Alvin Brown Archives - Page 3 of 42 - Florida Politics

Denise Lee takes leave from Lenny Curry administration to work for ‘Yes for Jacksonville’

On Monday, Jacksonville’s Director of Blight Initiatives Denise Lee tendered her resignation from the Lenny Curry administration. However, she will be helping to market the pension tax referendum as part of “Yes for Jacksonville,” Lee told FloridaPolitics.com Monday.

Lee, a Democrat on Jacksonville’s City Council until 2015 who notably counter-messaged advertising from Mayor Alvin Brown as “race baiting,” was hired by the Curry administration before the mayor’s inauguration to handle initiatives related to remedying blight.

The resignation is effective Monday, Aug. 1. And it is being described as a “leave” rather than a final separation, as she is expected to return after the vote.

“E. Denise Lee submitted her resignation on Friday, July 29th, and has joined the Community Outreach team for Yes for Jacksonville. The duties and responsibilities she led as Director, Blight Initiatives, will be shared among existing staff, in the interim. Ms. Lee, based on her experiences with political campaigns and community outreach activities, requested a leave to support the pension reform efforts. The mayor accepted her resignation, and appreciates the service and leadership she has and continues to provide the City of Jacksonville,” wrote Marsha Oliver, communications director for the Curry administration.

Lee will take on a new role: working on the “Yes for Jacksonville” campaign during the final stretch of its marketing push ahead of the Aug. 30 primary. Reports are that the mayor was “thrilled” that Lee offered to help market the tax extension.

Given the correlation between a revenue shortfall and the erosion of city services in recent years, Lee is well-positioned to speak to the need for further pension reform and the need for a dedicated revenue source for the $2.7 billion unfunded liability.

And that is a role she embraces.

Lee told FloridaPolitics.com that people kept asking her at community meetings where she fell on the ballot referendum, but in her role she was constrained from advocacy.

“Pension is the number one issue,” Lee said, adding that the obligation keeps impacting the operational budget of the general fund.

“People out here do have legitimate concerns,” Lee added. “There needs to be a little more grassroots,” given that “some people are maybe giving the wrong message.”

On Council, Lee “voted to do something about the pension issue,” she said. In her previous role, she “wanted to say more but was not in position to do it” as she was “not assigned to speak on it.”

Alvin Brown lambasted in Jax Council Committee

During discussion of housing bond issues, former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown was taken to task by the Recreation, Community Development, Public Health and Safety Committee.

The issue, as it was in Monday’s Finance Committee meeting, was Brown’s decision to circumvent the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority by authorizing irregular financing for Global Ministries Foundation properties.

“In over a decade that I have been doing this, I only know of two instances where this happened,” Laura Stagner, finance director of the JHFA, said.

Committee member Matt Schellenberg called Brown’s arrangement a “dirty” deal. Stagner spoke, very emotionally, about how Brown’s process gave money to a company with shaky financing that had only proposed putting $3,000 per unit into rehab at complexes like Eureka Garden and Cleveland Arms, which “were built around the time [she] was born.”

Though some local media have downplayed the former mayor’s unique role in helping the beleaguered and scandal-ridden Global Ministries Foundation become the gift that keeps on giving for Jacksonville assignment editors, it’s clear irregularities in the process nettled more members of Council than not.

A statement from Brown on Oct. 22, which seemed to surface in response to media inquiry into the potential connection between Brown’s inaction and his extraordinary interest in ensuring the deal went down to facilitate Global Ministries’ acquisition of these and other properties, skirted around these issues, instead advancing the narrative that the process was clean and met with no public objection.

“When this agreement was created in 2012, it was privy to a formal process, including a public hearing and the advice of city staff and attorneys. No objections regarding this project were ever brought to my attention. I encourage Global Ministries Foundation to finish the job it told this community it would do,” Brown said.

Since that statement was released, Brown has offered no further public comment on what has turned out to be a major scandal of his administration.

Housing bond default couldn’t happen in Jacksonville, but concerns still loom in Council

FloridaPolitics.com report on how exposure to Global Ministries Foundation properties tanked the Memphis municipal housing bond market did not escape the notice of Jacksonville City Council President-in-waiting Lori Boyer.

In the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee meeting Monday, Boyer wanted to know if dilapidated properties at places like Washington Heights and Eureka Garden could affect Jacksonville’s municipal housing bonds, if the state took notice and punished those bond issuers. That’s what the state of Tennessee did in Memphis.

Short answer: No, because Global Ministries Foundation never would have passed the level of scrutiny applied to projects by the JHFA.

