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Democrat gubernatorial forum underwhelms

Great theater it was not.

Few significant policy disagreements emerged from a three-way candidate forum at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Lake Buena Vista that featured former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham again confessing her admiration for her current opponents: Orlando businessman Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Buoyed by a win in a special election for a state Senate seat last month, Florida Democrats are preparing plans for the critical 2018 election year when they hope to reclaim the governor’s mansion.

The three Democrats aiming to do that did reveal some differences, particularly about their backgrounds, even as they sounded similar on most policy questions.

Take the issue of immigration, for example.

King said he would do everything in his power to help the tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program stay in the country.

“When we hear our governor and our president decry immigrants, refer to them as illegals, a person can’t be an illegal, but they use that terminology to strip away the humanity of our brothers and sisters,” Gillum said.

“I’m the one person here who has voted to keep Dreamers,” Graham boasted.

Such comity will not exist when debating immigration against, say, Adam Putnam.

Hundreds of Democrats watched Gillum, Graham, and King share a disdain for Republican rule, fleshing out programs and policies that they would implement if elected.

Right before the forum, Gillum proposed a series of six more debates (not just forums) between all the candidates before the primaries next August. Next week the field is expected to grow by one when Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine joins the fray, as anticipated.

Orlando attorney and entrepreneur John Morgan created a buzz among delegates when he entered the lobby a half-hour before the debate began. Several Democrats greeted him enthusiastically as he ordered a drink.

Morgan said he’ll decide on entering the race sometime in early 2018.

So back to the three candidates on the stage.

When it came to combating climate change and ripping into the climate deniers in Tallahassee and Washington D.C., the trio sang from the same song sheet.

“We’re sitting here in Disney World, ” said Graham. “Well, Donald Trump and Rick Scott are in fantasyland.”

“We need a governor who believes in science,” said Gillum.

King was effusive about climate change, saying sea level rise presents a “tremendous opportunity for Florida.” He compared the issue to John F. Kennedy’s moonshot, who declared after becoming president that the nation would put a man on the moon.

Finding a way to reduce sea level rise could bring out the best minds from around the country, King said, allowing Florida to become a “research mecca.”

Onstage, Graham exuded warmth and sweetness, telling the 550 people who paid more $250 for a seat at the dinner (with an auxiliary room televising the debate to another 250 or so) that she had a message for the GOP candidates — she’s a hugger.

“But in a second, just like that, it can turn into a headlock — just ask Steve Southerland,” she said, referring to the Republican she vanquished in her only bid for Congress in 2014.

As for King, he distinguished himself by emphasizing affordable housing, which makes sense since that’s what he does for a living.

When asked about the most significant health care issue in the state, Gillium wasn’t specific, only to blame Florida Republicans: “The biggest threat to health care in this state is Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature.”

Gillum also spoke of their refusal to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Graham again called for a public option. Interestingly, she said she would push for that on a state level, saying that she couldn’t wait for Congress to make that change in Washington.

King said he hadn’t given up on the idea that Florida might still expand Medicaid.

One proposal King staked out on his own was a plan for free tuition for community college and trade school education.

Some people expressed concerned that Democrats couldn’t keep up with the Republicans in fundraising — especially a year out from the race; it was a fact spotlighted last week by the Orlando Sentinel.

But, earlier in the day, Jeremy Ring knocked down that notion.

Ring, the only Democrat currently in the CFO race, said that with exceptions of the usual corporations, nobody is really paying attention to the race so far out.

“These articles appear to speak to about six people,” Ring said … perhaps (slightly) underestimating the appetite among political junkies.

“Let’s go to a Miami Dolphins or a Tampa Bay Bucs [game] and ask anyone in the stands whether they read any of these articles. It’s not real.”

Kevin Griffith, vice chair of the Sarasota County Democratic Executive Committee, said: “There’s uncertainty about who is at the head of the pack right now, but we’re at a point where we want new ideas and new blood.”

Earlier in the afternoon, party delegates voted — 860-13 — on 15 policy resolutions, an almost unanimous vote that had Democrats congratulating themselves for expressing near harmony.

Among those votes included a gun-control measure: “The Florida Democratic Party supports policies that regulate semiautomatics and accessories, including but not limited to, all semi-automatic weapons; armor- piercing ammunition; high capacity magazines or clips that can hold more than 10 bullets at a time; and bump stocks or any accessory that simulates the ability of a fully automatic weapon.”

There was an environmental resolution that also thrilled Alan Newell, chair of the Democratic Environmental Caucus.

“I look at the kind of things that have been done environmentally against the people’s interest in the state of Florida for the last seven or eight years … The DEP has been decimated, we can’t mention the words climate change, it’s against the law in Tallahassee, and I think that’s just awful and that shouldn’t people what the peel in the state of Florida should be paying for.”

Julian Castro offers a ’21st-century blueprint’ at Democratic summit

Julian Castro is among three dozen or so Democrats considering running for president in 2020.

Maybe that’s why his 24-minute keynote address Saturday at the Florida Democratic Party’s statewide conference sounded like a stump speech, one ready-made for a national road trip.

