Alvin Brown – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Alvin Brown fundraising off of anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s murder

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, a Democratic candidate in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, used the anniversary of Trayvon Martin‘s murder six years ago as part of a fundraising pitch Thursday.

Martin, who was gunned down in 2012 by George Zimmerman in Central Florida, was not mentioned in public remarks when Brown was Jacksonville Mayor.

However, Brown’s fundraising appeal in 2018 is a different matter.

“It is hard to believe, six years ago this week Trayvon was fatally shot for what can only be described as ‘looking suspicious.’ We must always take a moment to reflect and remember the loss of lives like Trayvon,” Brown asserted.

“As we have conversations and push for gun reform, it is important to remember the Trayvons. His death and all those highlighted in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement and those before them must serve a reminder that reform is needed. No one should be killed or discriminated against because of the color of their skin,” Brown added.

Brown’s mentioning of #BlackLivesMatter was also interesting, given that in the two years in which his tenure as mayor overlapped with the movement, he didn’t mention it explicitly either.

“We must reform our gun laws; we must reform how we are training our police officers; we must reform how we hold people accountable for their actions. In addition, it is time to repeal laws like Florida’s stand your ground law,” Brown wrote just above the DONATE button, completing a fundraising email that was effectively a “chaser” to the “shot” sent out earlier to media, in which he reprised attacks on incumbent Al Lawson, a supporter of “Stand Your Ground.”

“Florida’s dangerous Stand Your Ground law fosters a ‘shoot-first’ mentality and encourages Floridians to murder one another in cold blood. We ought to repeal this reckless law as it undermines public safety, protects bad actors, and perpetuates racial bias. We have a moral responsibility to do all that we can to keep our neighborhoods and children safe — not promote laws that endanger our communities further,” Brown asserted in the media release Tuesday.

Brown has run to the left of Lawson, using the incumbent’s gun positions to define himself, and voicing previously unheard positions in the process.

Jacksonville Bold for 2.23.18 — The Steamroller

On Wednesday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry held a media event in which he and City Councilman Al Ferraro filled potholes in roads in a Northside industrial park.

Curry wanted to focus on the hard work being done, day in and day out, by city employees to maintain public infrastructure.

A laudable goal. Especially given where things have been lately.

Politics in Northeast Florida has been particularly parlous since the beginning of the year, as you will read below.

The Texas Death Match between Al Lawson and Alvin Brown. The No DQ tag match between those close to the Mayor and those on the side of the Council Resistance. The “JEA on the pole” match.

The prevailing image of the Curry event was the mayor on a steamroller.

Lenny Curry mans the steamroller.

Some quipped that it was apropos — symbolic of a political machine that overwhelms opposition as a matter of course.

Curry, the kind of Jacksonville public official who tweets from “On War” by Clausewitz, often uses these public works events as a “back to basics” reset when time or events riddle smooth narratives.

They are a reprieve from the heated narrative of February, spats with Council members, and the like.

They are what the business of running a city comes down to.

No one argues about the mechanics of filling potholes; yet, Tallahassee hasn’t figured out how to take away home rule for that local function.

The takeaway from the event: sometimes it’s nice to just get on the steamroller and smooth out the rough road.

Even if it’s hard to steer sometimes.

Blood money

More drama in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

On Monday, as has been the case for weeks, challenger Brown laid into Rep. Lawson.

Parkland cast a shadow on the congressional race this week.

The former Jacksonville Mayor noted, via a media release, that Lawson was the sole Florida Democrat to take money from the National Rifle Association.

“Despite Rep. Al Lawson’s statement last week decrying the ‘stranglehold of the gun lobby,’ Rep. Al Lawson is just another Washington politician who has taken campaign contributions from the NRA in return for inaction on gun violence. Late last year, Lawson proudly took $2,500 from the NRA — making Lawson the only member of Florida’s Democratic delegation to accept money from the gun lobby.”

However, Lawson said he had NOT taken any NRA money.

Lawson responded Monday, saying flat out that Brown was “lying” about his record.

“Once again, Alvin Brown and his campaign are lying. Not only have I not taken any money from the National Rifle Association or any of its affiliates, [but] I also have scored a zero on issues important to the NRA,” Lawson began.

“If Mr. Brown did some actual research, he would see that there are no contributions from the NRA on my campaign report, or any expenditures from the NRA, or their political action committees to my campaign,” Lawson added, saying that “Brown is trying to use this national tragedy to fundraise and revive his failed political career.”

Lawson has a history of being friendlier to the gun lobby than many Democrats.

Will that matter in the August primary?

Lawson pans Trump’s ‘heartless’ budget

Lawson, who Brown is doing his best to link with President Donald Trump, panned POTUS’ proposed budget this weekend in the Florida Times-Union.

Al Lawson bashed the Donald Trump budget, but will it help him shake DINO charge from Alvin Brown?

The “irresponsible and extreme budget that would slash spending on Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, transportation and other essential government services, all while increasing the deficit …  hits our most vulnerable citizens the hardest, reflects a terrible disdain for working families, as well as a disheartening lack of vision for a stronger society.”

This editorial includes recurrent Lawson themes, including noting the high rate of poverty in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, and decrying proposed changes in the food stamps program.

The president proposed sending boxes of food to people instead of the SNAP disbursements.

Save the Date

Nancy Soderberg, a Democrat running in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, opens her campaign HQ in Daytona Sunday afternoon.

Nancy Soderberg is ramping up an impressive structure early in her congressional bid.

Soderberg recently hired a campaign manager and field director, and she is testing the theory that the seat currently held by gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis can be flipped.

Soderberg, who served as Ambassador to the United Nations during Bill Clinton’s presidency, has shown momentum since entering the race in summer 2017. She raised $207,949 last quarter, putting her above the $544,000 mark. She has $376,000 cash on hand.

While this does not give Soderberg the total cash on hand lead (Republican John Ward has $644,216 on hand), Soderberg will have the resources to be competitive.

In a quest for more resources, Soderberg has a DC fundraiser lined up for March 8. On hand: James Carville and Rep. Darren Soto.

Levine makes the scene

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a candidate for Governor, was in Jacksonville Monday evening to address Duval County Democrats.

Philip Levine was in Duval as part of his ’67-county strategy.’

Levine, on his second trip to Jacksonville in recent weeks, had a “living room” conversation earlier in the day. Even as Gwen Graham has a strong foothold in the area, what is clear is that Levine thinks Northeast Florida is in play as part of his “67 county strategy.”

“The message has been resonating … I’ve been to towns you’ve never heard of … with a message many Democrats has never heard before.”

That message: deliberately “pro-business.” Levine notes that corporate HR policies tend to be progressive.

“The only way we’re going to win a general election is to make purple … mix red and blue,” Levine said.

Read more here.

Constitutional conclave

The Constitution Revision Commission came to Jacksonville Tuesday for a marathon public hearing on the 37 proposals that are still live.

And some that weren’t, such as Proposal 22, perceived as an affront on abortion rights, and Proposal 62, which would allow for people to vote in primaries regardless of party identification. The green cards of support outweighed the red cards by a factor of 20.

Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission visits the University of North Florida for public input.

“There are 3.4 million Floridians whose right to vote is denied,” said Jackie Bowman of St. Augustine on Proposal 62.

“To me, this looks like taxation without representation.”

Jackie Rock, a mosquito control commissioner from St. Johns County, bridged from closed primaries to consequences, noting that the Legislature did not pass an assault weapon ban, eliciting a gasp from the crowd.

The same held true for a nonexistent proposal to ban assault weapons. Anytime a speaker sounded that theme, the green cards flapped.

If there was a leitmotif to the six-hour meeting, it was a distinct lack of enthusiasm for proposals. Read more here.

Brown makes it official, challenges Gibson

The paperwork was filed Friday: Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown threw down the gauntlet for a primary challenge against state Sen. Audrey Gibson.

Councilman Reggie Brown denies Mayor Lenny Curry put him up to running for Senate.

But Florida Politics readers knew already.

“I am running,” Brown said in mid-January.

And contrary to what some in Gibson’s orbit are saying, it’s Brown’s decision and his move to make.

Gibson — the Senate Democratic Leader-designate — would seem like an unlikely primary target.

She has been in elected office since the 1990s and gets donations from national corporations and political committees. Gibson carried $121,000 in her campaign account at the end of January.

Brown thinks he can bring more money to the district, however.

