Jax – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Feds give Jacksonville Transportation Authority $3.356 million for St. Johns River Ferry

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority announced Tuesday a $3,356,900 Passenger Ferry Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration.

The money is earmarked for improvements for the ferry slips, the vessel, and the ferry terminal.

JTA took over the ferry’s ownership and operations two years ago, noted its CEO.

“We have made a lot of improvements since JTA assumed ownership and operations of the ferry on March 31, 2016,” said JTA Chief Executive Officer Nat Ford.

“Ridership continues to grow, and improvements to the ferry’s infrastructure will continue thanks to grant awards that the JTA has received from the FTA. With this recent award,” Ford said, “the JTA will continue to strengthen the ferry’s infrastructure, and give our riders a safe and reliable service.”

In a media release, JTA thanked Florida’s Senators and Jacksonville’s two Congressmen, John Rutherford and Al Lawson, for their work on behalf of the project.

Cash-strapped UF Health looks to sell outpatient dialysis service

For Jacksonville’s safety-net hospital UF Health, money has been tight for a number of years.

And the latest fiscal constraints are driving a change to the business model, per UF Health CEO Leon Haley.

In a letter to Jacksonville City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche, Haley notes that the hospital is negotiating to sell its outpatient dialysis service to a national, not-for-profit provider by the end of June.

The unnamed company, per Haley, already has a contract to handle these services.

Practical considerations govern the move.

One such: that the business model is moving away from hospital settings to free-standing dialysis centers.

Another consideration: the hospital’s current outpatient dialysis center is in need of “significant … expensive … renovation and modernization.”

But the deciding factor seems to be that the move is made necessary by what Haley calls “significant federal and state funding shortfalls.”

State funding, per Haley, has dropped by $31 million in the last three years. Additionally, $12.7 million in federal cuts will happen this calendar year.

This shortfall threatens core services; the sale is framed as a way to make up some of that lost money.

Jacksonville, unlike other Florida cities of its size, lacks an indigent care tax; this surfeit makes UF Health funding especially vulnerable to flux in state and federal funding.

UF Health is the sixth-largest employer in the area, a major training ground for medical professionals throughout the state, and a health care resource and safety net for indigent populations.

The city contribution to the hospital has held steady for years at just over $26 million.

Unopposed Randy White readies to replace Doyle Carter on Jacksonville City Council

Jacksonville City Councilman Doyle Carter was already termed out in 2019 before he threw in for the soon-to-be-vacant Duval County Tax Collector position.

And Carter made it clear that he backed his old friend Randy White for the Westside seat.

Like Carter, White is a Republican. And despite the absence of any real competition for the seat, White has maintained consistent fundraising of the sort that would discourage any late-breaking challenge for the political newcomer.

White, now in his sixth month as an active candidate, brought in a relatively modest April haul: $3,700, highlighted by donations from Duval Teachers and Nassau County Fire and Rescue employee funds.

The candidate has raised $83,386 and thus far has spent just $1,402 of that sum.

Soft April fundraising in Sam Newby’s Jacksonville City Council re-election bid

Sam Newby (Image via Florida Times-Union)

On a shoestring budget of just over $9,000, Jacksonville City Councilman Sam Newby won his at-large seat on the City Council three years ago, defeating a candidate who raised 15 times what he did in the May 2015 unitary general election.

And, if his first month in the race is any indication, Newby figures he can win re-election without eye-popping fundraising totals.

Newby brought in just $4,600, with a $100 personal loan and $4,500 in external contributions from five donors.

However, those donors are noteworthy.

Among them, a “big three” of sorts: the Orange Park Kennel Club, the Jacksonville Kennel Club, and Jacksonville Greyhound Racing.

All three gambling entities gave the maximum of $1,000, as did Sleiman Holdings, which is currently in a legal imbroglio with the city over busted docks and other issues at the Jacksonville Landing.

These donors suggest that if Newby needs to raise more serious money going forward, he could.

However, he didn’t in April.

Newby has one opponent currently, Democrat Chad McIntyre, who thus far has yet to report fundraising.

Newby is entrenched in the local Republican Party hierarchy and is a close ally of Mayor Lenny Curry, who hired Newby’s council assistant Chiquita Moore to become a City Council liaison beginning later this month.

Jordan Elsbury to replace Ali Korman Shelton, as Jacksonville revamps intergovernmental affairs team

Jacksonville’s director of intergovernmental affairs, Ali Korman Shelton, is leaving her position at the end of next week.

On Monday, the office of Mayor Lenny Curry revealed the path forward for the team, with one promotion and two internal hires effective May 21.

Jordan Elsbury, a previous “30 under 30 rising star of Florida politics” honoree on this site, will take over for Shelton.

Elsbury had already been working with Korman Shelton in intergovernmental affairs. A veteran of the campaign side who moved over to policy when Curry got elected, Elsbury has been a quick study in both the politics and personalities of City Hall.

A Louisiana native, Elsbury and his family live in Murray Hill.

Additionally, the team will be boosted significantly with two key hires from City Council staff to serve as Council liaisons.

