Donald Trump – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Ron DeSantis: Russia may be malevolent but no collusion with Trump campaign

Appearing on Fox News Tuesday morning, Republican Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis defended the House Intelligence Committee’s Republican declaration Monday that it was ending its Russia probe after concluding there had been no collusion with Russia by the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

DeSantis, a congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach, said he thinks the Russians’ activities “are malevolent” but he charged that the Democrats politicized the investigation by making it about Trump, and said it is time to move on.

“There’s no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. We’ve got to move on to that,” DeSantis said. “Now, Russian activity, I think they are malevolent, and I think we should try to deal with that in one voice,” DeSantis said on Fox News’ “Happening Now” show.

DeSantis faces Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the Aug. 28 Republican primary, with the expected additional entry into the Republican race of Florida Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran.

“But I think the problem with this is since Trump was elected it was politicized and the Democrats tried to lump Trump in with some type of nefarious Russian activity. And there’s just no basis for that other than the Steele dossier, which is not verified. There has never been evidence put forward. They’ve been doing this for over a year. They made the right decision. It’s time to move on.”

DeSantis did not make any references to the ongoing independent investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, or the four members of Trump’s campaign team who have been indicted in Mueller’s Russia probe.

Jacksonville Bold for 3.9.18 — Cheat sheet

Jacksonville Bold for 3.9.18 — Cheat sheet

The Legislative Session is ending; hopefully, sooner than later.

And campaign season is heating up.

New candidates in state House races … and old back stories.

And Mayor Lenny Curry  — “Our Mayor,” per the branding — is seeking four more years.

Former City Council members seek a return to the dais.

And so on.

The next 14 months are going to be wild in Duval County.

Consider Bold your cheat sheet.

Rutherford pushes school safety bill

Schools should not be gun free zones, says U.S. Rep. John Rutherford.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Rutherford said last week.

John Rutherford took to Fox News, touting his Stop School Violence Act.

Rutherford believes his Stop School Violence Act  offers security measures, including having teachers look for “warning signs” of “potential mass casualty shooters.”

Rutherford also dodged questions on divergences between him and Donald Trump that came to the fore during a televised White House meeting last week.

Additionally, he said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had a “unique opportunity” to change the culture in the Department of Justice. He didn’t offer much detail on that point, however.

Lawson plans Jacksonville roundtable

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson will host a House Small Business Committee hearing Monday, March 12, at 10 a.m. at the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Al Lawson will be in Jacksonville next week.

“Disparities in Access to Capital: What the Federal Government Is Doing to Increase Support for Minority-Owned Firms,” per Lawson’s office, will “examine the unique challenges minorities and women-owned businesses face when seeking funding from the Small Business Administration, traditional banks, private investment capital and additional financing mechanisms.”

The hearing will explore ways to overcome difficulties in securing financing by minority-owned businesses.

Davis’ parents back Brown

Alvin Brown was Jacksonville mayor when Jordan Davis was gunned down in 2012 at a gas station on the Southside.

Jordan Davis’ death is still memorable in Jacksonville.

In the years since, Brown has demonstrated support and friendship to Davis’ parents, and that support was reciprocated, via an official endorsement for Congress Wednesday.

Ron Davis and Lucy McBath, offered a joint statement, one that invoked both the Parkland massacre and the National Rifle Association.

“Nearly six years ago, our 17-year-old son Jordan was gunned down at a gas station in Jacksonville for simply playing music too loudly. The recent tragedy in Parkland shows just how little progress we’ve made, and how much more we still have to do, to keep our communities and kids safe from gun violence. This issue is truly one of life or death, and the stakes are too high for more excuses from do-nothing lawmakers, with our children’s blood on their hands, who ignore what’s in their heart to focus on what’s in their pocket. They readily support ‘Stand Your Ground’ and side with the NRA. Alvin Brown is a dedicated public servant with the courage to stand up to the gun lobby, and we know he will help make our country a safer, better place. We are proud to support his campaign.”

St. Johns Sheriff backs Johns in CD 6

St. Johns County Commissioner Jimmy Johns scored a significant endorsement Wednesday, from St. Johns Sheriff David Shoar, in the crowded GOP primary in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

David Shoar stayed close to home with his Congressional endorsement.

Shoar cited Johns’ “track record of supporting our public safety officers. He has done so on the St. Johns County Commission and will do so in Washington.”

Shoar pivoted from that track record to asserting that Johns was “someone that understands what it takes to keep our country safe, not only at home but at our border.”

Johns said it was “always humbling when such a highly respected law enforcement officer steps up to endorse.”

Shoar “has been on the front lines and knows what it takes to keep us safe,” Johns said. “I will rely on him and the public safety communities to make sure that the laws passed in Washington protect citizens against murderous foreign gangs and solving the nation’s opioid crisis. We need to listen to those tasked with protecting us for solutions to these issues.”

The GOP field in the district, one that runs from St. Johns County south to Volusia, has some candidates already, including former Ormond Beach state Rep. Fred Costello, businessman John Ward, and former Green Beret and current Fox News commentator Michael Waltz.

One of these Republicans will emerge from the primary to face likely Democratic nominee Nancy Soderberg in the general election.

Hogan knows best?

The race to succeed outgoing Rep. Jay Fant, an Attorney General hopeful, in Jacksonville’s House District 15 got more crowded on the Republican side Wednesday.

Joseph Hogan, the son of Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan, entered the GOP scrum.

Family feud, redux: will bad blood between Mike Hogan and Lenny Curry play into HD 15 scrap?

Hogan will face attorney Wyman Duggan and yacht broker Mark Zeigler in the primary.

Hogan made an audacious play during the Mayor’s race three years ago. He endorsed Democrat Alvin Brown over Republican Lenny Curry, crossing party lines despite what he called Brown’s “failed administration.”

“I didn’t make my decision lightly,” related Hogan in a series of text messages. “I plan to run for City Council one day, and I know that supporting Alvin could hurt me with the Party folk, but I think it’s the right thing to do.”

“I don’t look forward to Lenny losing, but someone has to win, and I think the people of Jacksonville are better off with Mayor Alvin Brown,” Hogan added.

The seeds for that endorsement, Hogan related, were planted four years prior, in the aftermath of his father’s narrow defeat at the hands of the Brown operation, upon which Curry said that “excuses are for serial losers,” a shot across the bow of the Hogan campaign that Joe took personally.

Interestingly, Hogan filed for the race just hours after Curry filed to run again for Mayor.

Curry’s chief political strategist, Tim Baker, is running the Wyman Duggan campaign, suggesting that there may be intrigue through August in this race.

