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A.G. Gancarski’s 10 predictions for Jacksonville politics in 2017

Now that 2017 is all but upon us — after a tumultuous 2016 electorally — what’s next for Northeast Florida politics?

One assurance: unlike in 2016, with a massive electoral turnover in the region’s Washington and Tallahassee delegations, as well as in both the state attorney and public defender offices, 2017 won’t see that.

With that in mind, our crystal ball turns — mostly — to policy.

Though, as you will see, we won’t be able to resist a few purely political prognostications.

In the words of Jay-Z (or was it Lenny Curry?) “you can’t change a player’s game in the ninth inning.”

Prediction 1: Duval Delegation will struggle to bring home the bacon.

The smart people (or at least the old ones) will rehearse their now ritualized laments for another year. They will whisper and mutter about how things used to be, back when titans like Jim King ruled the corridors of power in the state capital.

And they will be right.

The Duval County Legislative Delegation is in for two years, relatively speaking, in the cold. House Districts 11, 12, 13, 14, and 16 all have rookie legislators.

You can see the track toward power — or not — in committee assignments.

The only leadership position will be held by the one returning member from Jacksonville — House District 15 Republican Jay Fant — vice chair of the Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee.

That lack of stroke, coupled with a darkening fiscal forecast for the Sunshine State and the parsimony of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, is going to lead to fewer appropriations projects coming back to Duval County.

While Jacksonville is lobbying up in Tallahassee again in 2017, replicating the 2016 strategy involving the Fiorentino Group, Southern Strategy Group, and Ballard Partners, expectations will have to be tempered given that every major push will have to be made to legislators from outside the area.

Duval’s priorities will be weighed against those of delegations with superior manpower and seniority in the House.

In the Senate, of course, Audrey Gibson and Aaron Bean are seasoned pros. But the House is going to be where Duval’s dreams live or die.

Prediction 2: No money for the Hart Expressway offramp removal this year.

Curry wants $50 million in state money for Hart Expressway ramp modifications, noting at November’s Duval Delegation meeting that the current setup has outmoded designs and creates public safety issues.

“The ramps were originally designed to bypass the industrialized waterfront,” Curry said, a purpose outmoded in the half-century since the original construction.

Indeed, the city strategy is predicated now on utilizing the potential of Bay Street. The goal is to have meaningful tourist attractions at the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park, to augment the latest $90 million capital influx into the Sports Complex.

However, Prediction 1 comes into play: who from outside the area, in a year of dwindling state resources, is going to push for a $50 million road project in Jacksonville’s downtown?

Mayor Curry played any number of hold cards during the last session to get the pension reform bill through Tallahassee and onto the referendum ballot. Does he have enough juice to get this ball into the end zone with a line full of untested rookies blocking for him?

Prediction 3: Collective bargaining will not wrap in time for Jacksonville’s FY 18 budget

Who will blink first in the current negotiating table showdown between city negotiators and the heads of various unions? And when will they cave?

City hopes have been that they could close a deal with one of the bargaining units by the middle of the year, and that unit would be willing to accept defined contribution plans for new hires.

Out of the units — general employees, police, and fire — the expectation is that general employees would be willing to “take a haircut.”

Police and fire risk their lives daily in the field. Meanwhile, there are some general employees whose greatest daily risks is queueing up at food trucks at Hemming Park during lunch.

However, with general employees, there are a lot of moving parts. And even with a bargaining unit as relatively friendly as the Jacksonville Supervisors Association, the city and union are far apart on pay raises.

Throughout the city, many employees took a 2 percent pay cut in 2010, and have yet to see restoration. It means there are a lot of people — and unions — looking to be “made whole.”

Thus, a trend. The city offers pay raises that get them part of the way there; the unions counter by saying the raises aren’t enough.

Meanwhile, a wrinkle affecting public safety: the 2015 pension reform accord signed into law by outgoing Mayor Alvin Brown, which was supposed to hold for seven years.

The idea behind that accord: relative stability, coupled with an increase in city contributions beyond current levels totaling $350 million in 13 years.

The public safety unions interpret that as not having to agree to anything until next decade.

They could, theoretically, cave. But the world is watching. And by the world, we mean the national organizations of the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Prediction 4: Human Rights Ordinance expansion faces another uphill slog.

The “smart set” wants HRO expansion to the LGBT community — and the “T” is non-negotiable.

The arguments for the HRO expansion are familiar by now: other cities accomplished this years ago, and their moral firmaments remain intact. The cities that have gotten protections for people regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression align more closely with the values of corporations looking to relocate to Jacksonville. And it’s the right thing to do.

Also familiar by now: a Jacksonville City Council, which has many members who might have said in 2015 on the campaign trail that they support HRO expansion. But in 2016 and 2017, the concerns are more prosaic, about the “language of the bill” and “unintended consequences” of legislation that could, theoretically, impact churches and small businesses.

Despite the fact that enforcement of the ordinance expansion would be in a gray area, there are real concerns about the nightmare scenarios that happened to Christian conservatives elsewhere in the country when they flouted laws and refused to provide service to LGBT people.

Early indications are that advocates have taken a “divide and conquer” approach with the council, each of them lobbying a handful of members. There may be attendant risks to that strategy. It didn’t seem to drive the votes in 2016.

Word is by early January, HRO proponents are going to know if they have the votes needed to push the bill through. If you don’t see a filing soon after that, you will know there aren’t quite 10.

Is there a Plan B?

The way to lobby this council is to pick one lobbyist — my pick would be Paul Harden, who is the best lobbyist in the city — to make a unified, cohesive pitch. Such a pitch would ensure the council is on the same page, and understand both the affirmative talking points and how to undermine concerns of the Christian right.

This is a good ol’ boy town. To sell radical change, it has to be through the good ol’ boy system.

Prediction 5: The murder rate won’t abate, and that will become a problem for the mayor’s office.

As I write this (late December), the city of Jacksonville is well over 110 homicides. As of December 21, the numbers was 116.

That’s consistent with the range between 2012 and 2015, which was between 109 and 117. Given the realities of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, it’s likely that Jacksonville could end up with over 120 homicides.

If so, that would be the first time since 2008.

Mayor Curry has been able to message on the need to improve public safety for a year and a half as mayor and for longer than that on the campaign trail.

However, if the blood tide surges in 2017, blaming it on decisions made in 2012-14 by the “previous administration” will be a strategy with diminishing returns.

The corrective strategies that can be used are already being used. Increased enforcement in the hot zones, coupled with new technology (new for Jacksonville, that is) like Shot Spotter, which allows LEOs to identify where a shot may come from.

However, the question is whether law enforcement can solve problems created by a lack of economic opportunity, educational gaps, family structures decimated from said lack of economic opportunity, to the school-to-prison pipeline.

