Alvin Brown Archives - Florida Politics

Two more years: John Rutherford, Al Lawson plan re-election runs

There will not be an open seat in Jacksonville’s U.S. Congressional Delegation in 2018, confounding those who expected otherwise.

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford confirmed to Florida Politics Monday evening that he does, in fact, plan to run for re-election in Florida’s 4th Congressional District — a Jacksonville-centered district that includes Nassau and northern St. Johns County.

“It is a tremendous honor to serve my fellow Northeast Floridians in Congress,” Rutherford said. “I am proud of all our hard work over the last year fighting for jobs, veterans, a renewed military, and secure borders.”

“But a great deal of work remains ahead,” Rutherford added, “and I look forward to seeking re-election to continue this work on behalf of the fine people I am so humbled to serve.”

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson‘s chief of staff, Tola Thompson, confirmed that Lawson would be running for re-election in Florida’s 5th Congressional District — an east/west map that runs to Tallahassee.

Rutherford and Lawson, allied on local issues in Congress, face different paths to re-election. Rutherford won’t face meaningful competition; Lawson may have a primary challenge.

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First: Rutherford.

There were those in Northeast Florida Republican circles who speculated that Rutherford would stand down, setting off decision-making for local Republicans — current incumbents in other offices and otherwise — who might seek to replicate the very expensive and occasionally fractious 2016 primary.

However, Rutherford has never given any indication that he wouldn’t run to serve at least one more term. And now it is clear that any shaking of the #Jaxpol snow globe will wait until at least 2020.

Rutherford faces a clear path to re-election in what Congressional Quarterly calls a solid Republican district.

Rutherford has one primary opponent so far, Palatka petition collector Rob Ficker. But he is a political non-entity, and does not match up well against popular Rutherford, a former three-term Jacksonville sheriff.

The general election holds no real challenge either. While Democrat Monica DePaul has filed for the race, there is scant evidence of campaign architecture from the political novice.

Rutherford won election with 71 percent of the vote against Democrat Dave Bruderly and two NPA candidates in 2016.

Rutherford’s predecessor, Ander Crenshaw, won all eight of his races by at least 30 points.

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Rep. Lawson’s CD 5, per CQ, is solid Democratic also. But Lawson could face a primary challenge from the Jacksonville area.

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has flirted with a run, telling local Democrats last year that they would see his name on a ballot.

He was present for the sentencing portion of former Rep. Corrine Brown‘s trial; Corrine Brown, according to sources in D.C., made the rounds with Alvin Brown to court support from Congressional Black Caucus members.

Alvin Brown was also seen in Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan‘s box at the last home game for the NFL franchise this postseason.

Whether Alvin Brown launches his campaign or not, Lawson likely will have at least one challenger — a former Corrine Brown staffer, Rontel Batie.

For any challenge to work, the opponent would have to consolidate Jacksonville support — including the donor class

A.G. Gancarski’s 10 predictions for Jacksonville politics in 2018

For the third straight year, Florida Politics is attempting to predict how politics in the 904 will go.

And hopefully the predictions will go better than they did the previous two years.

2016’s predictions were as reliable as a coin flip: Six right, six wrong.

2017 saw six wrong… and four right.

Batting .400 is fine for a baseball player; however, it indicates room for improvement in terms of political prognostication.

Without further adieu, let’s see if the third time is the charm.

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1. Al Lawson will win Democratic primary in CD 5

In 2016, Al Lawson took advantage of Corrine Brown having legal problems and a concomitant inability to fundraise, and won a primary election in a re-configured Congressional District 5.

In 2018, Lawson looks poised to defend his crown — with a Jacksonville challenger, at this writing, being slow to materialize.

While former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has teased a candidacy, Lawson has a number of factors in his favor.

Incumbency, and the fundraising networks that allows, works in Lawson’s favor. As does playing ball with the Jacksonville business community. And working well with his Jacksonville House colleague, Republican John Rutherford.

Lawson had a slow third quarter, but carried $97,000 cash on hand into the final three months of the year; it’s not as if he’s been dynamic in fundraising up until now. But Lawson has the western part of the district on lock. Brown’s challenge: to engage the donor class, and to convince skeptical Jacksonville Democrats that he’s for real.

Because make no mistake — Brown would have to sweep Jacksonville Democrats, and drive high turnout.

Brown, however, may have another option.

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2. Democratic challenger will emerge for Lenny Curry

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is polling well, at least according to a University of North Florida survey in the fall.

Sixty-nine percent approval citywide, 57 percent approval with Democrats and 59 percent with African-Americans.

So it’s all clear for his re-election bid, right?

Not exactly.

Democrats hold a registration advantage. And there is a lot of time between now and March 2019.

One worry — which may surprise some — is that Alvin Brown makes another bid for City Hall.

The case: Brown was above 50 percent favorables even when he lost the election, a loss that had much less to do with Brown than it did with the shambolic, disengaged campaign on his behalf.

Brown’s messaging was a mess, with the mayor accepting cataclysmic help from the Florida Democratic Party, and taking positions that were out of their playbook — and out of step with the Jacksonville electorate — such as a push for an increased minimum wage.

Brown was ill-prepared to deal with realities as a result of not being true to his messaging, such as a shot up school bus on the evening of a debate.

All that said, he lost by fewer than three points.

While those close to Brown tell us that he’s looking at Congress rather than City Hall, there are those in Curry’s orbit who don’t want a rematch.

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3. FEMA $ delay will lead to hard budget choices

As hard as it is to believe, the Donald Trump administration may not have it all together when it comes to FEMA.

Per the Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville is waiting on $85 million from FEMA for Hurricane Irma. That’s added to an additional $27 million the city is waiting on from Hurricane Matthew.

Is the city sitting pretty? Depends on how you look at it.

While the city has roughly $200 million in fund balance, per the Times-Union, the reality is that even before Irma, senior staffers from Lenny Curry’s office were talking of the need to boost the emergency reserve — as the city’s bond rating was capped below AAA by low reserve levels.

Of course, that’s not the whole story.

Part of the issue: high fixed costsdespite pension reform.

Another part of the issue: a surfeit of tangible steps to deal with climate change, particularly salient after a year when epic flooding hit Jacksonville after Irma — weeks after Harvey doused Houston with a year’s worth of rainfall.

Another budget without real attention to storm budgeting — and infrastructure — will lead to consequences down the road.

The feds aren’t going to help.

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4. John Rutherford waltzes to re-election

The Duval Democrats are making some interesting moves, but one of them doesn’t seem to be fielding a viable candidate against John Rutherford for re-election.

Rutherford is a nice guy and an enthusiastic advocate for the Trump agenda — which, at least conceivably, could make him worth targeting.

However, Duval Dems don’t seem interested in fielding a candidate — like Nancy Soderberg in Congressional District 6 — who can challenge him.

Maybe it’s not a winnable seat. But a serious candidate should emerge. But hasn’t yet.

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5. JEA privatization push gets ugly

The cleanest distillation of the Lenny Curry administration’s case for JEA privatization was made in Sunshine State News weeks back, by South Florida journalist Allison Nielsen.

The city could get a lump sum of money by selling the utility to outside investors. But there would be consequences, including the loss of the near $115 million JEA contribution, and property tax revenues. Not to mention how accountable an outside operator would be to Jacksonville politicians.

JEA also carries debt, and has been dinged by Moody’s for an unwise investment in nuclear power, per the Florida Times-Union.

In short, there are a lot of caveats.

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6. Serious challenges for City Council incumbents

Three to watch: Anna Brosche, Katrina Brown and Garrett Dennis.

All three were elected in 2015; all three will face serious re-election challenges, essentially because they pissed someone off.

Brosche has sparred with Mayor Curry on a number of issues, including but not limited to pension reform and the Kids’ Hope Alliance.

Brosche also upset police union head Steve Zona in commenting on disproportionate stops of African-American jaywalkers; Zona, on Twitter, advised Brosche to clean up the City Council.

By that he means Councilwoman Katrina Brown.

Brown accused Jacksonville police of racially profiling a Council colleague during a traffic stop. She would not walk it back, despite national Fraternal Order of Police leadership showing at Council to force her hand.