Daniels’ NPA opponent touts fundraising

State Rep. Kim Daniels, an iconoclastic Jacksonville Democrat, has the Jacksonville political establishment behind her.

Among her January donors: members of the Rummell family, the Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters, and local dog track interests.

Rep. Kim Daniels’ NPA opponent thinks he has a shot; time will tell.

Daniels has nearly $16,000 cash on hand; however, her NPA opponent, Darcy Richardson, believes that he can be competitive in the November election.

Richardson claims to have raised “more than $6,100 as of yesterday. Most of those contributions will appear on my initial campaign finance filing covering the 12-13 days since opening my campaign account on Feb. 16. The balance — approximately $1,400 — will be reflected in the month of March.”

“That’s more than Republican Christian Whitfield raised during the entire 2016 election cycle. I haven’t begun to do any serious fundraising yet — that’ll happen over the next couple of months. And despite the district’s unfavorable demographics, I’m confident that I’ll be able to raise enough to put up a fight against arguably one of the most reprehensible and outlandish state lawmakers in the country,” Richardson adds.

Jacksonville Democrats have discussed primarying Daniels, but any expectations of that should be tempered by the incumbent’s strong community support.

It remains to be seen if Daniels can also be capsized by an NPA candidate.

Former Duval Dem chair running for state House

Neil Henrichsen, a former chair of the Duval County Democratic Party, is running for a state House seat in Volusia County.

He will face Republican incumbent state Rep. David Santiago of Deltona.

Former Duval County Democratic Party chair Neil Henrichsen is running for a State House seat in Volusia County.

Henrichsen, 55, of Deltona, is the second Democrat in the race. But the other, Tyran Rayaad Basil, has raised little money and shows minimal campaign activity — especially given his early start in April.

“Volusia County has always been a big home … and that’s a seat that should be Democratic,” he said. “It has a handful more registered Democrats and a representative in Santiago who has not done a lot for the district or the state.”

Henrichsen said he expects Santiago to be vulnerable for one vote. Two weeks ago, with survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre looking on, Santiago voted against allowing floor debate on House Bill 219, which would prohibit the sale, transfer or possession of assault weapons or large-capacity ammunition magazines.

Curry files for re-election

Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Except for a brief period when Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was discussed as a possible chief financial officer appointment, there has been little doubt that he would run for re-election.

The first inkling of that effort’s branding emerged Wednesday morning, via a new cover photo on his campaign Facebook page.

Lenny Curry is running for re-election. Not a surprise, but worthy of note.

The second, more definitive nugget: Curry filing for re-election Wednesday morning.

The third indication: a new political committee, Jacksonville On the Rise, which launched a six-figure TV and digital ad campaign Wednesday.

As was the case during his original campaign, the logo incorporates a bridge motif; the message is minimalistic: “Our mayor.”

For those familiar with the “One City, One Jacksonville” slogan, it’s clear that candidate Curry will run as a uniter, not a divider, in his re-election bid.

Will anyone serious jump into this race against him?

New Curry ad touts first-term accomplishments

Jacksonville on the Rise, a new local political committee designed to boost Mayor Lenny Curry‘s re-election bid, released its first ad this week: a six-figure buy.

To see the ad, click the image below:

As one would expect, the ad extols Curry’s first term accomplishments, framing them in a holistic, big picture narrative that makes the case that the mayor has kept the city safe and has instituted meaningful reforms.

The ad trumpets investments in technology, such as ShotSpotter, and Curry adding 180 positions to the Sheriff’s Office and 225 Fire and Rescue workers, a fulfillment of a campaign promise to remedy public safety staffing shortages.

Additionally, the spot mentions children’s program reforms, via the Kids Hope Alliance: “a partnership with teachers and community leaders who help our children see their dreams become reality.”

The ad also discusses “balancing the budget without raising taxes” and “increased transparency” and “accountability” to the “taxpayers.”

Toward the close, the spot describes the city’s reaction to the hurricanes that came through in back to back years.

“We came together as a city,” Curry says in the voice-over.

Re-election bids for Brown, Ferraro

Let the “four more years” chants begin for two first-term Jacksonville City Council members.

On Tuesday, Democratic Councilwoman Katrina Brown launched her bid for re-election in District 8. Days before that, Republican Al Ferraro launched his re-election bid in District 2.

Al Ferraro and Katrina Brown will run for re-election. Of the two, Ferraro has the clearer path.

Brown and Ferraro face different paths to re-election.

Brown has issues other incumbents don’t. She has run afoul of the police union and has gotten tough coverage for a failed economic development deal from her family businesses.

Because of these perceived vulnerabilities, Brown faces a bevy of challengers: Diallo SekouSeabrooks, Michael Sell, Brandon Byers, Joenetta Dixon, Tameka Gaines Holly, and Albert Wilcox are all in the race against her.

Jacksonville municipal elections involve a “first election” in March, a blanket primary that sees the top two finishers move on to the May election, assuming no one clears 50 percent + 1 in March.

Expect the District 8 race to go the distance.

In Ferraro’s race, one can expect much less drama.

Ferraro has been a steady presence for his district in Council, advocating for issues such as drainage and other infrastructure.

His district is heavily Republican, and he is so far unopposed.

Redman seeks Council return

Of all the candidates in the 2019 Jacksonville City Council races, veteran Republican politician Matt Carlucci has the most impressive fundraising: $221,150 raised, with over $208,000 on hand.

Carlucci was alone on the ballot for at-large Group 4; however, that has changed with the filing of another man looking to return to City Council: Don Redman.

Redman, a Republican who represented a Southside Jacksonville district from 2007 to 2015, has been noted for a certain brand of social conservatism.

Don Redman has a certain conservative ‘charm.’

As the Florida Times-Union reported, he was best known on Council for asking a Muslim to “pray to his God” at the podium during a Council meeting, and for asking a lesbian at a different Council meeting if she considered herself male or female.

Redman ran most recently in the Republican primary in House District 12, a seat won by Clay Yarborough.

Redman’s fundraising was lackluster; he didn’t even raise $30,000 in the 17-month duration of his campaign. He garnered under 13 percent of the vote for a seat that encompasses his old City Council district.

It remains to be seen if Redman has broad appeal in a citywide race.

Salem clears $150K raised-mark

The money chase in the Jacksonville City Council at-large group 2 race continues to go Republican Ron Salem‘s way.

Ron Salem hits a fundraising milestone.

February saw Salem clear $150,000 cash on hand between hard money and lucre in his “Moving Jacksonville Forward” political committee.

Salem brought in $6,800 in new money to his campaign account in February, despite a $1,000 refund to Gate Petroleum.

