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

Subpoenas with a side of sauce.

That’s one way to sum up the year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political dynasties: toppled.

Conventional wisdom: shattered.

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

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

The biggest difficulty?

Limiting the article to just ten stories.

***

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

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

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

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

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

Execute and win he did.

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

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

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

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

Story of the year? Absolutely.

But it had competition.

***

# 2: Angela Corey goes down.

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

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

Corey? Very much an outlier.

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

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

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

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

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

Then, a funny thing happened.

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

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

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

By September, she was a lame duck.

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

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

There will be stumbles.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

# 4: Ander Crenshaw out, John Rutherford in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

#5: The ongoing battles of collective bargaining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curry’s ire was undercut in December, however.

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

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

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

Whenever that is.

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

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

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

***

#7: Municipal bond ratings improve.

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

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

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

Successes outnumbered failures.

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

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

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

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

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

***

# 8: “JEA Agreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

# 9: Hurricane Matthew

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

In fact, the city did pretty well, considering.

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

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

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

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

The road to Huguenot Park still needs repair.

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

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

***

#10: Duval GOP dysfunction

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

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

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

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

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

Note the temporal phrasing.

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

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

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

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

December was Graves’ undoing.

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

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

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

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

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

***

And that was the year that was.

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

Probably not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 2016 predictions fared no better than those above.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

And that, sadly, is true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

Prediction 7 was correct.

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

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

***

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

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

Yet.

***

Prediction 9 involved races for the state House getting interesting.

If only all the predictions were such slam dunks.

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction 9? On the nose.

***

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

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

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

Prediction 10 was on point.

***

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

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

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

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

It didn’t take.

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

So far, so good.

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

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

But still! We got it wrong — bigly.

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

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

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

So, how did the 2016 predictions go?

We got six right. We got six wrong.

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

But there’s definitely room for improvement.

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

Can we just get 2016 over with, please?

When the news came on Christmas Day that singer George Michael had died, well … can we get this year completed, please?

Just this month alone, we have lost actor Alan Thicke, astronaut/hero John Glenn, actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, former Florida Lieutenant Gov. Jim Williams, broadcaster Craig Sager and musician Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame. This was after Keith Emerson of the same band died in March.

We had to say goodbye this year to former first lady Nancy Reagan, a classy dame if there ever was one. We lost Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Prince, David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, Abe Vigoda, Leon Russell, Pete Fountain, Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey … so many others.

Make it stop!

I mention all this because it’s customary at this point on the calendar to look back upon the nearly finished year, hoping to gain some perspective about what we went through and what might be about to come.

If it’s OK with you, though, I think 2016 has been filled with so many things we would like to forget (and I’m not even talking about Donald Trump … yet) that we should cut this year short. It has been an unwelcome guest for 51 weeks, and it needs to go away.

That has been particularly true in Florida.

We learned that terrorism can happen close to home when 49 people were murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

We had the Zika virus. There was green ooze from the Lake Okeechobee algae bloom, fouling nostrils along the East Coast. We had a massive sinkhole in Polk County that polluted the aquifer.

We had two reminders from Mother Nature that she is still in charge. Hurricane Hermine helped flood St. Petersburg’s streets with untreated sewage, followed by Hurricane Matthew that scraped its way up the East Coast.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, trying for a 13th term in Congress, got a double whammy – a federal indictment alleging she had misused money earmarked for charity, and then she was beaten in the November election in her redrawn district.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was humiliated when he lost the Florida Primary by a wide margin to Trump. But Rubio, who had vowed not to seek re-election because he was frustrated in the Senate, ran anyway and won.

We couldn’t even turn to sports for escape.

After winning a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Rio, U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte embarrassed himself as his country by making up a story about being robbed. The former University of Florida star lost millions in endorsement contracts after his fib was exposed.

The Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins were terrible, and the season ended in tragedy when Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were teasingly good until they figured out what they were doing right and corrected it.

The federal government basically ground to a halt, and the election was the nastiest anyone can remember as Trump and Hillary Clinton drove Americans to drink. When it was done, the nation had elected a man who has never held public office and believes in government by tweet, wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and has hinted that we should expand our nuclear arsenal.

What possibly could go wrong?

With that in mind, you know that thing I said about needing 2016 to hurry and finish? Maybe we can coax this year into sticking around a little longer. As they say, things could always be worse.

Reading the tea leaves of the Lenny Curry-Alvin Brown meeting

Friday saw an official meeting between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and former Mayor Alvin Brown.

