Jax Archives - Florida Politics

February trial set for Jacksonville Councilmembers Katrina, Reggie Brown

The cases of suspended Jacksonville City Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown were back in federal court Tuesday afternoon for a status hearing ahead of what is now a February trial, though the defendants were no-shows.

The two Browns, who are unrelated, are accused of a 38-count conspiracy to defraud, say federal prosecutors. The pair is accused of extracting hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal use from a Small Business Administration-backed loan provided for Katrina Brown’s family’s barbecue sauce plant.

The total list of charges: 13 counts of wire fraud, another 13 of mail fraud, five counts of money laundering, and charges of attempted bank fraud for Ms. Brown and failure to file a 1040 from Mr. Brown.

U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva noted that the case has “every indication of being a trial case,” with Duva requesting a February trial date.

“If we set it off about six months,” Duva said, there would be a “realistic trial term.”

The longer time frame is required given 28,000 pages of discovery, all requiring the review of the defendants’ court-appointed attorneys.

The longer gap between the current hearing and the trial date, which was originally slated for September, will allow one or both co-defendants to consider their legal position over a length of time.

Reggie Brown’s attorney said that, while he is “anxious to clear his name,” he is prepared to waive his rights to a speedy trial.

The proposed new dates: a motions deadline would be set for Oct. 9, with a response deadline Oct 25, then status conference in November, with a plea deadline Dec. 24 and another status conference on Jan. 7 — the next time the defendants are required to be in court.

Duva expects to make the case in five trial days.

Attorney Duva noted that jury selection may take some days, given the notoriety of the defendants, citing a recent analogous fraud case, that of former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and her former chief-of-staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons.

If that case offers any insights, the duo of Reggie Brown and Katrina Brown may yet separate.

It’s worth watching whether or not Mr. Brown files a motion to separate, as Simmons did a couple of months before striking a plea deal and cooperating with U.S. Attorneys.

Simmons struck a plea deal with the feds in February, pleading guilty on two counts, with his sentencing contingent on substantial cooperation with the feds.

As part of that cooperation, Simmons had to testify against his old boss.

Simmons’ attorney expected a plea deal well before proceedings began, given that federal indictments are rarely filed without the evidence required to convict.

So, while discovery will be worth watching this week and beyond, so too will whether or not the co-defendants maintain a united front.

In the case of Reggie Brown’s former seat on the City Council, yet more legal action is underway regarding when Terrance Freeman, the Republican who Gov. Rick Scott appointed to fill the vacancy, established residency.

The matter will come down to the judge deciding which of two days Freeman was actually appointed. And deciding that, even if Freeman wasn’t technically a resident, if a potential “cure” of a re-appointment wouldn’t satisfy requirements.

Plaintiff Brenda Priestly-Jackson, a Democrat, says Republican Freeman, who established residency in District 10 by renting rooms in a private home the day he was appointed (July 10), was circumventing residency requirements.

Freeman’s private attorney, as well as lawyers representing the city of Jacksonville and the state of Florida, contend that since Freeman was sworn in July 12, he had established residency before becoming a Council member.

Of course, if Reggie Brown were to plead out and resign, a special election would be required, because Freeman’s appointment was only intended to fill in for the absent Councilman.

However, with Brown maintaining innocence, Councilman Freeman isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

New endorsements signal Al Lawson momentum in re-election bid

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson continues to demonstrate momentum as early voting continues in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 5th Congressional District, with two key endorsements conferred upon him Tuesday.

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund endorsed Lawson, calling him a “strong supporter of women’s health and … a dedicated advocate for Planned Parenthood health centers and the people they serve.”

“This endorsement means so much to me,” Lawson said. “I pride myself in standing tall for the rights of women. Sometimes, that means facing backlash from people with opposing viewpoints, but this endorsement means that my efforts are being appreciated where it counts.”

Another endorsement that signals appreciation: backing from the Florida Times-Union, the hometown paper of Lawson’s primary opponent, former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

The paper lauded Lawson’s “no-drama approach,” saying there’s “no compelling reason” for Jacksonville voters to “abandon the incumbent.”

