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Jacksonville Bold for 6.8.18 — Tribal warfare

Two of our top stories this week deal with primary battles for Congressional seats.

They are interesting for what is said — and what is not.

Mike Waltz is pushing fellow Republican John Ward to withdraw from the race in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

Waltz, like many across the political spectrum, believe that Ward saying that recent Puerto Rican arrivals shouldn’t vote in Florida was disqualifying rhetoric.

The Ward gaffe, ironically, comes after months of his maintaining that he is the Trumpiest candidate in the race.

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While the sense of that gaffe was pretty Trump-like, at the moment, he’s seriously wounded.

In the Democratic race in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, moderate Democrat Alvin Brown is looking to topple fellow moderate Al Lawson.

Brown and Lawson have both cut centrist paths through Democratic politics, laden with bipartisan rhetoric. Naturally, they both have gone negative throughout the campaign.

The latest was last weekend. Lawson retweeted President Donald Trump. Quickly, the tweets were deleted. Lawson charged that Brown’s team hacked his Twitter.

Alvin Brown’s team, meanwhile, put out a fundraising email, “Lawson Retweets Trump.”

Would there be major policy differences between Ward and Waltz, or Brown and Lawson?

Probably not.

But you wouldn’t know it from the pyrotechnics of the primary fight.

Waltz urges Ward to drop CD 6 run

Candidates in Florida’s 6th Congressional District are beginning to reach a consensus: Ward needs to get out of the race.

Ward has been under fire for weeks for comments made at a forum in April.

John Ward is facing fire from the left and the right over comments many consider racist.

His take was that displaced Puerto Ricans shouldn’t be voting in Florida, and one by one, candidates have been issuing statements rebuking Ward’s take

Waltz, one of three Republicans running to replace Ron DeSantis in the St. Johns/Flagler/Volusia district, was the latest to call for Ward’s withdrawal Monday.

“As a Green Beret Commander who served multiple combat tours overseas, it’s outrageous to me that politician John Ward would say certain American citizens shouldn’t be able to vote in our country,” Waltz said.

“In combat, no matter where we came from, we all served under the same flag and fought to ensure we all had the same rights. For John Ward to suggest otherwise makes him unfit to serve,” Waltz added.

“There is no place for politician John Ward in this or any campaign and that’s why I’m calling on him to withdraw his candidacy immediately. I urge fellow Republicans to join the chorus of conservative leaders in Florida to demand the same,” Waltz added.

Democrats Nancy Soderberg and John Upchurch have already called for Ward to withdraw. Republican Fred Costello and Democrat Stephen Sevigny likewise have condemned the comments.

Hackers in CD 5?

Saturday afternoon saw a couple of atypical retweets from the personal account of Rep. Lawson.

The RT action went to President Donald Trump, in what was either a remarkable crossing of party lines in a contested primary — or perhaps a compromised account.

After deleting the tweets, Lawson asserted the “campaign accounts” were “breached” and “hacked,” an example of “dirty politics at best.”

Lawson’s team is looking for the hackers, we are told.

Lawson’s opponent, former Jacksonville Mayor Brown, wasn’t buying the hack claims: “Years ago, Al Lawson hacked into right-wing, extreme Republican policies — that’s why he’s been supported by the NRA, applauds Trump’s agenda and drains billions of dollars from our public schools. Try as he might, he can’t fall back on sad excuses after years of selling out Democratic values.”

The tweets were not in keeping with Lawson’s public positions, even as he has indicated willingness to work with the president.

The first RT saw Lawson’s account support Trump’s allegations of Democratic corruption, cooperation with Russia and bashing of the “fake news media.”

The second RT saw Lawson’s account support Trump’s imposition of tariffs against traditional U.S. allies in Mexico, Canada and the EU, a tweet that condemned “stupid trade.”

Each of these were at odds with Democratic orthodoxy.

Brown, running against incumbent Lawson in North Florida’s sprawling, east-west Congressional District 5. has already messaged on a perceived Lawson affinity for Trump,

Monster May for Hutson

Travis Hutson‘s campaign is heating up, posting monster May fundraising numbers in his Senate District 7 re-election bid.

All smiles: Travis Hutson is going to be a player in 2018 elections statewide with this haul.

The Palm Coast Republican brought in $332,000 last month for his two committees: Sunshine State Conservatives hauled in $85,000, and First Coast Business Foundation took in the balance.

The FCBF money is of special interest, as it offers evidence of regional consolidation behind Hutson, who is pursuing the Senate presidency in 2022.

The May fundraising reception for his First Coast Business Foundation saw Mayor Lenny Curry as the special guest at an event heavy on names of prominent politicos, donors and lobbyists.