And with that meeting, a message to #jaxpol: the bitterness of the 2015 election was finally consigned to memory.

The picture above: worth a thousand words. Acrimony expunged, replaced by bonhomie.

The campaign for Jacksonville mayor was the most expensive local campaign in history. And that money was spent, especially on the GOP side, with a specific intent.

That purpose: to undermine what was perceived to be soft support for Alvin Brown, via a “death by 1,000 cuts” approach that saw Brown and his team on the defensive in every news cycle.

Whether Brown was missing the budget vote in city council for a Bill Cosby fundraiser, or his campaign was touting a convicted murderer as a “job creator and business leader,” Brown was on the defensive as a candidate from the fall of 2014 straight through to the 2015 election.

And when he did get it going in earnest early in 2015, there were glitches.

Brown wasn’t prepared to take fire, day after day, from Curry and Bill Bishop before the March election.

Bishop lacked real money to run the campaign, yet his rapport with local print media gave him earned media, in which he made the case that Alvin Brown didn’t merit four more years. And even when Bishop endorsed Brown after the race became a two-man battle, the endorsement and subsequent campaigning with Brown didn’t undo the damage done before the March “First Election” vote.

Curry, meanwhile, had all the money he could need, along with a political team that simply did not lose news cycles.

However, 2015’s epilogue has already been written. The meeting between Curry and Brown represents a prologue, for 2017 and beyond.

Notable: Brown reached out to Curry to schedule the meeting.

There are a number of plausible interpretations for the timing.

One such interpretation: Brown wanted to give Curry time to settle into office.

With Curry’s first term a third of the way over, he definitely should be settled in at this point.

Another such interpretation: with Brown not ending up in a Hillary Clinton administration, as was expected until the votes were counted Election Night, the former mayor had to commit to a back up plan.

And that back up plan: becoming a part of the Jacksonville scene again, and the brotherhood of former mayors.

From there, if history is a guide, options abound.

Consider the last one-term mayor in Jacksonville: Brown’s fellow Democrat, Tommy Hazouri.

Hazouri, like Brown, had a term with some tangible accomplishments.

However, Hazouri also had some issues.

The book on Hazouri was that his administration had the city’s books in “financial disarray.” That his team had issues with messaging through the media.

Those issues parallel those of Alvin Brown.

Curry was able to message during his campaign on getting the books in order, just as Ed Austin had against Tommy Hazouri. And there were times in Brown’s tenure where the message the administration wanted to get out through the press didn’t quite get out.

And all of that is the past now.

When Brown set up a meeting with Lenny Curry, it represented a radical shift from his absence from the public eye since June 2015.

Brown, even as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, mostly avoided the Jacksonville market in the fall.

Brown was deployed on mayoral bus tours through places like Ohio, and other parts of Florida, as if a conscious decision was made not to parlay on his name value locally.

Brown did attend a November rally in Northeast Florida, where President Obama spoke on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

However, Brown didn’t speak at the event. And there was some speculation as to whether or not Brown even stayed for the entirety of the Obama speech.

Alvin Brown’s path to D.C., as a Clinton appointee, is being foreclosed even as this is typed, as Donald Trump‘s electoral votes are counted.

However, Brown’s future itself is not foreclosed.

As a mayor who lost a very close election 17 months ago, Brown may not have present-tense political capital, but it is very easy to imagine how a reinvented Alvin Brown could become a factor locally in 2017.

Congressman-elect Al Lawson won’t be in Tallahassee forever. And it is entirely possible that Lawson could face a Jacksonville challenge in 2018.

Could that be Alvin Brown?

Back in our “five people to watch in 2016” piece, we tabbed Brown as someone to watch relative to the CD 5 seat.

We haven’t written the 2017 version of the list yet.

Odds are very good that Alvin Brown will be on it again, however.

Even if Brown chooses not to run for Congress, there is plenty to keep him busy locally.

An at large city council seat will be open in 2019, and Brown theoretically could run against Bill Bishop, who has already committed to run in the race to replace John Crescimbeni, the current occupant.

If that were to happen, it would be interesting to see how Curry and his political machine might react, as there was no love lost between the two Republicans when Bishop endorsed Brown.

And other openings could manifest in Jacksonville as well.

In other words, Alvin Brown will have a second act in the limelight.

The only question now is which stage he will pick.

Corrine Brown aide reverses motion for separate trial in One Door case

On Friday, Rep. Corrine Brown‘s chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, filed for a separate trial from Brown in the One Door for Education case.

