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Jacksonville Bold for 3.1.19 — Anticlimax?

Could Lenny Curry be cruising to a March victory?

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry held two media availabilities in one day this week.

No one asked campaign questions at either.

While sources suggest the Mayor was disappointed, that’s the state of Jacksonville in 2019.

Team Curry pushed the envelope. Called the bluff. Pumped up the volume. Et al.

For four years and counting, the chattering class chattered.

Whether Curry was dumping Democrats from boards, taking liberties in political mailers, flying on Shad Khan’s jet, or whatever, the mantra was “change was coming.”

If things got slow? They produced a picture of Curry giving his trademark thumbs-up at a Donald Trump rally from 2016.

Thumbs-up: Lenny Curry’s campaign could be an anticlimax in March. Image via Twitter.

In all this time attempting to frag Curry, they forgot to build up a candidate.

We’ve devoted lots of bandwidth to the candidacy of Jacksonville City Council Member Anna Brosche.

A former Council President, she was expected to be formidable.

However, as was the case with Bill Bishop in 2015, the Council President title does not translate into after-the-fact chits with the donor class.

Curry is on the road to winning in March.

And his allies don’t just want to win — they want to end Brosche’s political career.

While this is a town where sudden rapprochements are part of the landscape (Hi, Toney Sleiman, welcome to Suite 400), it’s very personal between Curry and Brosche.

Curry has set the narrative, putting Brosche into a paradox: Challenging the status quo from a defensive stance.

“Lenny Curry keeps lying about me”: the message of her TV ad buy.

Up by five touchdowns, the irony is that Curry doesn’t even have to mention her by name.

Bad timing

Late Friday, Brosche reported a slow week of fundraising for her mayoral bid.

‘Please clap’: An Anna Brosche moment on the trail.

Brosche, a Republican mounting an intraparty challenge to Curry, raised just over $12,000 from 61 donations from Feb. 9 to Feb. 15.

Prominent donors were Democratic Sheriff’s candidate Tony Cummings; Rev. R.L. Gundy, who filed a Hatch Act complaint against Curry last week for using cops in an ad; and Bono’s BBQ.

Brosche has roughly $108,000 in hard money. Her statewide political committee had raised $374,000 by the end of January but has also been spending on television and mail.

The next report from that committee is due March 10.

Brosche, a former Jacksonville City Council President who has had ongoing disputes with Curry, is struggling to force a May runoff with the incumbent.

A new poll from the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab is showing Curry the choice of 52 percent of participants, with Republicans Brosche and Jimmy Hill at 15 and 3 percent respectively. Independent Omega Allen is at 6 percent.

If Curry clears 50 percent in March, there is no need for a May runoff.

Curry was ahead of Brosche by 38 points in a public poll of the race conducted last week. Between hard money and his political committee, the campaign has nearly $2 million on hand.

While the challengers are making the forum circuit and have a tape-delayed television debate on Action News this week, it’s hard to see real movement in the next two weeks and change.

Mayor-mentum

A review of crucial Jacksonville City Council races shows money and “big mo” moving toward Curry “slate” candidates.

Democrat Reggie Gaffney cleared $100,000 raised in the week between Feb. 9 and Feb. 15, with a $4,000 haul pushing him into six figures.

Mr. February: Reggie Gaffney is dominating fundraising in his re-election bid.

The incumbent has roughly $80,000 on hand, with his closest competition in the money race (self-financing Solomon Olodape) with just a fourth of that cash-on-hand. Sharise Riley has roughly $15,000.

The competitive race in Jacksonville City Council District 14 is starting to show some real separation in cash on hand.

Republican Randy DeFoor has roughly $145,000 in hard money and an additional $26,000 in her Safe and Prosperous Jacksonville political committee.

In second and third place in fundraising: two Democrats. Sunny Gettinger has raised nearly $129,000, with just under $67,000 on hand. Jimmy Peluso has roughly $45,000 on-hand of the $55,000 raised.

Read more here.