While there may be nuanced and plausible solutions advanced behind closed doors, the question may be more elemental: can government solve this issue through prevention, intervention, and enforcement? Or is there something larger happening — a societal dislocation?

The mayor would be well advised to message aggressively on the issue of public safety in the early spring, getting ahead of the inevitabilities of the summer to come.

Prediction 6: Alvin Brown continues to resurface

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown stopped by the mayor’s office to talk to Lenny Curry in December, offering a long-delayed coda to an acrimonious mayoral campaign.

Expect to see more of Brown in 2017.

He didn’t lose to Curry by much; there was not some populist wave sweeping him out of office, as was the case with State Attorney Angela Corey and Public Defender Matt Shirk.

And much of the reason for Brown’s loss had to do with inept re-election campaign messaging, and an inability to corral a balky city council on pension reform until the end.

Brown is not damaged goods, in other words.

Is he a viable quantity going forward? There may be a platform in which we find out. Sooner than later.

Prediction 7: Democratic demolition derby begins, ahead of local challenge to Al Lawson

Message to Duval Democrats: he’s not that into you.

By “he,” we mean Rep. Al Lawson, the Tallahassee mainstay who came to visit and left with one of Jacksonville’s two congressional seats.

By “into you,” we mean that Lawson will put Tallahassee first. That’s where his base is.

And that means opportunity for a local Democrat.

Who might that Democrat be?

Alvin Brown’s not doing anything major right now; he’s a former mayor who has a natural rapport with Curry and Jacksonville power brokers. That could matter.

With former Rep. Mia Jones termed out of the State House, her credibility and gravitas could take her a long way. Undetermined: does Jones have the brashness needed to make a primary challenge against an establishment-friendly Democrat? And could she stack votes in Duval to make up for an uphill slog the farther west the district goes?

Sen. Audrey Gibson is chair of the Duval Democrats. However, she has already filed for another run for State Senate. And, as Lake Ray can attest, it’s not a great idea to launch a run for Congress from a party chair position.

Former State Sen. Tony Hill: a name to consider also, at least according to some members of the chattering classes. Could Hill convince local power brokers to back his play?

Out of these four, we still believe Brown has the clearest path with the fewest impediments.

Prediction 8: There will be a homeless day resource center in Downtown Jacksonville

The scene outside of Jacksonville’s city hall is like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape.

The homeless population fills Hemming Park, and on cold days spills into businesses like Chamblin’s Bookmine and the public library, inhibiting patterns of usage that might otherwise lead to downtown becoming the destination that city leaders have wanted, ever since department stores cleared out during the Hans Tanzler and Jake Godbold eras.

The reality is that Jacksonville would like to gentrify its downtown. The parallel reality is that much of the homeless problem can be attributed to the lack of a homeless day resource center, which would allow that population to shower, shave, and assume various accouterments of normalcy.

One of these existed when Alvin Brown was mayor, but the Curry administration cut it in its first budget, and didn’t restore it in its second.

The days of Lenny Curry taking lunchtime runs through Hemming Park seem to have ended, but what he would see if he were out there would be flocks of dispossessed people, who (whether they are ultimately responsible for their own fates or not) run counter to the brand Jacksonville desires.

Policy Director Robin Lumb has suggested a “well-managed day center for the homeless.”

If the mayor were to roll out a proposal for something along these lines, one could expect the timing to be deliberate: perhaps the March ICARE meeting of local socially-conscious church types would be that time.

That would put the proposal — which likely would be in the $1M per year range — out front ahead of the budget season, allowing the mayor to advance other priorities based on a relatively inexpensive gesture that would, in the final analysis, advance public safety.

Prediction 9: The city will reassume control of Hemming Park, but it won’t matter much

Speaking of Hemming Park, another big story to watch is whether Mayor Curry follows through with his stated intention to have the city take back control of “the front door to city hall.”

Policy Director Lumb noted in an internal memo that “the city does not have a compelling interest in creating conditions in the park conducive to attracting any group of persons looking for a place to ‘hang out’ for extended periods of time … people who otherwise have no reason to be downtown other than to receive services from homeless agencies, food kitchens, and shelters.”

His recommendation: the Parks Department should take control of the park back, stepping up enforcement, and RFPing an event promoter for nights, weekends, and park vendors.

Despite the well-documented issues with Friends of Hemming Park, they had — until recently — offered consistency in presence.

Will the city enforce conditions in Hemming Park in a more aggressive way than it does in Main Street Park? The latter, just two blocks away, has a robust homeless population and no enforcement presence, so to speak.

The Hemming Problem: a symptom of a larger social malaise.

Attempts to remedy Hemming appear to be an ornamental solution to create an oasis downtown for business people. And of course, these attempts have been tried, and have mostly failed, for decades now.

In a way, FOHP was a useful foil for city government.

As long as Friends were engaged, there was the idea that things could improve if the city took control.

If the city takes control, and conditions aren’t better next summer than last summer, what happens then?

Prediction 10: Political scofflaws skate on charges

Yes, Reggie Fullwood pleaded guilty to two felony charges in his campaign finance fraud case.

And, yes, Corrine Brown’s trial will be complicated by the drip-drip-drop of serial betrayals from her coterie of cronies and hangers on.

And there may be a city councilwoman whose familial barbecue sauce plant was raided by the Feds in December.

But not much will come of any of it.

Will Fullwood serve real prison time?

Will Corrine beat the rap?

Will there be any real consequences for whatever is going on with Jerome Brown BBQ?

The pitchfork mob might want it.

But the case could be and will be made that Fullwood has paid his price already.

That Corrine Brown wasn’t aware of what was happening in the name of One Door for Education.

And that Katrina Brown is a limited partner in her family business and had little to do with its inability to meet the job creation goals mandated by her company’s $640,000 grants and loans agreement with the city.

While the punitive model of justice exhilarates some, there is a corollary argument.

What’s accomplished by locking up Fullwood until he’s an old man?

By locking up Corrine Brown for the rest of her life?

These questions seem remote now, but when Fullwood is sentenced in February, and when Corrine Brown’s trial starts later this year, they will seem less so.

 

Report: Al Lawson to serve as regional whip

The Tallahassee Democrat reported Saturday that Rep. Al Lawson of Florida’s Congressional District 5 will serve as regional whip in the upcoming Congress.

Lawson’s position entails ensuring that Democrats from Georgia and Florida vote along party lines.

House Democratic Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer asserts that Lawson “will perform crucial first-run responsibilities, and work to build consensus among House Democrats on legislation that will come to the floor for a vote.”

In a statement from his own office, Lawson said that Congress “has a long to-do list ahead of it when it reconvenes in January for the 115th Congress; I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work to help improve our economy, and create more well-paying jobs, and defend hard-working families in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.”

Mark Hulsey apologizes after latest ethics accusation

Circuit Judge Mark Hulsey III of Jacksonville has apologized after a new charge of judicial misconduct was leveled against him.