On Monday, Simmons’ lawyer — Anthony Suarez — withdrew the motion.

As Lynnsey Gardner of WJXT reported Monday afternoon, Suarez filed a motion to withdraw the previous motion, offering no explanation why.

The motion filed Friday was flush with verbiage and precedent.

Simmons’ lawyer contended “the risk of prejudicial spillover is tremendous,” given Brown’s notoriety.

He contended that a “joint trial” would “compromise” his trial right, and potentially affect his verdict, especially given the potential of “markedly different degrees of culpability” between Brown and Simmons.

Brown draws media attention at her appearances; Simmons contends that he would not draw such attention by himself.

Simmons also contended that Brown’s tax fraud charges may prejudice a jury against him.

Ironically, it is Simmons who faces the greater maximum penalties in this case.

Brown faces a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all counts are found valid.

For Simmons, it would be as many as 355 years and $4.75 million, if guilty of all counts.

The estimated restitution for Brown would be $833,000 — plus $63,000 in tax — roughly $897,000. For Simmons, the number would be over $1.2 million.

The trial is not until April. The next motion hearing is set for early January.

Ronnie Simmons files to sever from Corrine Brown in One Door trial

Rep. Corrine Brown and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, face 24 charges between them related to the One Door for Education trial.

Much speculation has been made as to when one would file for a separate trial. On Friday, Simmons filed for severance in a seven-page document.

Simmons’ lawyer contends “the risk of prejudicial spillover is tremendous,” given Brown’s notoriety.

He contends that a “joint trial” would “compromise” his trial right, and potentially affect his verdict, especially given the potential of “markedly different degrees of culpability.”

Brown draws media attention at her appearances; Simmons contends that he would not draw such attention by himself.

Simmons also contends that Brown’s tax fraud charges may prejudice a jury against him.

****

The congresswoman from Florida’s 5th Congressional District, along with Chief of Staff Elias Simmons, face a combined 24 charges, enumerated in a 46-page indictment.

They plead not guilty to all.

Brown faces a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all counts are found valid.

For Simmons, it would be as many as 355 years and $4.75 million, if guilty of all counts.

The estimated restitution for Brown would be $833,000 — plus $63,000 in tax — roughly $897,000. For Simmons, the number would be over $1.2 million.

The trial is not until April. Simmons has a motion hearing set for January 9.

Post-election, winners and losers abound in Northeast Florida

The votes have been counted on the national level. Reality is setting in: Donald Trump is president-elect — despite the best efforts of the most aggressive political machine in history.

There are, of course, aggregations of who won and who lost on the national level. But due to the unique position of Duval County as a swing county in a purple state, and due to the unique role of local players, winners and losers in this Northeast Florida region abound.

WINNERS

Susie Wiles: Give her the credit she’s due. If it hadn’t been for the decision weeks back to have Wiles replace Karen Giorno atop the Trump campaign in Florida, there very well might be a different person as president-elect today.

There certainly would be a different Florida winner.

Wiles presented a stabilizing force. The veteran Jacksonville operative led key organizational decisions (as POLITICO reported, Wiles agitated to ensure sufficient resources were devoted to absentee ballots, a category in which the 62,000-vote GOP advantage statewide cut into the 155,000 vote Democratic advantage during early voting).

As well, Wiles was good at translating Trump’s stump persona to members of the Florida political media. Her decades of credibility meant she was able to meaningfully frame Trump’s populist appeals and flourishes as a means to an end, not as the end itself.

Lenny Curry: The Jacksonville mayor was not on the ballot, and his big pension reform referendum was in August. Curry was pilloried, including by this writer, for his decision to serve as master of ceremonies during the Trump visit to Florida ahead of that referendum. Curry’s explanation of that move was typically pragmatic, boiling down to supporting the Republican candidate as a Republican.

Did the Trump support hurt Curry? He got 65 percent on that August referendum, with internal polling from his operation showing that backing Trump shored up his support with Republicans. Since that referendum, Curry hadn’t appeared at another Trump campaign event.

Now? It doesn’t matter. Curry has positioned himself as a rare commodity: a big city Republican mayor who didn’t run away from the top of the ticket. With a GOP Congress and a Republican president as political allies, Jacksonville is as well-positioned as it can be for federal money for local priorities like dredging to deepen the harbor for JAXPORT, solidifying the arguments for Mayport and Naval Air Station Jax, and other pet projects for which federal funding has been elusive.