Gibson doesn’t want to talk about the challenge, which sets the stage for the most compelling primary race in Northeast Florida this year outside of the Brown/Lawson demolition derby for Congress.

Boys Club?

WJXT, typically a friendly outlet to Curry, postulated this week that his office may be a “boys club.”

Where the boys are: WJXT story goes in on the Lenny Curry machine.

The article focused on the aftermath of a conversation between Chief of Staff Brian Hughes and Council President Anna Brosche’s assistant, Jeneen Sanders, which led to Sanders saying she felt threatened.

The Office of General Counsel backed Hughes’ version of events, saying no laws were broken.

WJXT asserted that “some people” said they felt uncomfortable around Hughes after the initial charges were made.

The money quote: “One prominent Republican in Jacksonville who works outside of City Hall said that he’s ‘very headstrong’ and ‘a classic bully’ who can ‘get in a person’s face and invade their personal space.’”

Council President Anna Brosche, meanwhile, offered her own thoughts on the City Hall dynamic and a Florida Times-Union article that essentially mansplained Brosche off the dais.

Brosche asserted that ”if my name was Allen Brosche, I would not be receiving the kind of feedback some are offering me: Take the high road, understand he is a competitive person, learn to bite your tongue, and (repeatedly) don’t take things so personally.”

“The questions to the community, the media and leaders who want me to be quiet, to be nice,” Brosche added, “are:  Is competition among community leaders the best thing for Jacksonville? As a man, is Mayor Curry getting the same advice I am?”

Meanwhile, a mysterious poll is probing Brosche’s appeal versus Curry, leading to claims and counterclaims in the consultant set as to who is pushing this poll and why.

GOP gun control push?

Peter Rummell is among the leading names in Jacksonville’s Republican donor class, and he made news himself this weekend as part of a New York Times article detailing prominent GOP donors who no longer will back candidates who support assault weapons sales.

Peter Rummell wants a ‘debate’ on Second Amendment prerogatives in the GOP.

Rummell, described as “a Jacksonville-based donor who gave $125,000 to Jeb Bush’s ‘super PAC’ in 2016, said he was on board with Mr. Hoffman’s plan and would only contribute to candidates supportive of banning assault weapons.”

Rummell said, per the NYT, “the Parkland shooting was a turning point: ‘It has to start somewhere,’ Mr. Rummell said, of controlling guns.”

Rummell has donated majorly to candidates and causes in the Jacksonville area also, including but not limited to the last two successful mayoral campaigns and the pension reform referendum of 2016.

“Al Hoffman has made a bold and decisive statement and his ultimate point is we need to do something major and radical-nipping at the edges isn’t working. Starting is hard and he’s taken what he considers to be an important first step. And, I totally agree that we as a nation need to focus on laws that would create a safer world for all. I am not sure that starting with just an ‘ultimatum’ is the right first step,” Rummell told Florida Politics in a statement, drawing a subtle but important distinction between his position and the rhetorical absolutism of Hoffman’s as documented by the NYT.

“We need a plan, a strategy and tactics. Starting any process is hard — especially one that is as serious, complicated and emotional as this is. Now is the time for us to have a debate that is honest, thoughtful and complete, taking into account all the important issues about how we live practically under the Second Amendment, which I fully support. The discussion needs to end with real transformation and actionable items that bring about real reform, protections and change,” Rummell said.

Keep it 100?

The National Rifle Association endorsed Curry for Jacksonville Mayor in 2015, yet when we asked Curry about NRA support, he said he wasn’t in “100 percent alignment” with donors and supporters Wednesday.

“Not issue specific. Any supporter, any donor, any endorser, you’re not going to have 100 percent alignment on,” Curry said at a media availability.

“At least I don’t. They don’t expect that. They expect independent thinking,” Curry said of donors and endorsers.

The NRA endorsed Lenny Curry in 2015.

We asked Curry where he diverged from NRA positions; he offered no answer, potentially a reflection of the balancing act Republican politicians currently face with the gun lobby.

“I’m a constitutional conservative, believe in the rule of law, and the firearm issue is regulated at the federal and state level,” Curry said. “My commitment to public safety has been demonstrated in real investments and real actions here in Jacksonville.”

When asked about the assault weapon ban that the Florida House effectively voted down Tuesday, Curry said it was another example of a state regulation and offered no comment on the Republican legislators in this region who voted to not even give the bill a hearing.

“Recognizing that we are in very sad times right now, tragic times, I’m going to do what I can in Jacksonville to keep our city safe,” Curry said, citing his reforms of children’s programs via the Kids Hope Alliance as an example of such action.

Stormy weather

Reimbursements will come sooner or later for the city of Jacksonville from the federal government for Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

Flooding was a major impact of Irma, and thus far Jacksonville’s general fund remains soaked.

Until then, however, the impact of the storms will be felt in the city’s general fund budget.

The Jacksonville City Council Auditor’s quarterly report for the final three months of 2017 puts the figures in sharp relief.

“The latest Hurricane Matthew projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $45.1 million. As of Jan. 31, 2018, the City incurred expenditures of $28.0 million related to Hurricane Matthew,” the report contends.

“87.5 percent of the total allowable expenses are subject to reimbursement, leaving the City to fund the remainder. The fiscal year 2017/18 approved budget includes an appropriation of $7.0 million from the GF/GSD to cover the City’s estimated obligation,” the report adds.

Irma is worse: the fiscal impact will be approximately $86.4 million, with no less than a $10.8 million charge to the city even if all reimbursements come through.

With slow reimbursements, one wonders if the discussion of reserve levels will be a more forceful one this summer.

The city has already been dinged by analysts for high fixed costs. These, combined with a reluctance to hike taxes, are leading influencers and policymakers to take a hard look at JEA privatization, which could net the city $3 to $6 billion.

Meanwhile, the city has worries regarding increasing interest rates and the equity market volatility of recent weeks.

Conditions to JEA sale for Curry

While on the JEA subject, Curry tells the Florida Times-Union that he’s not, contrary to opinion in some quarters, married to a JEA sale.

Lenny Curry continues to maintain public agnosticism toward utility sale.

Curry said: “There’s a whole lot of questions that would have to be answered.”

“From my perspective, I would not be supportive of anything that took a lump sum of cash in any scenario — JEA or anything else — and spent it,” Curry said. “Future generations and future taxpayers always have to be protected … people working at JEA need to be protected as well, and their families honored.”

The sale could net the city $3 billion to $6 billion, though there is a lot of salesmanship ahead between Curry and members of Council.

On Tuesday, Council President Anna Brosche took a proactive measure, setting up a special committee that will run through June looking at the issue.

She believes that if the proposal is sound it will survive scrutiny. And she, along with other skeptics, will be on the panel.

More skepticism abounds: the city’s ethics commission wants to firm up rules to avert the temptations and potential abuses of the sale process, should it go forward.

JEA straw poll bill coming, and so are ‘bounties’?

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis is introducing a bill that would force a straw poll on JEA privatization, he said this week at a meeting of the Duval Democrats.

Garrett Dennis is a marked man, he says, by the Mayor’s office.

Privatization, Dennis said, would be “bad for our city … a cover for a shortfall for a bad pension plan that we were all duped into passing.”

Also of note: Dennis claims there is a “bounty” on five Council members from the mayor’s office.

“The mayor, who we all know is a bully, has bounties on five Council members’ heads.”

Those Councilors: President Anna Brosche and Danny Becton, two Republicans, along with Democrats Dennis, Reggie Gaffney and Katrina Brown.

Dennis, Becton, and Brosche are all on the JEA privatization committee.

‘Senseless violence’ again on Jacksonville streets

Seven-year-old Tashawn Gallon was gunned down in Durkeeville Sunday night. Per the Florida Times-Union, he died hours after being shot in a drive-by.

Curry took to Twitter hours later.

“Last night a 7 yr old was killed in a drive-by shooting in our city. We must come together as a community and stop this senseless violence to give our kids a sense of hope and peace.”

Durkeeville, a rough neighborhood for decades now, is on the periphery of Downtown Jacksonville.

“This happened Less than 2 miles from City Hall, Within 2 miles of our government and churches and schools and FSCJ and firehouses and sheriff substations, all institutions designed to help keep a community safe and allow kids the security to grow and learn how to make choices and follow dreams,” Curry continued.

“In the shadow of all that opportunity and assistance, a 7 yr old had life stolen by someone so hopeless and directionless that they didn’t hesitate to recklessly turn our streets into a war zone. We have to break through to these young people. We have to find a way to make them recognize there is so much more for them than they can imagine, if they choose to believe in hope and peace.”