Expect FOP candidates to come after both women’s Council seats. A retired cop, perhaps, for each.

Councilman Dennis, meanwhile, has been (along with the aforementioned Brosche) the sole source of antagonism for the Mayor’s office.

He clowned Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa during budget hearings, and fought Mayor Curry on issue after issue over the summer.

He will be a target of the Mayor’s political operation.

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7. Another hurricane impacts NE FL

As the Governor likes to say, I’m not a scientist, but with water temperatures warming up farther and farther north every year, odds look good for a third storm year in a row. If you are investing in generators, beat the rush.

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8. Lenny Curry distances self from Donald Trump as scandal builds

Mayor Curry spent a lot of 2016 and 2017 answering for Trumpiness. The best — or worst, depending on how you feel — example was when questions came in at a presser about the Paris Accord.

Curry has yet to actually have to say President Donald Trump is wrong about something. But conditions are changing.

Robert Mueller is for real. And so are conditions that are conducive to a wave election. And the utter frustration with having one’s own agenda hijacked by some idiotic tweet or soundbite from the White House.

Trump has, by and large, been a bust for Jacksonville. See the above section on FEMA money. Even when a Republican mayor walks the line, Jacksonville is still shorted.

In 2018, Curry will have occasion to put distance between himself and the president. On some issue, somewhere.

The base might not like it, but it will happen. Trump is only becoming more erratic, in terms of messaging, as he sits on Pennsylvania Avenue.

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9. Murders continue spike, but no challenge to Mike Williams

Murders are up for the third straight year — at this writing, the final number isn’t in, but it is at least 131.

Last year saw 118 homicides.

This, despite additions of ShotSpotter and NIBIN — a national database that takes fingerprints of bullets to find killers. And additions of new police officers and equipment in the last three city budgets.

Ambitious politicians would make a real run at Williams. However, there don’t seem to be many of them.

Williams has consolidated support in the JSO, and has a $300,000+ campaign nest egg.

Thus, even if murders go up again in 2018 — a safe bet, given that there is no real change in conditions or legislation that drive them — Williams is on the glide path to re-election.

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10. Jaguars win the Super Bowl

In this year of inverted reality, the Jacksonville Jaguars are as good as any team in the league. Even with wide receivers plucked from obscurity. 

The playoffs — Buffalo at home, then Pittsburgh on the road — shape up well for them.

And the Patriots are beatable. So too are the Vikings — or any NFC team.

Now, the question: do they remake this classic?

 

 

 

A.G. Gancarski’s 10 people to watch in Northeast Florida politics: 2018 edition

Politics in Northeast Florida is about to heat up, with state races in 2018 and Jacksonville municipal elections in 2019. Here are ten names worth watching.

Alvin Brown: Is he running for the U.S. House against Al Lawson? Mayor against incumbent Lenny Curry?

He will have to decide, one way or another, this year.

We’ve gone into the challenges Brown would face against Lawson: among them, primarying an incumbent; not being known west of Duval County; a lack of buy-in among Jacksonville Democrats (who think he disappeared after losing the Mayor’s race in 2015, only returning ahead of running for whatever this year or next); and a lack of buy-in among the donor class.

The Peter Rummell-types have moved on, some to Lawson. And the trial lawyers probably aren’t that hyped up on taking Alvin to the next level.

That said, there almost has to be a Jacksonville candidate — and Alvin Brown looks like the best bet. Still.

Those familiar with Brown’s thinking say it’s Congress or bust. Time will tell.

Lisa King: The new chair of the Duval Democratic party is fired up and ready to go when it comes to the 2018 cycle.

Expect King, an establishment Democrat from the Hillary Clinton wing of the party, to manufacture media coverage every time there is an opportunity.

Unifying the party and building donor confidence will be key this year, as King tries to turn Duval into “Bluval.”

Carlo Fassi: One of the sharpest political minds in Northeast Florida that most people outside of downtown haven’t heard of.

Fassi is running Baxter Troutman’s campaign for Agriculture Commissioner — sort of the Royal Rumble battle royal of GOP primary races.

Before turning his attention to statewide work, Fassi worked for State Attorney Melissa Nelson, first as her campaign manager, then handling public affairs in her office.

Fassi is not a self-promoter by trade — and that may seem anomalous to fans of the political consultant game.

But expect this: no matter how Troutman fares this year, Fassi will be increasingly sought after for Republican candidates down the road.  

Reggie Brown: Is he running against Audrey Gibson for the state Senate?

To us, that sounds like a suicide mission. And we’re skeptical it’s going to happen.

Brown, a Jacksonville City Councilman, would run into some of the same issues Alvin Brown would run into versus Lawson. How does he credibly challenge a Senator who is poised to lead the caucus after the November election? Specifically, one who has institutional buy-in with corporate and institutional donors.

Rory Diamond: Diamond, an alumnus of the George W. Bush White House, the California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger administration, and head of the charitable non-profit “K9s for Warriors,” is highly regarded among local Republicans.

He’s a current Neptune Beach City Councilman, and he’s making a run for Jacksonville City Council in 2019.

He also has roughly $100,000 banked.

Yet he will face a competitive race.

There are those who contend that Diamond isn’t enough of a social conservative to replace termed-out Bill Gulliford on the City Council.

There will be a candidate that attacks Diamond on those grounds.

Garrett Dennis: With Brian Hughes moving into the office of Mayor Lenny Curry as chief of staff, there are strong expectations that the political and the policy sphere will essentially become one.

With that in mind, it’s worth watching the only Democrat on Council who has acted like a Democrat: Garrett Dennis.

Alone among Council Democrats, of whom at least a few have functioned like adjuncts of the Mayor’s office, Dennis has embodied an actual attempt to put checks and balances on the Curry agenda.

He’s taken risks. Taken slings and arrows for his trouble. But on a City Council that has not offered much resistance to any of the reforms in the last thirty months, Dennis is the sole reminder that there are two political parties in this town, each with their own agendas.

Empower Jacksonville: There’s not a breakout star of this group — a Christian conservative Liberty Counsel front that would like to see, ultimately, a City Council referendum to overturn the LGBT protections in the Human Rights Ordinance expansion of 2017.

But the group is very much worth watching. It seeks to have two ballot items next August. The first: a referendum to change the city’s charter to allow citizens to challenge any law via referendum.

The second measure: a straw ballot on whether or not the HRO should be subject to a citizen referendum. The specific area of contention: the additions to the law this February, not the previously extant law.

Those additions: protections of LGBT people in the areas of housing discrimination, workplace protections, and public accommodations.

This underscores a larger rift in the Republican Party between religious conservatives and more pragmatic conservatives; naturally, the latter category is called RINOs by those in the religious camp.

Aaron Bowman: A VP for business recruitment for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Bowman also is City Council VP.

And he will walk into the presidency next year.

Bowman has been an interesting case. A dyed-in-the-wool Republican, the former Mayport base commander nonetheless is the kind of Republican who embodies the “kinder, gentler America” former President George H.W. Bush talked about.

He ran for office against a Christian conservative, vowing to push for the aforementioned Human Rights Ordinance expansion. And that went through this February.

The book on Bowman among some on Council was that he thought he should have been in leadership from the start. That didn’t sit well with some Council veterans.

He’s there now, of course, and the way he won the Council VP election in 2017 was notable. Pledges materialized seemingly from thin air, with Bowman becoming the runaway choice.

Meanwhile, during the presidency of Anna Brosche, Bowman avoided making waves on hot-button issues like Confederate monuments. He clearly is amassing political capital. Will he use it during his presidency? Or does he have more ambitious plans down the road?

Earl Testy: Why Testy?

Despite having just $13 cash-on-hand, the self-styled “radical Republican” has already become the most quotable Jacksonville candidate since Rep. Kim Daniels.

Testy is known for mansplaining about how sexual harassment was a function of the female libido.

“They have themselves and their libidos to blame for much of their own abuse by men,” Testy posted to Facebook.

And if that isn’t enough, he also advocates the “conversion of Negro Democrats to the Republican Party.”