On Thursday, Hulsey filed his answer to a second amended complaint of judicial misconduct by the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), filed earlier this month.

Hulsey

It said he “directed (his) Judicial Assistant to overnight personal packages related to (his) campaign, using the 4th Judicial Circuit’s own FedEx account,” the complaint says.

“You did not reimburse the Court for the cost of shipping those personal items.” The JQC investigates misconduct accusations against judges.

Hulsey denied the latest accusation “because he would expect to pay for such expenses from his campaign funds.” He won re-election in August against Jacksonville lawyer Gerald Wilkerson after a recount.

But his filing added, “If those were, in fact, charged to the 4th Circuit’s FedEx account, Judge Hulsey regrets that this occurred and sincerely apologizes for not providing better oversight to his new Judicial Assistant. Judge Hulsey will reimburse those costs.”

Hulsey still stands accused, among other things, of referring to a woman attorney by using a vulgar term for female genitalia. He’s also charged with mistreating courthouse staff attorneys and his judicial assistant.

He is also accused of “offhandedly observ(ing) about African-Americans, ‘They should go get back on a ship and go back to Africa,’ ” in an exchange with a staff attorney, according to a JQC report.

Hulsey – first elected in 2010 – has denied the allegations, saying he “treats all persons with whom he comes in contact as a judicial officer with proper courtesy and respect.” The judge also has asked for an investigation into a leak of the case before it became public earlier this year.

10 people to watch in 2017 in Jacksonville politics

Jacksonville politics is like a Southern family reunion: there are characters of all types.

The 2017 list points out ten of those members of the #Jaxpol family who are uniquely positioned to be in the headlines for one reason or another.

We are hoping that 2016 was an outlier year for scandals, and are not projecting scandal potential onto this list.

These names are in no particular order or ranking.

***

Lisa King: Does the Duval County committeewoman have what it takes to become chair of the Florida Dems?

King has run against the odds before, running a strong Democratic campaign for Jacksonville’s City Council in a deep red area in 2015.

King got Chamber Republican support, and though she lost the race, she outperformed Democrats elsewhere on the ticket.

Similarly, King was willing to battle Mayor Lenny Curry during what Democrats called a “purge” of city boards and commissions.

Worth watching: what commitments of support roll in for King? What kind of press coverage does she get throughout the state? And will the grassroots coalition she seeks to build coalesce around her as ABC: Anybody but Bittel or Clendenin.

***

Anna Brosche: January is almost upon us, and with that the thrill ride of Jacksonville City Council leadership elections will be set into motion.

Is this Anna Brosche’s year to run for VP?

Council President Lori Boyer has made no secret of wanting first-termers to get meaningful leadership experience. Boyer put Brosche atop the Finance Committee, the choicest committee assignment there is. And Brosche has flourished.

If there were a bookie taking bets on which member of the Class of 2015 would be first to make her way to council leadership, the smart money would be on Brosche.

Spoiler alert: she’s not averse to the idea.

“I’m definitely considering it,” Brosche said. “I’ve made my way into these spots.”

However, any bid for leadership will happen at a moment of her choosing: “the right time for me, the right time for the council as a whole.”

Is this the right time?

Boyer has been a stabilizing influence atop the council, a small-c conservative pragmatist in the Tillie Fowler mold. Brosche is also cut from that mold.

She doesn’t pontificate. She doesn’t speak to hear herself speak. She generally is more likely to get in the last word than the first.

Anna Brosche has grown in her time in the public eye, from seeming underdog candidate to MVP of the class of 2015.

Watch what she does early in 2017.

***

John Crescimbeni – the Council VP told us that he wasn’t sure if he’d get to be President. Nonetheless, in preparation for that possibility, the veteran legislator finally hired a council assistant.

He clearly wants to be president. And he clearly has the institutional knowledge to be effective.

So will this be his year to run for the top job?

His run for VP was rough. He beat Doyle Carter by one vote – that of Reggie Gaffney, who had actually pledged to go with Carter, but mysteriously swerved him during the vote itself.

Crescimbeni may face a challenge for the presidency if he runs. But his half year in the VP slot has shown that when in a leadership role, he is able to be a team player.

One would expect that he would be able to count on a solid bloc of Democratic support in a newly revitalized party. With those seven votes, he would only need three Republicans to push him toward the presidency.

Worth watching: if Crescimbeni and Brosche present themselves, however informally and within the guidelines of the Sunshine Law, as a ticket of sorts.

***

Audrey Gibson – The Senator is one of the best politicians in the area and takes over the chair of the Duval Democrats, at a time when the local GOP is experiencing a schism.

What will she and her party be able to do to exploit it?

The Duval Democrats, of course, have a history of schism themselves. And from what we understand, a meeting as soon as January may include a motion to cap at $1,000 the expenditures a chair can commit to without the approval of the Central Committee.

Donald Rumsfeld used to say “freedom is untidy.” But here’s the reality: if the Democrats want to position themselves well for 2018 and 2019, they need to let the chair do her thing.

She’s won elections. Her critics wouldn’t even know how to start.

***

Ronnie Simmons – When will Corrine Brown’s almost-former chief of staff turn on his mentor?

As the One Door for Education trial approaches later this year, the machinations that have already happened provide a window into the future.

Simmons’ lawyer filed, then rescinded, a motion for separate trials from the congresswoman.

Brown’s counsel, meanwhile, has strongly hinted that a key to the almost-former congresswoman’s defense is going to be contending that she wasn’t exactly aware of what was being done in her name, vis a vis the $800K of contributions for the One Door foundation.

“Congresswoman Brown and her chief of staff are alleged to have used the congresswoman’s official position to solicit over $800,000 in donations to a supposed charitable organization, only to use that organization as a personal slush fund,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement when the indictment was delivered.

Tens of thousands of dollars went into Brown’s personal account, with Simmons as the conduit, from One Door. Luxe hotel accommodations, skyboxes at Beyonce concerts and Redskins games, and other accoutrements of the high life were also funded, as part of over $200,000 allegedly diverted from the One Door account to the Congresswoman’s walking around fund.

Brown is in her golden years. Simmons, meanwhile, has decades to live if actuarial projections mean anything. Expect him to roll over on his former boss between now and the trial.

***

Mia Jones – Miss her yet? Jones was termed out in House District 14 this year, but it’s only a matter of time before she resurfaces.

Could she run for the city council in 2019? Or could she have something bigger – such as a run against Al Lawson in 2018 – in mind?

***

Alvin Brown – The former Jacksonville mayor’s meeting with Lenny Curry was one of those #jaxpol events that everyone said they knew was going to happen … after it happened.

Brown requested a meeting with Curry. As someone who was in the mayor’s office when that meeting was taking place, it was clear from Brown’s booming laugh and the bonhomie between Brown and his successor that the former Jacksonville mayor was angling for something.