During the tortuous path to get federal money for Duval County recovery efforts after Hurricane Matthew, Curry echoed Gov. Rick Scott, saying Duval taxpayers deserve to get back the money they give to Washington.

Trump will be a far more valuable ally to Curry, and the city of Jacksonville, than Hillary Clinton would have been.

The Jacksonville Business Community: As we observed Tuesday evening, Congressmen-elect Al Lawson and John Rutherford are pragmatists, willing and eager to work across the aisle to accomplish policy priorities.

Lawson — who has an association with Ballard Partners and the aforementioned Susie Wiles — is still getting up to speed on Jacksonville policy priorities. But he will have a lot of help as he prepares to replace Corrine Brown atop Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Rutherford, taking over for Ander Crenshaw in CD 4, can already count as a key ally House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who swung through Jacksonville during the campaign to appear by Rutherford’s side.

While Lawson and Rutherford are disadvantaged by not having the seniority of their immediate predecessors, they will have other advantages that should translate into a bit more federal money coming Jacksonville’s way, especially as the expected infrastructure push from Trump materializes.

Brian Hughes and Tim Baker: To quote DJ Khaled, “all they do is win win win no matter what.” They carried two countywide referendums through between Aug. 30 and last night. The pension reform referendum was in August. The followup: the referendum to allow slot machines at bestbet Jacksonville.

The ads were the most positive, anodyne work of the two GOP strategists’ careers. Augmented with people at voting locations with shirts and signs promoting the referendum, the measure was buoyed by support on Jacksonville’s Northside, in Northwest Jacksonville, and in some of the more economically depressed areas of Jacksonville’s Southside.

Baker and Hughes are the political equivalents of Bear Bryant, the legendary Alabama football coach who famously said: “I’ll beat you with my team today, and I’ll beat you with your team tomorrow.” Despite the carping of other consultants, they have more signature wins than anyone.

Bill Gulliford: The Jacksonville City Councilman from the ocean side of the Intracoastal Waterway was not on the ballot, but he won a meaningful victory. Gulliford’s Beaches First political committee waded into the contentious mayoral race between incumbent Charlie Latham and challenger Cory Nichols with a couple of sharp mailers that contended Nichols’ bankruptcy a few years back disqualified him from being mayor.

Gulliford’s move was, at least in part, a response to very personal campaigning from Nichols and those who supported him.

Gulliford engaged on social media with Nichols and at least one supporter, effectively saying that the results of the election would be the ultimate proof of who was right.

Latham won by 15 points.

The Florida Times-Union: The Jacksonville paper endorsed a “change agent.” And their guy won.

Even if most staffers sold the endorsement out as a corporate pick, Morris Communications picked the winner when many other papers hedged their bets and said “Hillary or else.”

LOSERS

Duval Democrats: There was a lot of optimism that 2016 would be the year Duval became Blu-Val.

It didn’t quite happen. And this despite a wealth of surrogate action, including a visit from President Barack Obama, multiple visits from former President Bill Clinton, and a Souls to the Polls swing through from Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

There were two schools of thought on the surrogate visit. One was the idea that they were stacking votes. The other was the idea that they were trying to mitigate a potentially bad loss in Jacksonville.

And there was understanding that there were problems. At the Saturday event with Jesse Jackson, this reporter asked the Chicago preacher and local African-American pols if there was an enthusiasm gap Hillary Clinton faced that Barack Obama did not.

Jackson said that there wasn’t. A couple of the pols, however, affirmed there was … before following Jackson’s lead.

You think Duval Dems miss the Corrine Brown turnout machine yet? While Quick Picks were given out this year, absent were the amazing parties Brown threw to spike turnout, fetes that have been described by more than one observer as “lit.”

Glo Smith: Hard to beat Al Lawson in an election. Harder when, as a GOP nominee, you run away from the top of the ticket.

Smith had a golden opportunity to talk to the base at Trump’s rally on Jacksonville’s Westside last week. She was a no-show. And GOP and Duval voters both no-showed for her, perhaps as a result.

Smith likely wasn’t going to be able to stack the numbers in Jacksonville necessary to overcome Lawson’s 50-point win in Leon County. However, the fact that she lost what she represents as her home county by 40,000 votes to a candidate from Tallahassee suggests her political instincts are nonexistent.

Dave Bruderly: Of course he was going to lose to John Rutherford. But it was the way he lost: an amateurish campaign that wouldn’t have won him a seat on the school board. Even Rutherford’s operatives felt sorry for him.

