Readers may note a focus on campaigns in Jacksonville Bold this week.
With the Legislative Session over, we are now heading into campaign season.
While Gov. Rick Scott seeks the right time to launch his bid for the U.S. Senate against Bill Nelson, facing no primary competition if he does so, pretty much everyone else is looking to move to the next level.
DeSantis condo conundrum
POLITICO reported recently on a Jacksonville connection to a condo Rep. Ron DeSantis rented in the redrawn Florida’s 6th Congressional District after 2016’s redistricting moved boundaries south.
“As a result, DeSantis — now running for governor — decided to move into a Flagler County condo whose owners include Kent Stermon and Matt Connell, both executives at Total Military Management. That Jacksonville-based company serves as a third-party relocation service for U.S. military personnel,” the POLITICO piece contends.
“Ron DeSantis temporarily moved into the condo of a friend while he looked to buy a home in Flagler County,” DeSantis spox Brad Herold told POLITICO. “He paid upfront and above market value.”
Stermon and Connell have donated $60,000 to DeSantis’ political operations since 2012.
Supplementary reading — “As prosecutor, did Ron DeSantis go easy in child porn cases?“ [Spoiler alert: No.]
Gun issues continue playing in CD 5
POLITICO picked up the baton of previous reporting Florida Politics and other outlets did on the gun positions of incumbent U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and challenger Alvin Brown in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.
The donation from the National Rifle Association that Lawson had previously reported was an error from staff, which got the code wrong, per POLITICO (this is a story the Lawson campaign has been pushing for some weeks now).
“Lawson’s record on guns and Brown’s onslaught against him in Florida’s 5th Congressional District underscores just how toxic guns are as a political issue in Democratic politics, where guns weren’t viewed as such a net negative before the Feb. 14 high school shooting. For instance, in 2005, every Democrat in the Florida Senate — including Lawson — voted for Stand Your Ground, which passed the chamber unanimously,” POLITICO notes.
Brown’s team believes that guns will be a defining issue in this primary, and will continue to work it. This week, they trumpeted an endorsement from “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.”
One wonders if the discussion in this campaign will ever move beyond guns.
Rutherford backs $1 a day wages for detainees
One dollar a day for people working in private prisons? Per the Laredo Morning Times, Florida’s 4th Congressional District Republican John Rutherford is one of 18 congressional defenders of the wage that was originally set in 1978.
“Alien detainees should not be able to use immigration detention as a means of obtaining stable employment that will encourage them to pursue frivolous claims to remain in the country and in detention for as long as possible,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and acting ICE director Thomas Homan.
Washington state is suing GEO Group for the wages, which violate minimum wage in the state; additionally, inmates in Colorado and California are suing GEO separately.
The Congressmen assert that higher wages would “provide an unnecessary windfall to the detainees and drain the federal government of limited taxpayer resources.”
GEO Group has contributed to Rutherford’s political efforts since 2016.
Third Democrat files in CD 4
Though Rutherford won the race in Florida’s 4th Congressional District with 70 percent of the vote and already has $183,000 cash on hand, Democrats are nonetheless lining up to run against him.
A third Democrat in the CD 4 race, Joceline Berrios, filed to run this month.
Berrios wants stricter gun laws, Medicare for All, and the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
Berrios will have a competitive primary.
Ges Selmont, a lawyer making his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, rolled out his campaign for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 4th Congressional District in recent weeks also.
The third candidate in the race, author Monica DePaul, has been running for several months.
All three campaigns lack a real structure currently, and have yet to report fundraising; with this in mind, the quarterly reports due next month bear watching.
Bax defends MMJ rule-making
Amendment 2 was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters in 2016, yet nearly two years later, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use is still workshopping rules. The road show came to Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon.
Christian Bax, the director of the program, noted that the rule-making process would go through the spring and summer. He said that he didn’t think that the department needed further guidance from the Legislature.
The department continues to issue notices and workshop rules at an acceptable pace, with 13 rules noticed last month, he said. That said, he understands why the Legislature would withhold pay for senior staff in DOH next fiscal year. Bax says the “department shares frustration with the timeline.”