That something, we hear from good sources, could be a run against Lawson in 2018.

Whether Brown takes on Tallahassee Al or not, the reality is that he’s got to find a way back into the public eye.

Brown’s painting – a tradition among former mayors – will be unveiled this spring in the mayor’s office, at long last.

An interesting sign of the times: Brown is scrambling to get the money needed to pay for it, and the Generous Donors that emerge will be of interest.

While it’s entirely possible that Brown could set his sights on a lesser office, such as an at-large bid for the city council, the reality is that Congress has been in his sights for a long time.

Brown’s first failed campaign: a run against Corrine Brown in the 1990s.

Worth watching: will Jacksonville candidates cannibalize each other if and when one or more runs against Lawson?

There can only be one, if a challenge is to have any chance of success.

***

Bill Bishop – In 2015, Bishop announced that he in fact would run for mayor in 2019.

However, 2016 changed the former two-term district councilman’s calculus. He has not-so-subtly been hinting at running for city council again – in an at-large seat currently held by John Crescimbeni.

Bishop would, we hear, face off against Republican Mike Anania, who lost a district council race in 2015 to Democrat Joyce Morgan.

Bishop has the name identification advantage over Anania, but the local GOP may want to exact payback for Bishop running against Curry in 2015, then endorsing Alvin Brown once he was eliminated from the race.

Speaking of Alvin Brown, if he were to run for council instead of the United States Congress, he would be in At-Large Group 2.

A Brown/Bishop race would almost certainly be the most interesting contest on the ballot.

***

Matt Carlucci – Carlucci, like Bishop, is another registered Republican that the hardcores say is a RINO.

And like Bishop, Carlucci is looking for one more run at council: to replace termed-out Greg Anderson in 2019.

Carlucci, like Bishop, has what it takes to run citywide; namely, friends on both sides of the aisle.

Carlucci, if he runs and wins, would offer institutional knowledge of the sort that veterans like Tommy Hazouri and John Crescimbeni bring to the chamber.

***

Fred Newbill – Newbill, one of the more politically connected pastors in Jacksonville, made an interesting play late in 2015 that seemed like it could affect his 2017.

In 2015, Newbill came out against expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to the LGBT community.

In 2017, Newbill is up for a position on the JEA Board.

JEA offers employment and accommodations protection to LGBT people.

Newbill, we hear, has evolved on the HRO since his opposition to a council vote on the measure.

We hear that he’s not going to evolve toward supporting the measure.

However, he seems willing to relinquish his position as a pointman of opposition to the bill.

It will be interesting to see if the Rules Committee or the Jacksonville City Council cares all that much about where Newbill is on the HRO.

Pay close attention to his hearings in both committee and in front of the full council.

They will tell you where the body as a whole is on expanding LGBT rights to match up with most other major cities in the country.

Subpoenas with a side of sauce: The 10 biggest #JaxPol stories of 2016

Subpoenas with a side of sauce.

That’s one way to sum up the year.

In Jacksonville politics, 2016 started with subpoenas being delivered to Rep. Corrine Brown and her clique at a barbecue place on the Northside.

And it ended with a raid on Councilwoman Katrina Brown’s familial barbecue sauce plant on the Westside.

Katrina Brown’s family, which was granted/loaned over $600K by the city for job creation that never fully happened despite having years to do it, poured real money since that money came through into the campaign apparatuses of the councilwoman herself, along with Corrine Brown and former Mayor Alvin Brown.

As well, shortly after Katrina Brown got the Corrine Brown “Quick Pick,” she gave $500 to Corrine Brown’s former right-hand woman, Von Alexander, for what was called “marketing.”

That, my friends, is what we call a narrative arc. And a story that will have legs in 2017.

Beyond these issues, a heck of a lot happened in #jaxpol in 2016.

Political dynasties: toppled.

Conventional wisdom: shattered.

We are limiting ourselves to looking at the ten biggest stories of 2016 in Jacksonville politics.

In a year as driven by a change dynamic as any since the Consolidation era, this was an easy write.

The biggest difficulty?

Limiting the article to just ten stories.

***

The # 1 story of the year: the passage of the pension reform referendum Aug. 30.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry spent the better part of a year manufacturing consensus for the once unlikely seeming proposal of getting the Better Jacksonville Plan tax extended, and using the revenue secured to stabilize the pension debt.

Curry brought together a coalition that the city hasn’t seen since consolidation, with unions and union bosses; African-American pastors and community leaders; and other unlikely supporters, including every Democrat on the city council, lining up behind the mayor.

The manufacturing of consent went deeper than just influencers:
Also in play was a deep-dive data operation, with specific appeals made to medium-propensity voters, to female homeowners between the ages of 35 and 46, and to other blocs of voters, where support could be firmed up and maximized.

“Campaigns are tough,” Curry said at the victory party at the Hyatt on Aug. 30. “You’ve got to execute and win.”

Execute and win he did.

Curry leveraged support in the Senate and the House from regional power brokers, Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings, driving to and from Tallahassee with everyone from Marty Fiorentino to Randy Wyse, the head of the local fire union to guide and prod the bill through committees in each house, then through a floor vote.

Any resistance that might have manifested was quelled, as Curry had entire days of meetings with everyone in a position to kill the bill in committee.

It was a tour de force political performance; one planned out well before the session.

And while there is a long way to go to secure the future revenue from the current ½ cent sales surtax — a tortuous road through collective bargaining — Curry did the impossible: provided actuarial certainty that Jacksonville had a way to pay down its massive unfunded pension liability.

Story of the year? Absolutely.

But it had competition.

***

# 2: Angela Corey goes down.

While some other Northeast Florida titans drew their last political breath in 2016, the State Attorney from the 4th Circuit is arguably the most significant locally.

Legislators go to Tallahassee and Washington and generally toe the party line. They aren’t going to be outliers on the big issues of the day.

Corey? Very much an outlier.

It was a climate where the Koch Brothers are attempting to push criminal justice reform from the right, and various groups on the left and libertarian sides pushing for similar ends.

Corey’s “lock ‘em up” approach was as much of a throwback as acid-washed jeans, Milli Vanilli cassette singles, and asbestos insulation.

Corey? She stood athwart that trend, seeking more death penalty convictions than almost any district or state attorney in the country, and earning sobriquets like “the cruelest prosecutor in America.”

It all seemed to be going pretty well. Corey stacked regional and state endorsements like Scrooge McDuck stacking greenbacks. Her first declared opponent in the primary, Wes White, attempted to run an insurgent campaign with little money and institutional backing.

White got some traction, as the negation of the case for Corey, but it looked until June like Corey would get her third term.

Then, a funny thing happened.

Melissa Nelson got in the race, getting real money behind her, and the best political machine in the state — Tim Baker and Brian Hughes — doing what so many people wanted to do.