“I devote a portion of the time remaining in my life to facilitating the conversion of millions of Negro Democrats back home to the Republican Party,” Testy remarked.

Testy is running against an establishment Republican — Randy DeFoor — who will have all the endorsements and money she needs.

There likely will be a Democrat in this race — and other candidates — before all is said and done.

So why are we watching him? The reality is that he will get a sizable chunk of the vote… in the most liberal district in the city. Which says quite a bit about where Duval County really is.

Tracye Polson: Can Polson, a clinical social worker by trade, do the seemingly impossible and turn Rep. Jay Fant’s red district blue?

The Democratic candidate for House District 15 is about to find out.

Polson is keeping pace with the Republican in the race — Jacksonville lawyer Wyman Duggan — in terms of fundraising.

She also is aggressively canvassing the Westside Jacksonville district, an approach that she and her volunteers hope overcome the tendency of some voters in the district to just vote for the Republican.

Polson does have a primary opponent, but he is essentially unknown to local Democrats. Polson, by contrast, is a known quantity.

Behold, the wreckage: A look at A.G. Gancarski’s 2017 predictions

Another year is mercifully almost in the books, and with that comes another chance for this writer to offer self-recrimination for yearly predictions that looked good in January.

Prediction 1 [TRUE]: The Duval Delegation will struggle to deliver.

On this one, I have to consider what the Mayor told me was the key priorities.

One of them was money for septic tank removal.

The city and JEA have committed to a five-year, $30 million shared process of removal of old septic tanks, with the idea of getting these properties onto city water and sewage.

The city wanted $15 million from the state; however, the Duval Delegation didn’t even carry the bill — which was instead carried by Rep. Travis Cummings of Clay County.

The measure died in committee.

So on that issue, the Delegation didn’t get it done.

Prediction 2 [TRUE]: Nothing for Hart Bridge offramp removal

The big ask last year: $50 million for removal of Hart Bridge offramps, with the idea of moving traffic onto surface streets by the Sports Complex.

Another called pitch strikeout.

No one even carried the bill. Delegation members told this reporter that they hadn’t been told about the project before it was introduced at a Duval Delegation meeting.

Delegation Chair Jay Fant said in March he would have been “happy to carry the bill,” but that the mayor’s office “backed off” because the concept “needed some validation” and wasn’t just a “request and get.”

The city is now pursuing a $25 million federal infrastructure grant, and wants $12.5 million from the state to help with that.

Thus far, crickets.

But long story short, the city didn’t get what it wanted there.

Prediction 3 [FALSE]: Collective bargaining with unions won’t wrap in time for 2018 budget

We were pessimistic that collective bargaining with unions, regarding pension reform, would take longer than it did.

We were wrong.

The unions traded pay raises for current members with the end of defined benefit plans for new members, who are all now into defined contribution plans.

This saved the city money in the short term.

As CFO Mike Weinstein said, the savings add up to “$1.4B less out of the general fund over the next 15 years,” and “without that revenue” from the half-cent sales tax, the city would have “difficulty matching revenue to expenses.”

The city was able to defer what is now a $3.2 billion obligation until 2030, when the Better Jacksonville Plan half-cent sales tax will be repurposed to dealing with what is now a pension plan playing out the string.

This allowed the city to have a bigger budget than in previous years, with more money for infrastructure spending.

In any event, we botched that one.

Prediction 4 [FALSE]: Human Rights Ordinance expansion won’t go through.

After five years of trying to find a way to add LGBT people to the city’s HRO, activists got their wish on Valentine’s Day; the expanded ordinance passed by a 12-6 margin in City Council.

The expansion added sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the list of protected categories under the ordinance, which ensures that people aren’t discriminated against in the workplace, the housing market, or public accommodations (restrooms, locker rooms, and so on).

Mayor Lenny Curry returned the bill to the city council without his signature; the bill is now law.

Instrumental in the push: Jaguars owner Shad Khan,

Khan, per some sources, read an article of this writer’s that suggested that Khan lean on Council for a yes vote.

Whether that’s true or apocryphal, who knows.

But a win’s a win.

Prediction 5 [TRUE]: The murder rate won’t abate.

Sad to be right about this one, but as the T-U’s homicide tracker says, the city is at 128 murders with two weeks to go this year.

Last year saw 118 homicides.

Curry and Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams probably won’t get real electoral challenges for re-election.

If they did, however, they would be vulnerable on this issue.

Prediction 6 [TRUE]: Alvin Brown continues to resurface.

This reporter has seen more of Alvin Brown this fall than he has his own mother … which means that he probably should visit home more often.

It also means that Brown is around; a fixture at everything from meetings of Duval Democrats to Corrine Brown hearings.

Brown, who is still mulling running against Al Lawson for Congress, is out there for a reason.

Prediction 7 [FALSE]: Local Dems vie to replace Al Lawson

While Brown is mulling, no one seems to be moving.

Audrey Gibson is in Democratic caucus leadership in the Florida Senate. Tony Hill is on Lawson’s payroll.

The expectations of a battle royale between Democrats, thus far, have been dashed.

Prediction #8 [FALSE]: There will be a homeless day resource center in Downtown Jacksonville

This was a priority of activists; this was not a priority of the Lenny Curry administration.

The contention: the day center had “mixed results.”

As is the case with other social-service legislation, such as the Jacksonville Journey, the mayor’s office wanted a data-driven approach. And the data showed that a day center serves a supplementary, not a primary purpose.

Prediction #9 [FALSE]: The city will reassume control of Hemming Park.

Jacksonville has found a rapprochement with a restructured Friends of Hemming Park group, meaning that this is not under direct city control.

Prediction #10 [FALSE]: Political scofflaws will skate on charges

This is false solely because Corrine Brown did get sentenced to five years in prison. At her age, that essentially is a life sentence.

All told, batted .400, with four correct and the rest junk.

Better luck next year!

Prominent Corrine Brown supporters fought for her before her sentencing

Corrine Brown had some of the most prominent people in the country writing on her behalf pre-sentencing, amidst dozens of letters of support asking for leniency.

As well, prominent locals — including a former Jacksonville mayor, a sitting city councilwoman, and a prominent state senator — likewise appealed for a light sentence for Brown.

The letters, just released by Judge Timothy Corrigan on Monday, speak to a legacy that went far beyond the One Door for Education case.

Many of Brown’s supporters were Congressional Black Caucus colleagues. All urged a leniency that didn’t come to pass.

Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat from South Florida, spoke of a friendship going back to 1969 with Brown.

“Corrine has already lost just about everything by being convicted,” Hastings wrote, asking for a “second chance” for his former Congressional colleague.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat, noted that at “some point in every life we all wish we had a do-over,” before asking Corrigan to show Brown a “small portion of the kindness, love, and caring” she has shown others.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, noted Brown’s “deep connection to her constituents … service for the most vulnerable members” of her district.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, lauded Brown’s “tireless work ethic, impeccable fortitude, and laudable achievements” as a “change agent for good who has earned the love and adoration of those she has served.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, wrote of Brown’s “long track record for standing for our nation’s most vulnerable communities,” citing her work after Hurricane Katrina.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, called Brown a “practical legislator who always wanted to fight for those with real needs … a colleague, a friend, a spiritual person” with “much more to contribute to our great country and the world.”

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, another Texas Democrat, lauded Brown’s “unbridled compassion” and asked Corrigan to take into account the “anguish” she experienced, to “judge her by the sum of her life, and not just by the mistakes that she made.”

Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, acknowledged that “lines were crossed” by Brown; however, “there was no malice or forethought on her part.”

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a North Carolina Democrat, called Brown a “friend, confidant, and mentor” who “cares deeply for those who have not benefited from the American dream.”

Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat, noted that Brown is at the “twilight of her life and career” and — through community service — had an “opportunity to give back to her community and communities in need.”

Illinois Democrat Rep. Robin Kelly lauded Brown as a “mentor … a passionate advocate for her constituents.”

Former Congressman Greg Laughlin, a Texas Republican, described Brown as “a friend … always honest and true to her word … worthy of a sentence of probation and community service.”