Mayor Brown’s candidacy was intended to bring the seat back to Jacksonville; however, that’s not a priority of the local paper’s editorial page.

The endorsement of the Times-Union may not have done much to change the race, which increasingly looks like a comfortable win for Lawson, per a St. Pete Polls survey of the race released Monday that shows him with a 22-point lead.

Lawson has strong leads of 15 percent and up among all surveyed demographics with appreciable data: whites and blacks, men and women, and every age cohort.

Lawson vowed to “retire” Brown, a “failed Mayor,” early in the campaign. The rhetoric has been less combative in recent days, and perhaps that’s another sign the race is closing.

The Democratic primary is Aug. 28. The winner of it will face Republican Virginia Fuller, a first-time candidate without an appreciable campaign infrastructure.

Voter registrations numbers show that it’s still a tale of two congressional districts in NE Fla.

For nearly three decades, the city of Jacksonville has been split between two congressional districts.

One of them, what is now the 4th Congressional District, was represented for years by reliable and, by today’s standard, moderate Republicans: Tillie Fowler and Ander Crenshaw.

The other district, currently the 5th Congressional District, was Democrat Corrine Brown‘s sinecure. The maps on that district changed periodically, seemingly always under legal challenge, a process that ended in 2016 with Brown’s district being moved from its south/southwest jog toward the Orlando area to a straight east-west configuration.

Brown’s political career, wrecked by indictment and conviction for rainmaking and profiteering for and off a fake charity, ended soon after the ink on the new map dried.

Jacksonville, as of yet, doesn’t have the population to house two districts within Duval County — and given the cartographical challenges of minority access districts, that may not be the case after the next apportionment either.

However, a look at book closing data for CD 4 and CD 5 reveals two districts that ultimately will be decided in primary elections, proving that some things really don’t change in the 904.

CD 4 is still heavily Republican, though the trend in the last two years has been an uptick in NPA voters.

In 2016, there were 547,011 voters; that number is up to 564,794 in 2018.

Republicans are up 6,000 votes, just over 281,000, or 49.8 percent of the district’s voters. There are now 150,237 Democratic voters, an uptick of 4,500, or 26.6 percent of district voters. NPAs, however, moved from 107,797 in 2016 to 128,057 this year.

That gain of more than 20,000 voters represents 3.6 percent of the electorate, and it’s telling that NPA growth is outpacing even the growth of the voter rolls in the district.

Much of the change came from a decrease in registrants to the “Independent Party” and the Independence Party. In 2016, those two parties accounted for nearly 14,500 votes; in 2018, the Independence Party was gone, and the Independent Party had just 2,260 registrants.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats had a competitive primary this year. Incumbent U.S. Rep. John Rutherford is the prohibitive favorite against electoral politics newcomer Ges Selmont, the Democratic nominee.

CD 5, meanwhile, is a different story. The district winds through eight counties along Interstate 10, and was designed to be won by a Democrat. The last two years, meanwhile, have made it marginally less friendly for a Dem.

The district now has 442,303 voters, up nearly 2,000 from 2016. Republican registrations have stayed mostly flat in the district: 103,170, just 47 more than in 2016, making up 23.3 percent of voters.

The real changes have been a decrease in Democrats over the last two years, and an expansion of NPA voters.

In 2016, 259,116 Democrats called CD 5 home; that number is down to 255,673 in 2018, but is still a strong 58 percent majority. Conversely, 69,208 was the total number of NPA voters in 2016. In 2018, that number is 80,885.

Likewise, in CD 5 it was a bad cycle for the Independence and Independent parties, which lost all but 1,052 of their more 6,600 registrants in two years, speaking to a lack of intentionality in those registrations.

The ongoing drama since Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson took the seat from Corrine Brown has been whether or not Duval Democrats could take back the seat in the primary.

With 141,305 of the district’s 255,673 Democrats, that could have been the case if voters moved in geographic lockstep. However, despite a well-known Jacksonville challenger in former Mayor Alvin Brown, polling suggests that won’t happen, with Lawson leading Alvin Brown 50 percent to 28 percent.

The winner of Brown/Lawson gets Republican Virginia Fuller in the general election.