“The Eureka Garden financing could never have been approved by the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority, because it didn’t meet the standards of the JHFA,” said the group’s financial advisor, Mark Hendrickson, in Monday’s committee meeting.

“The JHFA became aware of that financing [from the previous mayoral administration and said] ‘no, do not approve it.’”

“While not illegal, it clearly circumvented the process,” he added.

Councilman Bill Gulliford wanted to know if there was a way to “more clearly define the process so that this doesn’t happen in the future.”

“We really need to slam that door shut in the future,” Gulliford added.

Eureka Garden, Hendrickson said, never approached the JHFA, and in fact skirted the process.

“We do a credit underwriter report that’s very thorough. You could just do a Google search to know that there are issues with Global Ministries,” Hendrickson added.

Religiously affiliated nonprofits tend to predominate in older facilities.bNew construction deals tend to be for-profit developers, Hendrickson added.

“One of the concerns I had when the whole Eureka Garden deal came out was that because it was a nonprofit … it was not on the tax rolls,” Boyer said.

“It was a dead fish project from the beginning,” concluded Finance Chair Bill Gulliford.

****

In 2015, Gulliford’s son, Tripp Gulliford, called to the attention of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry the unusual process Global Ministries Foundation used  to secure financing, with help from former Mayor Alvin Brown, for its inroads Jacksonville’s low-income housing market.

GMF secured tax-free bonds from Santa Rosa County’s Capital Trust Agency (CTA) to buy its Jacksonville complexes.

“CTA will essentially finance anything, with no third-party credit underwriting, lack of ongoing monitoring, and no requirements beyond the minimums in the code …. schemes to earn interest on bond proceeds and to pay fees to financing professionals. CTA has also experienced several defaults on multifamily issues that were poorly structured … [and] have suffered from poor management and lack of capital to properly maintain the physical property,” Tripp Gulliford wrote, quoting internal JHFA documents from 2012.

As well, “… the deals [often] involve acquisition of existing properties with no mechanism in place to ensure that the rehabilitation is adequate.”

Instead, the sham rehab is just a means to a “property flip,” the younger Gulliford added.

****

While Boyer’s immediate concerns were relieved, she still sees major issues ahead for Jacksonville and its process related to such properties, and is determined to make sure the city doesn’t face this mess again.

“Prospectively,” Boyer wondered, “how do we prevent entities from approving things within [our] jurisdictional boundaries,” which the city has to “clean up afterwards?”

“I don’t know how or when we’re afforded the opportunity to have input,” Boyer added.

Current ordinance and policy guidance is unclear about whether or not the council can compel entities like Global Ministries Foundation from going ahead without the OK of the JHFA, Boyer said.

While she’s aware that in the case of Memphis the “bondholders are really out the money” and that because the city was involved, “Memphis couldn’t issue more bonds,” Boyer believes there needs to be more active preventive measures taken to avoid these disasters, including, perhaps, Duval and Santa Rosa counties combining forces and appealing to Washington for stronger oversight.

****

Another issue in play: the nonprofit status of Global Ministries Foundation, one which strikes Councilwoman Boyer as ironic given the comment of her colleague, Councilman Reggie Brown, that GMF needed to be able to make money.

“Why would it be tax exempt if it’s a for-profit business?,” Boyer asked. “If it’s for-profit, it should be paying taxes.”

Nonprofit entities are a mixed bag, said Boyer. Some are “legitimate and well-run.”

Others, clearly, are not. And those failed actors create burdens for the city, including tax dollars that are needed for what Boyer called “enhanced services,” which the city pays for while absorbing costs because the owners are exempt from millage rates.

****

Expect more movement on these issues soon. While the headlines about Global Ministries Foundation are lurid, they are the tip of the iceberg relative to other issues policymakers are compelled to address.

Ben Pollara: Baby got bench: Florida Democrats’ 2018 field

Gwen Graham’s recent semi-surprise, twofer announcement has the Florida chattering classes (temporarily) taking their attention away from 2016 and toward a post-Rick Scott state Capitol.

The year 2018 will mark 20 straight years in which Republicans have monopolized the Governor’s Mansion. Democrats are understandably terrified about that continued dominance, particularly when they consider the judicial appointments the next governor will make.

At the moment, the Florida Supreme Court is the only true check on absolute Republican hegemony in Florida.

But Florida Democrats should take comfort in the knowledge that:

  1. a) their next opponent, while sure to be well funded, is not likely to be anywhere in the ballpark of Rick Scott-monied, and
  2. b) Democrats have a deep bench from which to select their nominee and he or she doesn’t have to be named Graham — though that may well be – and almost certainly won’t be named Charlie Crist.