Event chairs included Marty Fiorentino, former congressional candidate Hans Tanzler (endorsed by Hutson in 2016), JEA Board member Husein Cumber, Jaguars’ lobbyist and all-around problem solver Paul Harden, and bestbet’s Jamie Shelton.

Among the standout names on the host committee: charter school impresario Gary Chartrand and the Jax Chamber mainstay Daniel Davis.

A similar group of players came together May 2017 for a fundraiser in support of future House Speaker Paul Renner, whose political committee had a $261,000 month because of it.

Hutson had hoped to raise $500,000 this cycle to help other Senate Republicans; nearing that goal, he wants to raise $200,000 more, and to that end has a golf event booked this month, and a fishing event in July.

Money where the Mouse is for Bradley

Republican state Sen. Rob Bradley is doing his part to stem the impending “blue wave” in Florida politics, via a fundraiser on the open waters.

Specifically, a July 20-23 Disney Cruise, booked in May via the Fleming Island Republican’s Working for Florida Families political committee.

Those dates indicate the cruise will be aboard the Disney Dream, christened by Jennifer Hudson in 2011. The itinerary shows the vessel plans to anchor in Nassau on the second day of the journey, followed by a stop at Disney’s private island Castaway Cay on Day Three.

The second night of the three-night fundraiser will give attendees the opportunity to “party like a pirate” — not the scary kind, of course.

Party like a pirate, helping Rob Bradley’s re-election campaign, that is.

Per Disney’s description, the celebration of all things swashbuckler encourages guests to dress up like a buccaneer and “eat like a scalawag” — options include “Jolly Rogers Barbecue Rib Salad” and “Pirates Gold-en Pot Stickers” — before hitting the deck with their mateys for a Pirates of the Caribbean-themed party and fireworks show.

The booking, including event venue, lodging, food and beverage, came in at $65,260.

The Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman told us Thursday that the expenditure covered “costs associated with an upcoming fundraiser” for the committee, with “all proceeds [going] toward 2018 Senate races.”

This will be a group sail, not a charter, Bradley added.

There is a recent precedent for a Disney cruise fundraiser.

Per the Miami Herald, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli organized a similar event in 2013. The buy-in then was a $50,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Florida.

Disney and subsidiaries have donated over $45,000 to Bradley’s committee since its inception, illustrating a shared political vision.

Contributions to Bradley’s committee swelled after he was named the Senate budget chair in November. Working for Florida’s Families pulled in back-to-back-to-back six-figure hauls heading into the 2018 Legislative Session, and since Bradley’s District 5 seat isn’t up this cycle, much of that cash is indeed likely to go toward boosting the re-election campaigns of his fellow Republican Senators.

Indicted Senate candidate raises zilch in May

Suspended Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown, currently facing 32 federal counts in a scheme to defraud with another suspended Council colleague, is still an active primary opponent in Senate District 6 for Minority Leader-designate Audrey Gibson.

Reggie Brown leaves federal court in Jacksonville with lawyer ahead of him.

Brown told media he was not suspending his campaign at his indictment a week ago, and proof of that active candidacy could be found in his May campaign finance filing: the fourth straight month in which Brown reported no fundraising.

Given that he faces, if all maximum penalties prevail, 601 years and an $8.275 million fine, perhaps explaining the reluctance.

At the end of April, which was her most recent filing, Gibson had nearly $132,000 cash on hand.

“I have not made any comments about the opponent in the race and I have none today. I continue to do my legislative duties, work to get more Senate Dems elected as Leader-designate, and focus on my re-election campaign,” Gibson said last week after the indictment dropped.

The winner of the primary campaign will face nominal November opposition from a write-in candidate.

Baker challenges Bean

Sen. Aaron Bean will face a general election challenge in Senate District 4, a Duval/Nassau district leaning heavily Republican.

The Bean Team faces a third-party challenge this year.

Monday saw Joanna Liberty Tavares file for the seat as a Libertarian.

Tavares, per SunBiz, is an officer for Sweet Freedom LLC,

The business address, at River City Marketplace, corresponds with Smallcakes Cupcakery, a well-regarded pastry shop that has 4 stars on Yelp.

Between his campaign account and his political committee, Bean had nearly $200,000 cash on hand at the end of April and will certainly be well-positioned to fundraise further (if needed), given the incumbent’s allies in the region.

Tavares joins a number of Libertarian candidates running in the region, including state House candidates Ken Willey and Ryan Ramsey. They are running in House Districts 18 and 19 respectively.

A second opponent also filed this week to face Bean — Democrat Billie Bussard.