Small children being shot: a running theme in Jacksonville homicides, and something that Curry has all too routinely had to address during his two-and-a-half years in office.

Fishweir Creek to be swimmable, fishable again

A Jacksonville creek restoration project awaited by Avondale area residents for over a decade is finally on the verge of a City Council green light.

Clearing committees Tuesday and Wednesday: a bill (2018-8) to move forward on the restoration of Big Fishweir Creek.

Making Big Fishweir Creek great again.

Urbanization and development over the course of decades made the tributary inhospitable to swimming and fishing, per the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The USACE outlines some benefits to the project. Included among them, making the creek “swimmable and fishable,” creating a navigable habitat for the still endangered manatee, improving water quality generally, and creation of a marsh island.

The project is estimated to cost $6,549,000; the city of Jacksonville has appropriated $2,566,375, with the USACE picking up the other 65 percent of the tab. If the federal contribution goes up, the local share will do likewise. The federal cap is $10 million.

Construction is expected in 2019.


A Jacksonville City Council candidate left the Public Service Grants Council this month, while the head of sports and entertainment also moved on.

The TaxSlayer Bowl will be someone else’s problem this year, with Dave Herrell gone.

Tameka Gaines Holly, running in District 8 to replace fellow Democrat Katrina Brown, resigned the PSG by email.

The candidate leads the money race: she posted $10,800 in January — her first month as an active candidate. Holly is the cash on hand leader, with candidates Diallo-Sekou Seabrooks and Albert Wilcox each under $2,000 on hand.

Also out the door: Dave Herrell, after almost four years handling Jacksonville sports and entertainment.

Herrell was responsible in a previous role for elevating the status of the Fiesta Bowl; however, the TaxSlayer Bowl was not particularly raised in his term.

Budget hearings between Herrell’s department and the Mayor’s senior staff, at times, were contentious, with Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and others questioning the necessity for the department as it was constituted.

Herrell’s Resignation Letter indicates that, while the resignation is effective April 10, the actual departure date was Feb. 9.

Endorsement watch

Katie Dearing is unopposed in her bid for 4th Circuit judge. And every sheriff in the circuit backs her.

In addition to being supported by sheriffs, Katie Dearing’s nuclear family backs her as well.

“Katie is highly respected by her peers and the law enforcement community. She brings a wealth of experience and courtroom knowledge as well as practical wisdom. I proudly endorse her for Circuit Judge,” said Sheriff Darryl Daniels of Clay County.

Sheriff Mike Williams called Dearing “qualified, capable, and caring and she will be an asset to the judiciary.” And Sheriff Bill Leeper of Nassau “heartily endorse[s]” the candidate.

UNF names new leader

Jacksonville’s University of North Florida has a new president.

The UNF Board of Trustees selected University of Cincinnati business-school dean David Szymanski to become the school’s sixth president.

David Szymanski is the new president of UNF.

Szymanski currently serves as dean of the Carl H. Lindner College of Business and a professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati. The board authorized Chairman Kevin Hyde to negotiate a contract with Szymanski, whose appointment also is subject to confirmation by the state university system’s Board of Governors.

Anonymous gift brings special ed school closer to new campus

An anonymous $1.5 million gift has helped the North Florida School of Special Education get significantly closer toward a new campus.

The donation brought the school to $5 million of its $6 million goal in a three-year “Angel of the Woods” fundraising campaign. The new campus will be called The Christy and Lee Smith Lower School Campus and Therapeutic Center.

A rendering of The Christy and Lee Smith Lower School Campus and Therapeutic Center.

“This is a beautiful tribute,” school head Sally Hazelip told “The gift honors our past and helps plant the seeds for our future; we are so thankful for this donor’s generosity.”

The campaign is for the facility to build a 32,000-square-foot facility and a Therapeutic Equestrian Center on 5 acres of land bestowed to the school in 2014 by the Ida Mae Stevens Foundation and Doug Milne, trustee. One of the first donations to the campaign was a $1 million gift from Delores Barr Weaver to name the Therapeutic Equestrian Center.

The Smiths were among the first four families who founded the school in 1992. The school’s current Anderson Smith Campus is named after their son.

Groundbreaking is set for fall 2018 with a targeted completion sometime in 2019. The new buildings will join the current 9,000-square-foot classroom structure on the 3-acre campus at 223 Mill Creek Road. When finished, the school will cover 41,000 square feet over 8 acres.

Jax driverless vehicle prototype passes first on-road test

Soon, driverless vehicles will begin having a profound change on Jacksonville streets.

“This is not a question of if. It’s a question of when,” said Jacksonville Transportation Authority CEO Nat Ford to Action News Jax.

Rosalie Simcoe was one of the riders on a prototype autonomous vehicle operated by Transdev tested on the Easy Mile this week.

“It was incredible. It was very smooth,” Simcoe told reporter Jenna Bourne. “I felt very safe.”

It was the same type of vehicle that soon will be seen Jacksonville streets and the Skyway. Ford expects the infrastructure conversion to support autonomous vehicles on the Skyway to take five about years.

“This vehicle here is the one that we currently have on our test track over by EverBank Stadium,” Ford explained. “And we’ll be running that vehicle for the next few months and then we’ll swap out, every so many other manufacturers’ vehicles.

“So, we’re in a test and learn phase.”

White the model tested can travel up to 28 miles an hour, for the demonstration – at the University of North Florida – it only traveled about 10 miles an hour.

As for safety, the demonstration had a person step in front of the vehicle, which came to a full stop until he moved away.

On guns, Al Lawson is not an orthodox Democrat

The race between incumbent U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, as of this week, is focused on the issue of guns.

On Monday, Brown’s team found daylight between Lawson’s post-Parkland assertion “decrying ‘the stranglehold of the gun lobby'” and taking $2,500 from the political action committee of the National Rifle Association in August 2017.

Those familiar with the Brown camp’s thinking suggest that gun control will be a key issue in this race.

While the August primary is a long time away, what’s clear is that Lawson, who has an established record spanning decades, has taken a few positions on guns in the past that may prove inconvenient in 2018.

In 1993, for example, Lawson proposed something “drastic.”

Namely, that every household should have firearms, a proposal that Lawson told the Orlando Sentinel would “absolutely work.”

”We have to come out with something drastic. As state leaders, it is our responsibility to let people know they are not safe out there … I grew up in the country. Every household had a weapon. You didn’t have a problem with break-ins.”

By 2001, meanwhile, Lawson was out of step with his party on at least one bill. SB 412 prohibited governments from “frivolous and reckless” suits against gun manufacturers.

Lawson, per the NRA Institute for Legislative Action count, was the only Senate Democrat voting for the bill. The NRA thought that he and his GOP colleagues on the same side of the issue should be thanked; a form letter can still be sent from the website if one is inclined toward gratitude.

Lawson also is a past supporter of the Stand Your Ground law, albeit with caveats.

He voted for it in 2005, in a unanimous vote of the Florida Senate. Even after the killing of Trayvon Martin, Lawson still stood by the law, though he told the Miami Herald that it should be reviewed.

Lawson’s support for SYG was a “self-defense issue,” in part, the result of his wife being subject to a home invasion in 1996, per the Herald article.

Despite these positions, many of which sound out of step with the post-Parkland climate, Lawson currently has a zero percent rating with the NRA, which is a good indication of the homage the gun lobby demands.

However, in past election cycles, Lawson was at 50 percent on NRA issues, suggesting that his historical approach to guns was far from ideal, but something with which the gun lobby could work.

Perhaps that explains, to some degree, the NRA donation that Lawson now disputes.

The current climate, especially among Democrats, is one of aversion to the gun lobby.

Will that change between now and August?

Can Alvin Brown make Lawson’s old positions relevant in today’s climate?

Alvin Brown hammers Al Lawson for taking NRA ‘blood money’

Federal holidays don’t stop the hard hits in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

On Monday, as has been the case for weeks, challenger Alvin Brown laid into Rep. Al Lawson.

Then Lawson hit back. Then Brown hit back, yet again.

All of this over a $2,500 donation from the gun lobby that Brown says Lawson got and Lawson denies.

The genesis: the former Jacksonville Mayor noted, via a media release, that Lawson was the sole Florida Democrat to take money from the National Rifle Association.