Putnam talks opioids in Jacksonville
In a campaign capacity in Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon, Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam hosted an opioid roundtable.
Putnam heard about Jacksonville’s own efforts on this front, as the city deals with an overdose crisis that has led to action on the local level.
Fentanyl — and diluted acetyl fentanyl — is the primary local issue, with the diluted analog potentially lowering the user’s tolerance and possibly creating another overdose death crisis down the road.
Another complicating factor that could rear its head in the coming months: the current use of fentanyl to cut cocaine.
Gillum talks black women’s vote
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic primary candidate for Governor, spoke in St. Augustine Saturday about the importance of the black female vote.
Engaged turnout among black women was a contributing factor to the Democrats taking a Senate seat in Alabama last year; to that end, Gillum and other Democrats believe that the model can be replicated even in a campaign not involving Roy Moore as the GOP standard-bearer.
Gillum, who just landed after a red-eye from California, noted that while black women are the pillar of the black community, they “can’t save this republic alone.”
To that end, the full power of the Democratic Party must back them, Gillum said.
Gillum extolled education as a way out of “intergenerational poverty,” describing how even guidance counselors and lunchroom ladies “stood in the gap on behalf of many of us,” helping to “build strong communities.”
Gillum noted that his mother was “doing things to ensure we got by,” a reality that sometimes-precluded thinking about big picture political concepts.
The lines elicited applause.
Gillum’s remarks kicking off a panel moderated by Congressional District 5 Democratic candidate Rontel Batie and House District 13 Democratic hopeful Roshanda Jackson were brief, but crowd-pleasing.
On Monday, Gillum talked to Duval Democrats, hitting many of the same themes and lines.
The odds are with Cummings, who drew over 81 percent of the vote when the two faced off in the general election in 2016.
Cummings has just under $85,000 cash on hand, and will again face no opposition on the primary ballot.
To put that number in perspective, Willey raised just over $2,000 during his 2016 campaign.
The major population center in HD 18, a district by and large in Northern Clay County, is Orange Park, a Jacksonville-area bedroom community.
Cummings was once mayor of Orange Park.
Locals bemoan arts budget cuts
Though there were only $64 million in budget vetoes in Gov. Scott’s final budget, Jacksonville area arts advocates felt the ax, per WJCT.
“So while nearly 500 organizations are splitting $2.6 million, the legislature approved more than $4 million in arts and culture projects for just nine organizations. But Scott vetoed six of them Friday, including the largest arts and culture award: $1.6 million toward expanding and renovating the military museum at Camp Blanding.”
“For smaller organizations, it’ll mean less access to their programs, and it will mean fewer programs,” said one arts advocate.
Brosche seeks cooperation with Curry
Can Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche and Mayor Lenny Curry get along?
Skeptics say no; per WJCT, however, Brosche says yes.
“We’re both very passionate about the city of Jacksonville and our responsibilities — what we believe is best for Jacksonville. At the end of the day, there’s no reason why we can’t work together. We’ve had meetings,” she said. “We’ve met since the forced meeting on Feb. 14, and we may see things differently.”
Brosche also discussed the controversial decision to require oaths at JEA special committee meetings.
“I think we were aware of our options going forward and I do have a hard time connecting with people being afraid to tell the truth. That’s what we were after,” she said. “We were after consistently administering the oath to everyone that came forward, so no one was singled out.”
JEA CEO Paul McElroy will be subpoenaed March 29 after having refused to take the oath. Meanwhile, Curry’s chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa, offered emailed responses to the committee’s questions.
Marijuana changes deferred
Ordinance 2018-75 would revise extant code relative to medical cannabis. However, it has been delayed for two weeks.
The code was formulated in response to “Charlotte’s Web” low-THC cannabis being the single legal strain, and after an extended period of debate, processing and dispensing were allowed in commercial districts, with permitted cultivation in agricultural regions.
The ordinance would change things, allowing dispensaries anywhere in the city, including within 500 feet of a school. The previous zoning categories would be revoked.