The charismatic former San Antonio mayor and Housing and Urban Development secretary under Barack Obama spoke to hundreds of Democratic delegates gathered at Disney’s Coronado Springs. He mixed humor and passion, while talking about a background that could make him the leading Latino figure in the Democratic Party.

The 43-year-old native Texan began with light-hearted remarks comparing his home state to Florida, noting how both are controlled by Republican governors and legislatures that “need to get the heck out of the way and let Democrats come back and show Texas and Florida how to run a state.”

Castro then spent several minutes blasting President Donald Trump, calling him”quite a piece of work.”

“Just the other day he had spoken with the President of the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Castro deadpanned to guffaws from the crowd. “Which was all good, except he’s the President of the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

“He doesn’t know anything about policy,” he continued. “He doesn’t know anything about history. He doesn’t know how the government works, and he’s too busy golfing, or tweeting or insulting people to LEARN how to be a good president,” he said.

That sentence was typical of Castro’s vocal style, choosing a keyword or phrase to punch up and excite the audience.

“Whether he’s doing it on purpose or just totally incompetent, the fact is this administration has UTTERLY failed fellow American citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to get back on their feet,” he said to applaus).

Castro then segued into saying how he missed President Obama (a sure-fire crowd pleaser at a Democratic event), discussing how his life was transformed when Obama called in 2014 and asked him to succeed Shaun Donovan as HUD secretary.

And he talked about the pride his family felt when he and his twin brother (U.S. Represenative Joaquin Castro) were both accepted to Stanford University in 1992, only to face the immediate challenge of a formidable $28,000 annual tuition price tag. Castro noted he was able to pay for his education through a Perkins Loan and Pell Grants and other aid.

“I’m convinced that our country has been greatest when it expects hard work from individuals and from their families,” he said. “But then when it matches that hard work with MEANINGFUL opportunity in life, no matter the skin color or how much money someone makes or their resume or their religion or who they love, that has been the greatest success of our country.”

It ultimately led to his outline of a “21st-century blueprint.”

For Castro, that means investing in “brain power,” which is translated into more pay for teachers, universal Pre-K, investing in good universities and job training programs.

As for jobs that will continue to be lost due to automation, Castor said: “We don’t have a single person to WASTE in this country. We need everybody’s talent. We need to make sure that EVERYONE counts in our country, not just some people!”

Now teaching at the University of Texas, Castro will be making many more appearances for Democrats ahead of the midterm elections. It could only help further build up a national following if Castro does choose a presidential run in 2020.

 

Julian Castro ‘absolutely not’ closing the door on 2020 plans

 A little more than a year after he didn’t become Hillary Clinton‘s running mate, Julian Castro remains a hot political entity.

The former San Antonio Mayor and Barack Obama‘s Housing and Urban Development Secretary told reporters in South St. Petersburg Friday that his only immediate political plans are helping out as many good Democrats as possible for the 2018 midterm elections.

Castro is getting a head start, though, coming to town to help St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman‘s re-election bid.

“It’s not too often that you have a mayor who has gotten as many things done as Mayor Kriseman has and created greater opportunities for the city,” Castro said. “So, when they called I was glad to come out and help.”

“They” would be the Democratic National Committee.

DNC Chair Tom Perez said Friday that the national party cares very much about Kriseman’s battle with former two-term Mayor Rick Baker, a Republican.

“The new DNC is about electing Democrats from the school board to the Oval Office, so we are doubling-down on our commitment to re-elect Mayor Rick Kriseman and electing Democrats up and down the ticket,” Perez said.

“St. Petersburg deserves the proven leadership of Mayor Kriseman, who will continue to tackle the big challenges facing Floridians and who has worked to reduce poverty and provide [an] opportunity to every citizen of St. Pete,” Perez continued. “Unlike Rick Baker, there’s no one Mayor Kriseman won’t stand up to — including Rick Scott and Donald Trump.

Democrats in Texas had recruited him to consider a run against Ted Cruz in the Senate or Greg Abbott for governor, but Castro said he turned those opportunities down. Instead, he is focusing on writing a book and teaching at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs.

“I’m going to be out there basically helping great candidates and leaders in different parts of the country, and then we’ll see after that,” Castro said, adding that he is definitely considering a 2020 White House run.

“I’ve said very clearly I’m not going to take that off the table,” he said.

With Latinos becoming a larger portion of the U.S. population, the Mexican-American Castro emerged as a serious vice presidential possibility in 2016; he also could be a contender for either side of a Democratic ticket in 2020.

Castro and Kriseman (joined by Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel) visited the offices of the Pinellas Ex-offender Re-entry Coalition (PERC) 16th Street South, part of the Southside CRA. Afterward, he joined Congressman Charlie Crist for a private fundraiser for Kriseman.

On Saturday, Castro will appear in Orlando as the lunchtime speaker at the Florida Democratic Party statewide conference.

(Photo by Kim DeFalco).

Julian Castro visits St. Pete, praises Southside CRA program

Julian Castro came to St. Petersburg Friday, where he took a tour of the flagship offices of the Pinellas Ex-offender Re-entry Coalition (PERC).