Dennis the Menace

Will Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, an irritant to Curry for the last four years, be around to jab Curry for four more?

The Florida Times-Union explored that proposition this week, with a story about Dennis’ re-election race against a “largely absent” opponent.

Where’s Marcellus Holmes? Still running, apparently.

Dennis predicts that new Council members will not “tolerate the bullying, threats and intimidation” from the Mayor’s office.

Marcellus Holmes is having health issues, and his mother attempted to withdraw him from the race, but a failure to notarize made that withdrawal moot.

Dennis, the City Council Finance chair when ally Brosche was president, will certainly continue to be the voice of the opposition should the March election go his way.

Dennis and Holmes, each one a Democrat, are the only people running for this seat.

Two-for-one hit

The race in Jacksonville City Council District 14 is that all-too-rare contest where more than one candidate is competent to serve.

The race has been issue-driven for the most part, but a mailpiece from a state-level political committee (Florida Shining) represents a significant shift.

Early voting starts Monday, and the first election is three weeks from Tuesday, so it’s on schedule.

For one thing, the mailer is the first real personal attack levied in the contest; for another, the attacks are at candidates from both the Republican and Democratic parties.

One side of the mailpiece attacks “liberal Democrat” Peluso.

Peluso, a “Tallahassee lobbyist pushing special interest agendas,” has “worked on Democrat campaigns for years trying to elect liberals to office.”

The flip side of this mailer targets a Republican: “wannabe career politician” Henry Mooneyhan.

There is nothing subtle about the end of a Jacksonville campaign.

Mooneyhan has “been delinquent on his property taxes eight times” and was “sued by American Express over $16.4k in unpaid debts.”

Peluso and Mooneyhan, per the document, are “two liberals the city of Jacksonville can’t afford.”

The mailer looks like a Data Targeting operation, and their candidate in this race is Randy DeFoor, who has raised well over $200,000.

Interestingly, Mooneyhan and Peluso trail the other candidate in the race, at least in terms of money raised.

Democrat Sunny Gettinger has raised more than $100,000 and has an impressive resume.

Yet, for some reason, it seems like Curry’s machine wants her on the ballot in May.

TV time for Salem

At-large City Council candidate Ron Salem is finally spending the nearly $200,000 he raised for a one-on-one March faceoff with underfunded Democrat Darren Mason.

The television buy is of a piece with the positive candidate introduction spots from the rest of the slate.

“A husband, father, grandfather and small-business man,” a sonorous voice-over intones over a cheery instrumental bed.

A 900-point buy is backing the spot, which runs through Election Day.

The only public poll of the race, by the University of North Florida, shows a dead heat between the two candidates.

With TV and the Curry machine backing Salem, and no energy atop the Democratic ticket, one suspects that positive mailers and whatever oppo a Tallahassee committee dredges up on Mason will drive the narrative.

To view the video, click on the image below:

Session preview

The Session’s coming, and The Fiorentino Group, Tucker/Hall and Rogers Towers host a special preview of the upcoming 2019 Legislative Session featuring members of the Jacksonville and Capitol Press Corps.

The event begins at 11:30 a.m. Friday at The River Club, 1 W Independent Dr., Jacksonville. Registration online is here or by contacting Jillie Duval of The Fiorentino Group at jduval@thefiorentinogroup.com.

It is an exclusive, invitation-only luncheon to give guests an opportunity to hear what top Florida political journalists see on the horizon, with a chance to “turn the table” and ask them questions.

Invited participants include Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, Florida Politics’ own A.G. Gancarski, Jason Garcia of Florida Trend and the News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders.

Jacksonville business and community leaders in attendance will enjoy a complimentary lunch, with a side order of insightful preview of the upcoming Legislative Session.

Sowell shows, speaks

Jamal Sowell, the head of Enterprise Florida, addressed Jacksonville business and political leaders at a Tuesday Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

However, those attendees seeking real insight into Sowell’s vision for the office as the Ron DeSantis administration begins didn’t hear it.