Leeann Krieg, the Council assistant for Greg Anderson, and Chiquita Moore, the assistant (and 2015 campaign manager) for Sam Newby, will be moving over as co-equal “Council liaison” positions.

Both Krieg and Moore had diverse careers before working in Jacksonville City Hall. Krieg worked for the state of Florida; Moore worked in various roles with the Georgia Department of Corrections and Citigroup.

“These roles are very important to my administration,” said Mayor Lenny Curry. “I look forward to the tremendous knowledge, leadership and experiences Jordan, Leeann, and Chiquita will bring as we work diligently to meet the needs of all citizens.”

Moore and Krieg will be charged with helping to move the Mayor’s agenda through Council, a process that may get easier at the end of June, when Council President Anna Brosche relinquishes the gavel to Curry ally Aaron Bowman.

Democrat Ken Organes banks $11K for challenge to Jason Fischer

House District 16, a seat on the Southside of Jacksonville, is a reliably Republican seat.

The district leans Republican with a 55,593 to 35,171 voter registration advantage over Democrats, according to LobbyTools.

Rep. Jason Fischer faced no Democratic opposition in 2016. And predecessor Charles McBurney had the same luck.

2018 is a different matter, however, with Ken Organes carrying the Democratic banner.

Organes, buoyed by $7,500 of his own money, tallied $11,743 off of 34 total contributions. Aside from the candidate’s stake, the vast majority of donations were $100 and below.

The former CSX employee still has a ways to go to catch Fischer, who recorded no April fundraising either for his campaign account or that of his Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville political committee.

The campaign account has $82,000 on hand, and the committee has nearly $35,000.

Bill Bishop continues to bellyflop in Jacksonville City Council race fundraising

When then-Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Bishop finished a strong third in the 2015 mayor’s race, the Republican vowed that he would run for Mayor again, before endorsing Democrat Alvin Brown over the eventual Republican winner, Lenny Curry.

Both the early declaration of a mayoral re-do and the cross-party endorsement of Brown seemed like a safe bet at the time to many.

Brown won the first election by six points, and the thought was that Bishop, a campaign trail supporter of the then-controversial Human Rights Ordinance expansion, could corral the hipster vote in the runoff for Brown (who had done nothing in his time in office to earn it).

Bishop has long since abandoned his dreams for the mayor’s office, and settled into a bid for an at-large City Council seat.

But fundraising continues to elude him, as another distressing tally in April suggests.

Bishop brought in just $1,225 during the month … much less than he is spending on campaign management ($3,000), via the RLS Group.

April was the second straight month in which the bellyflopping Bishop campaign spent more on campaign management than it raised — a seemingly untenable trend.

Bishop’s campaign has just under $10,500 on hand, which may not be enough for a citywide race.

The leading fundraiser in the race, Republican Ron Salem, continued to bank in April. He added $4,000 to his political committee (via J.B. Coxwell) and an additional $2,850 to his campaign account.

The committee has $11,000 on hand after April receipts; Salem’s campaign account, meanwhile, is over $150,000 cash on hand.

Democrat Darren Mason, the third candidate in the race, has yet to report April receipts, but had just over $500 on hand at the end of March.

Duval Tax Collector special election poised for August, November votes

As we reported last week, the position of Duval County Tax Collector is poised to open up in the coming weeks.

Incumbent Michael Corrigan is moving on, to become CEO of Visit Jacksonville. His resignation letter suggests that he couldn’t serve his entire term before taking that position.

Providentially, a group of Republican hopefuls, including Councilman Doyle Carter, former State Rep. and City Councilman Lake Ray, and former Councilman and Property Appraiser Jim Overton are already filed to run.

No Democrats have filed as of yet.

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche, via memo, laid down the process for the special election.

The first election would be on the August ballot. If no one should have a majority of votes, the general election ballot in November would be decisive.

“The legislation will be included on the addendum for the regular City Council Meeting on Tuesday, May 8, 2018. Since time is needed for a qualifying period and to establish the candidates to be included on the printed August ballot, the legislation includes a one-cycle emergency. Therefore, the legislation will be taken up in committee(s) the week of May 14, 2018; assuming passage, the legislation will be ready for Council on May 22, 2018,” Brosche wrote Monday morning.

Qualifying for this race will occur between Jun. 18 and Jun. 22, per the legislation.

‘Twisted political game’: Cybersnooping, surveillance charges roil Jacksonville City Hall

On Wednesday’s episode of First Coast Connect on Jacksonville’s WJCT-FM, Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche charged that her meetings were being followed and that someone in city government was snooping on the computer of her Council assistant.

Citing a “trust issue,” Brosche mentioned that she was “not allowed to have meetings with department heads without clearing things with the Mayor’s Office,” that her “meetings with people in the community” were followed up upon by “contact from the Mayor’s Office,” and that her “assistant’s computer is being monitored.”

When asked by host Melissa Ross if she and her staff were “being spied on,” Brosche said it was “difficult not to reach that conclusion.”