During his visit, the former Housing and Urban Development Secretary praised the work of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman in helping give ex-felons opportunities for a second chance, as well as (politely) take issue with proposed federal cuts to city programs that have proposed by Donald Trump‘s administration.

From 2009-2014, Castro served as San Antonio Mayor before Barack Obama named him to serve as his HUD Secretary in the final two years of his administration. Castro was glad to appear on behalf of Kriseman, highlighting the mayor’s work on the city’s Southside.

“I’m happy to see this kind of great work that is going to provide greater opportunity for folks who have paid their debt to society, folks who are willing to work hard for a second chance in life,”  Castro said Friday morning.

PERC is the lead agency of the CRA Workforce Development Council, working to increase employment within the South St. Pete CRA.

As an ex-offender outreach program, PERC provides a variety of re-entry services to those released from prison or with criminal backgrounds. Services include resume writing assistance, anger management and life-skill classes, an outpatient substance abuse group and job placement assistance.

Castro and Kriseman took a tour of the David T. Welch Center for Progress and Community Development building on 16th Street South, hosted by Michael Jalazo, PERC’s CEO and executive director.

Taking questions from reporters after the tour, Castro was circumspect about his successor, Dr. Ben Carson, whose appointment by Trump was criticized because he came without previous government and never managed anything close to the size of HUD, an agency with a $47 billion budget to help 5 million low-income families.

Castro hopes Carson would “pushback” on Trump’s proposed 2018 budget that seeks to cut $6 billion in HUD spending.

Programs eliminated in Trump’s budget plan would include HOME Investment Partnerships, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), Choice Neighborhoods Initiative and the National Housing Trust.

Jalazo wasn’t so shy in criticizing the cuts, saying those who dismiss that news doesn’t realize that those cuts directly affect cities.

“You’re talking about some of the community development block grants, you’re talking about the different kind of financial institutions that go into communities like this,” he said. “We’re really concerned on the local level.”

“It’s easy in Washington D.C. to talk about ‘slashing a budget,’ but we feel the effects at the local level and amongst the most vulnerable communities,” Castro added.

During a candidate forum earlier this month, former two-term Mayor Rick Baker said he would absolutely fight CDBG cuts impacting St. Petersburg.

Kriseman thanked Castro for helping to intervene in the Commerce Park-area of South St. Pete. In 2014, Kriseman realized the city was facing the loss of several million dollars from HUD, money used to generate jobs “that hadn’t been created under the last two administrations.”

“The secretary was kind enough to give us time to do things differently,” Kriseman said, adding the city used those funds — that it did not have to pay back — to purchase the Tangerine Plaza site in the Southside.  Currently, the site sits empty after War-Mart departed earlier this year.

(Photo credit: Kim DeFalco).

New FDP ad morphs ‘Changed Man’ Rick Baker into Donald Trump

With just 11 days left in the St. Petersburg mayoral contest, the Florida Democratic Party is airing a new ad bashing Rick Baker.

The 30-second ad begins with footage of an angry Baker speaking after receiving Aug. 29 primary results. His face then morphs into Donald Trump‘s visage, while the narrator criticizes him for failing to call out Trump after he made remarks in August that neo-Nazi’s and KKK members in Charlottesville “very fine people.”

Then, the ad cites local media organizations who called out Baker last week for his radio ad that criticized Kriseman for failing to appear at an NAACP event, which was not true.

“The new Rick Baker: angry, deceptive and backwards,” the narrator intones.

Florida Democratic Party Deputy Communications Director Amir Avin says: “Rick Baker is taking a page from Donald Trump’s playbook. He’s willing to say or do anything to win an election — anything besides challenge Donald Trump. Even when Trump embraced white supremacists, Baker was silent.”

“Now that his campaign is flailing,” Avin continues, “he’s willing to lie if it means getting his old job back. Baker seems to have traded his dignity for $25,000 from the RNC.”

Nevertheless, as Florida Politics reported in August, Baker did say something about Charlottesville.

On Twitter, Baker wrote: “Every American, including every public official at every level, has the moral obligation to reject and condemn the White Supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis and all others who promote racism. These groups trade in hatred and are responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, period.”

“Rick Kriseman is trying to hide from the voters because he doesn’t want to talk about the fact that he hired and empowered a man over education police who was arrested and charged in 2001 with “lewd and lascivious” behavior toward two students while he was a substitute teacher,” said Nick Hansen, campaign director for Rick Baker.

The FDP has put considerable resources into Rick Kriseman‘s campaign, as did the Democratic National Committee.

On Thursday, former Vice President Joe Biden cut a robocall for Kriseman; former President Barack Obama endorsed Kriseman just days before the late August primary.

 

 

Rick Baker not yet finished with Kevin King, ad blasts Rick Kriseman ‘tolerance’

Rick Baker is not quite finished with Kevin King.

In a new radio ad released Friday morning, the former two-term mayor is once again blasting incumbent St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman for a “lack of judgment” in hiring King as his longtime chief of staff.