Fuller, an idiosyncratic candidate who has yet to report any campaign finance activity, memorably attacked the two Democrats at a recent Jacksonville forum.

Fuller noted that both Democrats are getting Republican money. To reassure attendees of her independence, Fuller said she wasn’t getting any money at all.

As campaign gets ugly, Philip Levine makes early vote push

Jacksonville was the fourth and final stop on Philip Levine‘s barnstorming tour of early voting locations Monday.

The tour happened as tensions have boiled over between Levine and another contender, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene.

Earlier on Monday, Levine’s campaign made cease and desist demands of television stations playing “false attacks” in a Greene ad charging the former Miami Beach Mayor with polluting Biscayne Bay.

Before that ad dropped, Levine and Greene had each charged the other one with being too close to President Donald Trump, never a good look in a Democratic primary.

As the two work to drive up each other’s negatives, polls show that U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham holds the advantage.

An internal poll released last week by Levine has him behind by 4 points. A Graham poll shows her up on Levine by 16 points. Greene was behind the top two in both cases.

Levine, greeted by a dozen supporters as storm clouds hovered over the Duval County Supervisor of Elections office, was not especially dismayed by the turn the campaign has taken.

“The bottom line is this,” Levine said. “I think the people deserve to know what someone’s track record is” in regards to Trump.

Levine estimated having been “on television … a hundred, two hundred times … during the 2016 election, warning America that this guy would be a terrible president.”

“I think that when someone pretends [he’s] fighting them while being at his country club by the ocean — we call it Kremlin-by-the-Sea — and passing the Grey Poupon across the table and thinks that’s fighting Donald Trump, the people have a right to know,” Levine added.

“You don’t want Donald Trump’s friend — you want who Donald Trump fears,” Levine said. “The people of Florida should understand who is who, and that’s why we’re doing it.”

We noted that the back and forth between Greene and Levine seemed to be driving up each candidate’s negatives while leaving Graham largely untouched; Levine disputed this interpretation.

“I’m not so sure she’s escaping the fire,” Levine said, noting that Greene has been messaging heavily against Graham on television in recent weeks. “He’s been going after her nonstop … completely.”

Uncertainty in HD 14, HD 15 primary fights as early voting begins

While the vast majority of Jacksonville-area state House and Senate races see either uncontested or nominally contested primaries, two exceptions remain.

The Democratic primary in House District 14 and the Republican race in HD 15 offer a soupçon of drama as early voting begins Monday in Jacksonville.

In HD 14’s Democratic two-way, challenger Paula Wright finally has a cash on hand lead over incumbent Kim Daniels.

Wright has continued to raise money; incumbent Daniels, not raising much ($1,100 in the last two weeks of fundraising), is spending a lot of campaign funds on consultant fees and meals. She has just over $10,000 on hand.

Between July 28 and Aug. 3, the last dates for which campaign finance numbers are available, Wright raised $7,675, with money from Realtors, AFSCME, and a sheet metal local union contributing to the till.

Wright has just over $14,000 on hand, and her campaign finance reports suggest she will spend a lot of that money on canvassers (the majority of the nearly $2,800 spent between 7/27 and 8/3 went for such purposes).

Wright has some advantages. A current chair of the Duval County School Board, she is no political neophyte. And she’s backed by Democratic elected officials, including Sen. Audrey Gibson, state Rep. Tracie Davis, and Councilman Garrett Dennis.

Daniels, who has had her share of scandals and apostasies from Democratic orthodoxy, is seen as beatable by those close to Wright. The key to victory is educating voters on Daniels’ true positions. The final count on Aug. 28 will speak to the viability of that strategy.

Key to such an information campaign: the $27,000 that went into the New Direction Now political committee, $15,000 of that from the Wright-friendly Florida Education Association

In HD 15, meanwhile, the Republican side of the ledger is where the August action is, with lobbyist Wyman Duggan trying to close the deal against primary opponents Joseph Hogan and Mark Zeigler.

Duggan has spent over $85,000 on television in July, with one ad featuring Republican incumbent Mayor Lenny Curry and another featuring the candidate vowing to stand with President Donald Trump.