New bipartisan era begins for Jacksonville in U.S. Congress

Northeast Florida will have a completely new Congressional delegation in January, as the Associated Press has called the races in its two districts, and both were won by candidates looking to bridge the partisan divide.

As widely expected, Republican John Rutherford downed Democrat David Bruderly in the 4th Congressional District: 280,319 to 110,257 (70 percent to 28 percent) was the margin.

Rutherford’s margins of victory, consistent throughout the district, ranged from 68 percent in Duval County to 72 percent in St. Johns and 79 percent in Nassau.

Also as widely expected, Democrat Al Lawson upended Republican perennial candidate Glo Smith in the race to replace Corrine Brown in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Lawson won handily: 64 percent to 36 percent, with a raw vote advantage of 184,163 to 103,488.

A measure of Lawson’s strength: beating Smith by 26 points in Duval in the unofficial tally. Smith carried just two of the nine counties in the district: Baker and Hamilton, where she made concerted plays.

Lawson won by 50 points in Leon County, the home base of the former “Dean of the Legislature” and Florida A&M  basketball star.

In Tallahassee at his victory party, Lawson noted it had been a long race, going from one December almost to the next, before thanking his family and campaign workers throughout the district — including Duval.

“There’s a lot of distance between the Apalachicola River and the St. Johns River,” Lawson noted, “but we took our message out there in the primary and we were successful, then to the general and we were successful.”

“The people in this district are concerned about jobs, economic development, health care … student loans,” Lawson said, vowing to make sure the government and Wall Street doesn’t “benefit off the back of students.”

Rutherford and Lawson, despite the party label divergence, had some similarities. Both were backed by industry groups and members of the Jacksonville establishment.

During his victory speech, Lawson stole a line from Rutherford: “Washington is broken,” citing “gridlock” as the reason.

“I’m just on loan to do a job for you … I want to make sure you’re proud of the person you sent up there,” Lawson said.

Both Rutherford and Lawson have voiced interest in working across the aisle to accomplish policy priorities — an important consideration as they replace tenured congressional veterans Ander Crenshaw and Corrine Brown.

Both also emerged from contentious primaries. Lawson upended a wounded Corrine Brown, whose focus and fundraising were divided by Brown’s fraud trial. Rutherford dealt with the challenge of the moneyed Hans Tanzler III and the experienced State Rep. Lake Ray; despite essentially being coronated as the establishment candidate as soon as Crenshaw announced his retirement, decisions — like standing by State Attorney Angela Corey — in her doomed primary bid cost Rutherford, a former Jacksonville sheriff, support.

Both also benefited from meaningful support from the party establishment. Lawson was ceded a speaking slot at President Barack Obama’s “Hillary for America” rally in Jacksonville. Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy came to town on behalf of Rutherford as the campaign entered its stretch run.

Rutherford and Lawson will have to work together quickly on a number of important issues, including securing dredging money to deepen the harbor for JAXPORT and ensuring that Jacksonville doesn’t lose ground in the next round of BRAC negotiations.

Lawson, though not from Jacksonville, does have meaningful Jacksonville connections.

GOP powerbroker Susie Wiles, until she took helm of the Florida campaign for Donald Trump, introduced Lawson to reporters ahead of the August primary. Lawson also ended up getting meaningful backing from the Jacksonville donor class over a Republican candidate, a sign of his reputation for pragmatism.

Democratic legend Denise Lee, a beloved former Jacksonville City Councilwoman and former legislative colleague of Lawson’s, also helped Lawson make connections with recalcitrant Jacksonville Democrats.

Lawson offered special thanks to his campaign team in Duval also.

Where might there be a surprise on Election Night in Florida?

If the chalk won every game and match-up, there would be no Las Vegas or Macau. There would be no March Madness.

If the favorites won every time, there would be no reason to even turn on the television. We watch and love sports and gambling because the underdogs can and do win.

In no-limit Texas hold ’em poker, holding a pair of aces gives a player an 87 percent chance of winning against a seven-deuce offsuit before the flop. But that still means, over time, the worst hand in poker still wins 13 percent of the time.

The same thinking can be applied to politics. Despite advantages of name recognition and money, upsets occur. There’s no better recent example in Florida politics than in 2012 when the Democratic challenger defeated Republican Chris Dorworth, who was at the time in line to become speaker of the Florida House.

Dorworth’s aces were cracked by Mike Clelland‘s seven-deuce offset. I don’t like beating up on Dorworth anymore (especially after this weekend, when he got married), but I have to ask, is there another Dorworth situation in the cards for Tuesday?

