you’re going to see some change at the national level. But … You know, security for schools is really a district driven issue.
“You know, we had discussed last week about dropping (filing) the bill ‘Stop Violence in Schools Act of 2018,’ which focuses on hardening the target of the schools.
“Teaching individuals what are the warning signs to look for in these individuals would later become mass killers. And then also setting up an anonymous tip line for folks to be able to call in … and to report those signs that they see.
“So the question becomes: How many, how much do you want to spend to make sure that this does not happen again?
“And then you hear people say, ‘Well, let’s not do police. Let’s do school resource officers who actually work for the school board.
“They may not be as well trained as the police … but they carry guns, and they’re qualified and all that.’
“And then they say, ‘That’s too expensive. So, let’s, you know, if we just put guns in the hands of a few teachers that could be trained, you know, let’s do that. That’s not as expensive.’
“So that’s why I say: How much do you want to pay for what kind of security?”
Rutherford draws Democratic challenger
Ges Selmont, a lawyer making his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, rolled out his campaign for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 4th Congressional District last weekend via news release.
Selmont will be the second Democrat vying for the nomination in a district that elected Rutherford in 2016 by over 40 points; author Monica DePaul is already in the race, though evidence of a formal campaign structure or fundraising is elusive thus far for her, and her most high-profile interview (a half-hour on WJCT) saw her struggle with even friendly questions.
“People from New York, Boston, Connecticut, and LA have expressed support. This race will be on the national radar,” Selmont said. “We will have to run a new, fresh, energetic and innovative campaign.”
Time will tell if that will unseat the former Jacksonville Sheriff.
Soderberg snags EMILY’s List endorsement
In another sign that Ambassador Nancy Soderberg has all but locked the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, EMILY’s List endorsed her Wednesday.
Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, released the following statement:
“A former deputy national security adviser to President [Bill] Clinton and ambassador to the United Nations, Nancy Soderberg knows what it means to take on tough jobs. She has used her positions to advocate change, move our country forward, and defend the rights of our citizens.”
“In her current role as a professor at the University of North Florida and a small-business owner, she is deeply invested in her community and will do what it takes to ensure that the working families of the 6th District have a voice in Washington.”
“Nancy will fight for access to quality health care, affordable higher education, and common-sense policies that will protect our environment,” Schriock asserted.
“It’s time for a representative who will actually fight for working families, which is why EMILY’s List is strongly supporting Nancy Soderberg for Congress,” Schriock added.
Fant blasts Broward Sheriff for Parkland stand down
Rep. Jay Fant, a Republican candidate for State Attorney, renewed his calls for Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel to step down in the wake of reportage that deputies stood down, as did the school resource officer, in a mass shooting that killed 17 in Parkland earlier this month.
Fant, a signatory to a letter from House Speaker Richard Corcoran on this matter, made his case on CNN Monday morning.
“We’ve seen enough from Sheriff Israel,” Fant said, noting that Israel said he demonstrated “amazing leadership” but has not demonstrated accountability in the wake of the stand down of one to four officers.
Gov. Rick Scott has avoided calls to remove Israel, instead tasking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate.
Fant did not pan this move.
“The governor is keenly sensitive to what is happening in Broward, that’s why he launched the FDLE investigation, but it’s not going to get better for Sheriff Israel, it’s going to get worse,” Fant said, referring to expected damning findings from the Coral Springs Police Department’s investigation of the incident.
Fant wants an independent prosecutor to look into what happened, he said.
In the wake of the Parkland homicides, Fant has been on national television with some frequency. He had a segment on “Meet the Press Daily” on MSNBC last week.
Former Daniels aide to primary Davis
The intrigue continues in Jacksonville area Democratic primaries, with yet another incumbent facing a primary challenge on the 2018 ballot.
The latest competitive race is in House District 13, where incumbent Rep. Tracie Davis will face a challenge from Rep. Kim Daniels‘ former district secretary, Roshanda Jackson.
Jackson said that she is not “running against” Davis, whom she doesn’t know. And she says that “no elected official has encouraged [her] to run.” And she takes pains to note that she doesn’t want her bid for office to be conflated with that of Rep. Daniels.
“I hope the race is peaceful,” Jackson said.
Davis, when asked about the primary challenge, noted that she is focused on the Legislative Session, with gun safety and school hardening bills among her priorities, and will turn her election to the campaign after Session.
This filing comes just weeks after Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown launched his primary challenge to Senate Minority Leader Designate Audrey Gibson.