He continues to raise money ($10,000 between July 27 and Aug. 3, including donations from pharmaceutical and Realtor trade group political committees), and has roughly $75,000 between hard money and committee money as he heads into the stretch run.

This gives him more cash on hand than opponents Mark Zeigler (~$28k) and Joseph Hogan (~$28k) combined.

Public polling of this race has yet to surface. However, a recent mailer from Duggan’s political committee slammed Hogan for his support for former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown in the 2015 race against Curry.

Hogan “stands with anti-Trump progressives,” the mailer charges, as Hogan said Jacksonville was “better off” with Brown.

The Duggan bet seems to be that district voters need reminding of that particular deviation from doctrine.

Regardless of which Republican emerges, a tough general election against the perpetual motion machine of the Tracye Polson campaign awaits.

Polson has roughly $150,000 in hard money and another $55,000 in the committee account.

Al Lawson leads Alvin Brown by 22 points, according to new poll

If the election in Florida’s 5th Congressional District were held today, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson would cruise to victory, according to a St. Pete Polls survey of the race released Monday.

A survey of 445 likely Democratic primary voters shows Lawson with 50 percent of the vote, with opponent Alvin Brown at 28 percent. The balance of voters are undecided. The margin of error is 4.6 percent.

Lawson has strong leads of 15 percent and up among all surveyed demographics with appreciable data: whites and blacks, men and women, and every age cohort.

Among those who already voted, Lawson is up 52-42; among those yet to vote, Lawson’s lead balloons to 49-26.

Despite the negative messaging in this race in recent weeks against Lawson, the incumbent has not seen his favorable ratings damaged. Fifty-four percent of Democrats in the district regard him favorably, giving him a +36 rating (Brown, with 36 percent of Democrats regarding him favorably, is at +16).

The winner of this race will face Republican Virginia Fuller, a first-time candidate without an appreciable campaign infrastructure.

Lawson won the 2016 race against Republican Glo Smith by 26 points, winning six of the eight counties in the district. Baker and Hamilton went Smith’s way.

New poll shows Michael Waltz breaking away in Republican field

A new survey conducted by St. Pete Polls shows Republican Michael Waltz pulling ahead of primary opponents John Ward and Fred Costello in the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The new poll commissioned for Florida Politics asked likely primary voters who they would support if the election were held today. Waltz, a St. Augustine Army veteran, would take 40 percent of the vote, results show. Ward, a Palm Coast Navy veteran, would win 21 percent, while former Ormond Beach state Rep. Costello would get 16 percent. Another 23 percent of those polled remain undecided.

The poll, taken on Aug. 10, shows an even more pronounced lead for Waltz among voters who already cast their ballot in the race. Waltz won support from 41 percent of those polled. Interestingly, Costello outperformed Ward among those eager voters, winning 22 percent to Ward’s 21 percent.

More than 23 percent of those surveyed already voted in the Republican primary.

The poll shows significant movement from survey by St. Pete Polls conducted on July 18. Then, the three Republicans appeared to be in a dead heat, with Costello just over 21 percent, Ward just under 21 percent and Waltz at 20.

Now Waltz has gone from third (really a statistical tie) to first.

Waltz leads strongly with both male and female votes, but the poll found a higher percentage of men (26) percent who remain undecided in the race compared to women (20 percent).

Ward is outperforming Costello 23-16 among women voters but just 17-16 among male voters. Waltz, however, wins 41 percent of both the male and female vote.

He also secured more than 41 percent of white voters, the vast majority of likely voters polled in the race. Ward won 21 percent of the white vote to Costello’s 16 percent.

But Ward performed best among Asian voters, winning 67 percent to Waltz’s 33. Costello, meanwhile, won over Hispanic voters, securing 33 percent to Waltz’s 20 and Ward’s 13.

Every black voter surveyed remains undecided in the race.

Among voters under age 30, Waltz and Ward are tied at 27 percent, with Costello winning 20 percent. But Waltz holds a solid lead among all other age groups, including winning 49 percent of votes age 70 and older, compared to Ward’s 18 percent and Costello’s 16.

The automated phone poll surveyed 528 registered Republicans who plan to vote in the Aug. 28 primary. Pollsters reported a 95-percent confidence level and a margin of error of 4.3 percent.