Throughout the week, Baker’s campaign continually hammered his opponent on the issue of King’s now 16-year-old arrest. While the incident had been reported several times in the past, it only re-emerged as a campaign issue in the St. Pete mayoral race this week.

Produced by Seamless Florida, Baker’s political committee, the “Tolerance” radio spot cites several Tampa Bay Times articles between 2001 through 2013 “outlining the order of events that led Kriseman to hire and promote” King, a former Pinellas County substitute teacher arrested in 2001 for sending emails and internet messages to two female students, ages 14 and 15, asking them to skip school and drink beer with him.

Police also accused King of asking the 14-year-old to perform a sex act.

“Rick Kriseman knew this,” the female narrator says in the ad. “But chose to hire this guy anyway … Then put him in charge of education policy.”

The ad does not mention King by name.

“I’ll never forgive Rick Kriseman for this,” the woman continues. “It’s sickening.”

Unlike a previous TV ad from Seamless, Baker himself appears in the spot, with a voice-over saying he has “zero tolerance for putting our children at risk.”

The minute-long ad also has Baker criticizing Kriseman for his “previous tolerance of hate speech” – looking the other way when mayoral candidate Paul Congemi told Uhuru supporters to “go back to Africa” during a candidate forum earlier this year.

“This is got to stop,” Baker concludes.

Police arrested King at the time, booking him on three charges: one count of computer solicitation to commit a lewd and lascivious act, and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The Pinellas County school district fired him soon afterward.

King was never convicted, and court records were sealed and expunged.

“Rick Kriseman’s poor judgment and the tolerance that he has shown for hate speech and lewd and lascivious behavior in our own city, against our own residents and children is unconscionable,” said Baker campaign manager Nick Hansen in a statement.

The ad can be heard below:

Jacksonville Bold for 10.27.17 — Looking toward 2018

When it comes to statewide races in 2018, does Northeast Florida have a dog in the hunt?

That’s a matter of interpretation.

One of our big scoops this week — Congressman Ron DeSantis (insiders affirm) is ramping up for a possible run for Florida governor.

DeSantis’ wife is on local television; he represents a district a few miles south of the Duval County line.

Is DeSantis “local”? Depends on your definition.

Geographically, sure. But regarding actually appearing responsive to Jacksonville concerns, that’s an open question. There are few local Republicans who sing his praises.

Meanwhile, down the ballot, local state Rep. Jay Fant is running for Attorney General.

While Fant is positioning himself as the local candidate, regional endorsements have been split between him and his two primary opponents, Ashley Moody and Frank White — who got Reps. Cord Byrd and Cyndi Stevenson to back him right after entering the race.

Northeast Florida punches above its weight in Republican primary turnout, but there are very much open questions as to whether local pols can compete statewide this cycle.

DeSantis for governor? It’s happening

The race for the 2018 Republican gubernatorial nomination could soon pick up even more star power, this time in the form of Congressman DeSantis.

Obviously, that would open DeSantis’ congressional seat just south of Jacksonville, meaning the end of a somewhat anticipated general election battle against former Clinton Administration U.N. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg.

Ron DeSantis looks poised to leap into the governor’s race. Finally.

For one thing, DeSantis spent the summer meeting with conservative donors discussing the governor’s race.

There has also been a shift in online presence: DeSantis2016.com is now being redirected to RonDeSantis.com.

Likewise, the tagline on the new website speaks to a new emphasis: “Ron DeSantis for Florida.” As is a change in imagery, with lifeguard towers replacing Capitol Hill-style graphics.

All of this points to a pivot in focus — perhaps to a statewide run many anticipated back in the 2016 cycle when DeSantis dominated fundraising in the U.S. Senate race until Marco Rubio reconsidered his presidential bid and ran for re-election.

Time is of the essence for DeSantis’ launch, which looks likely to be in November; on the Republican Party side of the ledger, fundraising is already fast and furious. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is still the clubhouse leader, with $19.19M raised thus far between committee cash and money in the campaign account.

DeSantis’ entry could prove most damaging to Putnam, who is attempting to stake out the right flank in the primary.

Corrine Brown wants sentencing delay

There may be a chance that the Brown saga sprawls out into 2018, as her team wants to postpone her November sentencing at least four months.

A brief motion from her legal team contends that Hurricane Irma “caused extensive damage to her home and destroyed many of her personal papers and effects … severely affected her and others in their ability to assist defense counsel in preparing for sentencing.”

No word on whether this hat and jacket survived the floods.

“In addition, she was recently informed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that her home is inhabitable,” the motion reads, adding malapropism to the miscarriage of justice.

The feds don’t support this motion, and a full response is expected later in the week.

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown asserted in the past that he would launch a race against Rep. Al Lawson once Corrine Brown was out of the news.

More recently, he told local Democrats at the Duval Democratic Executive Committee that he will be on a ballot soon and to expect an announcement.

Cord Byrd ramps up re-election bid

Next month, Byrd begins ramping up his House District 11 re-election campaign in earnest, with few worries about a primary challenge as the Fernandina Beach Republican looks to defend a deep-red seat.