“Despite Rep. Al Lawson’s statement last week decrying the ‘stranglehold of the gun lobby,’ Rep. Al Lawson is just another Washington politician who has taken campaign contributions from the NRA in return for inaction on gun violence. Late last year, Lawson proudly took $2,500 from the NRA — making Lawson the only member of Florida’s Democratic delegation to accept money from the gun lobby.”

Former Mayor Brown, as he did with Lawson’s decision to applaud President Donald Trump during the State of the Union, clearly relished the opportunity to paint Lawson as being outside the mainstream of the party.

“It is shameful that my opponent talks out of both sides of his mouth in an effort to score political points as families mourn the loss of their children. Unlike Al Lawson who hypocritically takes blood money from the NRA, I will never accept campaign contributions from the gun lobby. If Lawson wants any credibility on this issue, he must return the money he took from the NRA immediately,” Brown said.

Lawson responded Monday, saying flat out that Brown was “lying” about his record.

“Once again, Alvin Brown and his campaign are lying. Not only have I not taken any money from the National Rifle Association or any of its affiliates, I also have scored a zero on issues important to the NRA,” Lawson asserted, seemingly contradicting Q3 2017 reports.

“If Mr. Brown did some actual research, he would see that there are no contributions from the NRA on my campaign report, or any expenditures from the NRA, or their political action committees to my campaign,” Lawson added, saying that “Brown is trying to use this national tragedy to fundraise and revive his failed political career.”

Brown’s team came back with a link from OpenSecrets.Org that asserted that Lawson did in fact take $2,500 from the National Rifle Association.

Lawson’s team countered that the website is wrong. Though the Federal Elections Commission site seems to confirm the data, and does in fact show an Aug. 24 2017 donation.

“The website that Alvin is sourcing is incorrect. The documents that were attached in my previous email (and attached once more) are from the NRA. Why cite a secondhand source when you can get the information directly from the FEC form? Clearly, Mr. Brown is promoting a false claim simply for a headline.”

Lawson “welcomed” Brown to the race by saying he would retire the former Jacksonville mayor.

What’s clear is that things haven’t gotten more cordial between the two moderate Democrats. And, we hear, more is coming from the Brown camp this week.

Lenny Curry laments ‘senseless violence’ on Jacksonville streets

Mayors come and go, but the bloodtide on Jacksonville streets continues.

This weekend, yet another child was caught in the line of fire.

Seven-year-old Tashawn Gallon was gunned down in Durkeeville Sunday night. Per the Florida Times-Union, he died hours after being shot in a drive-by.

“Last night a 7 yr. old was killed in a drive-by shooting in our city. We must come together as a community and stop this senseless violence to give our kids a sense of hope and peace,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted Monday.

Durkeeville, a rough neighborhood for decades now, is on the periphery of downtown Jacksonville.

“This happened less than 2 miles from City Hall, Within 2 miles of our government and churches and schools and FSCJ and firehouses and sheriff substations, all institutions designed to help keep a community safe and allow kids the security to grow and learn how to make choices and follow dreams,” Curry continued.

“In the shadow of all that opportunity and assistance, a 7 yr. old had life stolen by someone so hopeless and directionless that they didn’t hesitate to recklessly turn our streets into a war zone. We have to break through to these young people. We have to find a way to make them recognize there is so much more for them than they can imagine if they choose to believe in hope and peace.”

Small children being shot: a running theme in Jacksonville homicides, and something that Curry has all too routinely had to address during his two and a half years in office.

After a November 2016 shooting of an infant, Curry addressed the problem with similar urgency.

“When you have a child shot and killed,” Curry said, that “wakes the community up.”

“When this happened,” Curry continued, “there were other shootings happening in the city … and the night before, and the night before that.”

2016 also saw the shooting of toddler Aiden McClendon, which Curry described as the toughest thing he ever had to deal with as mayor.

Jacksonville saw 142 murders in 2017. That was one murder short of the record set in 2008.

Curry ran for office on a platform that included stopping the violent crime in Jacksonville streets.

In 2015, Curry’s campaign rhetoric was fiery.

He claimed that since Brown’s election, “murder and crime” have spiked, and we’re now “even seeing kids dying on the street.” Brown’s “inability to manage a budget” led to “fewer cops [and a] spike in crime and the murder rate.”

Brown, said Curry, “demonstrated that he was not serious about [reducing] crime over the last four years.”

By the end of that campaign, Brown was talking tough, saying in a May news conference to gangbangers that “we are not going to tolerate it anymore. You do the crime, you are going to pay the time.”

He had also requested help from the Justice Department.

Curry prioritized restoring the “Jacksonville Journey” as a candidate. Since he has been in office, the mayor reorganized youth programs under the aegis of the Kids Hope Alliance.

What’s clear, however, is that campaign rhetoric and policy follow-through haven’t caused the murder rate to abate.

Alvin Brown links Al Lawson to Donald Trump in Tallahassee ad buy

What’s clear: former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has a strategy to win the Democratic primary against Rep. Al Lawson in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Brown is running a TV ad in Tallahassee, Lawson’s home base, proclaiming Lawson to be President Donald Trump‘s “favorite Democrat.” [SEE THE AD HERE]

The ad juxtaposes Trump approving of Lawson applauding him during the State of the Union address with Trump’s comments that there were “very fine people on both sides” during the violence in Charlottesville over Confederate monuments, incidents that saw peaceful protesters besieged by white supremacists, with one casualty.

“From his defense of racist neo-Nazis after the tragedy in Charlottesville, to his slash and burn agenda that cuts infrastructure, Medicare and education to give more tax cuts to the top one percent, Donald Trump has shown time and again where his loyalties lie. The people of the 5th District deserve a leader who will condemn and stand up to Donald Trump’s vicious attacks on our community — not applaud him and his hate-fueled rhetoric,” Brown said Friday.

Lawson’s ability to defend the seat is increasingly questioned by Jacksonville Democrats, given a combination of lackluster fundraising and endorsements that have gone Brown’s way.

Clearly, a Tallahassee ad buy is meant to suppress Lawson’s share of the vote in the district’s western flank.

There will be a digital ad buy for the spot also, Brown’s first in this campaign.

Worth noting: underfunded Corrine Brown was not able to run TV against Lawson, who had one ad in the Jacksonville market when Lawson won the Democratic primary race in 2016.

In a three-way race, Lawson garnered just 47 percent of the vote, beating an already-indicted Brown by fewer than 10 points.

Jacksonville Sports and Entertainment head Dave Herrell resigns

A shakeup in the office of Mayor Lenny Curry ends a particularly eventful week in Jacksonville politics.

Sports and Entertainment head Dave Herrell resigned, capping an almost four-year run after being appointed in 2014 by former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown. The role, per Brown, was “a key position to build Jacksonville’s momentum as a premier destination for major sports and entertainment events.”

“It’s a sweet job for Herrell, who will earn $155,000,” observed the Tenneseean newspaper when Herrell was hired

Herrell was responsible in a previous role for elevating the status of the Fiesta Bowl; however, the TaxSlayer Bowl was not particularly elevated in his term.

Budget hearings between Herrell’s department and the Mayor’s senior staff, at times, were contentious, with Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and others questioning the necessity for the department as it was constituted.

Herrell’s Resignation Letter indicates that, while the resignation is effective April 10, the actual departure date was February 9.

Herrell will use his leave time to “pursue professional opportunities.”

Meanwhile, there is a vacancy to fill in Curry’s senior team, as Chief of Staff Brian Hughes continues to settle into the role.

Marsha Oliver, spokeswoman for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, confirmed Friday that Herrell resigned, but gave no indication as to why beyond providing the letter.

Developing story, expect updates.

Jacksonville Bold for 2.16.18 — Power play

Before we get to federal and state news, let’s take a look at local drama.

In what has been the roughest week for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, his administration pushed forth to a skeptical City Council and the querulous crowd a controversial report Wednesday urging the sale of the local public utility.

The valuation study was released in draft form last week, suggesting that this is the best time ever for Jacksonville to unload all (or part) of its public utility.

It was a tough week for Lenny Curry.

JEA CEO Alan Howard requested a City Council meeting. He was rebuffed by Council President Anna Brosche, who nonetheless had to preside over the meeting anyway when Curry called a conclave.

Gone are the halcyon days of Friday pep rallies with Curry and Brosche cheerleading the Jaguars in Council Chambers, lost in a phalanx of claims, counterclaims and character assassinations. In Wednesday’s meeting, the mayor called the Council president a liar when she said Curry wanted an authorization to explore a JEA sale, followed by Brosche’s assistant saying Curry’s chief of staff “accosted” her, creating a hostile work environment.