Let’s take a look at the prospects:

(For the record, with virtually everyone on this list I have either a personal friendship, political connection, or donor relationship. In many cases, I have all of those connections. So take my assessments with the appropriate grains of salt.)

The Bigs

Gwen Graham

The case: Duh. The names Graham and Chiles are legendary among Florida Democrats as a reminder of the bygone days when our party used to win, win, win. Her congressional campaign fund isn’t easily transferable to a state committee, but she’s nevertheless both sitting on some gold and more than capable of raising it.

The fact that she could narrow the traditionally huge margins Republicans rack up in the Jacksonville-to-Panhandle stretch of Florida likewise makes her attractive to Democrats.

The Questions: Does bailing on an almost certainly no-win re-election hurt her? Does she have the experience? And does her moderate record make it difficult for her to fire up the South Florida-heavy base?

Philip Levine

The Case: Re-elected last fall in a landslide, the wealthy, telegenic Mayor of Miami Beach could be the Democrats’ answer to Scott.

Levine made a boatload of money when he sold his company, OnBoard Media, a few years back and hasn’t exactly been in retirement since. He’s invested in real estate and, oh yeah, gotten elected and then re-elected Miami Beach Mayor. He spent over $1 million of his own money in the process.

His tenure as mayor has been marked by his commitment to put Miami Beach on the forefront of combatting sea-level rise. That has gotten him national attention. What other Florida mayor has gotten interviews in Vanity Fair?

Levine also has stepped up as a big time surrogate for his longtime friend, Hillary Clinton, working local and national cable news non-stop on her behalf.

The Questions: How much of his own money is he prepared to spend? Is Florida prepared to elect a Jewish lifelong bachelor as its governor?

Will the sausage-making of local government tarnish a potential run? Where are all the Democratic heavies in his political orbit?

Buddy Dyer

The Case: Dyer has the title of Orlando’s “Mayor for Life” if he wants it. He’s on his 12th year in the job and has overseen a transformational era of redevelopment and revitalization of his city. He’s got a smart, loyal, political team, informally led by the brilliant Kelly Cohen, and a reservoir of goodwill that, if tapped, could raise big dollars for a statewide run.

He also heroically saved a woman and her dog from a pit bull attack in an episode straight out of Hollywood.

The Questions: Does Dyer want any other title than Orlando’s “Mayor for Life”? Can he parlay Orlando’s economic growth into a statewide war chest?

Bob Buckhorn

The Case: Buckhorn, like Dyer and Levine, recently sailed into re-election and has been openly musing about a run for governor since 2014. Buckhorn is likewise overseeing a relative boom in his city’s redevelopment, capped by the arrival of a billionaire who’s cut a deal to build out a huge chunk of downtown Tampa.

He’s a broadly popular, charming guy, and an all-Democratic city council has allowed him to govern effectively.

The Questions: Does Buckhorn have the fire in his belly to do this? Can he raise the money to make a statewide run viable? What compelling rationale would drive his candidacy?

Everyone Else

Jeremy Ring

The Case: Served a dozen years in the Legislature, was an early employee at Yahoo and has some money in the bank as a result. He’s moderate. Ring recently announced he was considering a run.

The Questions: Why him? Seriously, why?

Alvin Brown

The Case: Brown was Jacksonville’s first Democratic mayor in years and first black mayor ever. He lost his re-election last year in a race where he was outspent dramatically.

The Questions: Can he put together the money and the coalition to pull off a race like this? Can he salvage a relationship with the LGBT community and liberal base that suffered as a result of the fight over Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance?

Alex Sink

The Case: Never count out Alex Sink. She may be one for three after losing the special election that put David Jolly in Congress, but her one win was statewide and she’s the only Democrat not named Nelson or Obama to win statewide since the turn of the century.

She has stayed politically involved and has a vast network of business people and pro-choice women who remain loyal to her.

The Question: Does she have any interest at all? Not in the job, but in the campaign it would require? What would Emily’s List do in a Sink v. Graham primary?

Oscar Braynon

The Case: Braynon is young, handsome, charismatic and universally recognized as an effective and well-liked senator by members of both parties. He scored a big win this session passing his longtime priority, a needle-exchange program in Miami-Dade. He scored an even bigger victory over Scott, almost singlehandedly torpedoing his nominee for Surgeon General.

Braynon is likely to pick up some seats this fall and become the most powerful Democratic leader the Florida Senate has seen for a long time.

The Questions: Does he have any interest in the job? And if he does, would he be willing to give up leading the Democrats in a Florida Senate where he already wields real power?