The vast majority of the new money came from the energy sector and nursing home interests.

All told, Salem has over $143,500 on hand in his campaign account and an additional $8,000 in his committee.

Salem is well ahead of his two opponents.

Former Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Bishop has not filed February numbers yet, but had just over $13,000 at the end of January.

And Democrat Darren Mason just launched his campaign in March.

Toxic proposal

Per the Jacksonville Daily Record, plans to develop an entertainment district on a stadium parking lot may be complicated by unremediated environmental issues.

“Jaguars President Mark Lamping said in January the organization plans to turn Parking Lot J, an almost 10-acre plot west of the Daily’s Place amphitheater and a nearby retention pond, into a 250,000-square-foot entertainment district,” the Record asserts.

A planned entertainment center for Parking Lot J hits a toxic speed bump.

However, there is oil under the pavement, rendering the property usable only for industrial purposes, per the city.

Remediation would be a must. What is uncertain (at this time) is who will pay for it.

And the timetable thus far is uncertain; the Jaguars will address this matter next in April, at the annual State of the Franchise address.

Party foul

The internecine battles continue in the Republican Party of Duval County. The latest involves the county chair looking to purge the statewide chair of the Young Republicans.

County chair Karyn Morton wrote Florida Federation of Young Republicans chair Robbie Foster March 3, informing him of a motion to vote him out March 19.

A nasty note will go on Robbie Foster’s permanent record.

The cause: “highly disruptive outbursts” at the January meeting of the Duval County Republican Executive Committee. These were, per Morton, “the culmination of a pattern of disruptions over the past year … very loud outbursts and vulgar language … erratic behavior” that “frightened” REC stalwarts.

Morton offered Foster the chance to “avoid further embarrassment” by resigning before the March meeting.

Foster has no intention of resigning, he told Florida Politics Tuesday afternoon.

In fact, he sees the putsch as symbolic of rating Morton a broader issue with Morton’s leadership.

Read more here.

WJXT touts ratings win

In the world of Jacksonville television news, the February sweeps showed it was WJXT first … then everyone else.

All they do is win, win, win. No matter what.

The station cleaned up in morning news ratings, even against national competition. Evening and nighttime ratings told the same story, pointing to “THE Local Station” dominating the market.

Also worth noting: WJXT is the only one of the three local news operations with a dedicated city hall reporter, Jim Piggott.

Their operation often comes off as more old-school than the others, but at least in the Jacksonville market, that has worked up until now.

Times-Union sheds readership again

The group of those reading the Florida Times-Union in print continues to shrink, per the Jacksonville Daily Record.

Just 40,555 take the paper daily, down from over 44,000 just months ago.

Despite branding campaigns, subscription attrition continues.

Sundays also show attrition: down to 59,275 from 68.591.

Despite these drops, New Media (the parent company of GateHouse, which owns and operates the Times-Union and many other papers nationwide), sees a reason for optimism.

The belief is that the changes will start to show benefit in the next year.

Five Points: Will gentrification kill the vibe?

One recurrent storyline in Jacksonville development was revisited this week by the Florida Times-Union.

Is gentrification turning “funky” into “fancy” in Five Points?

Is the Five Points vibe dead?

Rent hikes have driven independent businesses out, with the replacements being “micro chains” with higher price points, per the article.

For those who have seen Five Points over the decades, the discussion is nothing new.

One might recall the rumors of American Apparel — back in the aughts (when that was a thing) — taking real estate in the neighborhood.

Over the years, Five Points has seen booms and busts — predicated on macroeconomic changes.

Those changes have included the rises and falls of nightclubs, coffee bars and so on.

Will gentrification hold this time?

That is the question: one that is not at all a new one.

Muckraker’s posthumous honor

Of all the journalists to work the Jacksonville market, none had a more enduring scope than recently departed Marvin Edwards.

Edwards, who died at 95 years old, wrote bristling exposes of local boondoggles almost until the end. He Was a columnist, an essayist, and a quote machine.

Longtime Jacksonville gadfly Marvin Edwards, who died at 95.

Consider these lines from a 2001 article in Florida Trend.

“This city will take a beating on the Super Bowl,” Edwards predicted. And after the national articles maligning the city’s lack of cabs and hotels and first-rate entertainment options, he was right.

“The No. 1 job of government is to serve the general public, not special interests,” Edwards said. “Jacksonville has a reputation of serving the special interests first. It’s worse now than ever.”

Spoiler alert: it never got better.

He called the donor class the “syndicate,” and it’s only for lack of gumption among his peers that phrase didn’t stick.

Edwards’ ultimate target, at least this century, was spending on the Jacksonville Jaguars; he maligned the lack of accountability of expenditures on matters ranging from bringing the team to Jacksonville to the aforementioned ill-fated Super Bowl.

“The city pledged some $3 million to the event, and ultimately spent $11 million. But despite requests from several local papers and auditors to the Jacksonville City Council for detailed financial accounting, city officials and the committee refused to provide receipts, contracts or other documentation. Although the committee was subsidized with city funds, staffed with several city employees and tasked with providing a public function on behalf of the city both the city and the committee claimed the agency’s records were not public.”

He was a gadfly. A muckraker. And the kind of journalist that doesn’t exist in this market anymore.

Now that he has passed on, it’s safe for the Jacksonville City Council to admit that he was right all along.

Read more here.


— Councilman Scott Wilson is the third person in the Jacksonville City Council VP race, joining Sam Newby and Danny Becton. Both Newby and Becton have one pledged supporter; the race is wide-open.

Rory Diamond, running to replace termed-out Bill Gulliford in Council District 13, has already banked $100,000 and has an all-star fundraiser for next week.

Rory Diamond is strong out of the gate in his bid to replace termed-out Bill Gulliford in Council District 13.

Lobbyists (Marty Fiorentino, Paul Harden, Steve Diebenow, Deno Hicks and Susie Wiles) are on board. Former Mayors (John Peyton and John Delaney) and Council Presidents-in-waiting (Aaron Bowman) are there also.

Diamond, a Tim Baker client, thus far is unopposed.

One wonders if Councilman Gulliford will endorse him … or will wait it out.

JAXPORT closer to Carnival deal

JAXPORT is eyeing its first multiyear contract with Carnival Cruise Lines.

This week, CEO Eric Green told the JAXPORT board he has been actively pursuing the agreement, and assured board members that negotiations are going well.

JAXPORT is close to inking its first multiyear deal with Carnival Cruise Lines.

As reported by the Jacksonville Business Journal, chief operating officer Fred Wong has been a critical part of the dialogue with Carnival. Wong worked with Carnival often as an assistant director at the Port of Miami before joining JAXPORT.

