Jax – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Aaron Bowman to assume Jacksonville City Council presidency Thursday

The changing of the guard becomes official Thursday for the Jacksonville City Council when Aaron Bowman, a VP of the Jacksonville Chamber’s JAXUSA business recruitment wing, assumes the presidency.

The event at the Times-Union Center kicks off at 6 p.m.

Bowman moves from the vice-presidency to the presidency, after an uncontested candidacy that was supported by Mayor Lenny Curry, a close ally to the Chamber.

As opposed to the last year, which saw Curry jousting with President Anna Brosche on a variety of issues, expect Bowman and Curry to present a united front in public.

“The Chamber, the mayor and I all have many similar interests: downtown development, job creation, making Jacksonville a safer city, supporting and inviting business growth and good policy, etc. The mayor and I are committed to working together so it should be an active and exciting year for our residents,” Bowman asserted earlier this week.

Bowman’s VP, Scott Wilson, likewise is a pragmatic Republican trusted and liked throughout City Hall, including the mayor’s office.

The Bowman/Wilson slate is interesting, given that Bowman defeated Wilson for VP in 2017. Expect there to be little daylight between the two on significant issues.

Bowman has stated he wants the ceremony to be relatively brief, an interest that will be shared by attendees.

As well, there is a sense of what priorities will be for Bowman’s year with the gavel.

Per the Florida Times-Union, “the top priorities are to inventory all the city’s crime-fighting programs and set benchmarks for success, increase park maintenance, devise a comprehensive litter-control plan, develop downtown and enhance its public spaces, update the zoning code and bring redevelopment to Mayport.”

For some councilors, including heavy hitters like Bill GullifordGreg AndersonLori Boyer, and John Crescimbeni, this is their last year on the body.

Three will take a prominent role on the powerful Finance Committee, which shapes the city’s budget, a document that topped out at $1.27B in 2018.

Bowman’s Finance Committee will contrast to that of Brosche, who rewarded Democrats who backed her by giving them four of the seven slots on the committee.

Two of those members, Reggie Brown and Katrina Brown, were indicted and their seats are vacant.

Alvin Brown talks HRO, Barack Obama, Shad Khan, and his pathway to Congress

In a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown addressed current and past issues that still occlude his bid for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Among the issues: incumbent Congressman Al Lawson calling Brown “absent Alvin” and other issues from Brown’s mayoralty, including failure/unwillingness to get LGBT rights legislation through Council, and his unwillingness to share a stage with President Barack Obama while the President was in town.

As well, we discussed Brown’s renewed support from some of Jacksonville’s Republican powerbrokers, such as Shad Khan and Gary Chartrand. And we asked him point blank if he had any counter for Lawson’s strength out west and support from public safety unions in Jacksonville.

Brown discounted the “absent Alvin” hit, noting that he was “proud of our record,” which included creating 36,000 jobs, spurring $600 million in private investment, and pushing for dredging the St. Johns, which Brown called a “landmark harbor deepening effort.”

Though Brown has been pilloried on the left for not backing the Human Rights Ordinance, a bill that in 2016 finally codified LGBT protections in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations, the former mayor rejects the idea that he opposed the measure.

“All Americans deserve equal treatment. No one should face discrimination,” Brown said, asserting that he enacted LGBT protections and “never at anytime said [he] was against the legislation.”

Brown noted that, in 2015, he ordered the general counsel to “review all forms of discrimination” in Jacksonville.

“Our policy is enacted in City Hall today,” Brown said.

If elected, Brown vows to fight for protections in the areas of both sexual orientation and gender identity — a statement some will see as a dramatic policy evolution.

Brown also discounted claims that he hadn’t shown up for President Barack Obama, noting that he was a 2012 delegate for Obama.

Also, when Obama came to Jacksonville, Brown asserted that he met the President at the airport, and that Obama went to JAXPORT with him, where the President gave a speech.

Brown also said he supported the Affordable Care Act, as part of a larger practice of working with the administration on issues ranging from health care to military and veterans’ affairs.

When the state didn’t come through with Medicaid expansion, Brown asserted that he used community centers for health services.

Moving on from history to the current race, we talked about financial support from Jacksonville Republicans.

Brown was reticent about the specific impact of those checks, preferring to say he “greatly appreciate[s] the support from all corners of the district.”

“Some have been with me since 2011. Some are new,” Brown said, attributing that to him being a “visionary leader.”

Of course, there are Jacksonville players who balk at Brown’s vision. Among them: two Republicans, Mayor Lenny Curry and Rep. John Rutherford, he’d have to work with if elected.