Lauren Book

The Case: Super lobbyist Ron Book’s daughter is almost certainly in the next class of the Florida Senate. She’s already demonstrated her capacity to raise gigantic dollars and she’s got a national profile from her work on behalf of victims of sexual abuse with her charity, Lauren’s Kids.

She’s also built a Walkin’ Lawton-like profile through those efforts, walking the state on behalf of abused children.

The Questions: Too soon? That’s really it. Her candidacy for statewide office is a question of when, not if.

***

Ben Pollara is a political consultant and a founding partner of LSN Partners, a Miami Beach-based government and public affairs firm. He runs United for Care, the Florida medical marijuana campaign and is a self-described “hyper-partisan” Democrat. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Ben Pollara: Baby got bench — Florida Democrat’s 2018 field

Gwen Graham‘s recent semi-surprise, twofer announcement has the Florida chattering classes (temporarily) taking their attention away from 2016 and toward the prospect of a post-Rick Scott state Capitol. 2018 will mark 20 straight years in which Republicans have monopolized the Governor’s mansion in Tallahassee. The existential terror Democrats face over a continuation of that dominance is amplified by the judicial appointments the next Governor will make, the Florida Supreme Court being the last true check on absolute Republican hegemony in Florida government.

But Florida Democrats should take a deep breath in the knowledge that a) their next opponent, while sure to be well funded, is not likely to be anywhere in the ballpark of Rick Scott-monied, and b) Democrats have a deep and diverse bench from which to select their nominee and he or she doesn’t have to be named Graham – though may well be – and almost certainly won’t be named Crist.

Let’s take a look at the prospects*:

*I have either a personal friendship, political relationship, have given money to, or, in many cases, have all of the above, with virtually everyone on this list. So take that with the appropriate grains of salt.

The Bigs:

Gwen Graham

The case: Duh. The names Graham and Chiles are like a mythical legend among Florida Democrats as a reminder of the bygone days when our party used to win win win. Her congressional campaign fund isn’t easily transferable to a state committee but she’s nevertheless both sitting on some gold and more than capable of raising it. The fact that she could potentially narrow the traditionally huge margins Republicans rack up in the Jacksonville-to-Panhandle stretch of Florida likewise makes her attractive to Democrats desperate for a victory.

The Questions: Does bailing on an almost certainly no-win re-election hurt her? Does she have the experience? And does her moderate record make it difficult for her to fire up the (South Florida-heavy) base?

Philip Levine

The Case: Re-elected last fall in a landslide, the wealthy, telegenic, Mayor of Miami Beach could be the Democrats’ answer to Scott. Levine made a boatload of money when he sold his company OnBoard Media a few years back and hadn’t exactly been in retirement since then, investing in real estate and, oh yeah, getting elected and then re-elected Miami Beach Mayor (and spending over a million of his own money in the process). His tenure as Mayor has been marked by his commitment to placing Miami Beach on the forefront of combating sea level rise, an effort that has gotten him national attention (what other Florida Mayors have gotten interviews in Vanity Fair?). Levine has also stepped up as a big time surrogate for his longtime friend, Hillary Clinton, working local and national cable news nonstop on her behalf.

The Questions: How much of his own money is he prepared to spend? Is Florida prepared to elect a Jewish lifelong bachelor as its governor? Will the sausage making of local government tarnish a potential run? Where are all the Democratic heavies in his political orbit?

Buddy Dyer

The Case: Buddy Dyer has the title of Orlando’s “Mayor for Life” if he wants it. He’s on his twelfth year in the job and has overseen, and received the credit for, a transformational era of redevelopment and revitalization of his city. He’s got a smart, loyal, political team, informally led by the brilliant Kelly Cohen, and a reservoir of goodwill that, if tapped, could raise big dollars for a statewide run. He also heroically saved a woman and her dog from a pit bull attack in an episode straight out of Hollywood.

The Questions: Buddy Dyer has the title of Orlando’s “Mayor for Life” if he wants it, does he want a different title? Can he effectively parlay the economic growth he’s heralded into Orlando into the growth of a statewide war chest?

Bob Buckhorn

The Case: Buckhorn, like Dyer and Levine, recently sailed into re-election and had been openly musing about a run for governor since 2014. Buckhorn is likewise overseeing a relative boom in his city’s redevelopment, capped with the arrival of a billionaire who’s cut a deal to build out a huge chunk of undeveloped and underdeveloped downtown Tampa. He’s a broadly popular, charming, guy and an all-Democratic city council has allowed him to govern effectively without especially virulent opposition.