The candidates are running to succeed DeSantis, now a candidate for governor. DeSantis in 2016 won 59 percent of the vote in the district over Democrat Bill McCullough’s 41 percent, and President Donald Trump won the district with 57 percent over Hillary Clinton’s 40 percent.

Two days represent key difference in Terrance Freeman residency hearing

Jacksonville’s motion to intervene in a residency challenge filed last month to a City Council appointment by Gov. Rick Scott, as well as a motion to dismiss the case by the plaintiff’s attorneys, were heard in a Duval County hearing room Friday afternoon by Judge Waddell Wallace.

The magistrate, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999, has been tasked with deciding whether the city has legal standing regarding the case of Terrance Freeman.

The matter will come down to Waddell deciding which of two days Freeman was actually appointed. And deciding that, even if Freeman wasn’t technically a resident, if a potential “cure” of a re-appointment wouldn’t satisfy requirements.

Waddell promised a ruling “soon.”

Plaintiff Brenda Priestly-Jackson (a Democrat) says Republican Freeman, who established residency in District 10 by renting rooms in a private home the day he was appointed (July 10), was circumventing residency requirements.

The personal ties here illustrate this is a relationship business: Freeman was represented by Lindsey Brock, the husband of Council President Aaron Bowman‘s aide. Bowman, Freeman’s former employer, emphatically asserts the legality of the appointment, which he dates as being official on the date of the swearing in on July 12.

That arrangement, coupled with the involvement and shared interests of city and state attorneys, suggested the long odds Priestly-Jackson faces going forth.

Brock urged dismissal, as the case was a “political challenge disguised as a legal challenge.”

Brock contended that Freeman lived in the district once sworn in on July 12, two days after the appointment, and that the Governor had power to do what he wanted without “qualifications” when he suspended Democrat Reggie Brown.

Brock also contended that the judiciary can’t decide, based on separation of powers, and the state Constitution and charter both saying the legislative body has exclusive jurisdiction to decide — which it did before Priestly-Jackson’s filing.

Comparing the case to that of Jay Jabour, bounced from City Council years back for flouting residency requirements, Brock said that was an “election challenge,” which does require residency 183 days before qualifying for the ballot. In the case of appointment, no such requirement applies.

Gov.  Scott‘s attorney, John MacIver, via the State Office of General Counsel, asserted the plaintiff claim lacked cause of action, and that state law was “unambiguous” in giving Scott jurisdiction to appoint as he saw fit.

“Could he appoint a non-resident, a foreign national? I don’t think so,” Waddell mused.

As well, the state attorney noted Scott could simply appoint Freeman again were he bounced, as Freeman has now established residency, and that the vacancy is still temporary as Councilman Reggie Brown‘s lawsuit is still live. [Waddell echoed that later, saying it was a potential “cure.”]

The Jacksonville Office of General Counsel also made its case for intervention, with attorney Jason Teal making the city’s case that “intervention should be allowed.”

The city’s case for intervention rests in its theory of judicial prerogative: Jacksonville contends that it has leeway to determine residency, and that Freeman is an active member of the City Council.

Plaintiff lawyer Leslie Jean-Bart made the contra case, rejecting the claim that the filing was “political.”

“We’re just trying to convey the will of the people,” Jean-Bart said, on “residency requirements.”

“If the Governor decides to reappoint Freeman,” Jean-Bart added, “it would be his decision to do so.”

Jean-Bart also expressed “concern” about the Governor flouting rules in a “minority-access district.” And rejected the claim that an appointment didn’t have to conform with the 183-day rule applicable to elected officials.

Jean-Bart offered no objection to the city’s motion to intervene.

July looks like previous months in Jacksonville City Council fundraising

Fundraising for Jacksonville City Council 2019 races is in full swing, and here’s a look at the landscape. Unmentioned races have no filed candidates at this writing.

In Jacksonville City Council District 1, Democratic incumbent Joyce Morgan filed at the beginning of August, with no appreciable fundraising. Her sole opponent, Republican Bill Bishop, raised $4,400 in July (his best month since launching last October). He has roughly $15,000 on hand.