Enterprise Florida CFO Jamal Sowell addresses the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. Image via Twitter.

Sowell’s nine-minute address was heavy on autobiography … devoid of the context of the tortuous development of the economic development industry, including the drama of the Richard Corcoran speakership and the eventual adoption of the Job Growth Grant Fund in Rick Scott’s last year.

Sowell declined media requests to drill down into specifics, devoting his time to shaking hands with well-wishers.

Bean backs Medicaid change

The Senate’s top health care budget writer wants to make permanent the elimination of Medicaid retroactive eligibility.

Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairman Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, said the state could not afford to return to a long-standing policy that allowed Medicaid patients three months to apply for coverage while the state and federal governments paid the costs of care.

Aaron Bean says the state can no longer afford the three-month Medicaid retroactive eligibility.

“The policy (change) is reasonable,” Bean, who filed a bill (SB 192) last week to make the change permanent, told The News Service of Florida.

In a move that was projected to save $98 million, the Legislature last year approved allowing state Medicaid officials to seek federal approval for the change. Instead of giving patients 90 days to choose a Medicaid managed-care plan, the state now requires that the patients immediately enroll in a plan.

Bean said he expects his bill “could get some heat” when heard in committee but that he’s ready to defend the policy.

Get sick, save money

A key Florida lawmaker has introduced legislation that he says will allow Floridians to save money on their health care.

Palm Coast Republican Paul Renner, in line to become House Speaker in 2022-24, filed the Patient Savings Act this week.

Paul Renner looks to save Floridians money on health care. Image via the Florida House.

The bill seeks to give patients greater information about the costs of health procedures and services and the chance to reduce their premiums when they shop for and find high-quality, lower-cost options, according to Renner.

“In every area except health care, we are able to shop for the highest quality at the lowest price,” Renner says.

The bill follows recent complaints by current Speaker José Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican, of “continued hospital price increases” and that health care in the Sunshine State is “behind the curve.”

That’s entertainment

The Jacksonville City Council, per the Jacksonville Daily Record, will consider in the coming weeks a plan for the redevelopment of the dormant, semi-constructed Berkman II Plaza.

From eyesore to attraction: The Berkman plot may change. Image via the Jax Daily Record.

The city would be on the hook for $36 million in incentives ($16 million performance-based, and a $20 million REV Grant) on the $122 million project, which would put a hotel and amusement park on Bay Street.

Developers would be on the hook for short-term public parking: 200 spaces worth and Riverwalk improvements.

Curry, at the JAXUSA quarterly dinner, noted that Downtown would be unrecognizable in a few years.

If this aspirational project materializes as suggested (never a sure thing), it will be a big deal in helping to make Bay Street the city’s destination corridor.

Clouds in the coffee

Bad news, potentially, for those who love the smell of the Maxwell House plant on Bay Street; not to mention the 200 employees.

The Jacksonville Daily Record reports that KraftHeinz, the parent company of the coffee brand, is mulling a sale after a “disastrous” fourth quarter.

KraftHeinz lost $12.6 billion in the quarter due to a valuation error.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the company’s procurement policies also.

The plant has been in Jacksonville since 1955, surviving closures of other facilities around the country.

A sale of the brand could be worth $3 billion.

State of the Port — great!

Things are going really well at JAXPORT, said CEO Eric Green said during the authority’s annual State of the Port.

First, the year-old project to deepen the St. Johns River to 47 feet is ahead of schedule. In fact, the Jacksonville Business Journal reports the project to deepen first 11 miles of the shipping channel to accommodate larger vessels, is now to be completed in 2023, two years ahead of schedule.

Things are going great at JAXPORT.

With funding continuing at the same rate, Green said the project could be comparable to the Port of Savannah, where the deepening is scheduled to be finished in January 2022.

“If funding continues at the pace we’re seeing,” Green said, “We could have a photo finish.”

The $484 million project has enough funding to deepen the first 8 miles of the project. The money comes from a mix of federal and state transportation agencies, the city, port tenants and JAXPORT.