Renner launches re-elect

Palm Coast Republican Rep. Paul Renner is kicking off his bid for a second term in House District 24 with a hometown fundraiser later this month.

Paul Renner (Image via Flagler Live)

The campaign launch event will be held at the Palm Coast Arts Foundation, 1500 Central Ave., from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. June 21. The reception will likely double as a celebration for qualifying for the ballot — Renner hit his required signature total for HD 24 a couple of weeks ago.

The first-term Republican, slated to take over as House Speaker following the 2022 elections, faces Democrat Adam Morley in the fall. Morley has is also set to qualify for the ballot by petition, though Renner likely isn’t quaking in his boots. HD 24 is a Republican stronghold, and Renner’s campaign and committee accounts are stocked with cash.

To that end, the kickoff event suggests a light $25 contribution to his campaign account to make the guest list. Those willing to part with that sum can send in an RSVP via

Save the dateGibson backs Polson in HD 15

Sen. Audrey Gibson, leader-designate for Senate Democrats, endorsed fellow Jacksonville Democrat Tracye Polson in House District 15 Tuesday.

Audrey Gibson

Audrey Gibson had two choices: Endorse Trayce Polson or nobody at all. 

Polson, the sole Democrat in the race, will face one of three Republicans in the general election in November.

Via media release from Polson, both her and Gibson offered quotes of mutual approval.

“Tracye has the experience and expertise to represent Jacksonville as State Representative for District 15. She is versed in issues concerning veterans and their families, removing barriers to the successful education of our children, and quality mental and physical health of communities,” stated Sen. Gibson. “Her business acumen is a big added plus to the multiple qualities she would bring to the Legislature, and she certainly has my support.”

“Senator Gibson was very influential in my decision to run for this seat. Her expertise and knowledge of Jacksonville issues and politics have been extremely helpful in guiding my campaign thus far. I am so proud to have earned her endorsement and look forward to working with Senator Gibson in Tallahassee,” Polson asserted.

Polson’s campaign has been atypically strong for that of a Democrat running for a Republican House seat. She hopes to succeed Rep. Jay Fant.

No 4th Circuit appointment

The Jacksonville Daily Record reports a setback for Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott sought to appoint a replacement for retiring Judge Robert Foster, but 2nd Judicial Circuit Judge Charles Dodson halted that process, and ordered the reinstatement of Jacksonville lawyer David Trotti to the ballot.

Retiring Judge Robert Foster. (Image via Herald-Tribune/ Dan Wagner)

The public, Dodson ruled, has a “constitutional right” to pick Foster’s successor.

City website helps Holland builds cash lead over Kraft

Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland turned heads in April with $100,000 raised. In May, he added another $10,550 to the mix.

He has over $110,000 on hand and has yet to spend money.

Former elections supervisor Jerry Holland broke a cardinal rule of incumbency.

Holland, a popular Republican in his first term on the job, faces nominal opposition: Democrat Kurt Kraft, who is largely self-financed and has just over $260 on hand.

To counter Holland, who has been winning Jacksonville elections for decades, Kraft spent over $1,900 in May, with the bulk of that spend being on signage.

Holland likely won’t have to spend that kind of money.

Read more here.

Post-indictment path clear for Council?

On Thursday, Jacksonville City Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown were indicted on a 38-count conspiracy to defraud, after both allegedly misused city and federal funds intended for economic incentive purposes.

Who’s smiling now?

Friday saw Gov. Rick Scott suspend the two less than a year before elections, leaving the Jacksonville City Council to scramble in terms of figuring out how the constituents of the two Northwest Jacksonville Democrats would continue to have representation.

Monday morning saw the Council President-designate, an at-large Councilman, and the current Finance Chair outline the path forward.

President-designate Aaron Bowman is “hopeful we’ll have two replacements by the middle of July,” which is when Council gets back from its summer break.

Bowman will “lean on past presidents of the council” to help get those gubernatorial appointees up to speed.

“It’s easy for someone to step in and understand what’s important for their district, but understanding how the process works is a different story,” Bowman added.

“This is the governor’s decision,” Bowman said. “He’s had to do this before and he’s very confident in [the way he does it].” (Curry had a similar take).

Bowman expects the appointee to be a Democrat, but notes the appointee can move to that area if appointed.

Sam Newby, meanwhile, said he and current President Anna Brosche (two at-large members) would help with constituent issues during the suspension and before replacements were appointed.

The first wave of names, meanwhile, was reported by WJXT this week. Among the hopefuls: filed candidates Tameka Gaines Holly in District 8 and Celestine Mills in District 10.