2018 is in Cord Byrd’s (and other state House members) sights.

Byrd is slated for a Nov. 3 event at Ed Malin‘s Angie’s Subs in Jacksonville Beach, a usual stop for Republican candidates.

Nov. 13 finds Byrd making his Nassau County launch at the Fernandina Beach Diner.

Both events have 5:30 p.m. start times.

Thus far, Byrd’s fundraising this cycle has been in low gear: he raised $400 in September, against $2,549 spent, bringing his total cash on hand to just under $16,000.

Byrd’s fundraising started slower than some candidates in 2016’s Republican Party primary election, yet it didn’t matter in the end. Expect the first-term Republican’s fundraising to fall into place in the coming months.

NE FL House members buck Jay Fant in AG race

Questions about Rep. Fant’s bid for the Republican Party nomination for Attorney General weren’t abated late last week when two of his Florida House colleagues endorsed a primary opponent.

Frank White took two key NE Florida endorsements recently. More to come?

Reps. Byrd and Cyndi Stevenson went with Rep. Frank White, a Pensacola Republican who is targeting NE FL as a hotbed for votes in next year’s primary.

Stevenson called White a “principled conservative who will stand up and fight for our shared values while always upholding the rule of law.”

Byrd called White a “consistent conservative and strong defender of the Second Amendment … an effective advocate for Florida and a man of principle and integrity.”

For his part, White included Byrd and Stevenson in his “statewide network of leaders who agree that we need a proven conservative as the next Attorney General.”

The case for White: Ashley Moody can be hit from the right, Fant can’t even lock down his home base. Expect more endorsements to go White’s way from this region.

Charles Cofer: PD office broke

In the Jacksonville Daily Record, 4th Circuit Public Defender Cofer made a startling claim.

When Cofer took office at the start of the year, its budget was in tatters.

Sheriff Mike Williams backed candidate Charles Cofer in 2016.

“It was projecting out very poorly. We had six months to make adjustments,” Cofer said.

Cofer trimmed staff, including a $70,000 public information officer position, early on.

“That got us caught up on the salary and benefits side. It gave us a little breathing room,” Cofer said.

Lower unemployment in September

Last week saw Gov. Rick Scott‘s Department of Economic Opportunity release September job numbers for Northeast Florida, a mixed bag in the wake of Irma.

NE FL’s hospitality industry is losing jobs year over year.

The good news, via the DEO: the Jacksonville area’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.4 percent in September, down 1.4 points from September 2016.

Unemployment rates ranged from 2.7 percent in St. Johns County to 4.5 percent in rural Putnam County.

The governor’s office prefers year-over-year comparisons, and to that end, some interesting results.

Two industries that have lost jobs over the year augur a potential economic slowdown: leisure and hospitality (-3,800 jobs) and mining, logging and construction (‐500 jobs).

All told, nonagricultural employment in the Jacksonville MSA was 677,000, an increase of 2,900 jobs (+0.4 percent) over the year.

Room for improvement

A new study reported by WJXT reveals room for improvement for Duval County State Attorney’s office at the end of the Angela Corey era.

Using 2016 numbers, the Caruthers Institute noted that 469 Duval youth were arrested for minor offenses and that 72 percent were eligible for civil citations.

Duval’s Sheriff’s Office and School District were given an “F” for their use of civil citations. Clay County got a similar score. Both counties are in the 4th Judicial Circuit.

Melissa Nelson and other local leaders: all smiles before issuing a May MOU.

Melissa Nelson took over the SAO in January, and in May issued a memorandum of understanding with local sheriff’s offices and other authorities to use civil citations wherever practicable.

“This new agreement for pre-arrest diversion will expand and enhance the juvenile civil citation program uniformly throughout the circuit,” read a release from Nelson’s office.

No censure for cop-conflict Councilors

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche mulled censure against political allies Katrina Brown and Reggie Gaffney after they bickered with cops last month — but decided to leave punitive action to “other entities.”

Council protects its own, offering Duval’s equivalent to diplomatic immunity.

Potential censure was floated two weeks ago, in the wake of a highly publicized and highly charged confrontation between Gaffney and Brown and police officers after a Council meeting last month.

Weeks ago, Gaffney walked back an attempt to leverage his power as a Councilman to check the officers who pulled him over for driving around on a tag he reported stolen.

However, Brown — who accused officers of racial profiling when she arrived at the scene — has yet to apologize. And has no plans to.

Ethics commissions — local or state — may be one recourse.

Another possibility: local Fraternal Order of Police head Steve Zona encouraging an ally on Council to file a censure resolution.

Things could get very real very quickly if that happened. But this Council prizes collegiality over most other considerations.

Opioid suit, Hart Bridge study, Section 8 rehab

The Jacksonville City Council passed a few bills of note ahead of next week’s timely “fifth week” break from committee hearings.

— $1.5M for Hart Bridge study: Jacksonville is looking at a way to get federal money to reconfigure the offramps from the Hart, with the current justification being to improve freight traffic headed to Talleyrand. In 2016, the argument was routing people to the Sports Complex; however, that wouldn’t get a federal grant.