Brown professed to be unconcerned, noting that he had worked with “Democrats, Republicans, and Independents” both as Mayor and a member of the Clinton Administration.

Also of note: Brown, in discussing the endorsement of Lawson by the Jacksonville police and fire unions, asserted that he was “not invited to interview … not contacted” by either union.

Qualifying seals Duval County Tax Collector race; Randy White wins Council race unopposed

Jacksonville’s qualifying deadline was noon Wednesday, with the marquee race on the August (and November) special election ballot a four-way scrum for Duval County Tax Collector.

Three Republicans and one Democrat comprise the field.

Jacksonville City Councilman Doyle Carter joins two other political veterans, Lake Ray and Jim Overton, in the field. Ray is a former State Representative, Jacksonville City Councilman, and Congressional candidate. Overton is a former Councilman and three-term Duval County Property Appraiser.

The Democrat running also has a legit track record: former State Rep. and Jacksonville City Councilwoman Mia Jones.

Ray, with $111,000 on hand, leads the money race. Overton ($74,000), Carter ($32,000), and Jones ($2,700) round out the field.

If a candidate gets 50 percent plus one in August, there will be no runoff; however, if no candidate receives a majority, the two top candidates move on to November.

There appears to be less drama in the race to succeed Carter, who resigned in a post-dated fashion to pursue the tax collector gig, in Jacksonville City Council District 12.

Republican Randy White, a former fire union head and friend of Councilman Carter, filed months ago and had close to $85,000 banked. On Monday, a second Republican, Sharol Noblejas, filed.

But she did not qualify, per the Duval Supervisor of Elections.

Unopposed, White is officially a councilman-elect.

Florida Education Association backs Tracye Polson in HD 15

The Florida Education Association is the latest in the series of endorsements for the sole Democrat in the House District 15 race, Tracye Polson.

In a statement from the Polson campaign Wednesday morning, the candidate said the FEA is “on the front lines, fighting for an equitable and fair education system,” and vowed to stand along side the 140,000 member group in the fight to “properly fund and improve our public education system.”

Polson has racked up endorsements since entering the race, with the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters and AFL-CIO backing her, as is former Republican mayoral candidate Audrey Moran.

As well, the Democrat is winning the money race over her GOP rivals, with $118,000 cash on hand as of the end of May.

Of the GOP field, Wyman Duggan had $111,000 cash on hand, with Mark Zeigler over $30,000 and Joseph Hogan with just under $7,000.

Polson, at least through August, can concentrate on building infrastructure. The Republicans in the field are slogging through a series of forums, including one held just this week, as they vie for the party’s nomination.

New Jacksonville City Council committee assignments reflect change

Jacksonville City Council President-designate Aaron Bowman released committee assignments for the year starting July 1.

Committees will look different than they did during the Anna Brosche presidency.

The Finance Committee, which will be charged with an August review of the budget, will be guided by a steady hand: former Council President and banking executive by trade Greg Anderson.

The vice-chair will be one of the Council’s leading Democrats, Joyce Morgan, who will have a visible and important role as she faces a new challenge on the 2019 ballot from former councilman Bill Bishop.

Rounding out the panel: former Council Presidents Bill Gulliford and Lori N. Boyer, along with Reginald GaffneyJim Love, and Sam Newby.

Rules, meanwhile, will see a Democrat — former Mayor Tommy Hazouri — chairing that panel. Gulliford, marginalized in the Brosche era as Hazouri was, will get vice chair.

Rounding out the body: Anderson, Boyer, John CrescimbeniMatt Schellenberg, and one of the appointed replacements for indicted Councilors Reggie Brown and Katrina Brown.

Land Use and Zoning sees Schellenberg get the chair, Danny Becton getting vice-chair, and Brosche, Doyle Carter, Al Ferraro, Gaffney and a replacement councilor round out the panel.

Moving on to the lesser committees, Sam Newby gets to chair Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health and Safety; Carter is vice chair.

As a measure of current Finance Chair Garrett Dennis‘ fading star, this is his sole committee placement. Hazouri, VP-Designate Scott Wilson, Morgan, and a replacement councilor fill out the slate.

Finally, Ferraro will chair Transportation, Energy, and Utilities. Love gets vice-chair. Becton, Brosche, Crescimbeni, Wilson, and a replacement fill out that roll call.

Bill Bishop switches to district race for Jacksonville City Council; Joyce Morgan likely foe

For at least the third time in three years, former Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Bishop has changed his electoral focus for the 2019 municipal election cycle.