The Questions: Does Bob have the fire in his belly to do this? Can he marshal the money to make a real statewide run viable? What singular, compelling rationale would drive his candidacy?

Everyone Else:

Jeremy Ring

The Case: Served a dozen years in the legislature, was an early employee at Yahoo and has some money in the bank as a result, moderate. Ring recently announced he was considering a run.

The Questions: Why him? Seriously, why?

Alvin Brown

The Case: Brown was Jacksonville’s first Democratic mayor in years and first black mayor ever. He lost his re-election last year in a race where he was outspent dramatically but one that was less a referendum on his term than a realignment of the city back to where it’s most comfortable: white, male and Republican.

The Questions: Can he put together the money and the electoral coalition to pull off a race like this? Can he salvage a relationship with the LGBT community and liberal base that suffered as a result of the fight over Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance?

Alex Sink

The Case: Never count out Alex Sink. She may be one for three after losing the special election that put David Jolly in Congress but her one win was statewide, and she’s the only Democrat not named Nelson or Obama to win statewide since the turn of the century. Alex has stayed politically involved and has a vast network of business people and pro-choice women that remain loyal to her.

The Question: Does she have any interest at all? Not in the job, that’s a given, but in the campaign, it would be a requirement. What would Emily’s List do in a Sink versus Graham primary?

Oscar Braynon

The Case: Braynon is young, handsome, charismatic and universally recognized as an effective and well-liked senator by members of both parties. He scored a big win this session passing his longtime priority, a needle exchange program in Miami-Dade; and he delivered an even greater loss to Scott, almost single-handedly torpedoing his nominee for Surgeon General. Oscar is likely to pick up some seats this fall and become the most powerful Democratic leader the Florida Senate has seen for a long time.

The Questions: Does he have any interest in the job? And if he does, would he be willing to give up leading the Democrats in a Florida Senate where he already wields real power?

Lauren Book

The Case: Superlobbyist Ron Book‘s daughter is almost certainly in the next class of the Florida Senate, she’s already demonstrated her capacity to raise gigantic dollars, and she’s got a national profile from her work on behalf of victims of sexual abuse with her charity, Lauren’s Kids. She’s also built a Walkin’ Lawton-like profile through those efforts, literally walking the state on behalf of abused children.

The Questions: Too soon? That’s really it. Lauren’s candidacy for statewide office is a question of when — not if.

Bob Graham to host free environmental advocacy webinar

Former Florida Governor and Senator Bob Graham will host a free environmental webinar next week for those interested in becoming politically engaged around environmental issues in the state.

The online event is in partnership with the group 1000 Friends of Florida, and is set for next Tuesday, April 10 at noon.

Billed as the state’s leading not-for-profit smart growth advocacy organization, 1000 Friends of Florida is engaged in “building better communities and saving special places in one of the fastest growing states in the nation.”

Graham, along with former Alvin Brown Chief of Staff Chris Hand and 1000 Friends of Florida President Ryan Smart, will discuss techniques “to upgrade the quality and impact of your advocacy to become a more effective champion for Florida’s natural resources.”

In recent years, Graham has become an increasingly vocal advocate for preserving Florida’s environment. (Not to mention making news of late with his thoughts on secret 9/11 records).

Graham and Hand, meanwhile, are the co-authors of America, the Owner’s Manual, which provides guidance on how to improve outcomes with government, and are releasing an updated version later this year.

The webinar invite calls upon participants by saying that “Floridians concerned about the deterioration of the physical environment and the negative impact on our quality of life need to speak directly and frankly to our elected leaders about doing a better job protecting Florida’s most important economic, environmental, and cultural assets.”

Lenny Curry addresses ICARE, preaches pension tax

Monday night’s JAX ICARE multifaith “Nehemiah Assembly” on the Northside of Jacksonville was intended to serve as a Come to Jesus moment for Jacksonville public officials… especially Mayor Lenny Curry.

However, it turned out to be a Come to Jesus moment for those who showed up to hear the mayor. The subject? The Pension Tax.

Last year at this event, there was a bit of controversy: as a candidate, Curry did not appear, which caused consternation to some. But which didn’t affect his election ultimately.

The burden for an incumbent, of course, is different: Curry received scores and scores of messages imploring him to attend; eventually, he relented.

On tap for Curry: a discussion of whether or not he would implement Alvin Brown’s model for wealth building in Northwest Jacksonville, and whether or not Curry would open a new Homeless Day Resource Center downtown.

He was clearly intended to offer meek assent to both conditions, by way of placating the crowd.

The reality, as it so often is, was different.