District development ready for full Council vote

A second and final Jacksonville City Council committee approved Tuesday an ambitious plan to develop 30 acres that formerly housed JEA’s Southside Generating Station.

This approval tees the bill up for Tuesday’s agenda of the full council.

Artist’s rendering of The District.

The District (2018-313) could transform the Southbank with its radical redevelopment of 30 acres at the former Southside Generating Station property next to the Duval County School Board building.

“The District will encompass approximately 200,000 square feet of retail space, 200,000 square feet of office space, 1,170 apartments/condominiums, and a 150-200 key hotel,” per a dedicated website to the project.

Politically connected developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz have a deal via their Elements Development to buy the land for $18.6 million from the JEA Board. That deal closes July 18.

Among the incentives for developers: a $30 million capital improvement plan and a Rev Grant (75 percent for up to 22 years capped at $56 million).

The Rev Grant extends to 2040 when the Southbank CRA sunsets.

The total post-construction-assessed value is expected to be just shy of $216 million.

Strong metrics in Jax debt affordability study

It’s rare that a Debt Affordability Study qualifies as a good-news story, but in the case of Jacksonville, most metrics are bullish.

Debt service costs and debt per capita are below targets, while reserve funds are trending toward their targets.

Mike Weinstein and Sam Mousa go through a Jacksonville departmental budget.

“Through recent strong financial management, as recognized by the ratings agencies, a strong economy, low-interest rates, and a consistent trend in reducing our debt outstanding, these metrics have continued to improve,” the report from the city’s CFO, Mike Weinstein, asserts.

And they have needed to. As the report says a bit later on: “Jacksonville has a higher than average debt burden and a slightly below average level of reserves. As will be seen later on in this study, the City has been improving in both areas over the last five years. Continuing the trend of paying down debt and increasing reserves will be viewed favorably by the ratings agencies.”

Since Fiscal Year 2013 (during Mayor Brown’s administration, when the city dealt with the hardest hits of the recession), the city has paid off $354 million in outstanding debt and has kept debt service at a consistent level. Though that debt service, a function of non-negotiable fixed costs, is described within the report as “tight,” with payments being 11 percent of each of the last two budgets, expectations are that it will become less of an impact as city revenues grow in the coming years.

“Jacksonville continues to enjoy strong budgetary flexibility to meet any future fiscal challenge,” the report maintains. “Jacksonville’s modest tax rates and average tax burden form the foundation for the City’s financial flexibility while maintaining its desired service levels. This revenue capacity and flexibility underpin the market’s positive view of the City’s debt.”

Budget strong, investments weak

Through the first six months of FY 17-18, the Jacksonville city budget is in good shape, showing a positive variance, per a recent report from the Jacksonville City Council auditor.

Hurricane Irma projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $83.1 million.

“The City is projected to experience an overall favorable budget variance of approximately $9.3 million within the General Fund/General Services District (GF/GSD). Revenues are projected to be $0.4 million more than budgeted and expenditures are projected to be $8.9 million less than budgeted,” reads the Jacksonville City Council auditor’s report.

Those savings realized in the current budget may have real-world application, as the city is still waiting on payback from the federal government for hurricane-related costs.

Regarding Matthew, 2016’s tropical nuisance, “The latest Hurricane Matthew projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $47.0 million. As of May 8, 2018, the City incurred expenditures of $28.8 million related to Hurricane Matthew.”

With the Feds poised to pay back 87.5 percent of that $47 million, an extra $7 million slid into a contingency account this budget year should make up for that.

Irma in 2017 was another matter.

“The latest Hurricane Irma projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $83.1 million. This could result in an estimated $10.4 million negative impact to the GF/GSD in the future. As of May 8, 2018, the City incurred expenditures of $54.2 million related to Hurricane Irma.”

Expect a contingency for Irma in the next budget. One wonders if the city will start planning for these storms as potential yearly impacts.

Speaking of impactful storms, city investments are starting to hit a lull.

“The Operating Portfolio experienced a net of fees return of negative 0.30% for the quarter ending March 31, 2018, which outperformed the Blended Benchmark by 27 bps. Performance of the portfolio over the last year was a positive 1.25 percent, after fee deductions. During the past three and five years, the portfolio has earned an average annual return of 1.15 percent and 1.31 percent, respectively.”

Expect anemic performance to continue: “Achieving positive returns in equity and fixed income markets has become increasingly challenging due to elevated price levels and stubbornly tight spreads.”

Homeless rights bill on pause

On Monday, the Jacksonville City Council’s Neighborhoods, Community Development, Public Health, and Safety committee deferred the “Homeless Bill of Rights,” legislation that could codify civil rights for the city’s dispossessed populations.