In 2015, Bishop vowed he would run for Mayor next year. A Republican, he endorsed Democrat Alvin Brown with the idea the seat would be open.

By 2017, Bishop was in the mix for an at-large race, facing former Council assistant and Democrat Darren Mason and Republican Ron Salem.

Salem, with well over $150,000 cash on hand, was steamrolling Bishop ($11,500) in the money race.

This week, Bishop recalibrated again, and re-filed for a race in Jacksonville City Council District 1.

Thus far he’s the sole person on the ballot; however, Democratic incumbent Joyce Morgan, a former television morning show host, a quiet leader on the Council, and a member of the body who has more town hall meetings than anyone, almost certainly will run for re-election.

Unlike in the case of Bishop, Morgan won’t be seen as downsizing her ambitions as she vies for re-election.

However, Morgan — who ultimately prevailed over two Republicans and two Democrats in 2015, including a runoff victory against a flawed Republican candidate, has never faced anyone with the citywide name identification Bishop has.

Bishop getting out of the race against Salem solves a potential problem for local Republicans (and perhaps donors), who committed to Salem, a member of a connected family in Jacksonville.

Bishop, a former Council President, had an occasionally rocky tenure, one best remembered in some quarters for his decision to exclude African-American members from chairing Council committees.

Rick Scott wants murderers of transgender Jacksonville women brought to justice

Gov. Rick Scott, in Jacksonville Tuesday on a campaign stop, was compelled to address a recent spate of murders of local transgender women.

In recent months, three were killed. Concern is galvanizing the local LGBT community and is eliciting action from Equality Florida, which held a media conference at Jacksonville City Hall contemporaneously to Scott’s event on Jacksonville’s Westside.

“I just feel sorry for people,” Scott said. “You hope that it would never happen.”

“I hate that these things happen. On the state level, we provide some funding for Jacksonville to deal with, you know, helping to reduce their crime.”

“I know that Mayor [Lenny] Curry and Sheriff [Mike] Williams both ran to focus on making this a safe place to live,” Scott said.

“I always say there’s three primary jobs as Governor. You focus on how you make sure people get a job, how kids can get an education, and how you keep people safe,” Scott said.

“You hate when anything like this happens,” Scott said, “and I hope whoever did it is caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

These murders come at a time when Jacksonville, at least when it comes to municipal code, has made gains in protecting LGBT rights in the areas of employment, public accommodation, and housing protections.

However, Jacksonville — despite concerted workforce additions and budget enhancements for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office — is struggling with stemming the blood tide of murders and finding the killers.

In a media release Tuesday afternoon, Equality Florida posited that the killings may be the work of a serial killer.

“The transgender community in Jacksonville is frightened. They fear this could be a serial killer or orchestrated violence targeting the community. They do not feel protected on their own streets,” said Gina Duncan, the group’s director of transgender policy.

Alvin Brown, Al Lawson exchange jabs in CD 5 primary clash

Many political watchers note that Congressman Al Lawson and former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, both running in the Blue Dog-heavy 5th Congressional District, have more similarities than differences.

Perhaps with that in mind, the campaigns both went on offense Tuesday.

Lawson trumpeted an endorsement in Brown’s hometown, via the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, which joined the local Fraternal Order of Police in backing the Tallahassee incumbent.

JAFF head Randy Wyse drove the dagger into the back of the former mayor: “We are confident that Lawson will do right by our city.”

Brown got a counter, via the Tallahassee Democrat, in which he claimed Lawson missed a lot of votes: 8.6 percent, roughly three times as many as the average House member.

Lawson offered a counter to Brown, who he has characterized as a “failed mayor … looking for his next job” on numerous occasions.

“I got rated as one of the top 13 freshmen in Washington. I’ve passed four pieces of legislation that sent millions of dollars to Jacksonville for dredging and for a bus system in Tallahassee,” said Lawson, adding that Rep. Corrine Brown (currently locked up until the early 2020s for a scheme to defraud) “was there for 24 years and didn’t get anything passed.”

Whether Alvin Brown defends the record of Corrine Brown, who sources say was squiring Alvin Brown around D.C. before her incarceration, remains to be seen.

Lawson, meanwhile, went on offense in a fundraising email against “Absent Alvin.”

“What Alvin Brown fails to understand is that the votes I missed happened while I was working to help families recover from Hurricane Irma, helping displaced persons find shelter and securing $85 million in Disaster Relief SNAP benefits to feed more than 300,000 people immediately after the storm,” Lawson said.