“It seemed as though we will go from a year-to-year contractual agreement to a multiyear contractual agreement,” said Green.

Carnival’s current contract expires May 1, Green said, and if the issue is not settled by then, an emergency board session could be called to provide an extension.

JAXPORT is continuing its strong first quarter, said CFO Michael Poole, with better-then-predicted vessel calls, container counts and revenue in January.

As the Port Authority looks toward the second phase of its harbor deepening project, JAXPORT is currently A rated by Moody’s and Fitch, essential in keeping interest rates low on its debt

With $193 million outstanding, JAXPORT is estimating liability to rise to $252 million by 2020 — bolstered by its share of the harbor deepening project, berth enhancements among other debts.

Despite that, Poole told board members he is confident JAXPORT can keep its A rating.

Crowley to open new Jacksonville cold-storage facility

Crowley Logistics is expanding its distribution capability in Florida with a second CrowleyFresh cold-storage facility.

The company is a division of Jacksonville-based Crowley Maritime Corp.

Crowley Logistics expands cold storage operations into Jacksonville with the opening of a second, temperature-controlled Florida warehouse.

Crowley’s second humidity and temperature-controlled facility will be located at its West 30th Street distribution center in Jacksonville. It will help boost cold-chain services between South Florida and Northeast Florida.

Crowley senior Vice President Frank Larkin said in a statement: “This second cold storage facility in Florida represents the latest in a series of service enhancements designed to increase the velocity of our customers’ supply chains, decrease total landed costs and offer seamless and reliable collaboration among the varying components of transport.”

The facility will handle perishables moving between the U.S., South America and the Caribbean and is designed for maximum food safety and avoid cross-contamination.

According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, CrowleyFresh is a partnership of Crowley Logistics and Miami-based Customized Brokers, which already have a facility in Miami; the new addition will expand the capability to 400,000 cubic feet of total refrigerated space and 117,000 square feet of dry storage space for non-perishables.

Customers love JAX

For the second year in a row, Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) ranked first among North American Airports for customer service.

The Airports Council International (ACI), the global airport trade association, named JAX among the leaders of the 2017 Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Awards. JAX tied for first with Indianapolis International Airport.

ASQ is the industry’s only global benchmarking program to measure overall airport passenger satisfaction. The survey covers 34 performance indicators of the customer service experience: check-in; security; wayfinding; food/beverage and more.

Customers love JAX: The airport ranked first in the latest customer satisfaction survey.

The result is a comprehensive database of customer service experiences at each participating airport.

Jacksonville Aviation Authority CEO Steve Grossman said: “Whether an airline employee, custodial staff or a restaurant server, everyone plays an integral role ensuring a world-class airport experience. None more so than input from our travelers. Their insight lets us know when we’re doing well while also providing a roadmap for future improvements.”

ASQ is the only comprehensive program to survey passengers at the airport on their day of travel. Nearly three-quarters of the world’s top 100 busiest airports are part of the ASQ network; the program served 343 airports in 2017.

“Objective measurement and benchmarking are critical in driving performance in any business especially in such a competitive and dynamic one as an airport,” said Angela Gittens, Director General, ACI World. “These winning airports have dedicated themselves to delivering a stellar customer experience.”

Joe Gruters sets his sights on Florida Senate

State Rep. Joe Gruters is setting his sights on the Florida Senate.

The Sarasota Republican announced Thursday he is filing for Senate District 23, which covers Sarasota County and parts of western Charlotte County. Incumbent state Sen. Greg Steube is vacating SD 23 to mount a bid for Tom Rooney’s Congressional seat.

Gruters, 40, has represented House District 73 since 2016.

“The campaign is about fighting every waking hour for a community that has given me so much,” Gruters said in a statement. “Fighting for good-paying jobs, cracking down on illegal immigration, and protecting the sanctity of life are issues I care deeply about. I will work tirelessly to achieve the results the men and women of this region and great state of Florida deserve.”

Gruters, a certified public accountant by trade, is also in his 10th year as Republican Party of Sarasota chair and has played an instrumental role as co-chair of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump won SD 23 by more than 14 points in 2016. In February, the president named Gruters to the Amtrak Board of Directors.

Gruters was key to bringing Trump to Sarasota twice as the Party’s “Statesman of the Year.”

Gruters also served as Gov. Rick Scott’s appointee on the Board of Trustees of Florida State University, Chairman of the Sarasota County Planning Commission, board member of the Florida Sports Foundation, and Treasurer and Executive Board member for the Sarasota County Humane Society.

As reported by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, many regional Republican leaders are already lining up behind Gruters, including U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (Gruters was a former Buchanan staffer), Steube, most of the Sarasota County commissioners, Sarasota County School Board members as well as Sarasota Sheriff Tom Knight.

NextGen America to spend $3.5M mobilizing young Floridians for midterms

NextGen America intends to spend as much as $3.5 million to register, engage and turn out young voters across the state of Florida.

With an emphasis on the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, the environmental advocacy nonprofit and political action committee created by San Francisco philanthropist Tom Steyer announced Wednesday it will also focus on key congressional districts currently held by Democrat Stephanie Murphy in Central Florida, Republican Brian Mast in the Treasure Coast, and two competitive seats in South Florida — CD 26 and 27.

“From siding with corporations at the expense of working people to denying climate change after hurricanes ravaged Florida, Rick Scott has shown himself to be entirely supportive of Donald Trump‘s reckless agenda,” said Steyer. “Young Floridians want leaders who tell the truth, not deny science and risk public health. They want leaders who will safeguard their schools and protect their friends at a nightclub. Young Floridians are fighting for change, and in November, they will be heard.”

This is not the first time that Steyer is investing major resources in the Sunshine State. He spent an estimated $15-$20 million in 2014 in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat Scott in his reelection bid against Democrat Charlie Crist.

Leading into November’s midterms, NextGen says it will hire more than 100 organizers to engage young Floridians on at least 40 campuses, including 10 community colleges and four historic black colleges and universities. NextGen Florida will contact over 1.5 million young voters, on and off campus, through voter registration, peer-to-peer conversations, and a targeted digital and mail program to elect progressives up and down the Florida ballot.

In the aftermath of the Parkland massacre, NextGen and two other gun-control groups announced last week that they would spend $1 million nationally on registering eligible high-school students to vote in the 2018 midterms, with an emphasis on Florida and California.

NextGen has had staffers on the ground — currently 53 — in Florida since 2017.