A persistent narrative has surfaced that Brown was put up to running by Mayor Lenny Curry, which both Brown and Curry deny.
Democratic Party insiders don’t discount that narrative, but also note that another source of these primary challenges may be the post-Corrine Brown struggle for primacy in the Jacksonville Democratic machine.
‘Coward’ attacks female Fischer aide
One legislative staffer, Sadie Haire, district aide for Jacksonville Republican Jason Fischer, a supporter of the Second Amendment, got more than words from a gun control proponent.
“On Wednesday, a man — a coward really — forced himself into my district office in Jacksonville demanding that the Legislature ban ‘assault weapons’ and other firearms,” Fischer asserted on Facebook. “He then attacked my district aide and said he was trying to prove a point about ‘gun control.’”
Fischer related that the man came in upset about the failed attempt to get a ban on assault weapons considered in the House. He said the man demonstrated his outrage by “slamming [Haire] into the door violently.”
“This coward was inspired to violence by the political stunt that one of my colleagues pulled on Tuesday,” Fischer said. “There is no justification, political or otherwise, for violently attacking an innocent person.”
Fischer’s office did not have the best security. There was no camera system so that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office could be given a picture, Fischer said.
Fischer added he is closing the office while figuring out what can be done.
Meet El Presidente
Jacksonville City Councilman Aaron Bowman has the ten pledges needed to secure the Council presidency starting in July.
In addition to himself, the former Mayport base commander has Scott Wilson, Sam Newby, and Reggie Gaffney committed last week. Jim Love committed Tuesday.
Before that, Bowman secured the commitments of former Council Presidents Lori Boyer and Greg Anderson, along with Doyle Carter, Matt Schellenberg, and former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Hazouri.
The coalition of support Bowman has amassed is worth noting, specifically regarding the two most recent past presidents.
Boyer and Anderson worked well with Curry during their presidencies; conversely, the Anna Brosche presidency has been a divisive one, with competing narratives between her and fellow Republican Curry on a variety of issues, including pension reform, children’s program reforms and exploring the prospect of selling local utility JEA.
By late last week, Brosche was among a cadre of Council members roiled by recent revelations that Curry’s team had been exploring valuations on privatizing assets, including but not limited to JEA.
Bowman, who plays a prominent role in recruiting businesses to come to Jacksonville via the JAXUSA arm of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, takes a different view of the administration’s moves.
He backs exploration of the value of assets.
Privatization push not new
Though many seem to think the concept of asset privatization is something Curry just discovered, in reality, it is something that was in the works for a while longer.
Since Curry’s election, to be exact, when the mayor-elect’s transition committees explored the concept.
Once in office, Curry’s team began to work with former NYC deputy Mayor Steve Goldsmith, a privatization guru.
By December 2015, Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa met with members of Jacksonville’s City Council, and privatization was discussed, via “scrutinizing” department budgets, looking at what services are required, and a comparison to the private sector providing some services.
Now, in 2018, privatization is earnestly discussed — of JEA.
Read here why this might be a boon for Jacksonville’s bottom line.
The fix is in
Per the Florida Times-Union, JEA is about to commit capital to some fixes for problems exposed in back-to-back hurricane years.
The big spends: $45 million for 251,000 “smart meters” that will allow outages to be pinpointed house by house, potentially removing the dubious outage reporting that vexed customers during Irma.
The money is there, but it will take time to go house to house and install these meters. How much time is as yet unknown.
And $100 million over five years for water-sewer system hardening, which will include more backup power generators to lower the risk of sewage spills at lift stations during power outages.
The upshot: “JEA expects to have backup power at 47 percent of stations this year, and it will be at 71 percent by 2022.”
Is slow septic phaseout killing NW Jax biz dev?
Budget hearings in August saw multiple members, including Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, lament the slow pace of septic phaseout. $6 million a year is being allocated, split between JEA and the city, for a project that could cost anywhere from $300 million to $1 billion.
With JEA privatization or sale now a hot topic, Council members Brown and Brown, along with Sam Newby, Garrett Dennis and Gaffney, want to codify commitment to the project, via a bill (2018-76) that would obligate JEA to run sewer and water lines throughout the city.
That bill, which would secure in principle a long-awaited retrofitting of these areas, is due to be heard in committees next week.
Reggie Brown noted that businesses are avoiding the Northwest Quadrant in part because of the incomplete septic phaseout, and businesses that are in the area are getting letters from the State Attorney threatening them with shutdown if issues aren’t rectified.