Getting paid to end Angela Corey’s political career (though one suspects that Baker and Hughes might have been willing to take that task on for free).

By July, Corey was cratering in the polls. By August, the scenarios in which Corey — the epitome of a disqualified candidate — would find even a dead cat bounce were winnowed down to nothing.

By September, she was a lame duck.

Melissa Nelson takes office in January, armed with a community and institutional support, a great team (Dave Chapman, handling comms next year, had been probably the best reporter on the Jacksonville city politics beat this century), and a commitment to reform.

Nelson will spend a big part of her first term cleaning up Corey-era messes.

There will be stumbles.

But Melissa Nelson, unlike Corey, is willing to have a dialogue with the media and the community. And she is looking for applications of justice that actually heal rather than divide communities.

As hinted above, Corey’s political obituary wasn’t the only one written this year. In fact, the third-biggest story in Jacksonville this year was a variation on that theme.

***

#3: Corrine Brown goes down, and Jacksonville loses a congressional seat.

When federal agents served subpoenas up to Rep. Brown and political operatives at the Bono’s on Norwood Avenue, it was the beginning of the end for the congresswoman.

Though she ran a modified version of a re-election campaign for her seat in Congressional District 5, Brown was wounded.

She couldn’t raise real money. She was distracted by the legal fight. And when asked during and after her sole televised debate about the incompatibility of a 23-count federal indictment and a campaign for re-election against a Democrat as connected as Al Lawson, Brown said that the charges against her were as absurd as accusations of pedophilia against news media members.

“The Fifth Amendment says that the prosecutors have to prove their case. Now, what if I said, as we standing up here talking, that you were a pedophile? You would think there would be something wrong with me. So, you would put together a team of lawyers and you would go to court, and duke it out in court. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do. Just because someone accuses you, doesn’t mean that they have the facts. The federal government under these, have a slush fund, and they can do and they can bring charges,” Brown said in August.

She’s not saying that now. Or much of anything. The waiting game of 2017 now involves seeing when and if her inner circle (including/especially Ronnie Simmons, her co-defendant and almost-erstwhile chief of staff) turns against her in the One Door for Education trial.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville is in deep doo-doo regarding its representation, as Al Lawson hasn’t demonstrated a real understanding of local issues compared to those out west.

Jacksonville may produce a real challenge to Lawson in the 2018 primary, but the first two years of the Trump era are going to be challenging for Jacksonville. At a time when the White House is looking to fund ambitious infrastructure projects via expanding the monetary supply, a reliable Jacksonville veteran of the United States Congress will be replaced by a neophyte.

Meanwhile, we hear that the initial staffing process for Lawson is chaotic, with scheduling problems for mid and lower level staff interviews, and a distinct Tallahassee bent to those hired by his office.

***

# 4: Ander Crenshaw out, John Rutherford in.

“I won’t miss the circus, but I will miss the clowns.”

Those words from Rep. Ander Crenshaw, who represented Jacksonville in D.C. for eight terms, say it all.

Crenshaw was ready to step down. And former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, on the political sidelines since he was termed out in 2015, was happy enough to step up.

Crenshaw was the type of Republican prominent around Jacksonville in a bygone and better time; cut from the John Thrasher/Mike Hightower cloth, Crenshaw was the kind of conservative who didn’t fit the polemical Tea Party mold.

Because of that declining level of affinity with the grassroots, Crenshaw faced a primary challenge in 2014 from Ryman Shoaf — and it was a closer race than many expected.

Crenshaw’s decision not to run for re-election set up a lively primary campaign, with Rutherford forced to fend off State Rep. Lake Ray and the biggest spender in the race, Hans Tanzler III.

Rutherford, evidently, will attempt to maintain as much continuity as possible. Jackie Smith, a Crenshaw holdover, will run the district office.

That realization of the importance of continuity by their replacements is a major difference — in terms of impact — to the departures of Corrine Brown and Ander Crenshaw.

Of course, there’s more to Jacksonville politics than arrivals and departures. Some issues persist no matter who the incumbent is.

***

#5: The ongoing battles of collective bargaining

When “County Referendum 1” passed Aug. 30, allowing the extension of the one-half cent local sales tax to be devoted to the unfunded liability conditional on closing one of the city’s pension plans to new hires, it represented the fulfillment of one quest and the necessary beginning of another.

Mayor Curry counted fire union head Randy Wyse and police union leader Steve Zona as allies in the run-up to the referendum. However, that was destined to be a short-term accord.

As the days got shorter in 2016, it became apparent that the city and its unions — especially its public-sector unions — were far apart.

The union heads will tell you: getting competent new hires to come in and stick around with a promise of little more than the same 401(k) an office jockey gets is not a sustainable strategy for workforce development and retention.

Cops in their 20s may not see that the future involves them being battered and broken down from the job. But add a wife and 2.5 kids to the equation, and then the future moves from an abstraction to reality.

Thus, the unions want the Florida Retirement System for new hires.

The current sheriff, Mike Williams, is caught between labor and management, and his comments to us a few weeks back reflect that.

While Williams wants a “competitive pay and benefit package,” he contends the “vehicle” doesn’t matter — a position that is news to the union.

Former Sheriff John Rutherford, advocating pensions for officers while in office, has yet to see a defined contribution plan accounting for the real downside risk of a career as an officer.

Expectations are that general employees will be the easier sell on DC plans for new hires. But with six bargaining units to deal with, consensus won’t be quick — and probably won’t be in time for the budget deliberations of June and July.

Amazingly (or not), another pension story makes the top ten.

****

#6: Drama continues between city and Police and Fire Pension Fund

The PFPF continues to serve as a piñata for local politicians; 2016 was no exception.

Things were relatively quiet between city hall and the pension fund in the first quarter, until the city and the fund squabbled over the controversial “senior staff voluntary retirement fund” that served to benefit former executive director John Keane and a few others.

Just as May brought in the summer heat, Jacksonville’s general counsel issued a ruling that — contrary to the PFPF position — the fund was subordinate to the city, and the general counsel was, in fact, the prevailing legal authority.

The PFPF attempted to appeal to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. But it didn’t do any good.

From there, the PFPF cropped up again — a $44 million accounting true-up, for which the fund claimed to have a waiver from the state, allowed Curry to win a November news cycle by excoriating the fund for its sloppy financial practices.

Curry’s ire was undercut in December, however.

The city’s CFO and the executive director of the PFPF appeared together at a Dec. 7 meeting of the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee.

They said the documents regarding the waiver leaked to the media before they had a chance to figure out a collaborative strategy to address it.

They also suggested that the extra $44 million or so of yearly costs — could be phased in over a few years, or even wiped out after collective bargaining with the public safety units wraps.

Whenever that is.

The CFO, Mike Weinstein, also undercut the mayor’s position by saying the $44 million was a “hiccup” compared to the larger unfunded liability.

