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‘He’s my guy’: Why the Brian Hughes hire made sense for Lenny Curry

Reporters in the Jacksonville market got to know Brian Hughes in late 2014 and early 2015 when the Republican PR pro was handling the messaging for mayoral candidate Lenny Curry.

Soon those reporters — or those who replaced the ones who moved on — will get to know Hughes in a new capacity as Curry’s chief of staff.

On Friday, Curry discussed the hire, the latest and most prominent example of someone moving from the campaign side to City Hall.

Hughes’ hire wasn’t a surprise to everyone; rumors had circulated that it might be in the offing, and Council President Anna Brosche quipped that the hire was “just formalizing how things had been for some time.”

Curry described the evolution from campaign spokesman to chief of staff as relatively seamless.

“I met Brian in the fall of 2011 when I became state party chairman, and he’s been a trusted adviser for many years,” Curry said. “Obviously through the campaign and then after I got into office we’ve had a number of very public policy issues that we’ve worked on and successfully won, and he’s been a part of that.”

“I’ve been without a chief of staff since May and I felt like it was time to bring someone in, and he’s my guy,” Curry said about Hughes.

Curry’s previous chief of staff, Kerri Stewart, was described by some close to the mayor as not being completely in line with the agenda. Toward the end of her tenure, there was talk of a power struggle behind the scenes — talk that no one refuted when it was reported.

Stewart was perceived as invisible, so much so that one veteran Republican Councilmember, when asked to appraise Stewart’s performance, joked, “Kerri who?”

The Hughes era will most likely be characterized by message discipline and visibility for the new chief of staff, who is expected to have a “roving” profile that transcends the strict hierarchies of the organizational chart.

Those close to Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa have noted that he looks forward to working with Hughes; Mousa and Hughes, in their bluntness especially, seem to be cut from the same cloth.

Some Jacksonville City Councilmembers wondered to us, on and off the record, if Hughes fit in better in the bare knuckles world of campaigning than in the policy sphere.

Curry has no such worries.

“Brian’s been in and around politics and policy for many years. He has a full and deep understanding of all of government and how to successfully implement policy,” Curry said.

Hughes joins others who were instrumental to Curry’s campaign victory on the mayor’s senior staff, such as Jordan Elsbury and Jessica Laird.

Jessica Baker, meanwhile, is the wife of Tim Baker, who has handled much of the polling and other functions that not only drove Curry’s victory, but also helped with such initiatives as 2016’s pension reform referendum.

Some have noted such convergences; the timely example being in a recent Florida Times-Union article. But for Curry, it’s pretty simple.

“I just bring the right people in for the right jobs at the right time,” Curry said.

Federal funds OKd for Jacksonville body worn camera program

A bill filed to Jacksonville City Council this week requests approval for nearly $1 million in federal funds for Jacksonville’s body worn camera program.

Ordinance 2017-884, filed at the request of Sheriff Mike Williams, would appropriate $997,956 from the Department of Justice; a local match of the same amount would be provided.

The fact sheet for the bill offers an outline of how the program will work in Jacksonville.

Federal grant funds will cover conference travel for staffers, as well as the purchase and use of 1,113 cameras.

Also included: a five-year warranty, a mid-cycle technology upgrade, spare cameras and — importantly — unlimited data storage.

Pre-implementation, there were worries that data storage would be prohibitive. As a remedy earlier this year, JSO got $2.7 million to update outmoded mainframe computers.

Local monies will go through JSO, and will fund a BWC unit, which will contain a lieutenant, a sergeant, four field officers, three help desk techs and two part-time logistics coordinators (to be funded for 826 hours).

All members of the unit will work “100 percent of their time” on the BWC “project.”

Republican Wyman Duggan adds $8,950 to HD 15 campaign nest egg

Is momentum slowing down for Wyman Duggan, thus far the sole Republican running to replace Attorney General hopeful Jay Fant in House District 15?

November fundraising for Duggan, a Jacksonville lawyer, was the weakest of his four months as an active candidate. (That could be attributed to a traditional holiday season trough in fundraising, however.)

Still, the $8,950 haul, which brought Duggan to just over $82,000 on hand, was the first time Duggan’s monthly take dipped below $10,000.

Among donors: Preston Haskell and Jacksonville City Council hopeful Rory Diamond.

