Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range included covering news, local government and nightclub reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for an online metaphysical website among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013 and lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul.
St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel is organizing a “major public event” this week in response to racially charged statements made by fellow candidate Paul Congemi.
During a recent mayoral debate, Congemi berated supporters of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, telling them to “go back to Africa.” Nevel – the Uhuru-backed candidate – has responded by announcing he will hold a “St. Pete Rally for Racial Justice and Reparations” Tuesday in the city’s downtown Williams Park.
The event begins 6:30 p.m.
During a question at a mayoral forum about opportunities for youths, Congemi went on a bizarre rant leveled against Nevel: “You and your people, you talk about reparations … The reparations that you talk about, Mr. Nevel, your people already got your reparations … Your reparations came in the form of a man named Barack Obama.”
Congemi continued: “My advice to you, my advice to you, if you don’t like it here in America, planes leave every hour from Tampa airport. Go back to Africa, go back to Africa.”
Video of Congemi’s comments went viral with millions of views worldwide and was picked up by international media including The Washington Post, USA TODAY, Russia Today, Teen Vogue, BET, Essence magazine and others.
According to Nevel, Congemi’s tirade has “raised concern for local government and community leaders about the city’s reputation before the eyes of the world.”
“We want the world to see, Congemi does not speak for St. Petersburg,” Nevel said in a statement.
Nevel, whose campaign theme is “Unity Through Reparations,” is running on a platform that St. Petersburg’s $500 million budget has “ample room to redirect resources to economically uplift and develop the black community.” He also suggests using funds from the Penny for Pinellas infrastructure sales tax, as well as calling for a “reparations tax” on major corporations.
The committee to elect Eritha “Akile” Cainion for St. Petersburg City Council is co-sponsoring the event. Ebony magazine recently profiled Cainion, a 20-year-old black activist running in the crowded District 6 race.
Nevel has also invited incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and former two-term Mayor Rick Baker, who is also running for his old job, to speak at the rally.
For those in Jacksonville City Hall, these are halcyon days (somewhat). The mayor proposed the most ambitious budget in nearly a decade, addressing long-deferred needs.
But, as is always the case in a Florida summer, storm clouds are on the horizon — with quiet assaults on the mayor’s vision.
We cover two of them here: A bill to push a referendum to gut term limits for Jacksonville’s elected officials and a push to hike property taxes.
Both are non-starters for the mayor and — as affronts to his vision — will join a bill from earlier this summer to allocate budget increases to the pension debt.
When the TV cameras find them, everyone is all smiles; on the record, there isn’t much daylight between Lenny Curry and leading City Council members.
However, these bills are meaningful, in that the City Council is staking out significant differences in policy vision with the Mayor’s Office, challenging Curry for the first time in over two years.
This is, to be very clear, a Cold War. No one is giving interesting quotes.
When cameras are off? That’s when s**t gets real.
Curry introduces new Jacksonville budget
On Monday morning, Jacksonville Mayor Curry released his first budget since pension reform passed: a $1.27B budget, up from the $1.2B budget the previous year.
With budget relief available after pension reform, Curry made the decision to invest in long neglected city infrastructure and employees, spending more than in the previous two years and adding 175 new hires total — 100 on the police side, 42 in Fire and Rescue, and — as a measure of the ongoing economic boom in Jacksonville — eight new building inspectors.
According to the Florida Times-Union, the spending increase is the “result of a strong economy, growing property values and far more flexibility stemming from a complex series of reforms to the city’s employee-retirement system.” Pension debt is now at hundreds of millions of dollars each year, but it is a trend that reforms had reversed, for the short term.
Curry also focused on putting money into contingency accounts for salaries and committed to hiking reserve levels in the coming years. As well, a $105M budget for capital improvements includes plans for a near-term demolition of the old Courthouse and City Hall.
Council President Anna Brosche said the budget was “in line with what we’ve seen” in recent years, lauding the proposed increase of the emergency reserve in light of impacts created by Hurricane Matthew last year.
Curry, compassionate conservative
One of the interesting evolutions in local political life has been Curry’s path from “party boss” of the local and state GOP to a mayor focused on equity.
This week saw multiple examples: the budget (discussed above); the release of a book to be given to new mothers at local hospitals to encourage them to read to their children and a Thursday commencement address for graduates of the Mayor’s Summer Jobs Program.
The remarks were notable as Curry described his own bootstrap narrative, including his career in accounting that he put on hold to launch his own business and then his move into politics.
Curry told the graduates that they would get a lot of advice, from a lot of people, but his one takeaway for the students: “You only get to do this thing called life one time.”
Curry went on to describe a run for Mayor that the smart set attempted to discourage him from. They said Curry couldn’t win: no name ID; no resources, they said.
“The voices were loud and persistent, but I ignored them,” Curry said.
“Want your dreams,” Curry added, “more than you want to breathe.”
Will Curry break his “no tax hikes” pledge?
He’s not inclined to, but the Jacksonville City Council auditor wants a 0.25 mill raise in property tax, the Jacksonville Daily Record reported this week.
Curry noted that his finance team is 3-for-3 regarding delivering balanced budgets, a deliverable driven by sweeping $60M money from sub-funds in 2015, going lean in 2016, and pulling off pension reform earlier this year.
Finance Chair Garrett Dennis is more open to a millage hike, saying he would “support” it to invest in the city.
The Dennis/Curry dynamic is worth watching this year. In many ways, they are mirror images of each other. Affable, smart politicians who underneath it all play to win. The moments where collaboration falters, as was the case with swimming lessons money this summer, are those that reveal potential fault lines that will occupy city politics for the next generation.
Council to gut term limits?