“The future is here, and it is undeniably progressive. Students from every corner of Florida have made it clear that they demand a fair, humane immigration system, racial equality, and an economy where no American is held back by the burden of unaffordable health care or education,” said Carly Cass, Youth Organizing Director of NextGen Florida. “Young voters are now the largest eligible voting bloc, and we will make a difference in the Sunshine State this year.”

NextGen’s work with young voters in Florida is part of NextGen Rising — working to register, engage, and mobilize young voters, on and off campuses, across ten states ahead of the November midterm election.

In recent months, Steyer has become prominent in nationally televised ads, spending a reported $40 million in calling for Trump’s impeachment.

Darryl Paulson: Can Democrats regain control of the Florida Congressional Delegation?

Since losing control of the Florida Congressional Delegation over a quarter-century ago, the Democrats have their best opportunity to regain control in 2018.

All the signs on both the national and state level favoring the Democrats.

After his first year, Donald Trump is the most unpopular president in modern history. The generic vote favors Democrats and they have clobbered Republicans in special elections. The most stunning was the victory of Democrat Doug Jones over Republican Roy Moore. If Republicans cannot win in ultra-red Alabama, can they win anywhere?

In Florida, Republicans have all but abandoned the race to retain the seat held by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for a quarter century. Why waste money in a seat that is heavily Democrat and that Hillary Clinton won by 20 percent.

Neighboring District 26, held by Republican Carlos Curbelo, will also be hard to retain. District 26 is the most Democratic district in the nation held by a Republican. Curbelo has raised over $2 million, so this is not a sure pickup for the Democrats.

Republican Brian Mast, in District 18, has also raised over $2 million, but pundits have moved the seat from “likely Republican” to “leans Republican.” Mast, a double amputee from the Afghan conflict, has just announced his opposition to the sale of assault weapons. Will this help or hurt his campaign?

Republican Ron DeSantis is abandoning a safe seat in District 6 to run for governor. Will Republicans be able to retain this seat against a strong challenge from Nancy Soderberg, former national security adviser for President Bill Clinton?

Republican Gus Bilirakis in District 12 has won most of his races by 20 points or more, but he faces a tough challenge from former FBI agent and federal prosecutor Chris Hunter, who has skills in attracting media attention.

Finally, Republican Vern Buchanan in District 16 faces his most difficult campaign since defeating Keith Fitzgerald by 7 percent in 2012. Shapiro is an attorney with broad name recognition and the ability to raise sufficient resources. The defeat of Buchanan’s son James in a special election for a Florida House seat has heightened concerns for Buchanan’s supporters.

Republicans still have the advantage, but Democrats need only to flip three seats to take control of the delegation.

The opportunity is there. Will the Democrats be able to take advantage of the situation?

Illinois U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos to keynote Pinellas Democrats event March 24

Illinois Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos will appear in Clearwater later this month to keynote the annual Pinellas County Democrats’ Prelude to Victory Dinner.

Bustos was one of just 12 Democrats to win her seat in the same district that President Donald Trump won in 2016, though nobody did it better, as she took Illinois’ 17th Congressional District by more than 20 points.

Several Democratic political observers consider her the “future of the party,” and her success in winning in Trumpland earned her a recent profile by POLITICO’s Michael Kruse.

The Pinellas Democratic Executive Committee says that Bustos was recommended to speak at the event by Pinellas Congressman Charlie Crist, who says she’s “great.”

“She’s an amazing leader. She has a great message. Very common-sense oriented. I think she’ll do a great job,” Crist said Monday morning.

Bustos is also involved in recruiting candidates as chairwoman of heartland engagement for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Despite her blowout election victory in 2016, Bustos’ congressional seat is still being targeted by Republicans. The National Republican Campaign Committee targeted her seat as one of the most vulnerable to going from blue to red in 2018 and ran ads against her last fall after the GOP passed its tax reform package.

Bustos speaks Saturday, March 24, from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. at Kapok Special Events Center in Clearwater.

Charlie Crist hopes Donald Trump will push for gun control regulations

While Democrats like Charlie Crist hope Washington can finally address “common sense” gun regulations in the wake of the Parkland massacre, he admits the odds aren’t great that will happen. That’s why he’s hoping President Donald Trump can intervene and push for some of the proposals he mentioned last week while meeting with legislators in the White House.

“I don’t really understand why commonsense ideas can’t be brought forward, or even discussed on the floor,” the Pinellas congressman said twhile visiting with Pinellas County School Board Chair Rene Flowers, law enforcement officials, administrators and students at Gibbs High School in South St. Petersburg on Monday morning.

“I do think these things will change, and I do think new ideas will be brought forward, I just don’t know if it’s going to be now,” Crist added. “If the President weighs in more, I think we’ll have a better shot at that, so I hope that happens.”

Trump stunned Republicans and thrilled gun-control advocates last Wednesday when he called for comprehensive gun control legislation that would expand background checks to weapons purchased at gun shows and on the internet, keep guns from mentally ill people, secure schools and restrict gun sales for some young adults.

A day later, he seemed to back off from that position after meeting with officials from the NRA, and on Friday, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that he still supported raising the age to purchase a rifle to 21 “conceptually.”

Regarding background checks,  Sanders said the president favors “not necessarily universal background checks but certainly improving the background check system.”

At Gibbs, Crist queried the students on what they felt was needed to keep their school safe.

Student body president Jameira Green, 18, said it was critical for student leaders like herself to include other students who don’t feel involved in regular school activities. She said all it takes is one student who feels alone to explode in violence, as was the case last month in Parkland.

“They feel alone, and so now that they feel alone, they have to do mass destruction to get that attention they want from their peers, so I think it’s more about the students and how they treat each other at school,” said Green.

Anthony Harrell, 17, said that school lockdowns have been very productive in making students feel safe.

“When we have an announcement, they say ‘this is not a drill, someone is on our campus,’ ” Harrell said. “Our teachers lock their doors and we cover windows. We duck and cover to make sure that no one comes in. If things are clear, we have an administrator come unlock the doors and tell us everything is all clear.”

The students all said they would feel uncomfortable with teachers being armed in schools, a proposal that Crist strongly rejects.

Clint Herbic, the Associate Superintendent of Facilities and Operations with Pinellas County schools asked Crist if the federal government would be able to set up a grant program for districts and states to have “quick access” to funds to harden the infrastructure of public school campuses.

The congressman said he’d look into it.

Flowers talked about bulletproofing doors on school campuses, something she says she wants the school district to look into.

“We want our schools to remain inviting,” she said. “We want our family members when they’re coming in, to not feel like they’re coming into a prison, they’re coming into a school environment.”