Former Congresswoman Carolyn Kilpatrick, a Michigan Democrat, likewise urged leniency, saying “the loss of her leadership would be catastrophic for her community.”

Former Rep. Karen Thurman, who served with Brown both in Tallahassee and Washington, lauded Brown’s “compassion and tenacity … decades of distinguished service.”

Former state Rep. Cynthia Moore Chestnut said Brown taught her “the true meaning of constituent service.”

State Sen. Audrey Gibson went farther.

“CB has stood up against injustice, fought for civil and voting rights, fought against injustice, helped fund housing developments…”

Gibson added that Brown was “genuinely interested in raising the collective voices of others and attending to their needs.”

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown — who showed up for the sentencing hearing and proclamation — wrote about Corrine Brown being “hardworking and focused with laser-like commitment” to the “people of Jacksonville and her district.”

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Joyce Morgan lauded Brown as a political mentor, noting that Brown was the Godmother of her three children.

Brown’s own mother — 89 years old — may have written the most meaningful letter.

“She fusses at me when I don’t take my medicine and when I eat the wrong thing,” Mrs. Delia Covington wrote. “She makes sure I have my medicine and I have food in my house.”

Brown’s daughter, Shantrel Brown, described that situation further, noting that her grandmother has “dementia and has to use a wheelchair,” and that Corrine Brown is her “primary caregiver.”

“My mother has endured a lot over these last 22 months. However, she continues to persevere,” Shantrel wrote.

“I need her. Our family needs her. Our community needs her,” Shantrel added.

In the end, it was all for naught.

Corrine Brown faces a five-year stretch in federal prison.

Corrine Brown alum mounts primary challenge to Al Lawson

It was only a matter of time before U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat, drew a primary challenge in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

However, that challenge isn’t coming from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, at least not yet.

Rather, the first primary opponent for Lawson is Rontel Batie, a 29 year-old former Tallahassee lobbyist and former Corrine Brown policy director who overcame a lot of childhood adversity, including but not limited to his father being killed in a drive-by shooting and serious poverty.

Batie framed that as part of his narrative, both in a campaign launch video, and a press release, in which he claimed to have “excited the millennial base in Tallahassee and Jacksonville with his campaign launch video, which now has over 7,000 views and over 300 shares on Facebook. Young people in this district are a demographic that have been in a political slumber since the election of President Barack Obama in 2012.”

Batie claims to have received 50 donations thus far for his committee, “Rontel for Florida,” but he didn’t want to say how much cash he has on hand. (To put that in perspective, Lawson had $190,126 raised (all but $51,000 of that from committees), with $97,876 cash on hand at the end of September).

Batie, who worked in D.C. for Congresswoman Brown, was surprisingly removed from the details of her high-profile court case that ended her political career and set up sentencing for next week on 18 felony counts.

“I didn’t follow the case,” Batie said, “but I never saw her do anything illegal.”

Corrine Brown, as we reported exclusively, was introducing Alvin Brown to power players in D.C., which many would interpret as a signal of support.

Batie hasn’t talked to Corrine Brown about his campaign; he is giving her “space to process” her legal issues.

Likewise, Batie had little to say about Alvin Brown.

“I don’t know much about him,” Batie said, other than “he was mayor for a brief stint.”

(Alvin Brown served a full four-year term from 2011 to 2015.)

Batie, a St. Augustine native, moved to Jacksonville a few months back; however, he said “that district is home to me in more ways than one.”

He’s a FAMU alum, for one thing. And he has spent most of his time in Jacksonville, with family in the area.

As well, he sees himself as having a unique value add, having had “very different experiences than Brown and Lawson” in terms of the adversity he has overcome.

He started working when he was 12 — his first job being cleaning the restrooms at a Greyhound station. And he sees his narrative as one that is relatable to people in the district.

(Of course, both Alvin Brown and Al Lawson have their own documented rises from childhood adversity as well).

Batie counts among his policy accomplishments the writing of the Land Grant Opportunity Act, which bolsters HBCUs.

Batie also notes that Florida is long overdue for a Millennial person of color to go to Congress.

“The last time Florida sent a person of color that was my age to Congress was 1871,” Batie related. “If you are a person of color and under 40, you have no representation in Congress.”

Will a millennial wave manifest for Batie? Time will tell.

Alvin Brown prepares to primary Al Lawson for U.S. House seat

“The best is yet to come for Duval — you will see my name on the ballot.”

Multiple sources have confirmed that former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown told a crowd of Democrats Wednesday evening that he has at least one more campaign in him.

And one source confirms the quote above from the meeting of the Duval Democrats — an audacious statement, and a long-awaited political rebirth after a tough loss two years ago, one that most Democrats didn’t see coming.

Brown’s comments were described as a “big announcement soon,” and Dems were told they should expect to see his name on a ballot soon.

But for what? That’s the question.

Brown has been most persistently linked with a run against Rep. Al Lawson, the Tallahassee Democrat who upended Corrine Brown in the 2016 primary.

Brown has told at least one leading Jacksonville Democrat that his plan was to launch a campaign after Corrine Brown is out of the news, which could happen as soon as her November sentencing date. The former Jacksonville Mayor has been talking to consultants as well.

Lawson would present some challenges for Alvin Brown, whose name identification fades west of the Duval County line. In his primary election against Corrine Brown in 2016, Corrine Brown won just two counties of the 11 in the sprawling east-west North Florida district.

However, there is opportunity for a Jacksonville challenger against Lawson — especially a challenger with a proven donor track record.

Lawson’s fundraising thus far is credible — $190,126 raised (all but $51,000 of that from committees), with $97,876 cash on hand. However, he only raised roughly $32,000 in Q3 — a potentially worrying sign.

Meanwhile, Alvin Brown — though he lost to Republican Mayor Lenny Curry in 2015 — didn’t do so for lack of resources.

His political committee brought in $2.85 million, reported the Florida Times-Union, along with $750,369 in hard money, and $1.37 million from in-kind contributions.

Lawson has attempted to build Duval bona fides, but as an older politician much more yoked to Tallahassee than to Duval, there clearly is opportunity for Brown.

That opportunity is burnished, we hear, by Corrine Brown showing Alvin Brown around D.C. in recent weeks. Brown, we hear, is excited to get back up there — a place he worked during the Clinton Administration.

Brown has deep connections with Congressional Black Caucus members as well, which could help his primary insurgency.

Though Corrine Brown wants to bring the seat back to Duval, Jacksonville’s leading politician is much more agnostic.

However, when asked about the unique utility of having Alvin Brown — a former mayor, one who knows City Hall’s needs — in Congress, Mayor Curry seemed nonplussed.

“I have a great working relationship with the delegation in and around Duval County, including Al Lawson. I’m not going to get into encouraging folks to challenge incumbents or not challenge incumbents. They’re going to have to make those decisions. But I have a great working relationship with Al Lawson,” Curry said.

Curry would not assess in any meaningful way any unique value add Brown would bring to Congress for Jacksonville.

Brown could be hurt most if other candidates, such as  State Sen. Audrey Gibson, get into the scrum — splitting the Jacksonville vote.

Gibson has yet to reply to a message from Wednesday evening seeking comment.

Jacksonville Bold for 8.18.17 — Are we kingmakers?

Gov. Rick Scott pitched his tax-related ballot initiative in Jacksonville this week. By his side was House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

That was no coincidence.

All smiles for Speaker Richard Corcoran, Gov. Rick Scott in Dirty Duval this week.

Corcoran was there to support the plan — but clearly, he was also there to make his presence known to a Jacksonville press corps often obtuse when it comes to statewide issues and pols.

Corcoran was quippy, making jokes about how he’d be a “horrible statewide candidate” since he couldn’t feign enthusiasm about teams outside of Tampa. And he was relatable, extolling Mayor Lenny Curry with specificity. In turn, Curry extolled Corcoran for his consistent political philosophy.

Democratic candidates for Governor have been playing in the Duval sandbox (Gwen Graham primarily, though Andrew Gillum also has shown up). However, the expectation is that Jacksonville will mean much more in GOP primaries and it’s interesting to see how everyone is playing it.