Notable: Diamond and Duggan both employed Brian Hughes as a political consultant.

Hughes, the self-described “bad boy of comms,” has moved on to join Mayor Lenny Curry‘s team as chief of staff — codifying an arrangement that City Hall wags believed existed already.

Duggan spent $3,286 in November, including $1,000 to Data Targeting for November consulting; Tim Baker, Hughes’ frequent collaborator in Northeast Florida races, is still on the campaign side.

Duggan, a mainstay at Jacksonville’s City Hall, has been stacking endorsements since entering the race.

Republican Councilmen Danny BectonMatt SchellenbergGreg AndersonAaron BowmanScott WilsonDoyle Carter, and Sam Newby are on board, as are former Councilmen Jim Overton and Kevin Hyde.

Duggan was previously endorsed by Rep. John Rutherford, state Sen. Aaron Bean, state Rep. Jason Fischer, Duval Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell, Duval Tax Collector Michael Corrigan and Councilman Jim Love.

Despite HD 15 being a red district, there is actually a competitive primary on the Democratic side — though November numbers are not available.

Tracye Polson, a first-time candidate who has the backing of many establishment Democrats, brought in $14,090 off of 64 contributions in October, bringing her total raised to $65,189, with over $54,000 of that on hand. Her committee has another $12,000 banked, giving her $66,000 raised.

Matthew Jude McAllister, a largely unknown quantity for politically-active Dems, filed as a candidate in November and has yet to report numbers.

A sign of the difference between the two Dems: Polson was working the room at this week’s meeting of Duval Democrats, and McAllister was not in attendance.

Expect updates to this post.

$112K raised in November for Lenny Curry committee; new chief of staff gets paid

Build Something That Lasts, the political committee linked to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry both spent and raised money robustly in November.

Checks cut were more interesting than deposits, which, by and large, came from the usual suspects.

For the first time since August, Curry’s committee cleared six-figures, raking in $112,000. The committee has just under $475,000 on hand.

Most of the money came in $25,000 checks; feeling generous was Peter Rummell, whose district development may get a little financial boost from city coffers via the Downtown Investment Authority.

Also going in for $25,000 each were former Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne WeaverJohn Baker and local engineering firm England-Thims and Miller, which is handling much of the area’s commercial development projects.

Of course, this being the holidays, it is better to give than to receive; the committee doled out just over $64,000.

Of that, $30,000 went to the newly hired chief of staff Brian Hughes — Curry’s political adviser who was instrumental in achieving the administration’s vision over the last two and a half years — via Meteoric Media.

Hughes assumes the CoS position Jan. 2.

An additional $25,000 went to Data Targeting.

Reflected in this report was spending on travel to Chicago — a trip first reported in the Florida Times-Union. The committee shelled out almost $1,900 to United Airlines, with an additional $801.90 to the Park Hyatt,

A five-star hotel, the Park Hyatt is where one can “savor the ultimate downtown experience in our luxury hotel” and enjoy “sweeping views of the Chicago cityscape.” Among the amenities are Simmons Beautyrest mattresses, spalike tubs and round-the-clock room service.

November’s only campaign contributions: The House re-election campaign of Clay Yarborough and the City Council campaign of LeAnna Cumber.

Cumber, who had a gangbusters first month of fundraising ($101,000 in October), was Hughes’ client.

‘Arrangement’ between CSX, 4th circuit lawyers on blocked railroad crossings

Railroad company CSX embraced a “precision railroading” model, one that led to staff cuts and a seeming uptick in trains lingering on tracks blocking roadways.

Since then, citizens in the Jacksonville/Baldwin area — and well beyond — have kvetched, per an email from John G. Kalinowski, an Assistant State Attorney in Florida’s 4th Judicial Circuit.

In October, Kalinowski outlined what was then the protocol: “Generally a citation is sent to CSX, and they pay the $110/$250 for the citation depending on whether the Jacksonville Ordinance or the Baldwin Ordinance is used on the citation. They got a rash of them recently and contacted us about resolving them.”

By “rash,” Kalinowski means a whopping 34 citations.

The resolution, predictably, worked out in CSX’s favor, if a Nov. 27 email from Kalinowski to Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel is a good indicator.

“For now,” writes Kalinowski, “our arrangement is to have them plea and pay to a few of the citations and dismiss the others. If push comes to shove, we may be dealing with a challenge to the validity of the ordinance.”