“While Alvin Brown was sitting on the sideline, I was doing the real work and showing up for the people of Florida’s 5th Congressional District,” Lawson added.

“ABSENT ALVIN wouldn’t even lift a sandbag for the people and community he previously represented, but wants to attack my 30-year record of serving the people of Florida and coming through when they needed assistance most,” Lawson continued.

“For six months, my opponent has actually talked more about my record, Donald Trump and the NRA; yet he WON’T mention his own record and failed administration as mayor of Jacksonville,” Lawson declared.

That record included, per Lawson, shunning President Barack Obama when he came to Jacksonville (an issue that cropped up during the Jacksonville mayor’s race, and still rankles African-American Democrats who saw Brown, the city’s first black mayor, as analogous to Obama).

Lawson denied Brown’s charges that he was a pro-NRA, pro-Trump Democrat, before showing that he’s been getting some help in the oppo game.

“As mayor, ABSENT ALVIN could barely produce receipts for taxpayer-funded trips to Brazil and the Professional Basketball Hall of Fame — while the city of Jacksonville was struggling with crime.”

Then, the kicker: “When Alvin Brown “shares his vision for Florida’s 5th Congressional District,” make sure you ask ABSENT ALVIN about his $34.5 million backdoor bond scheme with the previous owners of Eureka Gardens, or his record level spending for a private security detail while he was mayor. Also, ask ABSENT ALVIN why he disappeared on Jacksonville and is now running back to Republican donors for support.”

Those Republican donors include the likes of Shad Khan and charter school magnate Gary Chartrand, names more associated with GOP than Democratic support.

It’s getting real in CD 5. Lawson, an unflappable debater, didn’t need oppo against Corrine Brown.

Against Alvin Brown, he has oppo — and is rolling it out.

Brown is appearing Wednesday morning at a “meet and greet” at Biscotti’s, an Avondale landmark just outside of CD 5.

Florida Politics has yet to confirm whether we will be allowed to attend, but we hope to show up and get the former mayor’s thoughts on the ugly turn this campaign has taken.

Rick Scott still mulling Jacksonville City Council appointments

Gov. Rick Scott suspended two Jacksonville City Council Democrats, Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, June 1, after the federal government indicted the duo for a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration.

Since then, applications have poured in for the Governor’s perusal, and the latest list shows many veteran politicians with an urge to serve.

Among the latest applicants last week: three Republicans who ran for State House but fell short in 2016. None of these candidates had demonstrated an interest in running for election for these seats, and all waited until late in the process to apply.

Terrance Freeman, who finished second in a five-man primary in the Southside’s HD 12 is one. Rev. Mark Griffin, who lost a surprisingly competitive race in the HD 13 general election, a second. And Chris Whitfield, thumped in the general election in HD 14, is the third.

In Jacksonville Tuesday spotlighting a reform proposal on his Make Washington Work tour, Scott wouldn’t commit to any of these names, noting that people are still proposing potential fill-ins even today.

“We are going through the appointment process now,” Scott said. “People have told me they have interest. I’ve had people today who’ve told me ideas, who they think I should pick.”

Many wonder if Mayor Lenny Curry has weighed in. In a manner of speaking, Scott did not deny the Mayor’s Office had interest.

“They haven’t [weighed in] to me, but they could have called somebody in my office,” Scott allowed.

If the Mayor’s Office were to weigh in, there is reason to believe they might want one of the aforementioned Republicans.

Freeman, a former aide to Council President-designate Aaron Bowman, “would consider [the appointment] the opportunity of a lifetime.”

If appointed, he vows to offer “a strong voice in local government” and to “work collaboratively with the Mayor’s Office and Council leadership to represent the District with honesty, integrity, and honor, ensuring that I’m leading discussions that are beneficial for the district and the City of Jacksonville as a whole.”

Whitfield, who lost by 40 points to Democrat Kim Daniels in the 2016 general, couched his interest in similar terms.

“I threw my name in the hat to ensure the hardworking citizens of either district had reliable and trustworthy representation until they can elect a permanent representative,” Whitfield said.

“A safe community, potholes, flooded streets and food deserts don’t care about Republican or Democrat. Integrity and honesty matter and the people deserve that and need someone who will make their needs a priority, even in the interim,” Whitfield said.

We asked Whitfield if he thought his chances were improved by being a Republican.

“No, I don’t think party will matter. From my interactions with the mayor and governor, I believe they care about the citizens and what’s best for them and the governor will select the person he feels will best represent those citizens until they can make their voices heard on election day,” Whitfield predicted.

The late Republican applications came after many Democratic candidates and former candidates had already indicated interest.