Shifting rationales have emerged for the Hart Bridge project.

Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa pushed in committees last week for $1.5 million for a “design criteria project.” Tuesday saw the full Council green light it.

This $1.5 million is important, said Mousa, because the city is pursuing a federal infrastructure grant of $25 million, with $12.5 million from Florida in matching money and $12.5 million from the city.

— Opioid lawsuit moves forward: Resolution (2017-674) will allow the city’s general counsel to “investigate and pursue” a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, and choose outside representation. Each firm’s financial capability to pursue the matter is among criteria considered.

— Big-ticket rehab for Section 8 properties: Jacksonville City Council resolution 2017-671, which would authorize $90,000,000 in Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority bonds for Millennia Housing Management (MHM) to “finance, acquire, rehab & equip four Multifamily Rental Housing Developments,” was approved by Council committees of reference last week. It sailed through Council at large.

Rose Conry to CareerSource Board

This week, Gov. Scott announced five reappointments and three appointments to the CareerSource Florida board of directors.

One of them is a Jacksonville City Council candidate.

Rose Conry will be the Chamber’s Choice in the Jacksonville District 6 race.

Conry, of Jacksonville, is the CEO of Stafftime. She is reappointed for a term ending July 6, 2019.

Conry is running to replace termed-out Matt Schellenberg in City Council District 6.

Council VP Aaron Bowman, who also has a gig with the Jacksonville Chamber’s JaxUSA business development wing, tweeted affirmation, saying he “could not think of a better board member.”

Justice for Keegan movement soldiers on

It looks as if State Attorney Nelson is no closer to filing charges against Michael Centanni IV for shooting and killing Keegan Von Roberts in a neighborhood dispute.

Vigils for Keegan Von Roberts thus far have not changed Melissa Nelson’s mind.

However, First Coast News reports that advocates for Von Roberts’ side are continuing to keep the pressure on, with a vigil/press event over the weekend.

Protesters/mourners want a “police accountability council” — the latest in a series of proposals by Jacksonville activists to provide more oversight from civilians to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

Charter can’t impose a citizen’s review board; Jacksonville’s sheriff is an elected, not appointed, official.

Von Roberts’ mother vows to continue the fight for justice.

“I told Melissa Nelson, you get to go home to your kids. Mine laid there and died. I had to carry mine on my shoulders and my granddaughter I buried. So it is not a joke to me, it may be a joke to them,” First Coast News said.

Amari Harley death points to Jax infrastructure crisis

On Sunday night, 3-year-old Amari Harley went missing from a birthday party in a Jacksonville park.

The city of Jacksonville is still fact-finding in the death of 3-year-old Amari Harley.

His body was found in that park the next day in an underground septic storage tank usually topped by a “heavy rubber lid screwed down,” as Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry put it Tuesday.

Harley’s death, it will be argued soon enough, might have been avoided if he’d lived near a park where holes in the ground were adequately secured and fenced off.

During remarks to the press Tuesday, Curry spoke of “neglected infrastructure all over the city,” adding that Tuesday was “not the time to point fingers” at past administrations.

“Major infrastructure issues,” such as road resurfacing and public safety vehicle problems, “have been festering for years.”

Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa noted in a budget hearing last summer that the city could use a $400M capital improvement budget.

“I would ensure our roads and infrastructure are up to the standards that the residents of Jacksonville both expect and deserve,” Curry vowed in 2015 after the Liberty Street Collapse — which called attention to previous administrations neglecting infrastructure.

Clearly, there’s still a way to go.

Duval drone company gets DoD deal

Good news for a Jacksonville drone company.

Per WJCT, Drone Aviation Company got $800,000 from the Department of Defense for its Winch Aerostat Small Platform.

Why?

Drone Aviation builds high-end UAVs for a variety of different applications.

“With its multimission capabilities operating at the edge, the WASP delivers persistence in a mobile, small footprint tactical solution, one that enables our military to see and do more, without the high costs and significant support requirements of larger existing aerostat solutions,” asserted a company rep.

The WASP system also works at night and can be operated by two or more soldiers.

Orange Park goes green

A rollicking column from Folio Weekly takes a look at the Orange Park town commission’s 3-2 vote earlier this month to extend medical cannabis dispensaries to Orange Park.

“The new rules stipulate that dispensaries cannot be within 500 feet of a school, or of each other, and cannot have advertising signs that can be seen from the street. The city’s first dispensary has already gotten around that by having a delivery vehicle, which I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about soon,” per Folio writer Shelton Hull.

Orange Park gives the OK for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Folio notes that, regarding MMJ, policy lags behind the body politic.

“If there’s one thing that election cycle taught us, it’s that the will of the voters really means diddly-squat, in terms of the political endgame, which is why OP (where 67 percent of voters assented to the referendum) remains the only city in the county to actually do it, so far. The response from neighboring burgs, including Green Cove Springs, has been a resounding ‘Meh,’” Folio’s writer observes.

Scott names Victor Raymos to St. Augustine- St. Johns County Airport Authority

This week, Gov. Scott announced the appointment of Victor Raymos to the St. Augustine — St. Johns County Airport Authority.