Incumbent Republican Al Ferraro continues a cakewalk to re-election in District 2. Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan was among the donors that led to a $5,825 July. Ferraro has $46,000 on hand; his only opponent has just over $100 on hand.

In District 4, Council Vice President Scott Wilson kicked off his campaign with $12,000 in July. The Republican has no competition yet.

In District 5, Republican LeAnna Cumber has $176,000 on hand and has paused raising money, given her Democratic opponent has under $500 banked.

District 6 sees two Republicans, Michael Boylan and Rose Conry, battling for an open seat. Neither raised much in July: Boylan, just $475; Conry, $2,100. Conry, with $77,000 on hand, has a 2:1 cash advantage.

District 7 Democrat Reggie Gaffney has $49,000 on hand after a $2,725 July. The field is crowded, yet undercapitalized. His closest competitor, Solomon Olopade, has $12,550 on hand, and most of that is self-funding.

In District 8, Tameka Gaines Holly still leads the field; with $22,000 on hand, she dominates a field where the rest of the candidates are in four figures. The incumbent, appointed Ju’Coby Pittman, has yet to file for election.

District 9 Democrat Marcellus Holmes is the only filed candidate thus far; he has $290 on hand; incumbent Garrett Dennis has yet to file for reelection.

In District 10, where Republican Terrance Freeman was appointed to fill a vacancy created by suspension, fundraising has not been a priority for those running for office. Kevin Monroe, with roughly $1,900 on hand, leads in cash-on-hand.

District 11 Republican incumbent Danny Becton, running unopposed, brought in $17,750 in July, pushing him over $80,000 raised, with over $79,000 on hand.

District 12 Republican Randy White, who was appointed to fill a future vacancy once Doyle Carter‘s resignation takes effect, has no 2019 —opposition  and over $86,000 on hand.

District 13 Republican Rory Diamond has no opposition for an open seat, and $115,000 on hand after July’s $2,650 raised.

In District 14, Democrat Sunny Gettinger, with over $11,000 raised in July, continues to cut into Republican Randy DeFoor‘s cash lead. DeFoor is still up, $117,000 to $90,000, but the margin narrows every month. This will be an open seat, with incumbent Republican Jim Love termed out. Other candidates are farther back in the cash chase.

In at-large races, Republican Chris Whitfield, unopposed in At-large Group 1, has yet to raise money.

In Groups 2-4, Republican Ron Salem, Democrat Tommy Hazouri, and Republican Matt Carlucci look like the best bets. The Republicans have both raised major money against nominal competition. And Hazouri is unopposed.

In Group 5, incumbent Republican Sam Newby has raised just over $18,000 against two opponents. Newby won citywide in 2015 with less than that, however.

Now in LG mix, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams’ re-election fundraising slows to trickle

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, according to POLITICO, is on a list of nine potential Lieutenant Governor picks being considered by Republican gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

“The top cop in Duval County is the first and (so far) only sheriff to endorse DeSantis. If the campaign wants to emphasize law and order, the job might be for the taking for Williams. Compared to the other shortlisters, Williams has the closest personal relationship with DeSantis,” the Friday writeup asserts.

Indeed, DeSantis and Williams share a political ally (Kent Stermon), and Williams broke with most of the Republican establishment in Jacksonville and 49 sheriffs statewide, endorsing DeSantis ahead of the debate with Adam Putnam Wednesday.

“When I talk with Ron DeSantis, his view of law enforcement mirrors my own: protecting innocent citizens and holding bad actors accountable. I believe, that as Governor, Ron DeSantis will prioritize law enforcement and will be good for the citizens of Jacksonville.  I am proud to offer him my support,” Williams added.

Whether DeSantis ultimately picks Williams or not is an open question, with considerations that extend beyond personal relationships into regional and demographic appeals. However, it’s interesting that the consideration is happening at a time when Williams’ re-election fundraising has slowed.

Between his campaign and committee accounts, Williams raised just $1,450 in July. This leaves Williams with roughly $440,000 on hand.

Despite a pause in fundraising, Williams is not in appreciable danger at the ballot box. His sole opponent, Democrat Tony Cummings, has $700 on hand.

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