Many of the bill’s new rights — but not all — are already in the code. (Image via WJCT)

Ordinance 2018-308, filed by currently-suspended Councilwoman Katrina Brown, contends that “the basic rights all people should enjoy must be guaranteed for homeless individuals and families,” and attempts to “assure that basic human rights are not being trampled simply because someone happens to be homeless.”

The bill would guarantee the right to move freely for homeless people, as well as rights to be “protected by law enforcement,” to prayer, to voting, to quality emergency health services, to “occupy” legally parked cars, and to have a “reasonable expectation of privacy over personal property,” at homeless camps and the like.

The right to live in one’s car and the protection of personal property, said a city lawyer, are currently the ones not protected by the municipal code.

Those proved to be the sticking points.

Councilman John Crescimbeni noted with concern that the bill could be used to justify homeless camps in public parks.

Council President-designate Aaron Bowman likewise questioned the efficacy of the legislation.

The National Coalition for the Homeless has pushed for this legislation, and Councilwoman Brown’s bill aligns with the goals of that organization.

Becton, Hazouri launch re-election bids

Two first-term councilors, Danny Becton and Tommy Hazouri, want four more years.

Becton, who represents the Baymeadows area and points south, faced no competition in 2015.

Danny Becton is ready for another term.

The filing comes just weeks after Becton lost a close race for Council VP-designate to Scott Wilson, a loss that saw familiar divides on the Council surface yet again, with most of those who voted the year before for President Brosche falling in behind Becton.

Hazouri, a political veteran who has been everything from Mayor to State Rep and School Board member, filed for re-election Friday.

Hazouri, who scored more votes than any other citywide candidate in his decisive May 2015 victory over Republican Geoff Youngblood, is running unopposed for the office.

If re-elected, downtown development and citywide infrastructure will be priorities, as will river activation and library funding.

Hazouri’s primary legislative achievement was one of his campaign promises last cycle: a vow to expand the Human Rights Ordinance to protect LGBT people in Jacksonville from employment, housing and public accommodations discrimination.

Neither has ballot opposition yet.

Anheuser-Busch employees spend World Environment Day cleaning up St. Johns River

Employees at America’s best-known purveyor of cold ones braved the heat Saturday to participate in a St. Johns River cleanup event.

The Jax branch of Anheuser-Busch’s canning operation, Metal Container Corporation, and its wholesale partner, North Florida Sales, were joined in their efforts by employees of other major First Coast businesses in honor of World Environment Day, the lesser-known cousin of Earth Day that’s been celebrated every June 5 since 1974.

Jacksonville Anheuser-Busch employees on World Environment Day.

“We were proud to celebrate World Environment Day over the weekend by taking part in the cleanup of the St. Johns River alongside our local wholesaler partner, North Florida Sales, as well as our colleagues from MCC and Nutri-Turf,” said Craig Tomeo, general manager of Anheuser-Busch’s Jax brewery.

“This month, Anheuser-Busch breweries across the United States have organized and participated in over 20 watershed cleanups, in partnership with the River Network and Living Lands & Waters; and, we’re pleased to do our part and give back to our local Jacksonville community by helping to preserve the beautiful St. Johns River.”

For the beverage behemoth, helping keep the waters clean isn’t just good PR, it’s good business — water is the most integral ingredient in a good brew.

Jaguars’ stadium: What’s in a name?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That can be said of the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In what has become a ritual with community-owned sports stadiums, the names often change due to changes with corporations holding naming rights. In the case of the Jags, they will be playing at TIAA Bank Field in 2018, while EverBank Field becomes part of the team’s history.

A rose by any name …

The change comes as a result of TIAA Bank buying out EverBank in 2016 which also included the stadium’s naming rights. EverBank has held the naming rights for the past 8 seasons.

“Our bank’s relationship with the Jaguars — on and off the field — goes back to 2010, and we’re very proud to continue this great partnership for years to come at TIAA Bank Field,” said Blake Wilson, president and chief executive officer of EverBank,” in April.

Jacksonville Municipal Stadium originally opened in 1995 on the grounds of the old Gator Bowl. In 1997, it became Alltel Stadium after the communications giant purchased naming rights.

Alltel Stadium hosted Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005 when the New England Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles. A total of four playoff games have been played in Jacksonville, including January’s 10-3 win over Buffalo.

Some in the Jaguars’ fan base was underwhelmed, but realize changes come. Others do not, with a few die-hards still calling it the Gator Bowl nearly a quarter of a century later.

With season ticket sales up for 2018, TIAA Field will be likely be rocking as the Jaguars look to take the next step and qualify for their first Super Bowl.

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