Pieces on Jacksonville City Council committees are sometimes just inside baseball — bills and concepts that may never come to pass.
And other times, they strike a nerve — such as Tuesday’s pieces on two committees voting to gut term limits via putting a referendum on the ballot.
As with the millage hike, this is yet another issue where council members seem more enthusiastic than the mayor: it passed both committees of reference 5-2, with lots of self-congratulatory shtick about “institutional knowledge” as a justification for giving incumbents more time to incumb.
In addition to giving another term to City Council members, the measure would afford constitutional officers and School Board members a three-term limit, pending voter approval in a 2018 referendum.
There isn’t universal buy-in on this one, and one could imagine there being trouble for the bill Tuesday.
Councilman Scott Wilson voted against the bill, saying he believed the community would “overwhelmingly reject” the measure, given that the public doesn’t like elected officials any more than they did in the 1990s.
“I don’t see what we’ve done to change their opinion about a third term,” Wilson said.
Wilson, a pragmatist, did not have his question answered in committee. But it should have been.
Donors give Duval County Schools an ultimatum
Several major donors on major education initiatives – worth over $122 million in the past decade – have given Duval School Board members an ultimatum over plans to reduce funding those projects.
The Florida Times-Union is reporting on one such party, the Quality Education for All Fund (QEA), that sent a letter to all seven members of the Duval School Board, threatening to “cut ties with the district” if it reneges on an “implicit understanding” that the district would continue funding the programs.
“We in the private community want to continue to honor our part of the Quality Education for All Fund commitment … but only if we can believe that we can count on the underlying partnership that has existed since we began this journey to improve public education for our most at risk students,” said the letter, signed by QEA chair J. Wayne Weaver, a philanthropist and owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Other names on the letter include Gary Chartrand, Lawrence Dubow, Cindy Edelman, Matt Rapp and David Stein.
“If you are not willing to invest in those programs that have proven successful, we must consider that this bond has been broken and we will have no choice but to step back our part of this arrangement until a new understanding can be established,” the letter continued.
To prove their point, the QEA board froze nearly $5 million in contributions from going to the district, Chartrand told the T-U this week. “We think these investments have proven out,” he said. “We asked the board do their part in funding them. If they don’t, it will send a loud signal to the philanthropic community that it’s a one-way street. I don’t know if we can keep the private community as engaged.”
Gwen Graham snags Duval endorsements, talks MMJ
Gubernatorial candidate Gwenn Graham scooped up two key Jacksonville endorsements this week from Councilman Garrett Dennis and former Mayor Jake Godbold.
Graham, who had already been endorsed by former Mayor Tommy Hazouri, nearly crossed paths with another Democrat in the building for another purpose: Sen. Audrey Gibson, Dennis’ political mentor.
The Duval Democrats chair beat a hasty retreat from the cameras, likely mindful of a chair’s need to be neutral in primaries.
Graham talked to media for over a half-hour, with the big news being a more aggressive position on medical cannabis than some may have expected.
The greatest pyrotechnics came when she discussed medical marijuana, and the state Legislature’s lack of fidelity to the Constitutional Amendment passed in 2016.
“I am so sick and tired of the Florida Legislature not doing what the people of Florida have overwhelmingly said they want done,” Graham said regarding the smoking prohibition, putting MMJ in the same bucket with lottery money and Amendment 1 funds, which did not go to Forever Florida this year.
Graham noted the palliative effects of cannabis, and said that it is a “good replacement for opioids.”
Bill Gulliford: ‘Christian Communist’ Pope
Jacksonville City Councilman Gulliford is still sticking to his guns, asserting that Pope Francis indeed is a “Communist,” albeit a “Christian Communist.”
We reached out to him for further clarification after his take roiled some people last week — and many of his comments came back to schisms in the Church between the conservative American Catholic wing and the “liberation theology” school from which the pontiff hails.
“Liberation theology,” said Gulliford, is a “form of Christian communism,” and one that Francis’ “narratives and pronouncements” still echo.
“All he talks about is social justice,” Gulliford added.
“If he is the head of the Catholic Church, he should put salvation over social justice,” Gulliford continued, adding that “any friend of the United Nations is no friend of mine.”
Murder charges for overdoses?
Murder charges for death-dealing drug dealers? State Attorney Melissa Nelson says yes, but not everyone is on board, the Florida Times-Union reports.
The goal, Nelson told the T-U: “to keep the public safe from those responsible for this deadly crisis” … an appropriate “legal response to the loss of life.”
However, the T-U notes some issues.
“Beyond the policy questions, there are concerns over the legality of such a prosecution. While Florida’s murder statute allows prosecutors to go after drug dealers in overdose cases, the statute lists what drugs apply, and fentanyl isn’t specifically listed. Just last week Gov. Rick Scott held a ceremony to celebrate the addition of fentanyl to the law, but that addition will only affect cases after Oct. 1 and won’t impact Nelson’s murder prosecution.”
Despite qualms, Nelson commits to exploring this, at least.
“If I’m a drug dealer and I know I’m cutting heroin with fentanyl, and I know I can be prosecuted for murder, I’m just telling you common-sensically, maybe I think otherwise about what I’m doing. If there’s research that shows what I’m saying is off base, I’d like to be able to look at it. I’m telling you something by my gut right now. I can’t point to research that proves what I’m saying.”
Nancy Soderberg hits campaign trail
DeLand is a trek from Northeast Florida, yet that’s where UNF professor and former U.N. Ambassador Soderberglaunched her campaign in Florida’s 6th Congressional District this week.
Soderberg has rented an apartment in the district, and her first stump speech as a candidate was — as our Orlando correspondent Scott Powers called it — “moderate Democrat.”