A little prologue: a speaker noted that ICARE was not able to meet with Mayor Curry, whose office preferred to receive the questions in writing.

There was an edge to the speaker’s voice, which set the stage for an interesting dialectic to come.

When asked if Curry would support a wealth building model, rooted in this community, along the lines of the one his predecessor agreed to a year prior, the mayor said that “I support the model. We are in Phase II right now, looking at the procurement process.”

His questioner: “I believe that’s a yes.”

From there, Curry had two minutes to address the audience. He spoke of “major issues with economic development in NW Jacksonville,” and discussed getting “real results” from the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund.

“This is the reality we’re facing. Jacksonville’s budget is crippled by unfunded pension liabilities,” Curry said, pitching the pension tax referendum.

“If there is a no vote, there is no money,” Curry said, citing “bad decisions” of the past that are “crippling our city and our city’s financial future.”

Some applause greeted that appeal. Along with some murmurs in the nosebleed seats.

From there, the program moved to the Homeless Day Resource Center, a controversial cut in Curry’s first budget.

However, Curry was not to be moved off his block. On this night, as will be the case until the August referendum, Curry was an evangelist. And the topic of his summer sermon series?

The parable of the pension tax.

ICARE wanted a firm commitment from the mayor himself to bring back the Homeless Day Resource Center.

“Gotta solve the pension,” Curry said, citing “incredibly complicated questions.”

“There is no money,” said Curry, if the pension crisis is not solved.

Crowd members gasped.

Then he was asked if he supported it conceptually.

Curry stood his ground, saying “we do not have the money to do it right now.”

He was then asked if he would include $311,000 for the center in the budget, in what seemed to be an unwillingness by the speaker to accept economic reality.

Again, Curry said that “until the pension is solved, we don’t have the money for new programs.”

The question was asked… again.

“Not in this budget cycle.”

The belief was expressed that a “budget is a moral document,” and that “what we’re talking about is not even one percent of the city budget.”

“This budget cycle is going to be one of the toughest… pension costs are $288 million a year. Someone has to get serious about this, and about our financial future,” Curry said

“Stand with me and support it, and Jacksonville will have brighter days ahead,” Curry added.

The question was asked. Again.

“If you don’t bring it forward, we know the Homeless Day Resource Center doesn’t stand a chance,” the speaker said.

Curry then said that, if the referendum passes, it’s a “whole new conversation” for Council as it reviews the budget.

“I will examine the number. I believe in the resource center,” Curry said, adding that “if the referendum passes… I will be supportive of a discussion.”

“I sign off on things that I believe in that I know speak to budget priorities and are going to get results,” Curry said about “taxpayer dollars.”

The case made, again, for having a center open for five days a week… with an option for three days a week at $240,000.

“It’s the same answer. This pension crisis is the biggest issue and opportunity… we’ve spent years and years kicking the can down the road. This is real,” Curry said, as the microphone went dead.

“This pension crisis is real… you haven’t seen what it means for you because services have been eroded and you just don’t see it.”

“Ladies and gentlemen – the money doesn’t exist…. Someone has to shoot straight with you, and that is what I am doing tonight.”

While Curry believes in helping the homeless, he also sees a ledger sheet flush with red ink, and himself in a race against time against the pension crisis.

“I will work with non-profits… if there are private dollars… I will absolutely be a part of that,” Curry said.

Curry noted, in closing, that when he “ran for mayor,” he “got to travel to parts of this city [he] never experienced.”

Then he went in and made his point: serious services have been cut. Drastically.

Services for at-risk youth. Police officers on the street. Community service officers.

“Our budget is so crippled,” Curry said, noting nearly $300 million a year going to a pension liability… one from which no one in that room derived any tangible benefit.

Walking out of the room, FloridaPolitics.com caught up with Curry, who looked exhilarated, like he’d just been, to borrow a phrase from Teddy Roosevelt, “in the arena.”

“Feels great,” Curry said.

Then, as he exited the church, the crush of cameras from local TV stations. And Curry, as he has done all year, made his case for the necessity of the referendum passing, calling the pension crisis “the biggest risk and the biggest issue” that Jacksonville faces.

A legacy cost that does “nothing for public safety.”

Jacksonville’s budget position, Curry said, was like a “frog in boiling water” thanks to “close to $300 million” that goes to “things that have nothing to do with daily lives.”

And the next budget, Curry reiterated, will reflect those sunk costs. “A very tight budget,” Curry said, that will “conserve as many taxpayer dollars as I can.”

“We’re on a financial cliff,” Curry said. “If we don’t solve it now, we’re going to have some dark days ahead.”