Among the hopefuls: former and current District 10 candidate Joseph Willis; former school board chair Brenda Priestly Jackson; former at-large candidate Ju’coby Pittman; current candidates Tameka Holly and Celestine Mills; Terry Fields, former state Representative and a 2015 City Council candidate; former House candidate Rahman Johnson; current candidate Kevin Monroe; former Councilwoman and obelisk aficionado Pat Lockett-Felder; former candidates James Breaker and Mincy Pollock.

It remains to be seen whether the Governor will consider party loyalty before making these appointments, but the three Republicans who filed last week all have connections the Democrats lack.

Duval School Board member says district ‘gaming the system’ with test scores

Duval County School Board member Scott Shine has been so frustrated with the governing body that he decided not to run for re-election.

On his way off the board this year, Shine issued a stunning charge: namely, that the district is cooking the books when it comes to student test scores.

“A-F grades are designed to give parents clear, transparent measures of school performance,” said Shine. “If schools game the system, they are essentially lying to parents about the performance of their children’s schools.”

The gaming of the system, per Shine and the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, comes from alleged testing irregularities and grade inflation.

Per a media release from that coalition: “Duval County middle schools had a 66 percent civics pass-rate last year, which ranked 34 out of Florida’s 50 largest school districts. The district vaulted to no. 2 this year with an 84 percent passing rate. But while 8,649 students were tested in civics in 2017, only 5,739 were tested in 2018. That participation drop is likely the major source of the district’s gains. Similar patterns appear in Polk and Manatee Counties.”

The coalition focuses on gains at one particular perpetual D school — Matthew Gilbert Middle in the Durkeeville neighborhood, where all of the students are economically disadvantaged and 19 of 20 attendees are students of color.

The “pass rate increased 48 percentage points, to 95 percent. That passing rate is in the top 10 percent of schools in the state, and higher than any in St. Johns, Nassau and Clay Counties. But only 44 students took the test this year, compared to 144 the previous year.”

The bump in scores could, per the coalition, increase Matthew Gilbert to a C school, boosting funding and potential “political acclaim” for unnamed board members (perhaps including an intra-board foe of Shine’s, House District 14 candidate Paula Wright).

“We passed Schools of Hope to eliminate failure factories in the state of Florida and ensure every child in this state has access to a world-class education,” said Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran. “We want to see schools make genuine improvements in teaching and learning. I am concerned some districts are inflating their results.”

Concern or not, this is at least for now a symbolic gesture, per a spox for the Department of Education.

“The Florida Department of Education takes very seriously the importance of valid measure and assessment of Florida schools. School grades will be released as soon as they are ready. There is an existing process for residents to raise concerns for the department’s review. At this time, we have no requests for an investigation from the Florida Coalition of School Board Members.”

Duval County Schools offered a lengthy defense of its methodology.

“The district is extremely excited about our student performance on the 2018 Civics End of Course Exam. The students’ incredible scores are a direct result of the tireless efforts of our teachers, students, and parents.  The 18-percentage point increase in performance on the Civics exam is consistent with increases students have demonstrated in other courses that end with a state end of course exam. In 2016, the district increased 12-percentage points in Biology. Last year, Algebra 1 and Geometry increased by 23 and 32 percentage points respectively.”

“Other districts have had major increases in scores as well. Hillsborough increased 14-percentage points in US History between 2013 and 2014, and Palm Beach increased 17-percentage points on the Civics exam from 2014 to 2015.”

“The number of students assessed in Civics in 2018 did decline. Each year, the district reviews the Student Progression Plan and Master Scheduling Guidelines. Through those reviews, multiple data points are reviewed and changes are made to better prepare students by adding prerequisites and course progression pathways. The Student Progression Plan and Master Scheduling Guidelines meet all requirements in state statute, state board rules, and Duval County Public School’s Board Policy Manual. Specifically for Civics, Law Studies was included as a recommended prerequisite for students based on their most recent FSA ELA score and Lexile Level.”

“This change is also consistent with Algebra I, Geometry, and Biology in the year of those major percentage point increases. Moving forward, there will be an increase in the number of students assessed each year. This is also consistent with Algebra 1, Geometry, and Biology. Each year, the district reviews the Student Progression Plan and Master Scheduling Guidelines.”

“The fact that any organization would call for an investigation into improprieties on assessments due to performance increases is an affront to all of the teachers and students who worked so diligently to prepare for the exam, and their families who supported them. We are very proud of their efforts, and our results on recent state and national assessments are a product of their continued pursuit of academic excellence.”

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