A goal for the city of Jacksonville: to not have next year’s “stories of the year” piece marred by yet another chapter in the saga between the city and the PFPF.

There’s still a lot of work to do to get there.

***

#7: Municipal bond ratings improve.

In the “if it bleeds, it leads” world of television news, the esoterica of bond ratings doesn’t exactly drive the Nielsen #s.

But in the world of municipal government and finance, bond ratings determine the ability to borrow money, and the favorability of the repayment terms.

With that in mind, a big success of 2016 was rooted in Dec. 2015, when Mayor Curry and an entourage of senior city staffers flew to New York for that year’s annual meeting with the rating agencies.

Successes outnumbered failures.

JEA came out of the event with its first ever AAA rating. Standard & Poor’s Rating Services upgraded the rating on the City of Jacksonville’s sales tax revenue bonds to an “A+” from an “A” the previous year. Other rating upgrades followed.

By October, with the referendum out of the way, Curry’s office was able to trumpet the improved perception of its financial management.

Examples thereof: documentation of Better Jacksonville Plan sales tax revenue upgrades in February to A+ from S&P and Fitch, with a A1 from Moody’s in that category; a March upgrade to AA in excise tax revenue from Moody’s; a July Fitch AA long-term credit rating and an AA issuer credit rating predicated on expectations the city will “continue to demonstrate a prudent level of fiscal management” and “continue to moderate the impact of its pension liability on the annual budget;” similar upgrades in the special revenue rating in August; and an upgraded commercial paper rating in September.

Curry ran as a CEO type with an accounting background, and though his team deserves a lot of the credit regarding the nuts and bolts actions, Curry brought it together.

That wasn’t the only major story of 2016 involving JEA, however.

***

# 8: “JEA Agreement

“It’s important to put this in context,” Curry said in March when signing off on the deal.

When Curry came into office, there was a “narrative” that there “didn’t look like a way forward” for the mayor’s office, the Council, and JEA on an agreement.

Curry pushed Alvin Brown’s appointees out, for the most part, and put in his people, creating a “strong board.”

And that strong board was a mechanism to get an agreement between the city and its utility through 2021.

To recap: the JEA Agreement applies between the city and the utility through 2021, with the current JEA contribution set at about $114.2 million, with minimum annual increases of 1 percent. It also allocates $30 million of total funding, split evenly, from JEA and the city for five years for water and sewer projects. And two million dollars a year in water quality trading credits, which will go to stormwater needs.

The stormwater projects are already under way, and they will help to close a long-standing infrastructure gap between pre-Consolidation communities and the rest of the city.

Curry’s comfort level with JEA is such that even when the CEO was out of town during Hurricane Matthew, the mayor did not take the opportunity that some on the city council did to question his priorities and job performance.

Speaking of Hurricane Matthew, that was a pretty big deal also.

***

# 9: Hurricane Matthew

There was a reasonable chance in October that, if the storm had moved 40 miles west when trucking up the Florida coast, Jacksonville would have been devastated.

In fact, the city did pretty well, considering.

While St. Augustine got hit with higher winds and more devastating flooding, which the city is still recovering from, Jacksonville dodged the catastrophic hit that was feared as the storm approached.

To be clear: there were tens of millions of dollars of damage.

Debris removal from rights of way and parks cost a couple of million dollars.

Streets, drainage, and parks likewise required a real financial commitment.

The road to Huguenot Park still needs repair.

And over half the city lost power, with, in some cases, restoration taking up to a week.

But Mayor Curry, the sheriff’s office, and mayors of the beach communities coordinated evacuations for zones where half the city’s population lives (as well as the entirety of the county east of the Intracoastal), and despite the property damage and inconvenience, Jacksonville got through the storm.

***

#10: Duval GOP dysfunction

While there are probably stories offering more civic import, worth watching is the continuing decline of the Republican Party of Duval County.

This tale of infighting goes back well before 2016 began, of course. But 2016 had enough drama to make up for it.

The year started with Lake Ray as party chair. That lasted until May, when Cindy Graves took control.

All seemed to be going well enough. From the outside at least.

Karyn Morton, who backed Graves at least by the time votes were counted, said in a news release: “Cindy is the leader our party needs right now.”

Note the temporal phrasing.

The election came and went, and despite Trump getting elected, there was still some trouble brewing.

Just like Andrew Ridgely and George Michael in Wham!, the Morton/Graves alliance would turn a different corner soon enough.

By summer, Morton was grousing as Graves spoke at GOP events, saying that “the leader our party needs right now” doesn’t know when to shut up. [Paraphrased, obviously]

Summer turned to fall, leaves turned on and fell off the trees, and quiet dissidence turned into open rebellion.

December was Graves’ undoing.

Morton ran against Graves, and her speech brought the quiet frustrations to light, as it was peppered with descriptions of mistakes from past leadership.

Some of the old guard wasn’t allowed to vote, including Rep. John Rutherford and Mike Hightower.

Meanwhile, some new Republican Executive Committee members were allowed to vote. And they made the difference.

A veteran of party politics says Morton and the other party officials constitutes the “worst leadership since 1980,” predicting “Audrey Gibson will have a field day” as local Democratic chair, as Republicans “decentralize” in the short term … an important factor to look for as the 2018 races ramp up.

Will Morton be able to appease the donor class? That question remains to be answered.

***

And that was the year that was.

Will 2017 have as much barbecue-related drama as 2016?

Probably not.

But it will have drama, personality clashes and, if we’re lucky, some things on the policy front as well.

A.G. Gancarski surveys the wreckage of his 2016 predictions

When 2016 kicked off, the world was different, and our political prognoses reflected those false assurances.

We didn’t imagine President Donald Trump on a national level. We figured Hillary Clinton would end up taking on Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio in the general election. And we expected the rhetoric would sound like the previous two or three campaigns.

Regarding #jaxpol, we had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen also.

We figured that Ander Crenshaw would return to Congress with little opposition. And that Corrine Brown would, perhaps, end up running for Congress again from the Orlando area.

We weren’t actually thinking about the pension reform referendum from Jacksonville’s mayor either. It hadn’t even been announced yet.

In other words: baseline conventional wisdom assumptions going into 2016 were shredded by reality.

My 2016 predictions fared no better than those above.

***

Prediction 1: I guaranteed that the Human Rights Ordinance would go to a referendum unless Mayor Lenny Curry stopped it.

There was lots of talk on the right about Bill Gulliford and his measure to push for a popular plebiscite on expanding protections against discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodations to the LGBT community.

Gulliford’s bill was filed as a response to Tommy Hazouri introducing a bill that would add the LGBT community to protected classes under the current ordinance.

It looked like a showdown was imminent. Then a slowdown happened.

Hazouri couldn’t get enough commitments to get the bill through and withdrew the bill.

Some say that he felt pressure to do so because of the pension reform referendum becoming the city’s focus, and no one wanting two confusing referendums on the ballot.