Adam Putnam has been through the area off and on since declaring his candidacy, and he can always count on coverage, though it’s hard to think of anyone in the local press corps who really “gets” Putnam or gets particularly excited about covering him.

Jack Latvala was through here earlier this month to meet with political allies at the Fraternal Order of Police.

In statewide general elections, Democrats don’t make aggressive plays here (see, Patrick Murphy 2016, Charlie Crist 2014, Alex Sink 2010). In part, it’s because the kind of milquetoast, vaguely center-left campaigns run are tailored for the I-4 Corridor, not for Jacksonville’s brand of Dems.

It will be, in 2018, a Republican year. And expect every Republican with a shot to come through and kiss Curry’s ring.

He has multiple friends in this race, and expect Curry to let the process play out before he endorses.

November sentencing for Corrine Brown

On Wednesday, motions filed by former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown for a new trial and acquittal were denied, setting the stage for a November sentencing.

Brown’s motion for a new trial was predicated on a claim that a discharged juror was incorrectly removed.

Sad times for Corrine Brown, who may be gone in November.

Judge Timothy Corrigan rejected that premise: “Corrine Brown is entitled to a fair trial with an impartial jury that reaches a verdict in accordance with the law. That is what she received.”

“I determined beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no substantial possibility that he could base his decision on the sufficiency of the evidence and the Court’s instructions,” Corrigan added.

Regarding the acquittal motion, Corrigan said that “Suffice it to say there was more than sufficient evidence to justify the jury’s verdict on each count of conviction.”

Brown’s contention was that she was careless with her finances, leaving herself open for exploitation by her former co-defendant and chief of staff. However, Corrigan said the evidence said otherwise — that Brown was active in the scheme to defraud.

Confederate monuments to go?

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche seeks the removal of Jacksonville’s Confederate monuments in the wake of Charlottesville. The Jacksonville Civic Council backs her play.

The mayor thinks Jacksonville has some bigger issues than statues, meanwhile. And Brosche’s Council colleagues … well, let’s just say there is no consensus on this one yet.

Will the Confederate monument issue be as divisive as the HRO discussion was?

Those close to Curry have their concerns. One person wondered why this had to be hot-shotted in the way he believes it has been, when a more deliberate, less headline-grabbing process would have been more appropriate.

Regardless of timing, the band-aid has been ripped off. Jacksonville will have its own dialogue on Confederate reliquary.

For our writers, that means readers. For city officials, including those charged with public safety, more existential challenges — such as activists on the left and on the neo-Confederate side — are posed.

Mayor warns of ‘chatter’ from Confederate enthusiasts

During a Jacksonville press gaggle Tuesday, Curry warned of “chatter” heard by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in the wake of Brosche‘s proposal to remove Confederate monuments.

‘Chatter’ from Confederate enthusiasts concerns Mayor Lenny Curry.

Curry commented in the wake of questions posed to Gov. Rick Scott and him regarding the proposed removal of these monuments — a proposal fraught with controversy locally, with that controversy even extending to the Council.

“I do think it’s important when we talk about public safety to recognize that how this is pursued in our community is important,” Curry said.

“I get briefed by the Sheriff regularly. I can tell you right now from discussions with him, based on Council’s wanting to outright say they want to remove these — there’s chatter from these outside groups. People in Charlottesville are already talking about coming to Jacksonville. We want to keep those groups out of our city, and we want to work together as a community to have a civil discourse.”

“I’m not proposing we remove these monuments,” Curry said. “Certainly, if the public wants to have that conversation — now the Council President has said this is her priority to remove them.”

“I urge the Council to have that discussion, that debate, Whatever they decide, I’ll evaluate it when it lands on my desk at that time,” Curry said, refraining from a commitment to sign or veto the bill when asked.

Brosche addressed Curry’s comments later Tuesday afternoon, saying that she’s “kicked off a process for defining an orderly and respectful solution for consideration by the Council and Mayor. I hope the community can allow that process to work.”

Spotted — Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown at this weekend’s annual Congressional Black Caucus Institute’s policy conference in Tunica, Mississippi hosted by Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson.

Hate mail hits Council President’s inbox

More fallout still from the proposal to remove Confederate monuments, in the form of emails to the Council President.

One such email purported to be from a senior administrator at a local university which, it turns out, had a cybersecurity breach that this episode uncovered.

Anna Brosche is in the middle of the maelstrom, yet undeterred.

“I find your caving-in to nasty commie anarchist hebes and their black jungle-bunny friends to be repulsive,” the email wrote.

“You are an Asian!  You don’t belong here. You aren’t from here. You just can’t cave-in to these sorry people and screw everyone else. You should not even be on the city council,” the email added, saying “liberals and their n*** allies are making you look bad.”

We asked Brosche her thoughts.

“While I’ve received an email with a closing salutation of ‘FU,’ that was the worst email so far. It does not change my position either way,” Brosche said.

Red light cameras to go

Good news for those who hate red light cameras in Jacksonville; this is the last year for them, per Sheriff Mike Williams.

The technology isn’t where it needs to be, Williams said.

Red-light cameras soon to be extinct in Jacksonville, says Sheriff Mike Williams.

“That contract will end in December. We wanted to add crash avoidance to a number of intersections in Jacksonville,” Williams said, “but the technology just isn’t there yet.”

“That was the appeal of having a red-light camera to me. If we can’t do that, we know from the data that it’s not really reducing crashes in the intersections, maybe we just let this contract sunset and take a look at it years down the road,” Williams said.

One suspects that may be many, many years down the road.

White males abound on Jax boards and commissions

The slogan du jour: One City, One Jacksonville. But the city’s boards and commissions are mostly white and male. However, that could change soon.

Of 332 people currently serving, 65 percent are male — a number not substantially different between City Council appointees (64 percent male) and appointees from other parties, such as the Mayor (66 percent).

Seventy percent of all appointees: Caucasian. The percentage of Council representatives is even higher: 80 percent, per the most recent Boards and Commissions diversity report.

This ratio holds true, more or less, no matter who is in office.

Jacksonville City boards and commissions have an overabundance of white dudes.

And some would contend that needs to change.

On Wednesday morning, Brosche held a public-notice meeting to that end.

“The meeting is intended to increase awareness of opportunities to serve in hopes of broadening the pool of candidates that apply,” Brosche said.

“I will always choose the most qualified candidate among the pool of applicants that apply; I’d like to have a ‘pool’ of candidates larger than one application,” Brosche added.

Brosche has made an active push in diversity/social justice initiatives, as seen by her push to remove Confederate monuments from public display in Jacksonville just this week.

JEA nuclear deal safe from failed project fallout

Despite a major blow to the nuclear power industry this week, JEA is still on track to add nuclear to its fuel mix around 2020.

After a South Carolina nuclear project was scuttled Monday, the Waynesboro, Georgia, plants being built by Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia became the only active nuclear construction project in the country.

The owners of the dead South Carolina project pointed to Westinghouse Electric Company’s recent bankruptcy filing as the culprit. The Toshiba-owned company was contracted to construct the new nuclear reactors and was also at one point the contractor for the Georgia plants.

JEA has a 20-year agreement in place to purchase nuclear power from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia plants.

JTA autonomous vehicles move to test track

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s autonomous vehicle program is progressing apace, and the next step: a test track.

Emails between city officials reveal that track may be in one of the highest-visibility areas in the city.

A Friday email from Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa laid it out.

Autonomous vehicles: The time is now, per JTA.

Mousa wrote that “the JTA has approached the City about utilizing a section of asphalt pavement (driveway) in the Sports Complex as a test track for their autonomous vehicle program. The driveway is located south of and adjacent to Lot K, and controlled for the City by SMG. The City, SMG and the JTA have met and based on the attached memo, all seem to be in concurrence with this driveway use, pending further plan development, coordination, etc.”

AVs are the next generation for JTA’s fleet, intended to supplement and eventually replace the outmoded Skyway vehicles.

Mystery deepens on Times-Union ownership

Jacksonville residents are still trying to figure out what the recent sale of the Florida Times-Union means, and a recent Jax Daily Record write-up may or may not offer clarity.