Light on attacks on Republicans, heavy on policy, it’s clear where Soderberg’s base is — old-school ClintonWorld. In a “wave election” year, that might be enough.
Soderberg may need some help with comms though. An email from her campaign, for example, said that when she worked in her DC gig, she “reigned in terrorism” as a negotiator.
Curry boosts Rick Baker
Mayor Curry helped out fellow Republican Rick Baker last month, as the former Mayor of St. Petersburg is running to reclaim his job.
Curry knows that money is oxygen for campaigns. And by helping Baker by raising $25,000, that gives Baker — ahead in most polls — some air.
According to the most recent campaign finance reports, which covered activity from June 24 to July 7, Curry and his political allies from northeast Florida donated $18,000 to Baker’s campaign. That’s more than incumbent Rick Kriseman raised from all sources during the same period.
Feeling generous: Gary Chartrand, the Jacksonville Kennel Club, Tom Petway, Wayne Weaver, and others who opted to max out.
Curry’s political committee will also slide $7,000 to Baker’s, adding up to $25,000 in total.
Scott talks Venezuela with Goldman Sachs
Gov. Scott cut a Jacksonville press event a bit short Wednesday, and media was told the governor had a meeting.
Turned out that meeting was important.
A re-released copy of Scott’s Wednesday schedule included a new entry: an 11:30 meeting with Jacksonville’s “Goldman Sachs Asset Management.”
We reached out to Scott’s office for more detail; the meeting had to do with Scott’s policy on companies doing business with Venezuela.
“Goldman Sachs Asset Management requested to meet with the Governor … to discuss his upcoming policy to prohibit Florida from doing business with anyone who supports the brutal Maduro regime,” emailed Kerri Wyland of the Governor’s office.
Wyland added that more “details on his policy will be announced before the Aug. 16 Cabinet meeting.”
Scott foreshadowed this position earlier in July, via a strongly-worded news release.
“During the next meeting of the Florida Cabinet in August,” Scott asserted, “I will bring forward a proposal that will prohibit the State of Florida from doing business with any organization that supports the oppressive Maduro dictatorship.
“Floridians stand with the people of Venezuela as they fight for their freedom, and as a state,” Scott added, “we must not provide any support for Maduro and his thugs.”
Gov. Scott announced two reappointments to the Clay County Development Authority.
Russell Buck, 56, of Middleburg, is the regional vice president of Vystar Credit Union. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland.
Gregory Clary, 65, of Middleburg, is the president of Clary & Associates. Terms of both reappointments are through July 1, 2021.
Rayonier, one of the key companies in Nassau County, finds itself encountering pushback in an attempt to acquire Tembec, reports the Jax Daily Record.
“Although we appreciate the strategic rationale of a Rayonier-Tembec combination, we believe Rayonier’s current offer significantly undervalues Tembec. If the offer is not increased, we believe Tembec shareholders would be better off if Tembec remains independent,” reads the letter from Tembec’s largest shareholder.
“The price offered to Tembec shareholders does not fully recognize these benefits, nor does it appropriately compensate Tembec shareholders for the increased risk associated with combining with Rayonier,” it said.
City Hall for sale
You can’t fight City Hall. But in Neptune Beach, the Jax Daily Record reports, you soon may be able to buy it.
City Hall out there is in a prime location, a short walk to the ocean. The facility needs repairs also and is too small to accommodate city staffing needs.
And, at a time when property values are peaking, Neptune Beach’s mayor looks to ride the wave.
“We’re sitting here with both of these buildings off the tax rolls in prime locations,” Mayor Elaine Brown said. “I think there’s an opportunity to bring in some more revenue in the form of property taxes and sales taxes.”
Jax Beach Mayor mulls overdose epidemic
Opioid addiction is fast becoming a story that is numbing in the retelling, but anecdotes like those from Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham reveal how deep the epidemic runs.
The overdose victim was, said Latham, “very purple.” And it took two medics to revive him from the brink of death.
But, via Narcan, he was revived.
“I was in the hospital right when he came around. He acted like it was another day at the office,” Latham said. “Shortly after that, his parents came in, and it looked like, of course, they were facing the worst possible, (worst) imaginable scenario.”
The overdose crisis is hitting Duval County hard, both regarding time and budgetary demands for EMTs and in body count — which exceeds, by multiples, the county’s homicide rate.
Doggone doped-up dogs
BestBet President Jamie Shelton decried “sensationalized” reports of dogs failing post-race drug tests for cocaine metabolites this week.
“We contract with kennel operators that acquire or lease dogs from people who raise greyhounds around the country. They are independent contractors. They are licensed by the state of Florida, and they also receive a badge from us so they can come on to our property to race their product at our facility.” Shelton explained at a Rotary Club meeting, as quoted by First Coast News.
“My oversight of the independent contractors other than me being to ensure that the safety and welfare of the greyhounds while they are in my premises in the kennels and they are being cared for they are being turned out, they are being fed, they are air-conditioned kennels,” Shelton added. “All the things you are asking about, that’s my No. 1 concern.”
BestBet is one of the most politically connected companies in Northeast Florida.
The contractor that supplied the dogs in question no longer works with BestBet.
The latest: no napping by conductors who are on break, said CEO Hunter Harrison.
“We had a rule that said you could take a nap while you worked,” Harrison told The Wall Street Journal. “We don’t have that now.”
The goal: “Precision scheduling.”
The reality Jacksonville people experience: Stalled out trains on tracks stymying their commutes.
Speaking of stalled out: CSX equity price momentum, after what the Journal called a “bombshell” announcement on an earnings call this week.