The reality, though; the votes weren’t there.

***

Prediction 2: I said that if the Hazouri version of the HRO passed, Jacksonville politics would be a circus through August.

That was a moot point, of course. Though given the freak show nature of Northeast Florida primaries up and down the ballot, the “circus” part of the prediction held true.

***

Prediction 3 ruled that Florida’s 5th Congressional District race will illustrate the GOP symbiosis with Corrine Brown.

Expect Jacksonville Republicans to work, behind the scenes and otherwise, to ensure that Corrine Brown stays in CD 5 and maintains her seat. Undoubtedly, the converse will be true out west from Tallahassee Republicans. Lawson versus Brown will illustrate the dictum that all politics are local. Again,” I wrote a year ago.

This was written, of course, before Brown’s legal issues took center stage.

What ended up happening: Susie Wiles helped to show Lawson around town, including setting up an interview with the press. Denise Lee, a Democratic stalwart who works for Mayor Curry now, also helped. And even though Lawson wasn’t especially encyclopedic in his knowledge of Jacksonville issues, it didn’t really matter against a wounded incumbent in August.

And it didn’t matter in November, either, as Republican Glo Smith proved completely inept in maximizing any political advantages she might have had as the Jacksonville candidate.

***

Prediction 4 held that the Police and Fire Pension Fund drama would quiet down.

The reasoning: the lightning rod John Keane was no longer going to run the fund. Instead, Beth McCague would serve as a “cooler” as executive director.

The PFPF drama was quelled for much of the year. The unity push of Mayor Curry and the heads of the police and fire unions, vis-à-vis an extended push to sell the pension reform referendum bill in Tallahassee, and then with locals ahead of the referendum vote.

While things did get more interesting toward the end of the year, with a news cycle devoted to a $44 million “waiver” in pension costs, even that was muted by the city’s CFO saying that, given the larger scale of the $2.8 billion unfunded liability, the $44 million was a “hiccup.”

This prediction was less wrong than the previous three. For what that’s worth.

***

Unfortunately, Prediction 5 was also more right than it should have been.

We held that “UF Health’s funding woes” would still be “largely unaddressed” by year’s end.

And that, sadly, is true.

At the First Coast Legislative Delegation meeting at the end of November, CEO Russ Armistead urged the legislators not to be “embarrassed” to take federal money.

Armistead’s safety net hospital has been hamstrung both by the Obama/Rick Scott standoff on the Affordable Care Act, with Washington starving the Low-Income Pool — on which UF Health relies — of funds.

Armistead urged legislators to consider the continuation of the Low-Income Pool funding for uninsured patients, noting that the bulk of that money comes from intergovernmental transfers.

As well, he urged them to “support any federal program that will bring federal funds to Florida for health care,” saying that Florida has been “dramatically underfunded” for the last decade.

Armistead now has a new problem: the profitability of trauma centers.

UF Health’s unique value add as the only regional Level I trauma center has been challenged. And with that, adds Armistead, UF Health’s viability.

“Trauma was a losing business” years ago, Armistead said, but now “trauma is profitable.”

“I have 50 days of cash. So what will happen to us … I’ll be back in the newspaper saying we have to have additional funds,” Armistead added, “or drop to a Level 2.”

“If we don’t bring this trauma center expansion under control, I’ll be in financial trouble … and the quality won’t be as good as it was,” Armistead added.

Hopefully, President Trump can come through for UF Health. President Obama’s model did not.

***

Prediction 6 was a botch; “the right wing will turn on Lenny Curry” was the call.

That didn’t happen. Curry said HRO expansion wouldn’t be “prudent.” And that’s really all the social conservatives wanted him to say.

***

Prediction 7 was correct.

I posited that “Nikolai Vitti would have another tough year.”

And given the subtle attempt to get him to take his talents elsewhere by former Duval County School Board Chair Ashley Smith-Juarez, that prediction was on the nose.

***

Prediction 8 held that Jacksonville would explore privatizing some city services.

While those explorations may be happening, that didn’t quite come to pass as predicted.

Yet.

***

Prediction 9 involved races for the state House getting interesting.

If only all the predictions were such slam dunks.

The internecine GOP warfare in House District 11 — when Donnie Horner turned his budget in the end toward knocking Sheri Treadwell out of the race — was interesting.

The same was true in HD 12, where the race between Clay Yarborough and Terrance Freeman became a proxy battle between outside groups and their mailers, with even the Florida Times-Union weighing in — twice — on the propriety of the mailpieces.

And in HD 13, where Tracie Davis lost the primary, but won the seat when Reggie Fullwood pleaded guilty to two felony counts and left his race for re-election in the ultimate October Surprise.

HD 14? That one saw Kim Daniels dismantle the best-laid plans of Leslie Jean-Bart and her activist young Democrat supporters. Like no other candidate this cycle, Daniels made distinctly local appeals in Northwest Jacksonville and won despite the kind of stories that would have sunk other campaigns.

And in HD 16, Jason Fischer dismantled Dick Kravitz, a political lifer whose last ride was squashed by Fischer, with assists from Tim Baker and Brian Hughes.

Prediction 9? On the nose.

***

Meanwhile, Prediction 10 — “Jax lobbyists will bear fruit” — was also on point.

They brought home 90 percent of the city’s appropriations asks and got the pension reform referendum through both houses and the governor in Tallahassee.

Not a bad ROI for $150,000. But when that money gets invested in Fiorentino Group, Southern Strategy Group, and Ballard Partners, you can expect that.

Prediction 10 was on point.

***

Meanwhile, Predictions 11 and 12 pointed to the perils of predicting primary elections eight months before they happened.

Prediction 11 was validated: “the Public Defender’s race would be one to watch.”

To win, “Shirk will have to go negative, somehow, but there are inherent risks in going negative against someone as respected as Cofer, especially when Cofer has an attack dog, in the form of John Daigle, who is always ready to counter-message.”

Shirk did go negative — calling Cofer a liberal Democrat or whatever.

It didn’t take.

The oppo dumps came in, time and again, against the hapless Shirk. In fact, even after the election, reporters were still fed stories about irregularities in the public defender’s office.

So far, so good.

Prediction 12, meanwhile, posited that the State Attorney’s race would be a snoozer.

At that point in late December, it was the Punch and Judy act from Angela Corey and Wes White. If Melissa Nelson was listening to “Fight Song,” it was on her morning run.

But still! We got it wrong — bigly.

We wrote that “in Jacksonville, the political reality is that Corey is one of the most powerful and respected people in public service, able to work symbiotically with law enforcement and City Hall.”

We didn’t count on Nelson getting in the race, raising over a million dollars in the space of a couple of months, bringing on Brian Hughes and Tim Baker.

We didn’t count on Corey collapsing under the weight of her own hubris, symbolized by one of her henchmen driving to Tallahassee to file an opponent’s paperwork to close the primary, even as issues with staff donations and her retirement nest egg became campaign issues.