Bill Nelson bemoans snub to White House gun meeting as ‘counter productive’

Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was conspicuously absent from a meeting President Donald Trump convened Wednesday in the West Wing with key lawmakers and stakeholders in the gun violence debate following the Parkland massacre, and on Friday he dismissed the meeting as show, and predicted Trump will pivot from assurances he made there.

Speaking on the MSNBC show Morning Joe Friday, Nelson said his snub by White House officials who did not invite him to the meeting was “counter productive that they would want to exclude me” from efforts to seek any bipartisan reforms in the wake of the Feb. 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting that left 17 dead.

Nelson is likely to face Florida Gov. Rick Scott in this year’s U.S. Senate election. Scott has been a strong supporter of Trump.

The meeting did have both Florida and Democratic representation. Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was there. So was Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Orlando, who solicited the president’s support for her House Resolution 1478, a measure with some bipartisan backing, which would lift the ban on federal research into gun violence.

Friday morning, Nelson dismissed anything that Trump did offer, embracing some gun control measures, as unreliable, especially since the president followed that meeting with one Thursday night with NRA officials. Trump tweeted last night, “Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!”

Nelson accused Trump of making promises and then rejecting them days later, and said that appears to be happening already with his interest in certain gun reforms.

“It’s symptomatic of what’s happening in our society today, where everybody is retreating to polls, they’re getting very self-interested, highly partisan, highly-ideological rigid, and we’re seeing that play into this question about what do we do in the aftermath of these massacres,” Nelson said.

Nelson expressed strong pessimism that any significant reforms will clear Congress, noting that 60 votes are needed to get passage in the U.S. Senate.

“It depends on the NRA If they go and threaten our Republican brothers and sisters, that they’re going to take them on in the next election, I think it makes it very difficult for them even on something as common sense as comprehensive universal background checks,” Nelson said. “You’re right. That’s off the charts, not only nationally, but in Florida as well.”

Jacksonville Bold for 3.2.18 — March Madness

With competitive Democratic primaries, the tail end of the Legislative Session, and local City Hall intrigue, there is a lot to unpack.

However, we have not arrived at the point in the narrative with a great deal of resolution.

At least not yet.

In a literary sense, this is known as foreshadowing.

Money has not been raised or even reported. Endorsements have not been rolled out.

It is sort of like Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Power lines fill with feathered animals … a classic trope to build tension for actions ahead.

Tension mounts.

And what is to come could make some political careers … and break others.

Brown fundraises off Martin

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, a Democratic primary 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.

Alvin Brown mentioned Trayvon Martin in a fundraising pitch, notable because of his silence six years prior.

In public remarks as Jacksonville Mayor, Brown did not mention Martin, who was gunned down in 2012 by George Zimmerman in Central Florida.

However, Brown’s fundraising 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 two years in which his tenure as Mayor overlapped with the movement, he didn’t mention it explicitly either.

Read more here.

Money changes everything

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford thinks that stopping school shootings is “about how much we want to pay,” he told WJXT late last month.

The former Jacksonville Sheriff thinks more money should be spent to prevent the next Parkland.

Rutherford said:

“I think more is going to take place at the state level. And I also think you’re going to see some change at the national level. But … You know, security for schools is really a district driven issue.

“You know, we had discussed last week about dropping (filing) the bill ‘Stop Violence in Schools Act of 2018,’ which focuses on hardening the target of the schools.

“Teaching individuals what are the warning signs to look for in these individuals would later become mass killers. And then also setting up an anonymous tip line for folks to be able to call in … and to report those signs that they see.

“So the question becomes: How many, how much do you want to spend to make sure that this does not happen again?

“And then you hear people say, ‘Well, let’s not do police. Let’s do school resource officers who actually work for the school board.

“They may not be as well trained as the police … but they carry guns, and they’re qualified and all that.’

“And then they say, ‘That’s too expensive. So, let’s, you know, if we just put guns in the hands of a few teachers that could be trained, you know, let’s do that. That’s not as expensive.’

“So that’s why I say: How much do you want to pay for what kind of security?”

Rutherford draws Democratic challenger

Ges Selmont, a lawyer making his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, rolled out his campaign for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 4th Congressional District last weekend via news release.

Remarkably, there are no pictures of Ges Selmont on the internet.

Selmont will be the second Democrat vying for the nomination in a district that elected Rutherford in 2016 by over 40 points; author Monica DePaul is already in the race, though evidence of a formal campaign structure or fundraising is elusive thus far for her, and her most high-profile interview (a half-hour on WJCT) saw her struggle with even friendly questions.

“People from New York, Boston, Connecticut, and LA have expressed support. This race will be on the national radar,” Selmont said. “We will have to run a new, fresh, energetic and innovative campaign.”

Time will tell if that will unseat the former Jacksonville Sheriff.

Soderberg snags EMILY’s List endorsement

In another sign that Ambassador Nancy Soderberg has all but locked the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, EMILY’s List endorsed her Wednesday.

Nancy Soderberg continues to pile up endorsements from left-leaning groups and unions.

Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, released the following statement:

“A former deputy national security adviser to President [Bill] Clinton and ambassador to the United Nations, Nancy Soderberg knows what it means to take on tough jobs. She has used her positions to advocate change, move our country forward, and defend the rights of our citizens.”

“In her current role as a professor at the University of North Florida and a small-business owner, she is deeply invested in her community and will do what it takes to ensure that the working families of the 6th District have a voice in Washington.”

“Nancy will fight for access to quality health care, affordable higher education, and common-sense policies that will protect our environment,” Schriock asserted.

“It’s time for a representative who will actually fight for working families, which is why EMILY’s List is strongly supporting Nancy Soderberg for Congress,” Schriock added.

Fant blasts Broward Sheriff for Parkland stand down

Rep. Jay Fant, a Republican candidate for State Attorney, renewed his calls for Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel to step down in the wake of reportage that deputies stood down, as did the school resource officer, in a mass shooting that killed 17 in Parkland earlier this month.

Jay Fant has zero tolerance for the Parkland stand down.

Fant, a signatory to a letter from House Speaker Richard Corcoran on this matter, made his case on CNN Monday morning.

“We’ve seen enough from Sheriff Israel,” Fant said, noting that Israel said he demonstrated “amazing leadership” but has not demonstrated accountability in the wake of the stand down of one to four officers.

Gov. Rick Scott has avoided calls to remove Israel, instead tasking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate.

Fant did not pan this move.

“The governor is keenly sensitive to what is happening in Broward, that’s why he launched the FDLE investigation, but it’s not going to get better for Sheriff Israel, it’s going to get worse,” Fant said, referring to expected damning findings from the Coral Springs Police Department’s investigation of the incident.