“I’m a short-timer here,” said Harrison. “I’m the interim person that’s going to try to get this company to the next step and good foundation.”
Harrison pledged 700 more layoffs on the call, a strategy which seems to be helping with earnings in the short term, yet raising long-term existential questions.
Chris Hand talks downtown development
Former Alvin Brown chief-of-staff Chris Hand is now in the byline journalism game and his first column in the Florida Times-Union addresses downtown development.
“Downtown revitalization needs a constant supply of fuel to keep running. Unfortunately, the city agency charged with overseeing Downtown revival is nearing an empty gas tank,” Hand notes.
Hand adds that “the DIA has little investment funding to prime the pump on additional Downtown development. The City Council should rectify that worrisome deficiency in this year’s budget process.”
The whole column is worth a read.
JIA opens Firehouse Subs location
Jacksonville-based Firehouse Subs opened its first airport kiosk at Jacksonville International Airport, the latest phase in the rise of the fast-casual food chain.
According to the Jax Daily Record, Firehouse Subs expansion plans include more non-traditional locations, such as U.S. airport terminals, college campuses and military bases.
The JIA location is located in the post-security food court, with a menu that includes the chain’s staples as well as breakfast options geared toward travelers. It incorporates a revised restaurant design to accommodate smaller spaces.
Robert Palmer buys the Armada
The Jacksonville Armada have been sold. Just seven months after the North American Soccer League (NASL) assumed control of the club when original owner Mark Frisch bailed out, Robert Palmer has stepped into the fold. The new ownership assumes control of the club immediately and secures the long-term future of pro soccer in Jacksonville.
“While sports ownership has been a dream of mine since I was young, the business opportunity with Armada FC and the NASL was simply too good to pass up,” said Palmer. “I care deeply about the Jacksonville market and have both personal and professional interests in the area. My team at Robert Palmer Companies and I look forward to bringing our proven marketing and business strategies to this outstanding organization.”
A native of Lakeland, Palmer and his wife, Jill, have local ties to the Jacksonville area and have maintained a residence in Neptune Beach since 2007. He is the founder and CEO of Robert Palmer Companies, which is based in Central Florida and is involved in the financing, marketing, and escrow of more than $5 billion in residential real estate.
In addition to RP Funding, Palmer has started several other companies including Homevalue.com, which provides personalized reports on homeowners’ property values from a local real estate agent and Listing Power Tools, a company that helps real estate agents craft the perfect listing presentation, among others.
Palmer is bullish about the market and said at the Press Conference unveiling his ownership, “You’ll have to be under a rock to not know that the Jacksonville Armada will be playing on any given Saturday .” He continued, ” (We will focus on) aggressive, targeted advertising… these guys know soccer, I know advertising.” Palmer also stated RP Funding ads will include Armada pitches within them. He is also committed to growing the fan base not just in terms of attendance for home matches but also other revenue streams including those who watch away matches on television.
The Armada just concluded the NASL Spring Season finishing in the top half of the table. The Fall Season begins on July 30 with a match-up against the San Francisco Deltas at Patton Park.
Scott began by naming Judge Lourdes Simon to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court.
Simon, 49, of Miami, currently serves as county judge for Dade County. She previously served as an Assistant Public Defender for the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office.
Simon received her bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and a law degree from Nova Southeastern University School of Law. Simon fills the vacancy created by the elevation of Judge Robert Luck to the 3rd District Court of Appeal.
Scott announced the appointment of state Rep. Holly Raschein to the Florida Defense Support Task Force, whose mission is to preserve, protect, and enhance Florida’s military missions and installations.
Raschein, 36, of Key Largo, currently represents House District 120, serves as the State Director for the National Foundation of Women Legislators. Her appointment fills a vacant seat for a term ending July 1, 2019.
Scott next reappointed Jerry Pate and Ted Everett to the Governing Board of the Northwest Florida Water Management District, which covers the region between St. Marks River Basin in Jefferson County and the Perdido River in Escambia County.
Pate, 63, of Pensacola, is the owner and chief executive officer of Jerry Pate Turf & Irrigation, Inc.
Everett, 57, of Chipley, is the executive director of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.
Both reappointments are subject to Florida Senate confirmation for a term ending March 1, 2021.
Scott named Gary Pyott to the Regulatory Council of Community Association Managers, a part of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation that oversees the professional practice standards of the Community Association Manager profession.
Pyott, 58, of Aventura, is the president of Association 1st, LLC. He fills a vacant seat.
Pyott’s appointment is subject to Senate approval for a term ending Oct. 31, 2020.
As the Jacksonville City Council wraps up its two-week break, Councilmembers will get a first peek at Mayor Lenny Curry’s budget Monday.
They already know at least some of what to expect: a $100 million capital improvement budget and $8.4 million for Edward Waters College.
Now the question is: Will everyone play ball?
A.G. Gancarskihas written extensively about the changing dynamics between the Mayor’s Office and Council leadership: Will there be a resolution of schismatic thinking by Monday? Or will it be by August, when the reconfigured Finance Committee mulls that budget?
Open questions — but not the only ones in Northeast Florida politics.
Two incumbent Republican congressmen have drawn Democratic challenges: one, an ambassador; another, a transgender author of vampire novels. Both teach at the University of North Florida — go Ospreys!
Business development continues, with massive interest ramping up for working with a big company in Jacksonville.
And, oh yeah, a City Councilman called the Pope a Communist. In other “What was he smoking?” news, a medical cannabis dispensary finally opened in Jacksonville.
All this (and more) in this week’s Bold.
The moral of the story: Even in a policy pause, during a week where everyone who mattered was on vacation, Jacksonville and Northeast Florida still manage to bring the news.