The federal share — nearly $100 million — has exceeded expectations, and the port will not have to ask the city for funds until 2021.

During the presentation, Green also hinted at major news to come at a March 4 board meeting.

“We’re very excited,” Green said, “but we’re very nervous because it’s important to our future growth.”

Green later explained that the news was about ongoing negotiations between cargo firms TraPac and SSA Cooper, about space at Blount Island.

“It’s something we will be asking the board to approve,” Green said. “Everybody is going to win.”

Green also praised the port’s successes from last year. In 2018, the port handled almost 200,000 cruise passengers, entered into its first multiyear agreement with Carnival Cruise Line and moved more than 1.2 million containers.

Jinko a-go

Jacksonville political and business leaders celebrated with Enterprise Florida CEO Sowell.

The occasion: the opening of Chinese power producer Jinko Solar’s “new state-of-the-art solar panel manufacturing facility.”

The plant, which received state and local economic incentives, is expected to employ 200 people.

Greenlight: Jinko Solar’s Jacksonville plant. Image via Jax Daily Record.

“Advanced manufacturing is critical to the continued growth of our local economy, and we thank JinkoSolar for choosing to invest in Jacksonville,” said Aundra Wallace, president of JAXUSA Partnership, the economic development arm of JAX Chamber. “We look forward to working with JinkoSolar to make sure they have the highly-skilled workforce they need to succeed and thrive here.”

“When JinkoSolar began exploring options for its first U.S. manufacturing operation, they could have chosen any location throughout the country,” said Mayor Lenny Curry. “I am incredibly delighted that JinkoSolar chose the city of Jacksonville as its U.S. headquarters. It clearly demonstrates our growing reputation as a business-friendly community with a quality workforce, quality economic offerings and quality of life conditions. We welcome them!”

“JinkoSolar continues to gain market share in many regions across the globe, including the United States, and this factory will be key to solidifying that strong market position,” said Kangping Chen, CEO of JinkoSolar. “We are fortunate to call Jacksonville home with its excellent business environment and hospitable community, features which enabled us to find a talented workforce, complete the facility, and quickly begin producing world-class PV modules.”

Horn of dilemma

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens made national news this week, as a rhino butted a zookeeper with his horn.

Horny: A rhino at the Jacksonville Zoo made national news. Image via Jacksonville Zoo.

 

NBC News reports that 50-year-old Archie injured the zoo staffer during a training session.

Archie has been at the zoo since 1975.

He was not separated from the other rhinos.

The zookeeper is recovering.

Scouting Combine: Helping Jags strategy?

The NFL Scouting Combine will literally be running full speed in Indianapolis this weekend. Some will be there to show off their skills to gain a high selection while others are trying to create enough attention just to be drafted.

Jacksonville and other teams are looking at quarterbacks Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State, Heisman Trophy winner Kyle Murray of Oklahoma, North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley, Missouri’s Drew Lock and Duke’s Daniel Jones as a possible top pick.

A Jags strategy? Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins smiles, with a rose between his teeth. Image via AP.

Each has their strong points, but scouts quietly began to express concerns about the involvement of Murray’s father in his son’s career. The NBA draft’s saga of former UCLA basketball star Lonzo Ball and his ever-present father is likely on the minds of some NFL teams.

Is the Blake Bortles era truly over? It depends on how one interprets Bortles putting his Jacksonville Beach home on the market.

The possibility of acquiring Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles is still a possibility. If that occurs, there are other offensive players to watch in Indianapolis.

While the upcoming draft does not have an instant impact running back or wide receiver, several future contributors are available for selection later in the first round. The Jags will seek to bolster their wide receiver corps by looking at stars like Georgia’s Riley Ridley and Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown, among several others.

The combine produces some eye-popping performances each year, with some not on the radar showing surprising speed or agility to move them up the list. What happens this weekend will contain one of the final pieces of information needed to develop a final draft strategy.

Coach Doug Marrone and team management will be watching closely.

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