The sale, per a General Counsel memo, would require a two-thirds City Council vote. That would be a proverbial heavy lift, given that going into Wednesday, most Council members who had an opinion were skeptical. Some wanted a referendum (not permissible, per the memo).

Others thought a sale is bad business.

And for many skeptics, it wasn’t lost on them that Curry patron Tom Petway, a board appointee who replaced one of Alvin Brown‘s picks soon after Curry took office, was the primary pusher of the sale option last year.

Many of the mayor’s haters have wondered when he would be seen as overplaying his hand. Some will say that happened, finally, this week.

Duval on Senate floor during immigration debate

Sen. Bill Nelson spotlighted a Jacksonville example during the Senate immigration debate this week.

Bill Nelson spotlighted a Duval DREAMer on the Senate floor this week.

Nelson, a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, illustrated the need for protections via the story of Elisha Dawkins.

Dawkins thought he was born in America. He was wrong. He was locked up for falsifying passport information. Could have been deported. But Nelson stepped in.

“I found out about him because I read a news clip that he was in jail. Here was a fella, grew up in America, only knowing that he was American because he was brought to America from the Bahamas at age six months. He served two tours in Iraq. He came back and joined the Navy Reserves. He had a top-secret clearance. His reserve duty was in Guantánamo with that top-secret clearance. And then because of an application for a passport, he was suddenly swept up and put in jail,” Nelson asserted.

“Now, fortunately, we found out about it, started raising a stink about it. It was brought to the attention in one of the court hearings by a federal judge, and the federal judge said to the assistant U.S. attorney, ‘What in the world are you doing putting a fellow like this in jail?’ And, of course, after that tongue lashing from a federal judge, we got involved with Elisha,” Nelson added.

“I’m happy to report to you that Elisha is today a U.S. citizen. Elisha is a productive member of the Jacksonville community,” Nelson added. “And he is educated, and he is contributing to his community.”

Rutherford not down with Brown

Republican U.S. Rep. John Rutherford obviously won’t vote in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District between Rep. Al Lawson and former Jacksonville Mayor Brown.

However, in comments made Monday morning, Rutherford made it clear that he would prefer Lawson keeping his seat to Brown, with whom Rutherford worked for four years in Jacksonville, capsizing the Democrat from Tallahassee.

Not all Alvin Brown/John Rutherford meetings had clerics around, but this one did.

“We had some real disagreements on what was best for this community,” Rutherford said in Jacksonville about Brown. “I believe he hurt law enforcement and public safety in Jacksonville.”

For years, Rutherford and Brown sparred over budget issues with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, which Rutherford ran from 2003 to 2015.

“I can tell you I’ve worked with Al Lawson in Congress already. He’s a gentleman, he’s bipartisan, and I really like working with Al,” Rutherford said. “He and I have really hit it off big, I think. He’s very supportive of our veterans. We have a great working relationship.”

The congressman added that Lawson is more than just a “Tallahassee guy,” saying that Lawson “talks about Jacksonville all the time and what’s going on here and the needs of Northeast Florida.”

Trumpeting Trump

Rep. Rutherford is pretty much yoked to President Donald Trump at this point, and that affinity applies to tax reform and the continuing resolution passed this month.

John Rutherford traveled to Jacksonville with VP Mike Pence to sell the failed ‘Obamacare’ repeal last year.

That held true during a press gaggle Monday in Jacksonville, in which Rutherford defended the continuing resolution to keep the government open, the tax reform bill that critics argue will disproportionately benefit corporations over the middle class, and suggested entitlement cuts down the road to offset a legislative commitment to increased deficit spending.

Asking Rutherford about these issues, reporters note that these measures look likely to pass debt onto future generations.

Rutherford asserted that CBO assumptions of 1.9 percent gross domestic product growth over the next 10 years are probably low.

“They’re anticipating as high as four, four and a half,” he said. “Each point above 1.9 percent is $274 billion a year. If we’re just one point above, in three years we fill the trillion-dollar hole created by the tax cut.”

Regarding the CR, Rutherford asserted that “if your house is being eaten up by termites and it’s on fire, which are you going to address first? Some things are more exigent than others.”

Savings will come, he said, when entitlements are cut.

“Where it’s going to come from,” said Rutherford, “is when we get to the entitlements side of the budget, that’s where the bulk of the revenue is at; that’s where we’re going to have to cut and find ways to make that happen.”

Read more here.

DeSantis needs money

Rep. DeSantis would be seen by some as more of a Northeast Florida candidate if his clear interest weren’t D.C. intrigue rather than Florida issues.

Ron DeSantis trails Adam Putnam 5:1 in the money race between the two GOP candidates for Governor.

One wonders if he might have stronger fundraising were he not doing most of his campaign from the Fox News studios.

Per the Palm Beach Post, DeSantis is still way behind Adam Putnam in the money race for governor, with “less new money in January than the Agriculture Commissioner.

“DeSantis’ campaign advertised a gaudy $3.3 million January haul — but more than $2.4 million of that figure was raised last year by a pro-DeSantis PAC and transferred to a new PAC in January,” the Post observes.

“DeSantis, who announced his candidacy on Jan. 5, raised $894,020 in new contributions in January. That includes $131,019 collected by his main campaign committee and $763,001 raised by a new PAC called Friends of Ron DeSantis. The Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC also received more than $2.4 million from the Fund For Florida’s Future, a PAC formed by DeSantis supporters last year that raised more than $2.6 million through the end of December. The Fund For Florida’s Future nearly zeroed out its account last month, giving $2 million to the new DeSantis PAC on Jan. 18 and another $447,394 on Jan. 31.”

The real story: a five to one ($16.8 million versus $3.3 million) advantage for Putnam.

Moody shreds Fant

Rep. Jay Fant took yet another shot at Attorney General opponent Ashley Moody this week, calling via letter for a “Second Amendment” debate with the “liberal” retired judge, and questioning Moody’s commitment to Stand Your Ground.

Jay Fant gave up a safe House seat for the AG race. Might he regret that soon?

Moody then fired back, making it clear she thought Fant was a mountebank with no business in the AG race.

“Your letter demonstrates why you are not qualified to be Attorney General,” Moody wrote Tuesday. “You do not understand ‘Stand Your Ground’ as it existed then or now, criminal law, or how to try a case. This is not surprising since you have never actually tried a case, prosecuted anyone, nor really practiced law.”

Moody also brushed aside Fant’s challenge to a “Second Amendment debate” on March 1 in Tallahassee.

“I look forward to debating you, Frank White and Ross Spano, in the future and discussing how I will tackle the difficult challenges facing Florida, including the Second Amendment. But, until then, I plan on continuing to travel Florida meeting voters, hearing their stories, and discussing why I should be Florida’s next Attorney General,” Moody responded.

Too much moola for Shands?

POLITICO Florida waded into regional politics with a whistleblower type story asserting that UF Health was getting too much money in the Senate budget.

POLITICO took a swipe at Northeast Florida hospital funding this week.

“Consider Shands Jacksonville Hospital and one of its employees, state Sen. Aaron Bean. He voted to approve a proposed Senate budget that disproportionately benefits the hospital from a pool of hundreds of millions of dollars the Legislature must divide among the state’s many public and private hospitals. Bean works at Shands as a ‘relationship development officer.’ Basically, he gets paid to bring in money,” the POLITICO dispatch observed.

“The Senate appropriation gave Shands Jacksonville a special funding boost of about $12 million. State Senate Budget Chief Rob Bradley — who happens to Bean’s brother-in-law — said he was unaware of the extra money and is calling it a mistake. But Bean won’t say whether he knew about the special money when he voted for it,” the article continues.

UF Health, of course, is arguably the most cash-strapped safety net hospital in the state. The extra $12 million would have made a real difference. Luckily, though, watchdog journalism will ensure another year of belt-tightening for the institution.

HD 15 still House race to watch

The race to replace Rep. Fant in House District 15 continues to be close in terms of cash on hand.

Tracye Polson issued a news release Monday detailing her resources.

Trayce Polson is putting her money where her mouth is, but can she win?

“We will report today another $27,746 in January for my campaign. This is all in my campaign account and includes a $25,000 loan from me personally. This puts my combined total raised to $135,347 with over $91,000 COH,” Polson said.