Raymos, of St. Augustine, is the Association Executive and Chief Executive Officer of the St. Augustine — St. Johns County Board of Realtors and the former Chief Executive Officer of Sellers Choice, LLC. He is a U.S. Army Veteran and previously served as the chairman of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce.

Raymos is appointed to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Mark Miner, for a term ending January 2, 2018.

Jax nonprofit gets $4.8M Walmart grant for retail career advancement

Generation, a global youth employment nonprofit, announced a $4.8 million grant from Walmart to launch a new Retail Career Advancement program. The program will support career advancement within retail and adjacent sectors in Jacksonville.

The grant was announced during a symposium this week at the downtown Hyatt Regency Riverfront to connect retail employers and local agencies including CareerSource Northeast Florida, the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund, the Chamber of Commerce and Firehouse Subs, on how to retain and support high-performing retail employees.

In 2016, Jacksonville’s retail sector had nearly 1,700 job openings for supervisors.

Generation celebrates its $4.8 million grant from Walmart to launch a new Retail Career Advancement program.

With a goal to reach 1,200 Jacksonville workers, Retail Career Advancement is a six-week, free-of-charge program for training on decision-making and ethics on the job, sales tactics, theft prevention and handling escalated customer concerns. Students will prepare to earn a nationally-recognized certificate from the National Retail Federation.

In addition, trainees can get individual mentors for personal and professional support, from mock interviews to coordinating child care services to transportation issues. Since 2015, nearly 200 students have graduated from Generation’s two existing Jacksonville programs — Technology and Hospitality. This new program will expand to the retail sector.

To date, 14,000 individuals have graduated from the Generation program, which prepares individuals for careers in 50 cities and 120-plus locations across five countries, in the technology, health care, retail/sales, and skilled trades industries.

Interested students and employers can email jacksonville@generation.org for more information.  Admissions and enrollment are now open.

JAXPORT cargo moving sets record

Jacksonville Port Authority set a record for the number of automobiles and cargo containers moved in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

The Florida Times-Union reports that the Port Authority’s terminals passed the 1 million benchmark for cargo containers, a 7 percent increase. As for automobile shipments, JAXPORT saw a 9 percent gain, with 693,241 vehicles.

JAXPORT sets records for auto, container shipping.

“We’re challenged with space, and we’re trying to work through that,” JAXPORT CEO Eric Green told the port’s board at a meeting Monday.

Part of the growth came from Crowley Maritime, which shifted its Jacksonville-based shipping from privately owned land over to the JAXPORT Talleyrand Terminal near downtown. Crowley is among the top shippers to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

The T-U noted that Asian-based cargo grew to almost 400,000 container units, a jump of 19 percent.

“It continues to be our strongest trade lane,” said Chief Financial Officer Michael Poole.

Aviation Authority launches JAX Hall of Fame

Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA) begins celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) which happens in 2018. The kickoff event at Jacksonville International Airport included a special unveiling of the first Hall of Fame honorees at the Aviation Gallery.

Bessie Coleman, Ruth Law, Laurie Yonge, Charles Lindbergh, and Thomas Cole Imeson are the inaugural Hall of Fame inductees of the Gallery’s permanent exhibit.

“I believe Jacksonville International Airport to be an excellent venue to honor Jacksonville aviators,” said JAA CEO Steve Grossman. “With the amount of traffic, we have through our terminals, millions of people will be able to witness the important contributions these individuals made to aviation history.”

A display of the first Hall of Fame honorees at the Aviation Gallery. Photo by Adam Madrid

Bessie Coleman, 1892 — 1926, was the first black woman to earn a pilot’s license. Because flying schools in the United States denied her entry, she taught herself French and moved to France, earning her license in just seven months from France’s well-known Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation. Coleman specialized in stunt flying and parachuting, earning a living barnstorming and performing aerial tricks. She remains a pioneer of women in the field of aviation. She tragically died in Jacksonville April 30, 1926, when she was thrown from her aircraft while preparing for a flight demonstration.

Ruth Law, 1887-1970, who lived and trained in Jacksonville, enjoyed one of the longest and most colorful careers of early female aviators. She bought her first aircraft from Orville Wright in 1912 in which she became the first woman to fly at night. In 1916, Law broke the American cross-country and nonstop record on a flight from Chicago to New York, and had the honor of carrying the first official airmail to the Philippine Islands in 1919. In 1917, she was the first woman authorized to wear a military uniform, but was denied permission to fly in combat. After the war, she formed “Ruth Law’s Flying Circus,” a three-plane troupe that amazed spectators at state and county fairs by racing against cars, flying through fireworks, and setting altitude and distance records.