People are predictably vexed: the assistant state attorney notes their inconveniences, which include “hourlong backups and people leaving their cars on foot to go attend to business.”

Alas, there may be no local remedy.

“One of my concerns that CSX counsel has raised is that the Jacksonville and Baldwin municipal ordinances are pre-empted by federal law. There’s some good authority that they are right,” Kalinowski writes, citing three cases.

Friberg v. Kansas City S. Ry. Co. (5th Cir. 2001): the Circuit Court Judge held that “the supremacy of federal law in the regulation of rail transportation cannot be denied.”

R.R. Ventures, Inc. v. Surface Transportation Board (6th Cir. 2002) and CSX Transportation v. City of Plymouth  (6th Cir. 2002) were other examples of cases where federal law pre-empted state and local ordinances barring trains from blocking tracks.

For drivers on Jacksonville area roads that have railroad crossings, here’s some advice: pack your lunch and bring a book. You might be waiting a while. And there’s nothing that can be done about it.

Jacksonville mulls letting courts handle employee drug screens

Jacksonville may be mulling a change its employment drug test procedures soon, and that could bring revenue to the courts.

That’s the gist of an internal email chain obtained by FloridaPolitics.com. However, there are caveats that may preclude this from happening.

On Nov. 29, Diane Moser — head of employee services for the City of Jacksonville — was among a group that went to the courthouse to look over their drug testing procedures.

“The big picture is that Courts is trying to figure out a way to bring in more money and would like the City to help,” Moser wrote in an email to other senior staffers in the mayor’s office.

“Their lab is currently running 250,000 to 300,000 tests per year using a high tech system called Paracelsus.  They are trying to expand this program as well as start a program for employment testing.  The cost of their current test to other agencies is $30.00.  They are not currently doing any drug testing for employment,” Moser added.

However, there are sticking points. One such:

“They would need to obtain licensure through the Agency for Health Care Administration, a state requirement, as well as licensing through the Health and Human Services for DOT compliance. At this point, we do not have an idea of how long these licensures will take,” Moser wrote.

Another sticking point that may preclude this idea from coming to fruition: the “low” number of drug tests (1,627) that the city performs.

“We explained that we used to conduct more because at one point we tested everyone we hired but that we only test safety sensitive and DOT positions for pre-employment (we also test the entire population for reasonable suspicion and post-accident),” Moser wrote.

And there are still other potential roadblocks.

For one thing, the court drug testing does not involve hair samples — an apparent sticking point.

As well, there is an optics issue, per Moser: “Do we really want to send our applicants and employees to a lab that conducts tests on drug offenders?”

The courts charge $30 per person, compared to the current city rate of $25; however, the courts run a 15-panel test and the city runs just a seven-panel test, perhaps accounting for the price break.

Foreclosure final on state Representative’s ‘parsonage’

Finally subject to a successful foreclosure auction Wednesday: The Davie “parsonage” of Spoken Word Ministries, the church run in part by Rep. Kim Daniels.

Since Dec. 2016, the mortgage holder, Freedom Mortgage Corporation, had sought to foreclose on the property. The bank finally recovered the property for $800,200 at auction.

However, those efforts had been successfully forestalled over months. Motions to cancel a sale date had been filed four times — the most recent one, a cancellation of an October sale due to Hurricane Irma.

Daniels’ invocation of Irma was ironic, given that she made news in the wake of the storm by asserting that “prophets” saw the storm coming.

“Nothing happens except God reveal it to prophets first,” the Jacksonville Democrat observed as the death-dealing superstorm enveloped the peninsula.

Spoken Word wanted time to survey storm damage.

The Davie property was part of an impressive portfolio of parsonages and parson-appropriate vehicles amassed by Spoken Word Ministries, as the divorce filing of Ardell Daniels — the Rep’s now ex-husband — indicated.

Beyond that $860,000 home, the couple acquired other properties, including three Jacksonville homes, a Jacksonville commercial property, and three Central Florida timeshares. The Jacksonville home where Kim Daniels lives was appraised in 2015 at $386,940.

Additionally, Spoken Word Ministries had 13 vehicles, either in the name of the corporation or the husband.