CD 6 Shuffle
You may need a scorecard to keep up with the changes in Florida’s Congressional District 6, where Ron DeSantis holds the seat … for now.
Consider that DeSantis’ camp is still floating the narrative that he may run for Florida Governor — setting up an interesting contrast between DeSantis’ clipped cadence and the down-home Old Florida style of Adam Putnam.
DeSantis may not be gone yet — but this week one Democrat with a serious pedigree filed to run.
Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, a University of North Florida professor who earned her bona fides in the Bill Clinton administration, is in.
By Thursday morning, the Federal Elections Commission website listed a Soderberg for Congress campaign committee.
Democrats hoped for the benefits of a wave election, and assuming the White House dumpster fire continues, they may just have one.
The district was reliably GOP in 2016; both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio carried the area by over 15 points.
Al Lawson talks health
Rep. Lawson, in Jacksonville during the Congressional recess, spoke to the Florida Times-Union — and health care was on his mind.
“The Affordable Care Act is not a perfect law and there certainly is a lot of room for improvement,” Lawson asserted. “But let’s work together to figure out ways to bring down health care costs.”
Lawson “doesn’t care whose name” is on health care reform, he said, alluding to the differences between “Obamacare” and the self-styled “Trumpcare.”
Lawson suggests taxing people with so-called “Cadillac” insurance plans.
In an interesting bit of news from the interview, Lawson is working with Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford on a mental health bill. The two first year congressmen held an event Thursday afternoon in D.C., where experts discussed mental health challenges for veterans.
New subcommittee for Rutherford
On Wednesday, Rutherford announced his appointment to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.
“Looking forward to using my background to support the rule of law across our nation,” the Jacksonville Republican and former Sheriff said.
Wisconsin’s Jim Sensenbrenner is chair; Louie Gohmert of Texas serves as vice-chair.
New challenger for Rutherford
Action News Jaxintroduced Jacksonville viewers to Monica Paige DePaul, a University of North Florida adjunct professor who writes novels, is transgender, and is running to replace Rutherford in CD 4.
DePaul has brought her politics to her vampire novels, she told reporter Jenna Bourne.
“So that actually started way back in 2009 when Twilight came out and I was like, this is garbage. And I wanted to write something better,” said DePaul. “In my second book, Blood on the Rocks, there’s pretty obvious jabs at [Florida Governor] Rick Scott.”
DePaul, who was a Bernie Sanders delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, is the sole Democrat in the field. With Rutherford not having filed for re-election yet, the sole Republican in the field is Palatka petition collector Rob Ficker — who we profiled previously.
The veteran reporter notes Renner’s local roots run deep: “He grew up in Arlington and graduated from Terry Parker High School … a shareholder at the Milam Howard Nicandri Gillam and Renner law firm in the heart of downtown.”
Mitchell also points out that The Fiorentino Group and Ambassador John Rood were among the early supporters.
Absent from Mitchell’s piece: Mayor Curry, instrumental in a fundraiser that brought in over $250,000. Curry told us at the time he and his team are “engaged” fully in the fight to get Renner over the hump. Indeed, there are those saying Brian Hughes and Tim Baker brought home four of the 16 pledges Renner needed to win.
The point? Victory, as ever, has many fathers.
Who’s up? Who’s down? In Northeast Florida politics, campaign finance reports tell the tale.
Among those who should be exultant: Curry; Sen. Rob Bradley; Jacksonville City Council President Matt Carlucci.
“Build Something That Lasts,” Curry’s committee, brought in $110,000 in June, and now has $242,456 on hand.
And “Working for Florida’s Families,” the committee associated with Sen. Rob Bradley, brought in $59,500. That committee now has $390,000 on hand.
Meanwhile, Carlucci brought in $60,000 in his first month as a candidate for a 2019 at-large seat.
Two strong performances in the House came from freshmen Jason Fischer (who had a better than $50,000 month) and Clay Yarborough (over $22,000 in June).
Gasping for air: Rep. Jay Fant, who brought in roughly $70,000 between his committee and campaign account … way below his opponent in the GOP Attorney General primary, Ashley Moody, who brought in $603,000 total.
One of Moody’s donors: the right-hand man of local State Attorney Melissa Nelson.
Moody has the backing of the entire Tampa area legal community, it seems.
Meanwhile, while Fant has lacked that backing until now, the Thursday endorsement of future Speaker Renner — a Jacksonville lawyer himself — may be a positive augury.
Smile, you’re on candid camera
The wait is over — the body camera pilot program for Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office members is finally underway, reports WJXT.
Officers are testing one of three brands of body cameras, with 30 spread out through the city.
The goal — body cameras for all uniformed officers — should be subject to collective bargaining, the local police union contends.
JSO’s budget puts $1.3M to begin the program; however, costs will escalate once the trial programs wrap up, when the cameras become part of the uniform for all field officers.
MMJ in the 904
For those with medical marijuana cards, the drought is over as Trulieveopened its Jacksonville dispensary this week — the eighth in the state.
And this one represents progress: it was just two years ago that Jacksonville policy makers were paralyzed over the dread specter of Charlotte’s Web.
After two “moratoriums” on growing and dispensing, the city worked out some sensible zoning rules, allowing one dispensary in each zoning district.
Knox Medical will, at some point, open in Mandarin. In the meantime, expect Trulieve — which has a proven model at this point — to reassure local policy makers that medical cannabis is just another business.
Is the Pope communist?
Is Pope Francis a commie? Early Thursday, Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford said “yes.”
“I am a Catholic and he is a Communist,” Gulliford said of the pontiff.