As the press gaggle disbursed, a gentleman leaving the church lauded the mayor for telling it like it is.

Indeed, that play took more courage than certain other politicians show to that body.

Curry knows that for Jacksonville to function as it needs to, the unfunded liability has to be addressed. He will tell harsh truths to make sure it happens.

Jax officials discuss easing racial tensions, building community trust

Placing the blame on everything from “media misinformation” to the tortured legacy of the Jim Crow era, a high-powered panel of Jacksonville officials held forth on racial tensions in the city at a conference sponsored by the Jacksonville Bar Association and Florida Coastal Law School.

Unsurprisingly, the most frank comments came from Edward Waters College president and former Duval County Sheriff Nat Glover (in a bit of poor optics, he was also the only African-American panelist on hand).

“There’s no question as to how bad it was,” said Glover, the first African-American sheriff to be elected in Florida since the Reconstruction era.

And, as is well-known locally, Glover was present in downtown Jacksonville on Ax Handle Saturday, a 1960 riot that broke out during the height of civil rights demonstrations to integrate downtown lunch counters. On that infamous day, a crowd of angry whites brought ax handles to the city center to attack young black demonstrators.

“I struggle with how much of that history we should tell the young generation, because they see things differently and don’t have our baggage. We still have areas in Jacksonville that are challenged in the area of trust.”

Sheriff Mike Williams was also frank about ongoing challenges in gaining community trust, particularly in majority African-American neighborhoods.

“When you go back to the civil rights era, and see photos of how law enforcement treated the young activists, it’s not a good picture. Fast forward to Rodney King, or issues like we’ve seen in Ferguson and Baltimore, that impacts all of law enforcement nationwide. Just one of those incidents undoes all the good work we’ve trying to do in the community.”

State Attorney Angela Corey blamed much of the disconnect on the media. “I worry a lot about media and social media interpretation of complex litigation, and how media outlets explain issues around such things as justifiable use of deadly force,” she said. Corey, of course, has come in for her fair share of media criticism, much of it at the national level, around several highly racially charged cases.

“We’ve got to keep engaging the community to let them know about the good work we’re doing,” she said. “We divert hundreds and hundreds of cases every year.”

“Trust is earned,” said Mayor Lenny Curry (who came in for some criticism of his own around this issue during his campaign against former Mayor Alvin Brown, an African-American.)

“Look at this through a national lens. Americans feel that they’ve been let down, that institutions have failed them. We certainly have our issues here in Jacksonville. To gain trust, you have to start with transparency. I go door-to-door talking with people. And we’ve got to demonstrate a real commitment to invest in neighborhoods and zip codes that didn’t experience the recovery, or who have just been left behind.”

That of course, is the perennial challenge in Jacksonville. After Curry’s triumphant journey getting a pension deal for the city passed in Tallahassee, he must now sell a referendum on the issue to local voters. Any economic development initiatives for the long-distressed Northwest Side would presumably depend on that successful second phase.

Meanwhile, a 2013 JCCI study on racism in the 904 found that for the first time, both whites and blacks share about equally in perceptions that race relations are a problem that must be addressed. In a city that’s long had tensions, that’s seen as progress.

Bill Clinton, Alvin Brown serve up comfort food in Jacksonville

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and former President Bill Clinton have an intertwined political history.

Brown had worked in the Clinton administration, and then when Brown was running for re-election, Clinton came to town to work a fundraiser/supporter event before Brown’s narrow loss.

The two men were together again Monday, at a church in Northwest Jacksonville. Clinton, stumping for Hillary; Brown, introducing the 42nd President, and re-introducing himself to a Democratic base who misses him exponentially more with each passing news cycle of the Lenny Curry administration.

Brown, who has been absent from public life in Jacksonville since July, chose an interesting time to make his return.

Corrine Brown is, perhaps, in serious legal trouble that might preclude her running in 2016. And Alvin Brown is the biggest name of the four Jacksonville candidates (others being Audrey Gibson, Mia Jones, and Tony Hill) who could run in her stead to ensure the newly drawn CD 5 remains a Jacksonville seat.

Alvin Brown, when introduced, let out a Hello Jacksonville … and got a whoop of acknowledgement, before thanking the volunteers.

Brown said Clinton “has spent her whole life breaking down barriers,” ensuring that “if you work hard and play by the rules, you can reach your God given potential.”

As well, Brown said Clinton was “the most qualified candidate in the race,” who could “close the education gap” and provide “equal pay for equal work because America needs a pay raise.”

Brown, “truly humbled to be here today,” introduced Bill Clinton as a “true friend for Jacksonville” who “made the tough decisions as President.”