Looking at the congressional races in Florida, the opportunities for an upset are thin. Whatever changes that were to be made to Florida’s congressional delegation have already happened (Gwen Graham not running, Corrine Brown losing to Al Lawson, etc.). This isn’t to say there aren’t interesting races to watch Tuesday because there are in CD 13, 18, and 26. However, the underdogs in those races are not exactly Davids facing Goliaths. Those three races are basically coin flips at this point.

The one competitive congressional race which is not a coin flip is CD 7 where Republican incumbent John Mica is attempting to hold off Stephanie Murphy. The smart money has been watching this race for more than a month as Murphy has closed on Mica, so it would not be out of left field were Murphy to knock off Mica. Still, if you had asked political observers a year ago if John Mica was in trouble of losing his seat, the answer would have been a loud ‘No.’

At the legislative level, its important to separate the competitive from the earth-shattering. There are competitive races in SD 8, 13, 18, 37, 39, and 40 as well as half a dozen state House races, but, again these are basically coin flips. Republican Dana Young is up single digits over Democrat Bob Buesing in SD 18; no one can safely predict who will win in the South Florida seats; and the House races will largely be decided by the top of the ballot.

BUT! And this is a huge but … a Sir Mix-A-Lot-sized but … were there to be a Dorworthian surprise Tuesday night, it will probably occur in some of the state House races in South Florida.

Again, a huge disclaimer that I am not suggesting that these upsets will occur, but there has been talk — over the last two weeks, especially as Donald Trump was tanking and through South Florida’s “gangbusters” early voting turnout Sunday — that if a wave the size of the one in the movie “Poseidon” were to hit, some Republican House candidates could be in trouble, such as Carlos Trujillo in HD 105 and Michael Bileca in HD 115

Mind you, I re-watched the movie “The Big Short” this weekend, so my mind is thinking in terms of failing tranches. Not that Trujillo or Bileca or any of the other South Florida Republican campaigns should be compared with subprime mortgages. They’re not. They’ve run AAA-rated campaigns.

But that’s the thing about black swans. They appear so rarely in nature, they are almost impossible to predict. The best you can do is look in the direction they might appear.

And on Tuesday night, that may be in South Florida.

Al Lawson expands cash lead over Glo Smith in CD 5 race

The race between Republican Glo Smith and Democrat Al Lawson in Florida’s 5th Congressional District has defied traditional partisan contours down the stretch.

Smith, appearing on WJXT’s “This Week in Jacksonville” Sunday, positioned herself less as a Republican than as the sole impediment to Tallahassee controlling the traditionally Jacksonville-based seat.

Smith alluded to having productive conversations with Democrats on Jacksonville’s City Council, to having an open line of communication with outgoing Rep. Corrine Brown (who did not endorse in the CD 5 race on her “quick picks,” in what could be framed as a tacit OK to her voters to vote for Smith), and ducked the question of whether or not she backs Donald Trump.

These are interesting rhetorical tropes for her to take late in the campaign.

And if the movement of money into the campaigns of Lawson and Smith means anything, she’s probably committing to this rhetorical pivot too late to matter.

In recent days, Smith has — after a long period of relative dormancy — activated her fundraising machine.

Smith brought in $4,400 on Oct. 28, bringing her total since Oct. 21 up to $20,800.

As of Oct. 19, Smith had just $5,117 on hand from $54,625 raised.

This late-campaign surge raises the question: if Smith had been more serious about fundraising early on in her campaign, she may have had meaningful resources for electronic media buys.

A few $20,000 weeks would have facilitated that kind of outreach.

And they likely would have helped to close the gap with Lawson, a veteran politician with deep bipartisan connections and a decided resource advantage.

Lawson, as of Oct. 19, had $103,020 on hand, of $241,573 raised and another $100,000 in personal loans.

That financial advantage was augmented in the period since, with $45,200 in contributions.

Of that total, a mere $3,700 comes from Jacksonville individual contributors.

To put that number in perspective, $24,500 comes from political action committees from around the country, including Realtors, beer wholesalers, and CULAC — the PAC of the national association of credit unions.

Barring some mysterious movement in the next few days, Lawson will close this race having had access to over $386,000 of capital, compared to his GOP opponent, who ran her campaign on just over $75,000.

That almost five-to-one advantage was augmented by Lawson being better known, having more outside backing, and being a more seasoned politician.

Duval Democrats may watch Lawson closely, and one or two may be considering primary challenges for 2018.

If they are serious about that, however, they will want to ensure their money is competitive before jumping in.

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