What spawned that?
An article in an online publication (M2 Voice) said the Pope asserted that “world government must rule the United States ‘for their own good.’”
“I am afraid there are very dangerous alliances between powers who have a distorted view of the world: America and Russia, China and North Korea, Russia and Assad in the war in Syria,” the Pope observed in the same interview.
Alas, in the M2 Voice article, the “for their own good” line was not given in context, raising questions as to the veracity of the quote — especially given the translation from the original Italian.
Amazin’ queue for Amazon jobs
Economic development often sounds abstract. But for real life examples of what it means, consider the lines that snaked around Northwest Jacksonville’s Legends Center — those lines, with hundreds and hundreds of people, brimmed with job seekers this week.
The Jax Daily Record notes that a year ago, “Amazon announced it would create more than 1,500 jobs in Jacksonville at the first fulfillment center in the city, at 12900 Pecan Park Road in Northwest Jacksonville.”
“I think it’s going to have a really big impact here,” one applicant told the Record’s David Cawton. “You see all the people waiting in line, they’re all looking for work so, I think Amazon found the right place to land.”
Green light for Black Creek
Good news for the folks near the parched Keystone Lakes may be on its way soon, reports WOKV.
The St. Johns River Water Management Board this week approved a “recharge” plan that will route water from Black Creek.
The first design and construction of the plan carried by Sen. Rob Bradley of Orange Park and Rep. Bobby Payne of Palatka: $13M.
The “Black Creek Water Resource Development Plan”: a five-year, $41 million plan to capture excess water from Clay County’s flood-prone Black Creek and pipe it into the Keystone Lakes, via a discharge at Camp Blanding, where a spreader field would disperse the water to Alligator Creek.
Hopes are to wrap the project by 2023, WOKV reported.
Bradley told us in April the project “helps all of Florida” by providing an “aquifer recharge area” for the Suwannee and St. Johns River basins.
Perhaps no politician this century in Northeast Florida did a worse job managing media relationships than Angela Corey.
And, against that dismal backdrop, the Koch-friendly reform agenda of Melissa Nelson looks pretty good … with regular plaudits in the press.
The latest accolade: Harvard University’s Fair Punishment Project, written by Florida Times-Union alum Larry Hannan.
Hannan contrasted Corey’s “draconian views” on criminal justice with Nelson having “cleared the low bar set by her predecessor.”
This, said Hannan “offers another clear reminder that the most powerful actor in the justice system — the elected prosecutor — can and should remain accountable to her constituents.”
World Cup to Jacksonville?
FIFA World Cup 2026 action in Jacksonville? Don’t rule it out, as the city was deemed a “strong candidate” and invited to bid.
Canada, Mexico, and the United States will co-host the World Cup that year.
As correspondence from U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati to Mayor Curry reveals, Jacksonville is in the mix to host World Cup action … which will involve a whopping 80 matches over a 30-day period in 2026.
“Jacksonville is a strong candidate for participation in this process, given your support of soccer, stadium facilities, and the related tourism infrastructure you already have in place. As such, we will be making informal contact with the stadium and sports commission contacts in your city in the coming days, but we wanted first to make you aware of this significant opportunity, so Jacksonville can best present itself as a participant in this process,” Gulati remarked.
Curry’s office says that no decision has been made on a bid — but it’s hard to imagine him passing up on an opportunity to put Jacksonville on a global stage.
Riverkeeper disses dredging … again
The St. Johns Riverkeeper continues in its efforts to stop the seemingly inevitable JAXPORTdredge, with its latest gambit being a consultant saying that it won’t pay off.
The latest blast Tuesday: a report from New Orleans-based “port and shipping expert” Dr. Asaf Ashar, which deems the deep dredge is economically infeasible.
Ashar contends (contrary to optimistic U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates) that there is a good chance that total costs of the project could outweigh benefits.
As well, Ashar asserts that JAXPORT will likely remain a secondary port compared to Savannah and Charleston, two regional competitors, dredging notwithstanding. Ashar notes both ports have channels that are not even 47 feet deep.
Jacksonville Zoo begins major remodel, adds African Forest
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is beginning a $9 million construction on the African Forest, a major remodeling initiative of the Great Apes Loop to include gorillas, bonobos, mandrills, and lemurs.
African Forest will incorporate “wellness-inspired design” in choices, challenges and variation to stimulate the animals. The new exhibit will replace the current Great Apes Loop, which opened in 1998.
“With The Land of The Tiger and The Range of The Jaguar winning national recognition as being among the best zoo exhibits in the country, the bar has been raised. Our members and visitors now expect everything we do at the Zoo to be at a standard that will make our community proud to say Jacksonville has one of the very best zoos in the country,” said JZG Executive Director Tony Vecchio. “The new African Forest will continue that legacy. Rather than just spruce up what is now one of the Zoo’s oldest exhibits, our board of directors and staff have taken on the challenge of making the Great Apes area an experience that will be special for our visitors, and, for our animals.”
Demolition began July 5, with partial or full closings of the Great Apes Loop until completion in 2018. Because some of the residents may not be within public view, the Zoo recognizes that guests may miss seeing the animals in the Great Apes Loop and plans to take video and share pictures of them playing often. Even though only a few of the animals, such as the lemurs and siamangs will be relocated to other parts of the Zoo where they can be visited, all the primates will still have access to outdoor areas during renovations.
State Attorney Brian Haas is endorsing Republican Ben Albritton in the Florida Senate District 26 seat now held by Denise Grimsley, who is forgoing re-election for an Agriculture Commissioner bid.