It was previously reported that Gatehouse bought the T-U and other Morris Communications papers. And while that’s true, Gatehouse itself has an external owner after a 2013 Chapter 11 restructuring.

“New Media was created just four years ago to take control of the newspapers owned by GateHouse Media Inc. in a prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring … formed by a real estate investment trust called Newcastle Investment Corp,” writes the Record’s Mark Basch.

The Times-Union has branded itself as aggressively local journalism — and that branding has stepped up in the last year, especially after a Morris mandate to endorse Donald Trump for President. The paper has gone hyper local with niche publications for Downtown enthusiasts (“J”) and aging scenesters (“Jack.)

Will the future of this branding and these initiatives change soon? Re-orgs are always interesting.

What the donor class can buy

Marc and Nicole Padgett are among Curry’s strongest supporters, and the Jax Daily Record reports that their future fundraisers for the Mayor will be held in fine style.

The couple is building a multi-story mansion in Fort Caroline, an older neighborhood in Arlington that has some of the highest terrains in the city.

Mrs. Padgett reckons that on a clear day, the couple will be able to see Fernandina Beach from the top floor of their building.

Mr. Padgett is on the Downtown Investment Authority; Mrs. Padgett, on the city’s Planning Commission.

What Aaron Bean is up to

On Monday, Aug. 21, state Sen. Bean will speak to the University of North Florida Student Government Senate at their first meeting of the fall semester, beginning 7 p.m. at 1 UNF Drive In Jacksonville.

The Fernandina Beach Republican will then speak to the Joseph E. Lee Republican Club Thursday, Aug. 24 to give an update on the 2017 Legislative Session, beginning 6 p.m. at The Salem Centre, 7235 Bonneval Road in Jacksonville.

Bean will give another 2017 legislative session update Monday, Aug. 28, at the Republican Club of West Jacksonville’s monthly meeting beginning 6 p.m. At the Harvest Time Church of God, 4502 Old Middleburg Road in Jacksonville.

The next day, Tuesday, Aug. 29, Bean will also give an update to the Rotary Club of South Jacksonville at 12:30 p.m., River City Brewing Company, 835 Museum Circle In Jacksonville.

Save the date

Atlantic Beach kickbacks?

Eleventh-hour drama in the Atlantic Beach Mayor’s race, where Mitch Reeves is dealing with an untimely ethics flap two weeks before Election Day.

Untimely bad press for Mayor Mitch Reeves. Will it matter?

“Atlantic Beach resident and mayoral candidate Ellen Glasser brought the possible conflict to the attention of city officials when she filed a complaint about Reeves July 27. In the letter, she said she believes his employment with G.T. Distributors is a violation of Section 66 of the Atlantic Beach City Charter,” reports the Florida Times-Union.

“Glasser said she felt she needed to raise the issue after looking over city emails and transactions between the city and G.T. Distributors since October 2016. Reeves is a copied recipient of at least four emails regarding specific sales between the company and the city,” the T-U adds.

Not a good look.

Three candidates will face off Aug. 29. If a runoff is needed, that will be in November.

Amazon in NW Jax: Ready to start processing orders

The Jax Daily Record reports that Amazon has begun hiring associates in NW Jax, with the fulfillment of orders set to begin Sept. 1.

Amazon is bringing thousands of jobs, with many in the $12-$16 per hour range

All told, the Pecan Park Road center will focus on small goods, and employ 1,500 people.

The Cecil Commerce Center location will focus on large goods, opening later in September.

“The city and state approved $25.7 million in incentives for the two large fulfillment centers. [The] legislation says the company’s total investment will be $315 million,” the Daily Record report adds.

AppointedMike Bell to the District Board of Trustees, Florida State College at Jacksonville. Bell, 53, of Fernandina Beach, is the vice president of public affairs at Rayonier, Inc. He succeeds Dr. Patricia White and is appointed for a term ending May 31, 2021.

Loop Nursery wins medical marijuana license

Jacksonville-based Loop’s Nursery & Greenhouses, Inc. reached an agreement with the Florida Department of Health, reports the Daytona Beach News-Journal. The arrangement settles an extended legal dispute over the license and brings the number of firms approved to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana to 12.

Loop’s struggle to get a license began in 2014, after the passage of a law allowing the use of non-euphoric cannabis for limited types of patients, such as children suffering from epilepsy. The law, which opened the door to wider medical-marijuana legalization, created a process to award one license in each of five different regions of the state. Competition for those licenses sparked lawsuits from several growers, including Loop’s, ultimately reaching the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Now there are 12: After three years of legal fighting, Loop’s Nursery finally wins medical marijuana license.

State Surgeon General Celeste Philip, who is secretary of the Florida Department of Health, signed an order this week approving the settlement and Loop’s license. The DOH now has 10 days to formally license and register Loop’s as a “medical marijuana treatment center.”

Editorial: Deepen JAXPORT for stronger Jacksonville, Florida

A Florida-Times-Union editorial says for Jacksonville’s port to stay competitive, it should not turn away “from all the opportunities before it.”

“That means deepening the port, as has been done for over 100 years,” the T-U writes. “Ships are getting bigger. With federal and state help, Jacksonville is on the way to funding a necessary port deepening plan.”

History of the port is filled with naysayers, the paper notes, including the “black hat” who sought to retain the status quo a half-century ago, keeping intact the “corrupt city government and an underperforming County government.”

JAXPORT deepening: Good for Jacksonville, good for Florida.

Deepening the harbor will have a significant economic impact on both Jacksonville and the state of Florida.

Data from the Florida Department of Transportation shows that for every dollar invested in the deepening project will return $16 to $24 to the state’s economy: “JAXPORT is likely to be at the high end of that ratio, given its growing stake in the Asian trade market — which has increased by 57 percent in a five-year period.”

Conservatively, the Port supports about 130,000 jobs in Northeast Florida — more than 24,000 directly in Jacksonville — with the dredging creating 15,000-plus new jobs.

Uber, JAA reach agreement over trip fees

Action News Jax reports that Jacksonville’s main airport and ride-sharing service Uber have come to an agreement in principle over per-trip user fees.

In a statement, Uber gave details of the agreement: pickup fees for transportation network companies and taxi companies will be set at $2.50, changing to $3.25 for both as of Sept. 1, 2017.

JAA and Uber make nice over per-trip fees.

“We thank the airport’s leadership for working to ensure that Jacksonville residents continue to have access to affordable and reliable transportation options, said Uber Florida General Manager Kasra Moshkani.

Uber Florida Public Affairs Manager Javi Correoso told reporters JIA had been charging Uber $3.25, while Gator City cab paid $2.50 for the same per-trip fee.

“We are willing to pay fees at the airport, but we are just asking the leadership at the airport to be fair,” Correoso said.

After early scoring, Armada ends North Carolina match in draw

Jacksonville Armada FC scored twice early and held on for a 2-2 draw against league leaders North Carolina FC (NCFC) in Cary Saturday night.

Recently acquired forward Tony Taylor scored his first goal of his career with the club in just the third minute. In the 18th minute, Jack Blake scored on a penalty kick after a foul on Tony Taylor in the area to give the Armada a 2-0 lead. Just before halftime, North Carolina midfielder brought his club within one goal after a turnover in the Jacksonville box.

Newly acquired forward Tony Taylor shined once again in just his third match with the club.

“You give yourself no breathing room when it’s 2-1,” said Armada Head Coach Mark Lowry. “North Carolina has a lot of bodies coming forward, a lot of players going past you, and is a very hard team to go against if you don’t take your chances.”

“The first half we were good,” said Lowry. “One moment we fell asleep in the box, we didn’t clear our lines properly, we switched off for a second, and we got punished to make it 2-1. Then the second half was a completely different game.”

Following the break, North Carolina’s strong attacking play continued. NCFC broke through to level the match in the 69th minute when Lance Laing was in the right place at the right time for his seventh league goal of the year. The score remained level at 2-2 for the duration.

“If you take away the first 10 minutes, we were exceptionally good,” said NCFC Head Coach Colin Clarke. “But, you can’t to do that, so we’re still answerable for those poor goals we gave up at the beginning. The reaction after [Jacksonville’s] early goals was very good with our play and passing. With a little bit more luck and some better finishing, we could have gotten all three points.”