He noted the paradox: the Health Department and State Attorney enforcing standards that wouldn’t be an issue if the city had fulfilled its infrastructural obligations.
Mason jumps into Council race
Darren Mason, a former assistant to Jacksonville City Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, is the first Democrat to jump into the 2019 at-large Group 2 race for City Council.
Florida Politics interviewed him in advance, he said he would file March 1.
Unlike what is the case with some fields in Council races, Mason comes into a race facing serious competition.
Bishop has under $13,000 on hand; Salem has over $136,000 on hand.
Bishop is just three years removed from a spirited campaign for Mayor; Salem’s campaign is being run by Curry’s political guru, Tim Baker of Data Targeting.
Despite this competition, Mason feels confident in his way forward.
Word is bond
Some good news for Jacksonville came Monday via another bond upgrade.
Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services announced an uptick in the special revenue bond rating to ‘AA’ from ‘AA-.’
“This latest upgrade further demonstrates our continued and strong focus on fiscal responsibility is making a difference for our citizens,” Curry said. “We continue to work hard to enhance the City’s standing with investors by doing all we can to ensure the City’s financial stability for years to come. Improved credit ratings can save our city millions of dollars on future debt issues by lowering borrowing costs, which is good for taxpayers.”
Per the media release: “Citing a change to their ratings methodology, S&P said they now consider both non-ad valorem and general fund pledges as equal since both are dependent on the successful operation of the City. The City of Jacksonville’s special revenue pledge is a non-ad valorem pledge, and backs $1.027 billion of the City’s debt outstanding as of Sept. 30, 2017.”
Legendary local essayist Marvin Edwards died last month, after an epic career that included everything from WW2 spy work to more contemporaneous exposes of Jacksonville City Hall shenanigans.
The Jacksonville Daily Record ran a piece of Edwards’ from 1941, in which he took a look at a “boomtown” that exists still, but not in the same way.
“Saturday nights, the downtown area reminds one very much of Times Square. All the theaters are jammed, and it’s almost impossible to find a place to park.”
Edwards was taking a hard look at what happened to Jacksonville: the military-industrial complex.
From shipbuilding downtown to Camp Blanding to the south, the city and surrounding areas were growing because of that buildup.
Banking was big, as well.
The build-out, of course, has been suburban and exurban in recent years. But for those who live in the city’s urban core, hope remains that downtown, somehow, can regain its bygone luster.
Szymanski ‘thrilled’ to become UNF president
In an interview with the University of Florida’s Colin McCann, newly named University President David Szymanski talks about his plans, goals and his “strongest assets” – creating personal relationships and teamwork.
“He mentioned his experience playing basketball,” McCann writes, “saying, ‘One of the things that basketball does for you is thinking of that notion of team. It’s everybody together, and it’s people helping each other out and working collaboratively.’”
Szymanski believes his biggest challenge will be overcoming the time constraints while bringing together people from all parts of the campus and the UNF community. “He wants to look into additional learning opportunities for students, like applied research and internships, building on top of opportunities that are already in place at UNF.”
“My job is to do things well and create opportunities for other people,” Szymanski said. “And I think it’s an exciting time to be a student and an exciting time to be at UNF … I’m just thrilled and honored and humbled to be the next president of the University of North Florida.”
Teen employees get ‘hands-on experience’ at Jacksonville Zoo
Fourteen local teens serve as employees of the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens, part of a city-sponsored Wildlife Immersion and Leadership Development (WILD) program. Since 2016, the teen employment program has incorporated leadership development, public-speaking instruction and lessons in zoology and horticulture.
While animal-related interests are not required, some of the youths in the program see working with animals as a long-term career path.
According to the Florida Times-Union, WILD is for culturally-diverse teens aged 14 to 18 who live or attend school or church in 10 Jacksonville ZIP codes targeted by the Jacksonville Journey anti-crime initiative, primarily from the Northside and Northwest areas of the city. Applicants go through a rigorous application process and work Saturdays during the school year, and full time in the summer months.
First-year students in the program are called stewards. In the second year, they graduate to become ambassadors and take more leadership responsibility. In the final year of the program, they help develop educational outreach programs in their communities, including bringing small animals on tour. The zoo outreaches are free and go to the organization or facility that has shown an influence in the teens’ lives.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Marquese Fluellen, 18, who is in his second year of the program and attends Wolfson High School. “I always wanted a career in animal handling but didn’t know where to start.”