Daniels, meanwhile, maintains impressive earning power; as of her last financial disclosure statement, she made $96,000 from Spoken Word Ministries and just over $100,000 from Kim Daniels Ministries International in 2016.

Daniels’ net worth, per that disclosure document, was just shy of $595,000, with $34,116 in liabilities including two car notes and department store charge cards.

Al Lawson breaks with Congressional Black Caucus on John Conyers

Rep. John Conyers, increasingly embattled by serial sexual harassment claims, announced his immediate retirement from Congress Tuesday.

Despite the various claims made against the Michigan Democrat, many leading members of the Congressional Black Caucus thought, per POLITICO, that a double standard was in play, with Conyers being held to a higher standard than white politicians (Blake Farenthold, Al Franken, Roy Moore and Donald Trump) who were credibly accused of similar actions.

“Certainly it seems as if there is indeed a double standard,” Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge told POLITICO. “When it happens to one of us, we’re guilty until proven innocent. They’re just finally starting to talk about Blake Farenthold, who is a member sitting here who paid out $84,000.”

“Do I think he was treated like everyone? No, he wasn’t. I think it was an easy call for people to talk about him,” CBC chairman Cedric Richmond told POLITICO.

“Conyers denies it,” Richmond added, “Franken admits it.”

Not every CBC member agrees with what POLITICO presented as the caucus consensus, however.

Rep. Al Lawson — a North Florida Congressman — admires Conyers’ legacy, but believes it was time for him to step down.

“I have admired Congressman Conyers since I was a sophomore in college. I believe that he made the right decision. I do not believe there was a double standard in play,” Rep. Lawson said.

As these issues — with Conyers and many others — continue to surface, politicians across the spectrum will be compelled to assess these issues, weighing political legacies against credible narratives of exploitation of power dynamics.

Many of them will have to address them about people they’ve admired, as Lawson’s example indicates.

Brian Hughes, ‘bad boy of comms,’ to be Lenny Curry’s chief of staff

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry brought his political adviser into the administration Wednesday, naming Brian Hughes as his Chief of Staff.

Hughes begins in his new position January 2, 2018.

“To me and dozens of other elected officials, Brian Hughes has been a senior adviser on important matters of public policy and communications,” said Curry.

“Working with me, Brian has already put a powerful imprint on our city’s future. From the pension solution to restructuring how we serve Jacksonville’s children with the Kids Hope Alliance, Brian applied his strengths to benefit this great city. I am honored to have him join my administration in a leadership role to help manage this successful team as we continue to accomplish big things,” Curry added.

Indeed, Hughes has been an influential figure, shaping stories and narratives both in Curry’s campaign and as a post-election political adviser who has helped Curry refine messages to sell initiatives, such as those mentioned.

Hughes’ motto as a political consultant: Track. Flack. Attack. Hack.

In an interview with this writer for INFLUENCE Magazine, Hughes described himself as the “the bad boy of comms.”

“Some people feel I’m overly aggressive,” said Hughes, a “motorcycle guy who cusses and gets angry.”

Hughes, a native of Upstate New York, cut his teeth in politics as an intern for his local congressman, moderate Republican Sherwood Boehlert for one “magical summer.”

The job wasn’t glamorous: a lot of formulaic “snail mail” responses on hot-button issues of a bygone era, such as NAFTA and the Russian Republics. But Hughes “emerged with a skill in writing” and an ability to process an “unfathomable amount of info about policy and politics.”

Hughes ended up in Florida, working for former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, before taking a sabbatical from politics to pursue interest in film, then serving in the Gulf War.

But politics was always there.

Hughes, motivated by his own Gulf War experience, traveled to Afghanistan to research a documentary on military chaplains. However, the siren call of politics in the Sunshine State was too much to resist.

By the end of the last decade, Hughes was back in the game, with work for Jeff Atwater and Lizbeth Benacquisto. And he met his second wife in Tallahassee, which provided further incentive for the itinerant Hughes to put down roots in Florida.

In that timeframe, Hughes also met Curry via the Republican Party of Florida, setting the stage for an association that vaulted Curry to the mayor’s office and Hughes and his chief collaborator, Tim Baker (with whom he overlapped in work with Benacquisto and Atwater), to the famed Data Targeting firm, and ultimately toward a platform in which Hughes and Baker revolutionized political communications in Jacksonville.