The Armada play Puerto Rico FC at Hodges Stadium Wednesday.

 

Jacksonville Bold for 6.2.17 — Summer Slam

It’s June, finally. And despite the Jacksonville City Council taking a week off, the political scene in Northeast Florida is heating up.

One congressional incumbent launched his re-election campaign, while a former Clintonista is mulling her own run in a district just south of Duval County.

Sen. Bill Nelson came through the region to talk about the youngest victims of the opioid crisis, and the head of the Florida Chamber delivered a downbeat message about what the state will look like with severely cut economic incentives.

And, to be sure, other news — covered here — transpired.

We expected a slow week this week, owing to the Memorial Day holiday. What is clear, however, in Jacksonville politics, things are always popping.

Your move, Alvin Brown

Thursday saw the first re-election fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, the Leon County Democrat who also represents Jacksonville in Florida’s sprawling 5th Congressional District.

Will Alvin Brown step up to face Al Lawson? If so, does he have a shot?

And with that comes an inevitable question: who will step up from Jacksonville to face Lawson?

The most compelling Jacksonville candidate associated with a potential run at Lawson in the Democratic primary: former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

Brown has talked to donors already, attempting to rebuild bridges that were broken down during his shambolic re-election campaign in 2015, and he has told Democratic elected officials that he intends to launch a campaign just as soon as Corrine Brown’s court case is out of the news.

Though Jacksonville Democrats may want the seat back, Lawson as an incumbent will have every possible institutional advantage, with support from lobbies and the national party should he need it.

Brown, meanwhile, has few friends in the Florida Democratic Party after a term in which he shunned party label on many occasions, including not appearing with President Barack Obama when he came through Jacksonville.

Bill Nelson talks opioid ‘pandemic’

U.S. Sen. Nelson visited Jacksonville’s UF Health this week, touring the safety-net hospital’s Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit to spotlight a problem that gets more grave by the month: newborns addicted to opioids.

Bill Nelson will step up his critique of GOP policies ahead of his general election campaign.

Nelson sees the problem of opioid addiction as one with “no boundaries,” ranging from New Hampshire to the farm belt, and to the Sunshine State itself.

And indeed, it’s a problem with an exponential growth curve. Neonatal addiction has almost doubled in five years among UF Health babies and has increased five times since 1994, a combination of Big Pharma marketing and product refinement, all of it wrapped up in a package with a bright bow of Food and Drug Administration approval.

Republican health care reform, meanwhile, would only make the problem worse, Nelson said.

“Politics is getting in the way of care for babies,” Nelson said. “The poor child, through no fault of its own, is born addicted.”

“It’s another symptom of our times. We have a lot of opioid addiction. It has become a pandemic,” Nelson said, noting that 2,000 Florida babies born in the last year were “addicted because the mothers are addicted.”

Curb your enthusiasm

Can a former Clinton administration ambassador win a race in Florida’s 6th Congressional District? Democrat Nancy Soderberg is giving it some thought, reports First Coast News.

Does she have a shot? Soderberg herself says the race would be challenging, and she’s right.

Nancy Soderberg’s last run for office was a blowout loss.

Worst-case scenario: Ron DeSantis somehow does not pull the trigger on a campaign for statewide office, and Soderberg winds end up going against an incumbent with beaucoup money and a sky-high national profile.

Best-case scenario: DeSantis runs for Attorney General or Governor, and Soderberg faces Brandon Patty or someone else who won the GOP primary.

Soderberg is more name than game; she is a thoughtful, professorial speaker, her style a world removed from the agitprop of activists like Indivisible.

In her last competitive race, a 2012 run against Aaron Bean for an open state Senate seat, Soderberg lost by more than 20 points.

Florida Chamber CEO delivers dispiriting message

In Jacksonville for the JAXUSA quarterly luncheon Wednesday, Florida Chamber CEO Mark Wilson described the 2017 Legislative Session as a “mixed bag,” saying that maybe things would be better for Gov. Rick Scott’s VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida once current House leadership cycles out.

Jacksonville pols were not reassured by Mark Wilson’s read of the current eco dev landscape.

“If we can get through ’17 and ’18,” Wilson said, “we can actually get on offense again.”

Warning of an inevitable economic slowdown as incentives winnow down, local pols were less than encouraged by his remarks.

JAXUSA VP Aaron Bowman, who takes over the Jacksonville City Council VP role next month, said he didn’t know how to feel after those remarks.

And U.S. Rep. John Rutherford noted that Florida is “competing with 49 other states,” and that he wasn’t sure “what just came from the Legislature” is going to help Florida be competitive.

Can Paul Renner become Speaker?

The big question on the lips of many Northeast Florida political insiders: can Rep. Renner get over the hump and become House Speaker?

Paul Renner is dressed casually here but is serious about a Speaker bid.

A fundraiser for Renner’s political committee last week paints the effort as do or die for Northeast Florida, with Mayor Lenny Curry and former Mayor John Peyton solidly behind the effort.

As Peter Schorsch writes: “Pressure is now on Renner to lock down his northeast Florida base. The region — Jacksonville in particular — believes it deserves a turn at leadership. And it’s time for the other Jacksonville/Northeast Florida House members to get in line.”

Whether Renner has the votes or not is very much an open question. Running for anything statewide from this part of the state can be a daunting task, however. As Jay Fant is currently learning.

Jason Fischer reflects on ‘strong’ session

The Duval County Legislative Delegation had a solid Session, said state Rep. Fischer in an interview we ran this week.

“Most of us thought we had a good, strong Session,” Fischer said about “Team Northeast Florida,” with “great things all over the region,” especially regarding water projects and transportation projects.

While it is unknown when Northeast Florida will have its next House Speaker, the delegation finds “strength in working together” to “make sure North Florida is taken care of.”

Jason Fischer, repping “Team Northeast Florida,” is stoked about the latest Legislative Session.

Fischer’s words offer one more rebuke to Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg. Termed out in 2019, Schellenberg has explored a run against Fischer.

Schellenberg wrote a letter to the Florida Times-Union a few weeks back saying that the Duval Delegation brought home “crumbs” and that they were slaves to House Leadership.

Fischer relates that he heard from colleagues after Schellenberg’s latest shot across the bow of his fellow Republican, and they were surprised.

If Schellenberg does run against Fischer? Expect that the City Councilman will have to contend with statewide efforts on the incumbent’s behalf.

Garbage in, garbage out

Ironically, neither George Orwell nor Aldous Huxley predicted the hot mess that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office use of social media surveillance software “Geofeedia” would create.

Lots of surveillance, driven by keywords. And nothing useful, reported the Florida Times-Union this week.

“The 146 alerts obtained by the Times-Union fell into four categories of named alerts: ‘Bomb Threat,’ ‘NationalBlackOut,’ ‘Roe v. Wade,’ ‘Angela Corey Protests,’ and ‘HS Alerts.’”

Effective law enforcement protects Jacksonville residents from the dread specter of sandwiches like this.

So far, so good! But wait!

One of the bomb threats? ““Bomb crab burger I had the other day,” posted someone on Instagram.

An expert quoted in the article said the approach was “‘garbage in, garbage out,’” noting that broad search parameters on the user end proved to be an obstacle to more efficient surveillance.

Weed for warriors

The local media coverage of medical marijuana, as a rule, has been lacking. Nevertheless, a story from First Coast News this week offered an interesting corrective, showing how those who have sacrificed the most for America have been unable to get the relief they ascribe to cannabis.

Some veterans, frustrated by the bureaucratic morass, are turning to the “black market” for their green, asserts a Lake City member of “Weed for Warriors.”

This former Marine is now at war with the government over whether cannabis is medicine.

“I know a lot of people who are scared to talk about it. They are scared to try and even attempt to get their medical card because they are scared that the VA is going to take their benefits away,” he said.

The “Weed for Warriors” member told a horror story of being shunned by an emergency room physician because he smelled like cannabis, followed up by the VA classifying him as “marijuana dependent.”