The $25,000 loan dwarfs the $2,746 of hard money Polson raised in January off 46 contributions (many of which were as small as $1), bringing her to $55,000 loaned to her campaign. Polson also brought in $2,600 to her political committee, Better Jacksonville, but $2,500 was from her campaign treasurer.

Polson’s $91,000 on hand keeps her close to Republican lawyer Wyman Duggan, whose long-rumored primary challenge has yet to manifest.

$5,350 of new money in January brought Duggan over $109,000 raised, with approximately $95,000 of that cash on hand.

Other races for the State House on the 2018 ballot have no drama in the cash dash.

Water issues ahead, Graham says

Former U.S. Senator and Florida Gov. Bob Graham addressed a packed room in Jacksonville at the North Florida Land Trust’s annual meeting.

Graham, the keynote speaker at the event, discussed water issues and tenets of effective lobbying.

Water, Graham said, would be a “continuing challenge” for Florida, due to anticipated population growth and development.

Currently, Graham said, one in 5 acres in Florida is developed.

By 2070, the number will be up to 35 percent.

Former Gov. Bob Graham warns of future water issues.

That development and population growth, said Graham, will tax the St. Johns River, springs and other tributaries. Impacts will be felt statewide, including the Apalachicola River and the Everglades.

“The state needs to step its game up,” Graham said, and “think 20 to 30 years ahead.”

However, that’s not exactly happening — and Graham dedicated a portion of his remarks to the importance of advocacy.

Graham noted that Florida chiropractors were the most effective at lobbying their issues during his heyday.

They built a personal connection, with chiropractors connecting with legislators in their districts. Typically, they’d call quarterly and would talk about sports and other ephemera when the Legislature was not approaching Session.

Then, just ahead of Session, it would be business.

The personal relationship was important to that approach, and effective.

Campaign finance disparities in Duval races

Local Jacksonville candidates continue fundraising for the 2019 elections, and a leitmotif is the relative non-competitiveness of cash dashes thus far.

The carnage starts in the race for Sheriff, where new entry Tony Cummings sputtered in his first campaign finance report, bringing in an anemic $525.

Tony Cummings started really slow in Sheriff’s race fundraising. Not a good sign.

That’s a car payment, but not nearly enough to credibly message against incumbent Sheriff Mike Williams.

Williams has, between committee cash and hard lucre, roughly $338,000 on hand at the end of January.

This was after a quiet month of fundraising for him and Mayor Lenny Curry both.

There are several similarly lopsided races for Jacksonville City Council as well.

Read about them here.

Bowman for president

Jacksonville City Council Vice President Aaron Bowman made it official Monday, launching his run for the Council presidency.

Tradition holds that the Vice President moves to the presidency, barring some unusual development, such as what happened in 2017 when Brosche defeated John Crescimbeni for the top job.

Meet El Presidente: No one will challenge Aaron Bowman for the top job.

The Brosche presidency has been a fractious one, with competing narratives between her and fellow Republican Curry on a variety of issues, including pension reform, children’s program reforms, and exploring the prospect of selling local utility JEA.

If there is a subtext to the letter Bowman, a former commander of NAS Mayport, sent Council members declaring his candidacy, it would be a return to civility and order. This will be especially timely given that his year as President will be an election year for the majority of Council.

While it’s conceivable that someone could launch a run for President against Bowman, it’s a fool’s errand.

The race for Council Vice President is in flux, with a number of candidates who have yet to garner significant commitments of support. But the race for the top job is all but decided with this declaration of candidacy.

Civil rights history task force

This week, Jacksonville City Council President Brosche rolled out a proposal for a task force on civil rights history.

This will be a 25-person task force, chaired by School Board member Warren Jones and Ju’Coby Pittman.

A lunch counter sit-in set the stage for 1960s brutal Axe Handle Saturday in downtown Jacksonville.

Board members include, but are not limited to, Chris Hand, Hope McMath, Tony Allegretti, Marcus Pollard, Ennis Davis, Isaiah Rumlin, Alton Yates and Darnell Smith.

The task force proposal is a reaction to Jacksonville and Florida not being on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. The trail covers 14 states and 100 historic landmarks.

The task force will complete the work by June 30.

Council members in attendance at a public notice meeting Monday included Sam Newby, Reggie Brown, Garrett Dennis, Katrina Brown and Reggie Gaffney.

There was approval for the concept, and potential developments, including a museum proposal by Councilman Brown, and a discussion of potential landmarks that could be included on the trail.

Council members discussed potentially getting money for the museum concept from Tallahassee and Washington, as potential matches for city money.

With education, no more #MeToo

With an increasing number of sexual harassment accusations against entertainment, community and elected leaders, Jacksonville’s Ed Burr is calling for better education and tools for our children to ensure safety for both themselves and others.

In an op-ed for USA TODAY, the entrepreneur and mega-developer described how he watched each development in the #MeToo movement with a “mixture of awe and disheartenment. The bravery of the survivors is inspiring, but in the face of so much evil we can feel powerless.”

With education, Ed Burr says #MeToo can be no more.

Burr calls for a focus on education, giving power to children to prevent abuse from happening in the first place.

“Educators, you have a powerful platform of influence. Schools serve as the single best place to implement prevention programs,” he writes. “Parents can help by supporting schools’ decisions to teach these programs and by fostering a dialogue at home. And lawmakers can make a difference by requiring all schools to provide abuse prevention education — and by holding them accountable to do so.”

Cecil Spaceport to launch first commercial space vehicle this year

After last week’s Space-X launch, Cecil Airport — the joint civil-military facility located in Jacksonville — announced preparation for its first commercial space launch, expected to happen before the end of the year.

Currently, there are 12 commercial spaceports in the United States. Cecil Spaceport will be one of six that can accommodate horizontal launches. Jets equipped with small rockets would fly all over the ocean to be launched.

An aerial view of Naval Air Station Cecil Field, set to become a horizontal launch spaceport.

“It’s incredible, it just makes myself very proud of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority and the Jacksonville community,” Cecil Spaceport director Todd Lindner told News 4 Jax.

Construction on a new hangar begins this month, designed for space operators, assembly and storage of vehicles.

“A new space operation mission control center which will be part of a new air traffic control tower that is going into construction probably later this year,” Lindner added.

Tarps come off

Bully for the Jacksonville Jaguars — the Florida Times-Union reports that the tarps are finally coming off the nosebleed seats, a measure of demand for a revived product.

Jalen Ramsey is one of many players who made Jacksonville love its Jaguars again.

Seems like only months ago that local right-wingers were fulminating about kneeling for the anthem.

What a difference a playoff run makes.

Regarding the anti-kneeling brigade, file away the spectacle from last year the next time you consider the next great social conservative fulmination.

Why John Rutherford prefers Al Lawson to Alvin Brown

Republican U.S. Rep. John Rutherford obviously won’t vote in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District between Rep. Al Lawson and former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

However, in comments made Monday morning, Rutherford made it clear that he would prefer Lawson retaining his seat to Brown, with whom Rutherford worked for four years in Jacksonville, capsizing the Democrat from Tallahassee.

“We had some real disagreements on what was best for this community,” Rutherford said in Jacksonville about Brown. “I believe he hurt law enforcement and public safety in Jacksonville.”

For years, Rutherford and Brown sparred over budget issues with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, which Rutherford ran from 2003 to 2015.

“I can tell you I’ve worked with Al Lawson in Congress already. He’s a gentleman, he’s bipartisan, and I really like working with Al,” Rutherford said. “He and I have really hit it off big, I think. He’s very supportive of our veterans. We have a great working relationship.”

The congressman added that Lawson is more than just a “Tallahassee guy,” saying that Lawson “talks about Jacksonville all the time and what’s going on here and the needs of Northeast Florida.”

“He’s very bipartisan. I don’t see him as a Tallahassee homer,” Rutherford added. “We are stronger together than we are apart, I believe.”

Jacksonville Bold for 2.9.18 — Drive, or be driven

In 2015, A.G. Gancarski coined a phrase: “Drive the narrative, or it drives you.”

It came as a response to Alvin Brown’s failure to message efficiently in his mayoral election loss to current Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

This axiom applies to politics up and down the ballot, from city council races to the presidency. Someone must set the parameters of the story — if it isn’t one candidate, it’ll be another.

We will see that in 2018.

Brown, hamstrung by sloppy re-election messaging, is taking it to Al Lawson in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

In neighboring CD 6, Republican operatives Brian Swensen and Tim Baker are going nuclear against each other’s respective candidates (Swensen works for John Ward; Baker for Mike Waltz).