Alvin Brown spoke of the Bill Clinton economic record, of “really putting America back to work,” before introducing a distinctly rapsy-voiced former President Clinton.

And so started the main event.

Clinton acknowledged members of the crowd, including Tony Hill, before going into a bit about how “this is a different type of election” with “stuff you’ve never seen, especially from the other guys,” before pivoting to a reference to the optimism in the Obama SOTU with regards to job creation and strong economic numbers.

“Yet we’ve got all this stuff going on … all this finger-pointing,” Clinton said.

“The picture the president painted is accurate, but most people don’t see themselves in it.”

A lack of pay raises. Children at risk of losing their lives to violence and other problems. “We have to face all that,” Clinton said, before mentioning the death of Aiden McClendon in a drive-by.

“This would have been his second birthday,” Clinton said, sounding like Lenny Curry.

“We don’t have an economy yet that works for everybody, and even if we did, there are so many barriers.”

Clinton said his wife was trying to change all of that.

Then Clinton went in to an anecdote, where his wife said “you know, I’m not a natural politician like President Obama or my husband … but I do like doing the job.”

Clinton then recounted his story of proposing to his wife three times. Eventually, she said yes, and came to Arkansas.

Clinton said of his wife that “she’s always focused on what she can do to make things better.”

“What I think we need is a change maker,” Clinton said. “She has walked the walk for a very long time.”

Much of what Clinton said about his wife was a recounting of her record as a change maker, spanning the period from her work in the Children’s Defense Fund and from the first lady position in Arkansas, as a fighter against the kind of institutionalized injustices that were common in the South back then and today, in different ways.

“There are thousands and thousands of Americans under the age of 40 who have had better lives because of her because she always makes something good happen,” Clinton said.

One of those good things was upgrading education standards in Arkansas.

Then came Washington, a “different world,” where the Clintons fought for health care reform.

“We tried, we failed, we didn’t have 60 votes,” yet they were able to pass the Children’s Health Insurance Program by “sticking it in the balanced budget bill so the Republicans would vote for it.”

As a result, 8 million kids have health insurance who wouldn’t otherwise.

Clinton extolled his wife’s work in the Senate, including bills passed to benefit veterans with bipartisan support.

“‘We think your wife cares about our issues … more than anyone in either party,'” Clinton said a veteran told him.

Former President Clinton, playing to the crowd sometime later, noted that Jacksonville needs an infrastructure program. His implication was President Hillary Clinton would help with that.

“Think how many jobs would be created if we took up every rusty pipe in America,” Clinton said, referencing Flint.

Clinton addressed phenomena like gun violence at Sandy Hook (“this is crazy”) and the Supreme Court vacancy (“sometimes you’ve got to find common ground, and sometimes you’ve got to stand your ground”), in light of the battle over the Court, the future of which seemingly will be decided by the next nominee.

“There’s no question that over a 40-year period she’s the best change maker,” Clinton said.

“Tear the barriers down. Tear them all down.”

The former President’s speech felt like a trip down memory lane for some on hand, but for others, especially the politicos on hand whose rise to prominence happened in the context of the quarter-century-long Clinton era, it was welcome comfort food.

“We need a world-class change-maker,” 42 said, “and she is the best I’ve ever known.”

Bill Clinton to union workers: “America needs a raise”

In a very intimate setting, former President Bill Clinton stumped for his wife Hillary Clinton by rallying dozens of local union members gathered at the Ironworkers Local 597 Hall on Jacksonville’s Northside. It was one of two Jacksonville stops for the HRC campaign’s most high-profile surrogate.

And the message was straight-up economic populism.

“Even though the economy is improving, that’s not the life experience of most Americans,” said the 42nd president. “We know it takes, at least, ten years for incomes to recover after the economy rebounds. That explains a lot of the disorientation, anger and frustration people feel.”

His spouse’s solution? “She thinks the biggest problem we have is that America needs a raise,” Clinton said. “And to do it we’ve got to massively invest in infrastructure, in building roads and bridges. That way we all grow together.”

In a short speech that touched on everything from Flint, Michigan’s water crisis, to a public employee union ruling from a divided Supreme Court, Clinton also managed to work in a Sunshine State reference.

“Florida is the canary in the coal mine of America’s future,” he said, exhorting the crowd to remind their membership to vote.

With a tightly scripted event, there was no opportunity to question “42” about controversies that have impacted Hillary Clinton’s campaign (and there was no mention of her opponents either).

Spotted among the invitation-only crowd, JFRD union president Randy Wyse, and former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown (slated to introduce Clinton later in the day).

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