America’s warriors — at least the ones FCN talked to — face a Faustian choice between the stigma of being thought cannabis addicts, and the “all you can pop” buffet of opioids.

FCN draws FCC fine for phony emergency signal

Speaking of First Coast News and its parent company, Tegna, the Federal Communications Commission fined them $55K for misusing emergency signals this week, according to TVTechnology.com.

That fine — which might have paid for at least one more reporter or camera person — came after a stupid decision to use emergency signals in commercials for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016.

At EverBank Field last year, fans routinely filed for the exits. It was not a drill.

The jokes write themselves here, of course. Those who might have seen Gus Bradley coach, Blake Bortles quarterback or Luke Joeckel pass-protect would have said the emergency tones in August were an augury of what was to come for the Jag-wires.

Better times ahead for Jax bikes, pedestrians

Could a “master plan” to improve roadway safety for Jacksonville bicyclists and pedestrians get the job done?

The Florida Times-Union reports that there indeed is some optimism on that front, via a draft plan that “champions four ‘statement projects’ to showcase changes possible at sites ranging from a troubled strip of Soutel Drive on the Northside to riverfront properties on downtown’s Southbank.

Changes may be ahead for Jacksonville pedestrians and bicyclists

“Projects on Soutel and on a section of Phoenix Avenue in the Eastside have been floated for inclusion in Mayor Lenny Curry’s next city budget proposal in July,” the T-U report adds.

June will see the bulk of the work on Curry’s third budget, via the mayor’s budget review committee, before the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee begins the formal review process in August.

Trouble for St. Johns County roads

Times have been good for St. Johns County in recent decades, with low unemployment and high population growth creating a boom in the tax base.

However, with such booms come challenges. The St. Augustine Record reports that the county lacks the money for maintenance, never mind expansion. Pavement management alone is in a $50M hole.

State Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, who linked to the Record article on her Facebook page, was once a St. Johns County Commissioner — and has a unique perspective on the problem.

Cyndi Stevenson has seen St. Johns County grow through the decades.

“Roads are like roofs in a way. If they are not well-maintained, the repair costs accelerate rapidly. It’s like accelerating interest cost … To make it worse, in the early years of fast growth, the county let some big residential developers put in roads that are not built to high enough standards, AND they accepted them and their roadways.”

“Now the repair and maintenance cost fall to all taxpayers of SJC. We need to take care of our roads. It doesn’t cost that much if the maintenance and repair are done regularly, but it is snowballing. We will face the music on this … just like Jax had to deal with their pensions … sooner or later,” Stevenson observed.

“He looked like a truck ran over him.”

Paybacks are hell — and from what we hear on the fourth floor of Jacksonville’s City Hall, receipts may be due after John Crescimbeni lost the City Council presidency race last week.

“He looked like a truck ran over him,” said one City Council veteran early this week.

Expectations are that Crescimbeni will work through the stages of grief, then — unburdened by the need to be collegial — will go into a more familiarly mercurial mode.

Just in time for budget season.

With presidential dreams dashed, what does John Crescimbeni have to lose?

There are Crescimbeni allies, meanwhile, who say that the Councilman isn’t quite so devastated as all that — but they are predicting a revenge tour also.

Meanwhile, we also hear that there is serious disquiet among Duval Democrats as it relates to the Dems on City Council who voted against Crescimbeni for president … and some thought (at least now) of pushing serious competition against the three running for re-election in 2019.

For those who might have missed our epic interview with the candidate who beat Crescimbeni, Anna Brosche, the link is provided here.

And for further reading, check out A.G. Gancarski’s column on the subject from Folio Weekly.

Barnett Bank tower making progress

One of the cornerstones of downtown redevelopment took a step closer to viability, reports the Jax Daily Record.

“Owner Barnett Tower LLC, led by developer Stephen Atkins, and Danis Builders LLC filed three permit applications with the city Tuesday for interior and structural work and window replacement on the 18-story structure … a sign that Atkins and The Molasky Group of Companies want to bring the 155,000-square-foot structure, built in 1926, back to life,” the Daily Record asserts.

The goal: a mixed-use development.

Glory days — they will pass you by.

The building has been in redevelopment limbo for over a decade; the Barnett building and the Laura Street Trio are key factors in bringing downtown Jacksonville a step (or two) closer to past glory, encouraging residential infill that will make downtown boom once the commuters have left for suburbia.

Jacksonville Mayo Clinic named National Pancreas Foundation Center

The National Pancreas Foundation recognizes Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville campus on San Pablo Road South as a National Pancreas Foundation Center for the treatment and care of pancreatic cancer.

Jacksonville’s Mayo Clinic is one of 35 National Pancreas Foundation Centers in the U.S.

The Florida Times-Union explains that National Pancreas Foundation Centers are health care facilities focusing on the multidisciplinary treatment of pancreatic cancer by treating the “whole patient.” These centers advance research and promote awareness and understanding of pancreatic cancer among health care providers, patients, families and the general public.

Students take part in JAXPORT-sponsored aquaculture ‘Labitat’

Fifth-graders from Mayport Elementary Coastal Sciences Academy gathered at Mandarin Park this week to participate in the release of striped bass they raised into the St. Johns River. They students raised nearly 400 fish from eggs to maturity in the academy’s JAXPORT-sponsored aquaculture ‘Labitat.’

Fifth-graders from Mayport Elementary Coastal Sciences Academy gathered at Mandarin Park to release striped bass they raised into the St. Johns River.

Labitat is an outdoor lab offering hands-on experience for learning about St. Johns River, its wildlife, and the river’s effect on the local economy. The lab uses a JAXPORT-sponsored power generator to keep fish alive in the event of a prolonged power outage, such as during Hurricane Matthew.

Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens Conservation Speaker Series — Sharks and Rays

MarAlliance Executive Director Dr. Rachel Graham will be the featured speaker Thursday, June 15, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

MarAlliance promotes education efforts and conservation of threatened marine species and their habitats, notably sharks and rays on the Mesoamerican reef. The group trains local fishers and call upon local communities to obtain information on sightings of important species. They share this knowledge in many different formats to many different audiences, from the youngest audiences in preschools all the way to politicians and other decision-makers.

Tickets include dinner, one drink, the presentation, and a zoo experience with its own amphibians. Cost is $30 for members, $35 for nonmembers and $10 for children. More information and tickets are available at jacksonvillezoo.org.

Al Lawson draws on Tallahassee base for first re-election fundraiser

With Jacksonville candidates mulling a challenge to Tallahassee Democrat Rep. Al Lawson in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, Lawson begins his fundraising in earnest June 1 with a fundraiser heavy on big names in the State Capital.

Among those names: State Reps. Ramon Alexander and Lorraine Ausley; FSU basketball coach Leonard Hamilton; State Sen. Bill Montford; and Allison Tant, the most recent former head of the Florida Democratic Party.

Lawson defeated scandal-plagued Corrine Brown, a longtime Jacksonville Congresswoman who was convicted of 18 counts of fraud-related charges earlier in May, in the 2016 Democratic Primary.

The margin of victory was in single-digits, a number abetted by Brown not being able to effectively run a re-election campaign (as Brown said in federal court, everyone who would have been an asset to that effort was sidelined by the federal investigation into “One Door for Education”).

Brown, who normally would have been expected to run up the vote in Jacksonville, barely broke 60 percent of the vote in Duval County, as Lawson scored roughly 20 percent and a third candidate scooped up the remainder.

The most compelling Jacksonville candidate associated with a potential run at Lawson in the Democratic primary: former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

Alvin Brown has talked to donors already, attempting to rebuild bridges that were broken down during his shambolic re-election campaign in 2015, and has told Democratic elected officials that he intends to launch a campaign just as soon as Corrine Brown’s court case is out of the news.

It remains to be seen how much traction Alvin Brown can get with the Jacksonville donor class.

In 2016, Susie Wiles — an iconic Jacksonville Republican who helmed President Donald Trump‘s Florida campaign down the stretch — took initiative for Lawson, introducing the candidate to Jacksonville media.

Though Jacksonville Democrats may want the seat back, Lawson as an incumbent will have every possible institutional advantage, with support from lobbies and the national party should he need it.

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