And we will see more of it.

Who will win the election?

The person who best tells a story, time after time.

As 2018 progresses, pay attention to the narrative arc.

Rutherford, DeSantis prop up Nunez memo

Rep. John Rutherford, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, defended the “Nunez memo in the context of what we already know” this week on Fox News Channel.

Facetime for Rep. John Rutherford on friendly Fox News.

“The bias that was in those text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Paige,” Rutherford said, was “what has brought the integrity of the FBI and DOJ into question” regarding inconsistencies in 2016 election investigations.

Not only bias but “impropriety,” said Rutherford, must be “ripped out by the roots.”

Rutherford, of course, is not the only Northeast Florida Republican to preach to the choir on FNC.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, starting when the memo was released Friday of last week, made similar contentions, noting that evidence of collusion between President Donald Trump and Russians has yet to be presented.

DeSantis wants Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to come in front of the Congress and justify extending the surveillance. Conservatives, including Ann Coulter, have called for Rosenstein’s dismissal.

Lawson, Rutherford push for TRICARE clarity

As legacy costs and deficits pile up, even previously untouchable entitlements like the TRICARE insurance program for military veterans and dependents are feeling the squeeze.

First Coast News reports that Jacksonville’s two congressmen, Republican Rutherford and Democrat Lawson, are seeking answers regarding autism treatment copays.

TRICARE and tribulations: Congressmen are frustrated with care, customer service issues.

Lawson wrote Humana, the insurance company, and the Defense Department demanding answers, per FCN.

Lawson said, “I am aware of poor customer service and am deeply concerned about the level of care TRICARE patients … I am also aware of providers claims of having health care costs owed by Humana because of lack of payment. This is simply unacceptable.”

“People’s premium rates are going up; we expect to hear something from them soon. The sooner, the better,” Lawson said. “We were really caught off guard that they are having these problems, the corporate people are not responding, and we want to make sure they do.”

In its response, TRICARE defended its practices, saying “Humana Military has gone above and beyond the contract requirements to pay Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for autism care providers before the 30-day contractual requirement has lapsed because we understand that many of these behavioral health providers are small businesses.”

Plan B for Lawson?

Lawson started his re-election bid slowly. He has about $100,000 on hand and no campaign apparatus to speak of, while Brown has been able to attack Lawson on optical issues like applauding President Trump at the State of the Union.

Trouble ahead for Al Lawson? Speculation emerges that he is worried about losing to Alvin Brown.

There is some thought that Lawson isn’t completely confident in his ability to beat Brown, and those feelings weren’t buried when Lawson weighed in on local Tallahassee politics, saying that Sen. Bill Montford should not run for Mayor.

“I know he needs to make a decision, and other people are leaning on him to bring stability to City Hall, but he has two years left and a lot of us hope he will finish the term,” said Lawson. “Bill carries a lot of clout in the Senate. Among Democrats and Republicans. There’s no question about it.”

If Lawson loses to Brown and Montford finishes his term, it’s very easy to imagine Lawson returning to the state Senate.

Lawson, should he lose, will have done so because Alvin Brown was able to drive the Duval base. When Lawson beat Corrine Brown in 2016, he won the western part of the district with massive numbers.

Trump lauds Lawson

In the words of someone somewhere, “Please clap.”

The Tampa Bay Times flagged Trump lauding Lawson for applauding him during the State of the Union.

Expect the Al Lawson/Donald Trump connection to be a leitmotif in CD 5 campaign materials.

“Who was that guy? He was a nice guy. I think he was a reverend. And he was clapping,” Trump said in Cincinnati. “And I wouldn’t say it was exactly a rousing — but he was putting his hands together. And I want to find out who he is. I’m going to send him a letter of thank you. And he was probably severely reprimanded.”

It’s doubtful whether a “letter of thank you” from Trump would help Lawson in a primary against former Mayor Brown, who is happy to pillory the incumbent as a DINO.

“It is deeply troubling that Al Lawson claps for the Trump agenda in Washington as people back home struggle to make ends meet. While the black jobless rate is at its lowest levels following President Obama’s years of hard work, there remains more to be done,” the former Jacksonville Mayor said.

Duval vs. Y’all

In yet another plot point in the Congressional District 5 race, Jacksonville Democrats backed Brown for Congress this week.

Duval County Democratic Party chair Lisa King led the wave.

Lisa King was removed from the Jacksonville Planning Commission for backing Alvin Brown for Mayor against Lenny Curry, per sources familiar.

Other endorsers rolled out in Wednesday’s media release include former Jacksonville Human Rights Commission Chair Mario Decunto, Duval County Black Caucus Chair Hazel Gillis, and former Northeast Florida United Way CEO Connie Hodges.

Brown is taking advantage of an as yet un-launched re-election campaign by Lawson to score some news cycle wins.

Last week, he rolled out the endorsement of former Congressional Black Caucus Chair Emanuel Cleaver.

When CD 6 Republican candidate Ward backed Democrat Brown

The hits keep on coming in the brass-knuckled GOP primary race in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The latest salvo came Monday when Florida Politics obtained records of candidate Ward giving to a Democratic candidate in the 2015 Jacksonville mayor’s race.

Democratic dalliance: Trump Republican John Ward gave money to Alvin Brown’s re-election bid.

Ward, a resident of Ponte Vedra Beach, was one of several Jacksonville Republican donors to Brown, the now-former mayor primarying Lawson from the left in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Ward gave $250 in May 2014, days before Curry jumped into the mayoral race. However, most observers knew Curry was eyeballing a run as far back as 2013.

Notable: Ward’s campaign is being run by Brian Swensen, who was campaign manager for Curry in that race for Jacksonville Mayor.

Ward has attacked Waltz, his GOP primary opponent, for cutting an ad in opposition to Trump in 2016 during the fractious Republican primaries.

Another Curry strategist is running waltz’s campaign: Tim Baker.

Baker believes the donation raises questions.

“Why was it important that Ward from Massachusetts support a liberal mayor of Jacksonville,” Baker wondered.

Baker deemed Ward a “dishonest politician who will say or do anything to win an election, even hypocritically attack a decorated veteran.”

What is clear: Curry’s consultants from 2015 are running hard-charging campaigns against each other in this 2018 race, in which both Baker and Swensen have reasons for wanting to score a victory against each other.

New roadway for Cecil Commerce Center

This week, Gov. Rick Scott came to Jacksonville and — as is always the case when he visits Northeast Florida — Duval got its money’s worth.

Jacksonville got its cut from the fund, which has $50 million left to dole out.

Specifically, $6,000,000 of it: for the construction of a new 1.5-mile access roadway to the city-owned Cecil Commerce Center Mega Site to provide access for the manufacturing industry.

The money comes via the state’s $85 million “job growth” fund.

The fund, a compromise solution to Enterprise Florida’s previous practice of directing money to businesses (many were companies that had donated to Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work” political committee), includes money for public infrastructure and workforce grants.

Scott also sought to ensure legislators pass another $85 million for the fund in the current Legislative Session.

While in Jacksonville, the Governor also messaged on the importance of VISIT FLORIDA, which the Senate wants to cut down to a $50 million budget (half of what the Governor wants).

Not every Jacksonville legislator was thrilled with the job growth fund spending. Sen. Audrey Gibson questioned the fund’s existence on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Motto matters to Daniels, as bill heads to House floor

HB 839, which seeks to mandate school districts display Florida’s motto “In God We Trust,” cleared its final House committee Wednesday.

The bill requires display in all “school buildings” in a given district, including school district structures.

House members are not agnostic about the motto.

The House Education committee cleared the bill with just one no vote Wednesday, with Republicans and Democrats alike generally agreeing with Kim Daniels, the Jacksonville Democratic co-sponsor of the proposal, that the motto should be displayed.

Daniels’ Republican colleagues from Jacksonville, Jason Fischer and Fant, were among supporters.

Committee chair Mike Bileca lauded Daniels for having the “courage to take this issue on,” setting up an impassioned close from the first-term Jacksonville Democrat.

“This is not Communist China,” Daniels correctly noted. “This is America … on a bad day, the greatest country in the world. The disrespect against flag and country makes me sick.”

Daniels noted that the motto is a “symbol that represents something that we need to get back to,” and the bill comes from the “spiritual, not natural realm.”

The Senate version of the bill has yet to be put on a committee agenda.