The bill was in the Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety committee Monday, and there were questions galore.
“This bill puts our code in compliance with Florida statutes,” said a representative from the office of general counsel. “The statute prohibits cultivation and processing facilities within 500 feet of a school” but allows a dispensary given a waiver within 500 feet.
Counties do have the right to ban dispensaries entirely if they have no ordinances on the books. But because there was an existing ordinance, bill sponsor Matt Schellenberg said the county could not ban dispensaries, even as individual cities have done this.
This bill, which only applies to the city of Jacksonville, will be deferred, with multiple Council members having questions about how to bring the local ordinance in line with state law.
JEA Straw Ballot bill pushed back
Ordinance 2018-141 would set a public straw vote referendum on the November 2018 ballot regarding selling more than 10 percent of JEA. The bill is sponsored by two council Democrats who have issues with the process so far on the grounds of transparency and other woes: John Crescimbeni and Garrett Dennis.
Transportation, Energy and Utilities chair Al Ferraro moved to defer one cycle so it can sync up with 2018-142, another referendum bill that would require the approval of a sale of 10 percent or more of JEA.
A bill sponsor was skeptical of Ferraro’s motives.
“If I detect any shenanigans on delaying 141, we’ll have to do it the hard way and get petitions,” vowed Crescimbeni. “I’ll give it another couple of cycles, but we’re on the clock.”
A citizen’s initiative, asserted Crescimbeni, would have a time-prohibitive impact.
This bill comes back, presumably, in two weeks.
Meanwhile, Councilmen Matt Schellenberg and Bill Gulliford met to discuss the pros and cons of a JEA sale Wednesday.
The JEA Board also intends to set up its own select committee to explore what a sale means.
Fentanyl-laced cocaine latest OD trend
A representative of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department noted in a Monday meeting of a City Council panel that ‘fentanyl-laced cocaine’ is a rising overdose trend.
Jacksonville currently has a pilot program treating overdose victims, offering them treatment after the case of overdoses.
The program tests for 17 different adulterants, spanning a wide pharmacological range.
Previous concerns have been fentanyl-based heroin, suggesting that street dealers are finding new markets.
Councilman Bill Gulliford, who pushed for this program, notes that the program seems to be working.
However, the new lacing presents a new worry.
“Cocaine laced with fentanyl is prevalent now. In recent toxicology reports, every sample of cocaine had fentanyl in it,” Gulliford said. “The scary part of this is it’s becoming more widespread. There are incidents of this used in counterfeit Xanax.”
Gulliford noted that young people often combine Xanax and alcohol, and urged that parents warn kids about the potentiality of a new, dangerous alteration being marketed to them.
Peppers leaves KHA board, isn’t salty
Joseph Peppers‘ bid for the CEO slot in Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance has been controversial, given he was on the new board.
A resignation tendered Sunday evening should remove some of that controversy.
“After careful prayer and consideration,” Peppers wrote, “I have decided to submit my resignation from the Kids Hope Alliance Board. I am making this decision to ensure the Kids Hope Alliance gets off to a great start and that its integrity and reputation remain completely without blemish.”
“I am honored to remain a candidate for the CEO position. If the board and the mayor believe that I am the best person for the job, I will do my best to represent the organization, the board, and the city of Jacksonville in the very best light which it so deserves,” Peppers added.
Peppers’ appointment process to the board was also notable.
Councilman Garrett Dennis had a sharp exchange with a member of Curry’s staff during Dennis’ interview of Peppers.
Dennis thought it was irregular that the Mayor’s Office was “babysitting nominees,” and Dennis and Curry had words after the interview, per Dennis.
The Kids Hope Alliance interviewed candidates Friday for the ongoing search for a permanent CEO and Peppers was among them.
Gov. Scott announced the appointment of J. Palmer Clarkson to the Jacksonville Port Authority.
Clarkson, 61, of Jacksonville, is the president and chief executive officer of Bridgestone HosePower. He succeeds Joseph York for a term through September 30, 2021.
The appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
Fiorentino Group moves to Southbank
Government relations firm The Fiorentino Group will be staying in downtown Jacksonville but will soon be operating from the 13th floor of Riverplace Tower, on the Southbank of the St. Johns River.
For more than a decade, the Fiorentino Group has leased space on the Northbank, in The Carling building at 31 W. Adams St.
President Marty Fiorentino told the Jacksonville Daily Record that recent growth requires more space for the firm. Moving close to the Rogers Towers law firm, which runs out of Riverplace Tower, made sense, he said.
“We have a strategic alliance with the Rogers Towers law firm,” Fiorentino said. “We think that will be great synergy.”
The nine-person Fiorentino team will add another person in the next few months, as well as two more staff members in its Tallahassee office.
“We just came off a great legislative session,” Fiorentino said.
Since the Carling lease expired, he expects the move to happen sometime in May.
NE Florida circuit judge fights removal
A Northeast Florida circuit judge accused of inappropriate conduct during a 2016 election campaign and on the bench should not be removed, his attorney argued This week to the state Supreme Court.
As reported by the News Service of Florida, Judge Scott DuPont, who sits on the 7th Judicial Circuit bench, faces removal after a recommendation of a hearing panel of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission. The 7th Judicial Circuit includes Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties.
DuPont is accused of publishing false allegations online about his 2016 election challenger, Malcolm Anthony, as well as Anthony’s family members. Among the other questionable actions include DuPont changing the times of first-appearance hearings in criminal cases during Memorial Day weekend in 2016 to accommodate his campaign schedule.
In a 40-page document filed with the court, DuPont’s attorney, Rutledge Liles, pointed to character witnesses and other judges supporting DuPont.
Liles recognized DuPont will be “subject to sanctions” but wrote that he should not be removed from the bench. “Judge DuPont has admitted and apologized for the mistakes he made,” Liles wrote. “Given the undisputed fact that the only testimony regarding his present fitness to remain in office has been uniformly and overwhelmingly positive, we request that this Court allow him to continue to serve the 7th Judicial Circuit.”
Per the Jacksonville Business Journal, it’s curtains for “dinosaur” Southeastern Grocers, as marketplace competitors have models that can’t be matched.
Competitors like Trader Joe’s make multiple times the money that Winn Dixie does per square foot, an analyst said.
Augmenting the problem: the stores are actually too big for single tenants to take over, and often too close to Publix and the like.
Winn Dixie will close more Jacksonville stores in the coming weeks.
WJCT noted that execs for the parent company, Southeastern Grocers, will actually have a harder time finding new gigs than those on the retail side.
Gondola over the river?
According to the Jacksonville Daily Record, an ambitious development proposal may lead to a gondola over the St. Johns River.
“The Jag-Wire could move several thousand people per hour between the station on the Southbank, a proposed station on East Bay Street at the old Duval County Courthouse and City Hall Annex property and a third station near EverBank Field, which will become TIAA Bank Field.”
Alas, there is a catch: per potential developer Michael Balanky, it would need to be a public-private partnership.
As well, for the numbers to work, a new convention center would need to go up.
Time will tell.
First phase of regional transportation center to open soon
The Jacksonville Intercity Bus Terminal, the first phase of the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center, is about to open on 1111 W. Forsyth St. in the LaVilla community.
The first occupant of the new $58-million, 9,100-square-foot project is Greyhound, moving from its longstanding location at 10 N. Pearl St. Eventually, the facility will hold other providers, like low-fare intercity bus service Megabus, which had been using the Skyway stop across West Bay Street from the Prime Osborn Convention Center, the location of the new JTA regional center.
In April, USGBC Northeast Florida and AIA Jacksonville will host VIP and media tours of the first phase. The intercity bus terminal will improve Greyhound’s access to highways and other transportation systems with additional passenger services, amenities that include food service.
Officials tell the Florida Times-Union that the West Forsyth Street site will be energy efficient and is expected to receive LEED Silver designation. Among the plans for Phase II will be a pedestrian bridge connecting the bus terminal to a proposed JTA bus transfer station and administration building.