Fant wants an independent prosecutor to look into what happened, he said.

In the wake of the Parkland homicides, Fant has been on national television with some frequency. He had a segment on “Meet the Press Daily” on MSNBC last week.

Former Daniels aide to primary Davis

The intrigue continues in Jacksonville area Democratic primaries, with yet another incumbent facing a primary challenge on the 2018 ballot.

The latest competitive race is in House District 13, where incumbent Rep. Tracie Davis will face a challenge from Rep. Kim Daniels‘ former district secretary, Roshanda Jackson.

Tracie Davis, a former deputy Duval County Supervisor of Elections, is a first-term State Rep.

Jackson said that she is not “running against” Davis, whom she doesn’t know. And she says that “no elected official has encouraged [her] to run.” And she takes pains to note that she doesn’t want her bid for office to be conflated with that of Rep. Daniels.

“I hope the race is peaceful,” Jackson said.

Davis, when asked about the primary challenge, noted that she is focused on the Legislative Session, with gun safety and school hardening bills among her priorities, and will turn her election to the campaign after Session.

This filing comes just weeks after Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown launched his primary challenge to Senate Minority Leader Designate Audrey Gibson.

A persistent narrative has surfaced that Brown was put up to running by Mayor Lenny Curry, which both Brown and Curry deny.

Democratic Party insiders don’t discount that narrative, but also note that another source of these primary challenges may be the post-Corrine Brown struggle for primacy in the Jacksonville Democratic machine.

‘Coward’ attacks female Fischer aide

One legislative staffer, Sadie Haire, district aide for Jacksonville Republican Jason Fischer, a supporter of the Second Amendment, got more than words from a gun control proponent.

Sadie Haire had a scare in Jason Fischer’s district office last week.

“On Wednesday, a man — a coward really — forced himself into my district office in Jacksonville demanding that the Legislature ban ‘assault weapons’ and other firearms,” Fischer asserted on Facebook. “He then attacked my district aide and said he was trying to prove a point about ‘gun control.’”

Fischer related that the man came in upset about the failed attempt to get a ban on assault weapons considered in the House. He said the man demonstrated his outrage by “slamming [Haire] into the door violently.”

“This coward was inspired to violence by the political stunt that one of my colleagues pulled on Tuesday,” Fischer said. “There is no justification, political or otherwise, for violently attacking an innocent person.”

Fischer’s office did not have the best security. There was no camera system so that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office could be given a picture, Fischer said.

Fischer added he is closing the office while figuring out what can be done.

Meet El Presidente

Jacksonville City Councilman Aaron Bowman has the ten pledges needed to secure the Council presidency starting in July.

In addition to himself, the former Mayport base commander has Scott Wilson, Sam Newby, and Reggie Gaffney committed last week. Jim Love committed Tuesday.

Aaron Bowman aligns with Lenny Curry more closely than does the current Council President.

Before that, Bowman secured the commitments of former Council Presidents Lori Boyer and Greg Anderson, along with Doyle Carter, Matt Schellenberg, and former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Hazouri.

The coalition of support Bowman has amassed is worth noting, specifically regarding the two most recent past presidents.

Boyer and Anderson worked well with Curry during their presidencies; conversely, the Anna Brosche presidency has been a divisive 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.

By late last week, Brosche was among a cadre of Council members roiled by recent revelations that Curry’s team had been exploring valuations on privatizing assets, including but not limited to JEA.

Bowman, who plays a prominent role in recruiting businesses to come to Jacksonville via the JAXUSA arm of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, takes a different view of the administration’s moves.

He backs exploration of the value of assets.

Read more here.

Privatization push not new

Though many seem to think the concept of asset privatization is something Curry just discovered, in reality, it is something that was in the works for a while longer.

Lenny Curry’s team is a united front on all issues — including exploring asset privatization.

Since Curry’s election, to be exact, when the mayor-elect’s transition committees explored the concept.

Once in office, Curry’s team began to work with former NYC deputy Mayor Steve Goldsmith, a privatization guru.

By December 2015, Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa met with members of Jacksonville’s City Council, and privatization was discussed, via “scrutinizing” department budgets, looking at what services are required, and a comparison to the private sector providing some services.

Now, in 2018, privatization is earnestly discussed — of JEA.

Read here why this might be a boon for Jacksonville’s bottom line.

The fix is in

Per the Florida Times-Union, JEA is about to commit capital to some fixes for problems exposed in back-to-back hurricane years.

The big spends: $45 million for 251,000 “smart meters” that will allow outages to be pinpointed house by house, potentially removing the dubious outage reporting that vexed customers during Irma.

Millions of dollars are proposed for meters to fix service issues that surfaced in tropical storms.

The money is there, but it will take time to go house to house and install these meters. How much time is as yet unknown.

And $100 million over five years for water-sewer system hardening, which will include more backup power generators to lower the risk of sewage spills at lift stations during power outages.

The upshot: “JEA expects to have backup power at 47 percent of stations this year, and it will be at 71 percent by 2022.”

Is slow septic phaseout killing NW Jax biz dev?

Budget hearings in August saw multiple members, including Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, lament the slow pace of septic phaseout. $6 million a year is being allocated, split between JEA and the city, for a project that could cost anywhere from $300 million to $1 billion.

Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown seek to speed up septic phaseout.

With JEA privatization or sale now a hot topic, Council members Brown and Brown, along with Sam Newby, Garrett Dennis and Gaffney, want to codify commitment to the project, via a bill (2018-76) that would obligate JEA to run sewer and water lines throughout the city.

That bill, which would secure in principle a long-awaited retrofitting of these areas, is due to be heard in committees next week.

Reggie Brown noted that businesses are avoiding the Northwest Quadrant in part because of the incomplete septic phaseout, and businesses that are in the area are getting letters from the State Attorney threatening them with shutdown if issues aren’t rectified.

He noted the paradox: the Health Department and State Attorney enforcing standards that wouldn’t be an issue if the city had fulfilled its infrastructural obligations.

Read more here.

Mason jumps into Council race

Darren Mason, a former assistant to Jacksonville City Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, is the first Democrat to jump into the 2019 at-large Group 2 race for City Council.

Florida Politics interviewed him in advance, he said he would file March 1.

Darren Mason, a former assistant to Jacksonville City Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, is the first Democrat to jump into the 2019 At-Large Group 2 race for City Council.

Unlike what is the case with some fields in Council races, Mason comes into a race facing serious competition.

Thus far, the race has been between two Republicans, and at least in terms of money, Bill Bishop continues to flail against Ron Salem.

Bishop has under $13,000 on hand; Salem has over $136,000 on hand.