“Ben has the right convictions and values to serve our area well,” said Haas, who serves the 10th Judicial Circuit covering Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties. “He believes, as I do, in holding criminals accountable for their actions to keep our community a safe place to live, work and visit. He also understands the importance of early intervention to keep our youth on the right track. I look forward to Ben’s continued leadership in the Florida Senate.”
Haas was elected State Attorney in 2016 after a stint as Chief Assistant State Attorney under Jerry Hill. A graduate of Bartow High School, Haas earned a bachelor’s degree from Flagler College in St. Augustine and a law degree from the University of Florida.
Over his career, Haas has prosecuted a range of crimes from misdemeanors to capital felonies and was assigned to the Special Prosecution Division at the State Attorney’s Office, where he prosecuted cases involving sexual crimes against children.
“Brian Haas is an outstanding servant-leader,” Albritton said in a campaign statement. “He values people and treats everyone with the fairness and respect they deserve. I greatly appreciate Brian’s endorsement and look forward to continuing to work with him for the betterment of our area.”
Haas’ endorsement of Albritton comes on the heels of the recent endorsements by U.S. Reps. Dennis Ross and Tom Rooney.
Albritton was first elected to the Florida House in 2010, where he has been a conservative advocate for entrepreneurs and children in Florida’s foster care system. He served as chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and vice chair of the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee. He also sits on the Appropriations Committee, the Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee, and the Government Accountability Committee.
Albritton, term-limited from running for re-election in 2018, serves as chair of the Polk County Legislative Delegation.
District 26, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 43 to 34 percent, covers parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties, as well as all of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties.
Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine visits Florida this month for a fundraiser in support his 2018 re-election bid.
Kaine will hold a cocktail reception beginning 5 p.m. Sunday, July 23, at The Francis, a special event venue in downtown Sarasota. Tickets for the cocktail reception start at a suggested contribution of $250, going up to $5,400 for a spot as event chair.
The former Democratic National Committee chair was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016 on a ticket that won Virginia by a larger margin than Barack Obama did in 2012. After Clinton’s loss, Kaine has remained a popular figure in state politics, previously serving as governor and mayor of Richmond. Since 2012, he has represented Virginia in the U.S. Senate.
Kaine serves on the Armed Services; Budget; Foreign Relations and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committees.
Since the election, Kaine has been outspoken figure against Donald Trump, particularly on issues of education, climate change, and LGBTQ rights. He has referred to some of Trump’s antagonistic relationships with U.S. allies as “amateur hour stuff,” and decrying the president’s proposed Muslim travel ban as ineffective in easing America’s tensions with Iran and Iraq.
Last month, Kaine accused Trump of being “jealous” of former President Obama’s accomplishments, citing that as the reason he pulled out of the Paris climate accord.
“Why did Trump really walk away from #ParisAgreement? He’s surrounded by science deniers and fossil fuel junkies,” Kaine tweeted. “POTUS jealous of Obama accomplishments. But in the end, American innovative spirit is stronger than his insecurities.”
On Thursday, the Virginia Democrat was one of nearly 30 senators signing a letter to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, urging him to reinstate resources that protect LGBTQ people from housing discrimination. Those resources, which the Trump administration recently cut, help ensure enforcement of HUD nondiscrimination policies.
While Kaine’s popularity in his home state is holding firm — with a comfortable lead in most polling — he could face any one of several possible Republican contenders, including local and national figures such as former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, conservative commentator Laura Ingraham, former Gov. Jim Gilmore and former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
Last weekend, state’s divided Republican Party narrowly voted to select Kaine’s Senate challenger through a primary process, which is friendlier to centrist voters, instead of what the Richmond Times-Dispatch called “a rowdier convention driven by conservative activists.”
Progress Florida is one of the organizations and leaders opposing a plan to use seismic airgun testing for oil and gas exploration off the state’s Atlantic coast.
The progressive nonprofit organization says the procedure threatens marine wildlife and coastal economies as well as Florida’s tourism and fishing industries.
“The noise from seismic airgun blasts is so loud that it can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source, devastating marine life, harming fisheries and coastal economies,” said Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferrulo.
On Thursday, Progress Florida joined the Boston-based Environmental Action to deliver more than 7,000 citizen petitions to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration urging the agency to deny permits for seismic airgun surveys in protected areas of the Atlantic Ocean, including along the Florida coastline.
The Donald Trump administration is fast-tracking the approval process for airgun blasting to map the ocean floor — a region stretching from Florida to Delaware — to find new oil and gas reserves. Giant air horns blast up to 250 decibels — enough to shatter human ears — for miles throughout the sea floor.
The petitions to the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service came ahead of a public comment period for the proposal, originally set to close July 6, but extended to July 21.
Progress Florida has added its voice to a growing number of environmental activists concerned the surveys will open the door to offshore drilling. Currently, there are five open applications for Atlantic seismic airgun surveys, after Trump reversed an Obama-era rejection of seismic air gun surveying off the Atlantic coast. They are calling for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to oppose Trump’s push to reverse Obama’s orders, opening the South Atlantic Planning Area — much of which located off Florida’s coast — to seismic testing and potential oil and gas drilling.
According to The Associated Press, “no surveys have been conducted in the mid- and south-Atlantic regions for at least 30 years.”
Experts believe these renewed blasts would affect the region’s fragile ecosystem, mostly by impairing the audible range in marine mammals, which use hearing for navigation, communication, eating and mating. According to the Sierra Club, blasts could injure or kill as many as 138,000 dolphins and whales, as well as put nesting female and young sea turtles at risk with low-frequency seismic sound.
Others say harm to wildlife would have an extensive economic impact on fisheries along the Florida coast, by killing off zooplankton, an essential marine food source, in an area of 135,000 square miles.