Fant blasts Moody at AG debate

The strategy in the race for Attorney General on the Republican side is pretty clear at this point.

Rep. Fant and state House colleague Frank White will team up against Ashley Moody, the runaway choice of Florida Sheriffs and the best actual fundraiser in the race, to malign her as insufficiently conservative.

Jay Fant and Ashley Moody: opposite sides of the table, and the political spectrum?

We saw evidence of this Saturday at the Federalist Society Attorney General debate.

Moody and Fant went after each other hard Saturday over third-party ads charging her as “liberal,” exchanging charges during an Attorney General’s forum held during the Federalist Society Conference at Walt Disney World Saturday.

“This is what we do in the big leagues,” Fant said.

Florida Politics had reported earlier that White appeared to be behind the independent political committee attacks; at one point, Fant denied being behind the mailers that Moody cited.

Fant, who had challenged her conservative and Republican credentials before, replied to her question by calling her a “newcomer to partisan politics,” and lecturing her that, “the issues matter, and just because the issues make you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean you’re being attacked.

“I might also add I’m not the only campaign that has discussed this contrast. There is more to this. So, if you’re going to support a Bill McBride over Jeb Bush, we’re going to talk about it. If you’re going to have a history of suing Donald Trump, we’re going to talk about it. If you have alliances with liberals in the bar, we’re going to have to talk about it.”

Pill bill moves through House, Senate

WJCT reports on a bill by Rep. Clay Yarborough that is currently working its way through committees in the House and the Senate.

The measure would allow donating unused medicine to low-income people in need.

Second life for unused pills, if a Clay Yarborough bill passes.

“If you had a patient who was in a nursing home or a hospital, or something like that, and they had a lot of medication prescribed to them but then they passed away and the medication had not been opened or compromised in any way or expired, then those drugs could be donated,” Yarborough asserted.

“It’s just a way to help the citizens of our state and consumers in our state that would be in need and save money and use these drugs that [are] perfectly fine and there’s nothing wrong with them,” Yarborough said.

Jacksonville City Council consternation over JEA sale potential

Watching Jacksonville Mayor Curry roll over the City Council is like watching a season full of homecoming games.

However, a public notice meeting this week showed a lot of skepticism from the legislators, about the potential sale of JEA.

The utility, which has been pilloried for service issues, saw a VP grilled Monday on why serious moves toward underground power lines weren’t made in older neighborhoods.

And Tuesday, Councilors balked about the proposed sale of the utility.

Some, including Councilman Garrett Dennis, believe the sale is all but a done deal.

Notable about this meeting: Dennis, an irritant to the Mayor’s Office, had many Council members on his side in opposition to the Mayor’s Office.

Garrett Dennis takes questions from Jacksonville media, with A.G. Gancarski standing behind him.

Councilman John Crescimbeni and Council President Anna Brosche, recent rivals, wondered why the Office of General Counsel was slow in responding to inquiries.

Dennis’ Northwest Jacksonville colleagues backed his play.

Katrina Brown wants “town halls” in her district to discuss the issue.

Reggie Brown wants to make sure infrastructure, such as $3 billion in sewer projects, are addressed in the sale.

Reggie Gaffney asserted that “JEA has a plan,” and wondered when Council would be made aware.

“We’re all kind of blindsided by this,” Dennis said, vowing to ensure that the Council does “whatever is best for the shareholders … the 850,000 people who own JEA.”

For Dennis, who took on the other Democrats from Northwest Jacksonville last week, this has been a strong galvanization of support after what many activists saw as a betrayal.

Supplementary reading: Folio Weekly wonders: The sale, what the mayor knew and when he knew it?

Jacksonville Councilman takes part in anti-fracking rally

From the “blink and you missed it” files, Jacksonville City Councilman Jim Love was one of a few participants in an anti-fracking rally last weekend.

Via First Coast News, Love and the St. Johns Riverkeeper came out against fracking.

Deepwater Horizon fears on the horizon for Jacksonville Councilman Jim Love.

”We saw what Deepwater Horizon did for the Gulf Coast. We don’t need that on any part of our coast. It’s obvious we don’t need this to happen in Florida,” Love said.

“Florida is not the right place to do this sort of this. It will threaten our drinking water, it will threaten our springs and rivers and we need to stand up to ban this practice in our state,” St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said.

The Florida Legislature is mulling fracking ban bills this session.

After delays, St. Johns River dredging begins

After a Port Canaveral project delayed availability of the dredging vessel, deepening has now begun on a three-mile stretch of the St. Johns River.

“We are very pleased to initiate construction on this nationally significant project,” said Col. Jason Kirk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville district commander. “The Jacksonville Harbor deepening project ensures our nation’s infrastructure stays strong, which in turn boosts the United States economy, bolsters global competitiveness, creates jobs and reduces risk.”

After delays, JAXPORT dredging begins.

According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, issues with a tugboat resulted in the Dutra Group missing its initial Dec. 15 start date, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ mandatory start date of Jan. 31. Dutra, a California-based dredging and marine construction company, could face financial penalties if it does not finish the project by July 31, 2019.

Dutra Group is now working on the first phase of the $22.8 million project, known as Contract A, which will deepen the St. Johns to 47 feet. About 3 million cubic yards will be removed from the first 3 miles of the channel, sent to the designated disposal site 6 miles southeast of the entrance channel jetties, the Journal reports. Work will continue 24 hours a day, seven days a week, an Army Corps representative said.

JAXPORT on upswing for Q1

Strong gains marked JAXPORT’s first quarter of the fiscal year, CFO Michael Poole said this week in a board meeting.

The port authority saw increases across the board – 14 percent more vessel calls, 16 percent more tons of cargo and 16 percent more revenue compared to the same period last year, reports the Jacksonville Business Journal. JAXPORT also handled 27 percent more containers, moving 2.7 million tons in total for $16.7 million in revenue.

Among one downside for the quarter, Poole noted. Maintenance dredging is over budget by more than $1 million, or 153 percent. Hurricane Irma forced the port authority to dredge nearly 40,000 cubic yards more than anticipated. Nevertheless, Poole is confident JAXPORT will find enough savings to offset, rather than having to ask for more funding.

JAXPORT is having a strong first quarter of its fiscal year.

Once the dredging project is complete – deepening the St. Johns River to 47 feet – the port authority will experience faster growth, said Roy Schleicher, JAXPORT chief commercial officer. The dredging project, which began this week, is scheduled to be completed in 2019. Currently, the Port of Jacksonville can handle vessels that hold 10,000 containers, but, once deepened, it can accommodate 14,000-container vessels.

“When the 14,000s start coming in when the dredging is done, our container numbers are going to go through the roof,” Schleicher told the board. “We’re really excited … All new opportunities.”

Downtown Jax eyes driverless shuttles

Traffic in downtown Jacksonville could soon include autonomous vehicles.

Driverless shuttles could be cruising Bay Street in the near future, a project that CBS 47 reports will use new technology to help recruit companies downtown.

Action News Jax’s John Bachman recently visited Las Vegas to speak with Nat Ford, CEO of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, about the pilot program in that city and how it can apply to Jacksonville.

Driverless shuttles, like this one in Las Vegas, could be on Jacksonville streets soon.

Las Vegas currently offers a driverless shuttle on a half-mile loop that includes parts of the old Las Vegas strip. The shuttle tops out at 12 miles an hour but is capable of doing 30 miles an hour.

Ford said Jacksonville could see a driverless shuttle program within the next five years. Over the next two to three years, Ford expects to convert the current Skyway platforms for shuttles – with the federal government interested in supporting driverless technology.

Driverless shuttles in Las Vegas currently cost around $250,000 each, compared to a JTA bus, which runs about $650,000 apiece.

Jacksonville Beach Pier to reopen soon

Storm-ravaged Jacksonville Beach Pier is close to a partial reopening, a year and a half after damage from Hurricane Matthew closed the iconic landmark.

Half of the pier is scheduled to open in April, according to First Coast News.

Storm-damaged Jacksonville Beach Pier to partially reopen in April.

As of this week, crews working on the pier finished re-paneling and railing half of the original length of the pier. The back half is not yet structurally stable to begin work, one of the workers told reporters.

Portions of the new railings will be recessed, allowing people in wheelchairs to fish from the pier.

The City of Jacksonville budgeted $1.3 million to replace the deck and guardrail in the pier’s front part. As for the back portion, no timeline is available yet.


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