Indeed, Baker and Hughes had an impressive array of candidates, both local and statewide, before this hire.

In the Jacksonville market alone, Hughes and Baker handled the 2018 bid of Wyman Duggan for State House District 15, and 2019 bids of Rose Conry, Rory Diamond, Randy DeFoor, LeAnna Cumber and Ron Salem for Jacksonville City Council.

The two also did committee work for Mayor Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson.

On the state level, Agriculture Commissioner candidate Baxter Troutman and Attorney General hopeful Frank White are among the candidates the two worked for.

What happens now?

Hughes told Florida Politics that “all clients are informed and have made appropriate plans. I continue working with them until December is concluded. And as a civilian I will continue to be a fan rooting for these great people to reach the goals we shared.”

Indeed, informed sources tell me Baker will have new collaborators and it will be full steam ahead on these campaigns — the culmination of an eight year run, including a radical reshaping of how politics was done in Northeast Florida.

City Council members — who will now have to work with Hughes in a different capacity — had reaction.

Council President Anna Brosche said that “it’s my understanding that this is just formalizing how things have functioned for quite some time.”

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, often the sole voice of opposition to Curry’s initiatives, expected a different hire.

“I thought Ali Korman Shelton was a shoo in for the job. She has served the Mayor and our city well. As a council member, I look forward to working with Mr. Hughes,” Dennis said.

Councilman Bill Gulliford described Hughes as “very good in the campaign business and there are a lot coming up. That seems to be his passion so I am surprised he would take a ‘desk job.'”

The hire was “a little surprising,” but Hughes is “smart and capable.”

“I suspect he will keep it interesting,” Gulliford added.

Council Vice President Aaron Bowman said he has a “high respect” for Hughes, whom he expects to be a “strong asset to the Mayor and the administration.”

And Councilman Tommy Hazouri — a former mayor himself — had a favorable reaction.

“Hobson’s choice. The mayor trusts him, and the mayor has the right, of course, to make his i- house appointments, among others. Hughes is certainly politically savvy. Even with his very partisan background,” Hazouri said, “I find he works well with both sides of our aisle as, while we have party affiliations, our Council recognizes that there are no Republican or Democratic potholes.”

Indeed, Hughes had an amazing run as a political communicator.

Able to play the heavy easily, Hughes made what could be called a “babyface turn” in helming Nelson’s primary election knockout of Angela Corey.

But he will be best known for the 2015 mayoral race, and the aftermath.

Hughes was so out front for his client that, even as Hughes was discussed as an official hire after the election, people told this writer that Hughes would be a deal breaker.

Hughes discussed that triumph with this reporter on election night.

“For all the hype, the thing that made the difference was Democrats crossing over.” Their data had told them that was a viable target, and in communicating his message to “all of Jacksonville, people heard it.”

Hughes has worked in the system and has transformed the system. Now, along with Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and CFO Mike Weinstein, he will run the system.

Jason Fischer adds $25K for his HD 16 re-election bid

Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jason Fischer is currently unopposed for re-election to House District 16 but that didn’t stop him from adding another $25,000 last month to push his campaign past $100,000 mark in total fundraising.

Fischer, currently in his first term, raised $24,850 and spent $7,648 during November, bringing his to-date total to $113,902 raised with $80,217 cash on hand.

The former Duval County School Board member brought in $1,000 checks from lobby firms Becker & Poliakoff, Foley & Lardner, Ericks Consultants, The Rubin Group, as well as a pair from Ron Book – one through his firm and another from his personal account.

In all, Fischer added 18 contributions for the election max of $1,000, though one from the Florida Pharmacist Political Committee was refunded. Another 18 donors chipped in under the max, mostly at the $500 level.

Last month’s expenditures report shows a $6,000 payment to Gainesville-based Data Targeting Research for consulting work, with a handful of milage and meal reimbursements making up the rest of the outflow.

Fischer’s committee, Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville, also showed a net gain in November with $8,000 raised and $936 spent. Its donor list included Florida Blue with a $5,000 check, Teco Energy with a $2,000 contribution and AT&T at $1,000.

At month’s end the committee had $37,386 on hand, giving Fischer a combined total of $117,603 between his two accounts.

Rumors Fischer could face a primary challenger have ebbed in recent months, and with his current fundraising streak he looks good for re-election to the Republican-leaning district.

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