So, how did the 2016 predictions go?

We got six right. We got six wrong.

A 6-6 record is good enough for a college football bowl appearance.

But there’s definitely room for improvement.

The 2017 predictions surface later this week; we will see if that record improves … or gets even worse.

This week, Florida Politics takes a deep dive into Jacksonville politics

This week, Florida Politics presents a series of pieces explaining why 2016 went as it did in Jacksonville politics, while suggesting where 2017 might go.

Look for the following pieces this week…

A.G. Gancarski surveys the wreckage of his 2016 predictions” does as the title suggests.

The author takes an unsparing look at where his crystal ball went wrong last year.

Spoiler alert: it went wrong more than once.

***

While some of the predictions turned out to be correct, anticipating the biggest stories of 2016, others were off the mark.

News happened anyway – and plenty of it. Though much of it wasn’t what we expected a year ago.

With that caveat made explicit, and other caveats implied, our second 2016 retrospective lays the year out in what a pessimist might call an autopsy and what an optimist might call a celebration.

“Subpoenas with a side of sauce” presents a look at the scandals, the lows, the highs, the political obliterations and emergences alike.

***

Mercifully, we then leave 2016 and look ahead at what the stories should be in the year ahead.

In the “10 predictions” and “10 people to watch” pieces, we tell you what we see happening, who we see mattering, and why.

Enjoy the pieces. Bookmark them. See how right – or wrong – they are three, six, nine, or twelve months down the road.

Adam Hollingsworth to join UNF trustees

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday appointed Adam Hollingsworth, his former chief of staff, to the University of North Florida Board of Trustees.

Hollingsworth, 48, of Tallahassee, is the founder and principal of Ergon Strategies, LLC, a church management and strategic consulting firm. He also was an elder at City Church in Tallahassee.

He was the third of five chiefs of staff under Scott, succeeding Steve MacNamara and replaced by Melissa Sellers, now Melissa Stone.

Hollingsworth succeeds E. Lanny Russell on the board and will serve till Jan. 6, 2021. The appointment must be confirmed by the Florida Senate.

Cohen

Lenny Curry draws challenger in 2019 mayoral race

While Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has not filed for re-election yet, he already has drawn a challenger for the 2019 mayoral race.

Democrat Doreszell “DC” Cohen actually filed in November.

An alumna of the University of Phoenix and Raines High School, Cohen has yet to raise any money for her bid against the mayor and his high-powered political machine.

We’ve reached out to Cohen to find out her reasons for running, and she pledged to get back to us.

When that happens, this piece will be updated.

Former Matt Shirk spox to find second life in Charlie Cofer’s office

Just as a cat has multiple lives, so too does Sam Shiver, who will be employed in the 4th Circuit Public Defender’s office once Charlie Cofer takes over in January.

Shiver was first introduced to Florida Politics readers in December 2015, when he confirmed that Matt Shirk would be running for re-election.

Cofer told us that he had heard Shiver was “bright and intelligent,” a perception confirmed by a “very casual” meeting Cofer had with Shiver.

Shiver will not be engaged in a public information officer or public relations capacity in the Public Defender’s office.

However, even if he has a background role, Shiver still is the registered agent and chairperson of a PAC that was active as recently as November 2016.

Shiver’s “Floridians for a Better Florida” took in over $61,000 since Shirk lost his primary election.

The biggest donors: Duke Energy, which gave $10,000, and another committee, “Floridians for Common Sense,” which is out of St. Petersburg and seemed to use Shiver’s committee as a pass through for $40,000.

That group has some interesting donors with money passing through to an operation run by someone working a day job in the public defender’s office.

Among them: the private-prison profiteers of The Geo Group, which gave $2,500 in August to “Floridians for Common Sense,” and the Pauly Jail Building Company, which gave $500 in October.

Meanwhile, the committee was playing in statewide Democratic races ahead of the August primary.

Those Democratic races were a world away from Shiver and his role in Shirk’s office, as an enthusiastic defender of the embattled second-term incumbent.

****

It wasn’t too long ago that Cofer took issue with Shiver’s unique role.

By June, Cofer had identified Shiver’s employment by Shirk as an exploitable campaign issue, and made Shiver part of the discourse with memorable quotes.

Shirk’s opponent, retired judge Charles Cofer, criticized Shiver for working on the incumbent’s campaign, while on the public payroll to the tune of $73,000 per annum.

“It is clear that Mr. Shirk has found it difficult to raise funds to support his campaign,” Cofer said. “It is also clear that his solution to this problem is to have taxpayers finance his campaign indirectly through his Public Defender’s Office budget. This is clearly illegal and unethical.”

“The only role that a public relations employee can have at the Public Defender’s Office is to try and restore Mr. Shirk’s tarnished reputation within the community,” Cofer said. “The most appalling aspect of this sham is the dishonest manner in which Mr. Shirk has chosen to use public money to help pay obvious campaign expenses, like the salary of his political consultant.”

Cofer charged that Shiver was overpaid “in order to receive kickbacks” to Shirk’s campaign account.

Shiver’s S.O.S. Consulting had contributed $500 to the Shirk campaign, which Cofer called “an obvious illegal diversion of taxpayer funds … this illegal and unethical practice.”

Cofer’s passion on the issue had cooled in the months between June and Thursday night however.

Cofer told FloridaPolitics.com that the kerfuffle “helped minimize [Shiver’s] impact in Shirk’s campaign.”

The passive voice was a far cry from the heated language of the sizzling summer.

“The most appalling aspect of this sham is the dishonest manner in which Mr. Shirk has chosen to use public money to help pay obvious campaign expenses, like the salary of his political consultant,” Cofer said.

****

This story is one of two of note involving past and present public relations men for Matt Shirk.

Robbie Foster had a couple of rough news cycles, courtesy of Action News Jax, which took issue with his having used his swipe card to enter the public defender’s officer 24 of 71 days since September, when Foster replaced Shiver as public relations man.

Action News Jax took issue with a number of Foster’s recollections, and Foster claimed that he was not given the proper forum to answer Action News’s charges and that his words were misrepresented in two adversarial phone interviews on back to back days.

At issue: Foster’s claim that he had a “master key” to the public defender’s office. There was no evidence with the city of Jacksonville of Foster having been issued a key to the building.

Foster produced visual evidence on Wednesday, posting a picture of a Lexus key chain with a master key on it.

Action News Jax, meanwhile, stands by its reporting, with one internal source expressing skepticism that the “master key” pictured is Foster’s, or that it’s even a master key to the public defender’s building.

Foster also has contended that in his capacity in Shirk’s office, he deals with media and the public primarily.

Action News sources, meanwhile, have taken issue with Foster’s characterization of his role, noting they were never told he was the media contact after Shiver left that role.

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