Bishop is just three years removed from a spirited campaign for Mayor; Salem’s campaign is being run by Curry’s political guru, Tim Baker of Data Targeting.

Despite this competition, Mason feels confident in his way forward.

Read more here.

Word is bond

Some good news for Jacksonville came Monday via another bond upgrade.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services announced an uptick in the special revenue bond rating to ‘AA’ from ‘AA-.’

Another credit market win for the Lenny Curry administration.

“This latest upgrade further demonstrates our continued and strong focus on fiscal responsibility is making a difference for our citizens,” Curry said. “We continue to work hard to enhance the City’s standing with investors by doing all we can to ensure the City’s financial stability for years to come. Improved credit ratings can save our city millions of dollars on future debt issues by lowering borrowing costs, which is good for taxpayers.”

Per the media release: “Citing a change to their ratings methodology, S&P said they now consider both non-ad valorem and general fund pledges as equal since both are dependent on the successful operation of the City. The City of Jacksonville’s special revenue pledge is a non-ad valorem pledge, and backs $1.027 billion of the City’s debt outstanding as of Sept. 30, 2017.”

Jacksonville, 1941

Legendary local essayist Marvin Edwards died last month, after an epic career that included everything from WW2 spy work to more contemporaneous exposes of Jacksonville City Hall shenanigans.

The Jacksonville Daily Record ran a piece of Edwards’ from 1941, in which he took a look at a “boomtown” that exists still, but not in the same way.

Jacksonville’s thriving downtown was noteworthy … 77 years ago.

“Saturday nights, the downtown area reminds one very much of Times Square. All the theaters are jammed, and it’s almost impossible to find a place to park.”

Edwards was taking a hard look at what happened to Jacksonville: the military-industrial complex.

From shipbuilding downtown to Camp Blanding to the south, the city and surrounding areas were growing because of that buildup.

Banking was big, as well.

The build-out, of course, has been suburban and exurban in recent years. But for those who live in the city’s urban core, hope remains that downtown, somehow, can regain its bygone luster.

Szymanski ‘thrilled’ to become UNF president

In an interview with the University of Florida’s Colin McCann, newly named University President David Szymanski talks about his plans, goals and his “strongest assets” – creating personal relationships and teamwork.

“He mentioned his experience playing basketball,” McCann writes, “saying, ‘One of the things that basketball does for you is thinking of that notion of team. It’s everybody together, and it’s people helping each other out and working collaboratively.’”

David Szymanski is ‘thrilled’ to be selected as UNF president.

Szymanski believes his biggest challenge will be overcoming the time constraints while bringing together people from all parts of the campus and the UNF community. “He wants to look into additional learning opportunities for students, like applied research and internships, building on top of opportunities that are already in place at UNF.”

“My job is to do things well and create opportunities for other people,” Szymanski said. “And I think it’s an exciting time to be a student and an exciting time to be at UNF … I’m just thrilled and honored and humbled to be the next president of the University of North Florida.”

Teen employees get ‘hands-on experience’ at Jacksonville Zoo

Fourteen local teens serve as employees of the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens, part of a city-sponsored Wildlife Immersion and Leadership Development (WILD) program. Since 2016, the teen employment program has incorporated leadership development, public-speaking instruction and lessons in zoology and horticulture.

While animal-related interests are not required, some of the youths in the program see working with animals as a long-term career path.

Jacksonville Zoo’s WILD program offers a diverse group of teens firsthand experience with animals, leadership, and community.

According to the Florida Times-Union, WILD is for culturally-diverse teens aged 14 to 18 who live or attend school or church in 10 Jacksonville ZIP codes targeted by the Jacksonville Journey anti-crime initiative, primarily from the Northside and Northwest areas of the city. Applicants go through a rigorous application process and work Saturdays during the school year, and full time in the summer months.

First-year students in the program are called stewards. In the second year, they graduate to become ambassadors and take more leadership responsibility. In the final year of the program, they help develop educational outreach programs in their communities, including bringing small animals on tour. The zoo outreaches are free and go to the organization or facility that has shown an influence in the teens’ lives.

“It’s been a great experience,” said Marquese Fluellen, 18, who is in his second year of the program and attends Wolfson High School. “I always wanted a career in animal handling but didn’t know where to start.”

Kathy Castor urges Rex Tillerson to restore U.S. diplomats to Cuba

Fresh off a Cuban visit last week, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is calling on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to return consular officials and diplomatic personnel to the U.S. Embassy in Havana as soon as possible.

Tillerson withdrew 60 percent of diplomats from the embassy in Havana last fall after unexplained attacks harmed at least 22 American government workers and family members. Investigators explored the possibility of a “sonic attack” injuring diplomats through sound waves; they discovered no device nor a culprit.

“While I appreciate your overriding concern with the health and safety of our diplomats following the unexplained health incidents, it is time to increase staffing and re-establish an American presence to serve our interests and our citizens,” the Tampa Democrat wrote in the letter to Tillerson sent Wednesday.

The State Department is scheduled to decide the status of the embassy by next week.

Shortly after Tillerson ordered the removal of U.S. diplomats from Cuba, the State Department then opted to suspend all visa processing in Havana, moving that function to Bogota, Columbia.

Castor, representing a district that is home to one of the largest Cuban-American populations in the country, said it’s “unreasonable and unaffordable” for Cubans who want to travel to Tampa or Miami to go to another country to do so.

The U.S. had provided 1,100 visas a month to Cuban immigrants last year before the diplomatic imbroglio; that number has since trickled down to just 350 per month.

In 2013, Castor became the first member of Congress from Florida to call for removing the Cuban economic embargo, a decision that can only happen via a congressional vote. She has consistently championed the liberalization of the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba since the early part of this decade.

But the diplomatic breakthrough started by President Barack Obama in late 2014 came to a screeching halt when Donald Trump was elected in 2016. Among the policy changes his administration rolled back from the Obama White House was travel.

Last summer, Trump announced that Americans would no longer be able to plan their own private trips to Cuba, and those who did had to go through authorized educational tours, subject to strict new rules and audits to ensure that they are not going just as tourists.

Castor calls that plan “overreaching.”

“This is counterproductive and complicates America’s ability to support everyday Cubans and promote the exchange of ideas,” The Tampa Democrat complains.

Castor visited Cuba earlier this month with fellow Democratic Reps. James McGovern from Massachusetts and Susan Davis from California, as well as Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Gary Peters from Michigan and Ron Wyden from Oregon.

The entire delegation, except for Castor, chose to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro during the visit. Castro will step down in April.

You can read Castor’s letter here.

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