On Friday, the Mayor’s Office offered its perspective, one that drew different conclusions entirely and again delineated a toxic dynamic between Jacksonville’s mayor and leader of the City Council.

Brian Hughes, the chief of staff for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, asserted Friday that “once again the Council President and her staff have made false and wholly unfounded claims about the administration.”

“So let’s be clear, no one in the mayor’s administration, at any level, has ‘monitored’ or followed any Councilmember or staff. Similarly there has never been any surreptitious, intentional or unintentional interference or monitoring of any electronic devices of members or their staff,” Hughes asserted.

“The requested data in the email shows that the aide’s computer had three other logins since last Fall. One by the Council President, one by Council Member [Garrett] Dennis, and one by a staff member of ITD who is a professional IT service specialist for the entire COJ,” Hughes added.

The email to which Hughes referred followed from an inquiry from Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, which revealed those three logins, as well as another six dates in which Brosche’s assistant, Jeneen Sanders, had password issues.

Mousa was “very concerned” and opted to “investigate these allegations,” but the inquiry found that the only documented logins beyond Sanders were those of Brosche, Councilman Dennis, and the Council’s “IT guru.”

For Hughes, Brosche’s comments are part of a pattern.

“CP Brosche’s pattern of cryptic charges with zero basis in fact is both irresponsible and absurd. Giving voice to such nonsense demonstrates a willingness by her and her staff to simply lie in order to score points in some twisted political game.”

“Either way,” Hughes added, “casting such charges at the hard working men and women of this administration is inappropriate.”

The sharp differences between Hughes and Brosche on this issue again reveal a larger disconnect.

In mid February, a week before the city’s IT specialist logged onto Sanders’ computer, Hughes and Sanders had a verbal encounter that Sanders reported as Hughes having “accosted” her. However, the city’s general counsel concluded that no laws were violated.

Brosche, as one would expect, stood by her claims despite Hughes’ assertions.

“When my off site meetings and whereabouts are being reported back to those with whom I’m meeting, and when my assistant receives a message when trying to log off her computer that she cannot do so because someone else is on her machine, I stand by my suggestion that her machine is being monitored. When it comes to truth, honesty, and transparency, I’ll let the people decide who they believe,” Brosche said.

Brosche emphasized that her concern was “remote monitoring while [Sanders] is actively using the machine,” a concern elided from Mousa’s inquiry into logins and password issues.

The logins under Brosche’s name were, she said, to give Sanders “access she didn’t have for something [Brosche] needed” and are “not common practice.”

And Dennis told the Daily Record that the login under his name was at the time he was without a Council assistant.

As this continuing drama between the Republican Mayor and the Republican Council President unfolds, there is a real possibility that Brosche may run for Lenny Curry’s job.

As we reported Wednesday (news broken first on WJCT), Brosche is mulling a run for Mayor.

While she is “focused” on her “responsibilities as Council President and some important initiatives launched recently,” Brosche notes that once her term ends, she will have “the opportunity to get clarity on [her] next steps.”

Curry has described Brosche at various times as “disgraceful, irresponsible, ridiculous … slanderous,” suggesting that her communications with the Mayor’s Office and other entities are driven by “public relations” concerns.

Along those lines, Brosche has described “the dynamic of [a] unhealthy relationship” with Curry.

The relationship appears to be unsalvageable.

If Brosche is to run for Mayor (and really, given that Curry’s political machine is gunning for her, she might as well), she will need to cultivate serious financial backing.

In two months as a candidate, Curry has raised $1.75 million between his political committee (and transfers from another committee of his) and his campaign account.

Brosche, who was backed by the Curry-friendly Chamber and other establishment groups as she ran for the City Council in 2015, may need to cultivate backing outside those groups for any 2019 campaign she runs.

Qualifying deadline clears fields in Northeast Florida congressional primaries

Crowded Democratic primaries for Northeast Florida Congressional seats have been resolved after Friday’s action.

In Congressional District 5, a candidate has officially stepped aside.

Rontel Batie, a former Corrine Brown staffer, officially announced his withdrawal from the race Thursday.

“I’ve come to realize that the time for Florida to elect a young, African American progressive to Congress will not be in 2018,” Batie said.

Odds were not with him.

Incumbent Rep. Al Lawson has a strong base of support in Tallahassee. And former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown likely will have robust support in Jacksonville.

Batie’s withdrawal sets up a two person race; this is worth noting, as Lawson won the primary two years ago against Corrine Brown with a plurality of votes, due to a third candidate siphoning Jacksonville area votes.

Lawson won the three way primary with just over 47 percent of the vote, with Corrine Brown, who was under indictment and bereft of fundraising, coming in with 38 percent.

In Congressional District 4, Monica DePaul did not run at all. And Joceline Berrios, who teased a Democratic run, is now running an an NPA.

Ges Selmont gets the nod by default, though it’s uphill for him.

John Rutherford, a former three-term Jacksonville Sheriff, has $300,000 cash on hand and name identification to spare. Selmont, largely unknown, has $6,000 cash on hand, but loaned his own campaign more than that.

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