Last year, Obama listed most of the U.S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and parts of the Atlantic as indefinitely off-limits to oil and gas leasing. The designation, enacted December 2017, banned seismic testing in 31 ocean canyons from New England to Virginia, and was on top of a five-year drilling plan that also blocked Atlantic drilling.
“Oil drilling poses a tremendous risk to Florida’s fragile coastal environment and our tourism-based economy,” Ferrulo added. “Floridians are unified against dirty, dangerous oil drilling and in favor of clean, renewable energy like solar power which will save consumers and businesses money today and protect our coastal waters, beaches and economies for tomorrow.”
Among the opponents of blasting are more than 120 East Coast municipalities, as well as Northeast Florida Congressman John Rutherford, the Jacksonville Republican who has been vocal in challenging the value of seismic air gun blasting and future offshore oil production.
“While future offshore drilling activities in the Atlantic would put our communities at risk down the road, seismic testing threatens our fragile coastal economies today,” Rutherford told WJCTin June. “Our coastal economy should not be put at undue risk at a time when our booming oil and gas production is more than enough to meet our current energy needs.”
Ferrulo continued: “Opening our coasts to destructive drilling would do little to make us energy independent, but it would threaten our beaches with pollution and oil spills and could destroy our multibillion-dollar tourism and fishing industries.”
Florida health officials have announced new statewide medical marijuana rules.
Lobby Tools reports Monday that the newly renamed Office of Medical Marijuana Use at the Florida Department of Health published its Notice of Adoption to carry out legislation passed during the 2017 special session.
The emergency rulemaking process was authorized under SB 8A, which sought to implement the constitutional amendment passed in 2014, and exponentially grow Florida’s medical marijuana market beyond what was originally approved.
“This will enable the department to quickly implement the time-sensitive requirements of the legislation,” spokesperson Mara Gambineri said in an email Monday. “Following emergency rulemaking, the Department is committed to working collaboratively with the public through traditional rulemaking to establish a patient-centered medical marijuana program.”
Opponents, like state Sen. Jeff Brandes, said the bill created a regulated “state-sanctioned cartel.”
SB 8A allows medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of additional illnesses, including HIV and AIDS, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and similar conditions.
Bills passed in 2014 and 2016 limited the conditions to epilepsy, chronic muscle spasms, cancer and terminal conditions.
The 2017 law bans smoking medical marijuana but does allow vaping, edibles, oils, sprays and tinctures. Orlando attorney and Democratic activist John Morgan, who was behind the constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana, argues that smoking was part of his amendment. Morgan plans to sue the state.
With Independence Day arriving Tuesday, retailers expect a surge in one of the things Americans do best – eat.
The Florida Retail Federation (FRF) predicts Americans will spend more than $7.1 billion for Independence Day weekend on food items for picnics, barbecues and other celebrations. That’s an increase of about $2 in per-person spending over 2016.
FRF President and CEO R. Scott Shalley said the spending boost will benefit grocers across the Sunshine State,
“Independence Day weekend is the most popular time for family and friends to get together for cookouts, picnics and celebrations, and these survey numbers portend great things for retailers this year,” Shalley said in a statement. “We continue to see year-over-year increases each shopping weekend in 2017, which shows that the economy is doing well and consumers are feeling confident about their own economic situation and willing to spend more this year.”
Numbers from the National Retail Federation annual survey, conducted by Prosper Insight & Analytics, note that as many as 88 percent of those surveyed (an estimated 219 million Americans) will be celebrating Independence Day weekend, with 162 million of them — 66 percent — taking part in a cookout or picnic, spending an average of $73.42 per person, up from $71.34 last year.
Americans will be showing their patriotic spirit with flags and clothing. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. consumers — 65 percent — own an American flag, while more than half (53 percent) will wear some sort of patriotic themed clothing like T-shirts, bathing suits or shoes. Forty percent own some other patriotic themed decorations, and 28 percent say they plan to buy additional patriotic items.
Fireworks are another popular Independence Day activity, despite July 4 falling on a weekday this year. Less than half of Americans — 44 percent — plan to watch fireworks Tuesday night, while 14 percent will watch a parade.
Lower gas prices will also have a noticeable impact on Independence Day activities, with nearly 33 million Americans planning to head out of town for the long weekend, up from 31 million last year. The NRF survey found just 18 percent of Americans are concerned about gas prices, down from 21 percent last year; it is at the lowest level since the survey began in 2004.
Worries about gas prices for Independence Day peaked in 2008 when 59 percent of Americans said they were concerned over the cost of gas.
Sen. Bill Nelson visits Tampa Monday for a roundtable discussion with those “hardest hit” by the latest attempt from Senate Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
The Democratic senator will speak with residents on Medicaid as well as those with pre-existing medical conditions.
Nelson is back in town during Congress’ weeklong July Fourth recess, after the Senate did not get the required 50 votes to repeal and replace “Obamacare” by a late June deadline.
Republican Senate leaders now say the new goal is to pass a bill sometime this month ahead of the long August recess – frustrating many conservatives, including President Donald Trump.
POLITICO Florida reports that during a Friday conference call with reporters, conservatives questioned Republican commitment to following through with campaign promises to end Obamacare, and warned of a backlash in the 2018 midterms.
A longtime Obamacare supporter, Nelson joined Democratic senators recently to call for support of a series of bills to fix the U.S. health care system, urging a bipartisan solution.
“Why can’t we work together?” Nelson said on the Senate floor. “We do in our committees … Why can’t we do it with health care?”
Nelson’s roundtable event begins 1:30 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse, 801 N. Florida Avenue, Tampa.