Original JAX cornerstone from 1968. Photo by Adam Madrid

In 1923, a local pilot named Laurie Yonge (1896-1985) offered airplane rides from the beaches. Rates were $5 for short hops, $10 for long rides, and $25 for aerobatics. His transport pilot license was the first issued in Florida, and his National Aeronautics Association card was signed by Orville Wright. In 1929, Yonge set the world’s lightplane endurance record in a 90 hp. Curtiss Robin. He flew continuously for 25 hours and 10 minutes, a record that stood until 1939. For many years, Yonge was Jacksonville’s official Santa Claus, arriving by amphibious aircraft for the downtown Christmas parade. No other aviator has brought such fame and success to Jacksonville both as a visionary pioneer and instructor pilot.

Jacksonville Municipal Airport No. 1 opened Oct. 11, 1927. Charles Lindbergh, who flew to Jacksonville in the “Spirit of St. Louis,” attended the dedication ceremony to promote the new airport, Jacksonville’s aviation industry and assure city leaders that passenger air service would span the nation. In the 1950s, the facility was renamed after Thomas Cole Imeson, 1880-1948, city councilman and later longtime commissioner in charge of airports and highways. Imeson’s work led to the creation of Jacksonville Municipal Airport, as well as improvements to its runways, hangars and terminal buildings. This facility was the city’s main airport for 42 years.

The Aviation Gallery and Aviation Hall of Fame are in the Jacksonville International Airport terminal lobby.

In Armada-Cosmos draw, Jack Blake excites

Jacksonville Armada FC midfielder Jack Blake continues to show why he’s one of the most exciting young players in the North American Soccer League (NASL).

The Englishman played a direct role in three goals during Jacksonville’s 4-4 draw Sunday against the New York Cosmos. The performance was good enough to earn Blake this week’s NASL Player of the Week honors.

The result also kept Jacksonville within touching distance of New York for the fourth and final NASL playoff spot.

Armada’s captain of the night, Jack Blake, was voted by fans as the Man of the Match.

The 23-year-old Blake has made a name for himself as a dead ball specialist this year. In a span of four minutes midway through the first half Sunday against New York, he whipped in a pair of free kicks that led directly to Armada goals.

In the 22nd minute, Kalen Ryden met Blake’s free-kick and headed it off the post, giving way to Drew Beckie to clean up the rebound.

Just four minutes later, another Blake free-kick found its way to Ryden, who was able to convert the second time around.

After relinquishing a 3-1 lead, Jacksonville trailed, 4-3, late in the game, but Blake came to the rescue again. In the 79th minute, the Nottingham native played a through ball to Charles Eloundou, who buried the equalizing goal. When it was all said and done, Blake left the field with a pair of assists in the 4-4 draw.

The performance capped off an already strong week for Blake, who fired home Jacksonville’s lone goal against FC Edmonton in a 1-1 draw Wednesday night.

The midfielder has been quite the find for Armada coach Mark Lowry. Blake was quiet in his first NASL season with Minnesota in 2016, but he has since blossomed into one of the league’s top midfielders. Going into the final weekend of the Fall Season, Blake has nine goals and four assists on his ledger in league play.

Sunday’s result kept Jacksonville’s postseason hopes alive, but Blake and his teammates surely left the field disappointed after watching their 3-1 halftime lead evaporate. Now, Armada needs a win over the second-place San Francisco Deltas Saturday, coupled with a New York Cosmos loss against Puerto Rico FC in a match that will be contested the same night.

Jacksonville and San Francisco kick off at 8 p.m. ET Saturday at historic Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park.

 

With website, social media, all signs point to Richard Corcoran running for governor

House Speaker Richard Corcoran may not be saying whether he is running for Florida governor.

But with some high-profile personnel, a new website and more assertive online presence — as the old Magic 8-Ball says — all signs point to yes.

While the Land O’Lakes Republican is reluctant to telegraph political intentions, holding back from undue publicity, some things suggest a candidacy is on the horizon.

One hint came this week with the debut of RichardCorcoran.com, a well-produced website supporting Watchdog PAC, the vehicle for promoting conservative reform that may (or may not) become the foundation for a governor’s race.

Designed by Washington D.C.-based Go Big Media, the award-winning digital marketing firm, RichardCorcoran.com checks all the boxes for a political candidate: an “extensive, first-person bio,” and several “issue pages” highlighting Corcoran’s conservative benchmarks — immigration, taxes, spending, education, and government accountability.

Another clue is a renewed social media effort, including a revamped Facebook page with campaign-style videos and images, which quickly doubled its followers over the past month.

In addition to the website and online efforts, Corcoran also brought on a winning team of former Donald Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio and Jamestown Associates to handle media. In 2016, Jamestown was the primary media firm producing TV spots for Trump.

And the biggest sign is the hire of Taylor Budowich, Watchdog’s newly appointed communication head.

As executive director and national spokesperson for Tea Party Express, Budowich led the nation’s largest Tea Party PAC and was the driving force behind the Tea Party’s State of the Union responses for 2012-16 — presented by notable conservatives like Rand Paul and Mike Lee, as well as former Florida Congressman Curt Clawson.

Corcoran may be coy about the Governor’s Mansion — waiting until after the 2018 Legislative Session to reveal his plans — but by laying the groundwork with a serious campaign team and robust online visibility, it is hard to imagine anything but.

David Shapiro hopes to unify D.C., but must first oust Vern Buchanan

Florida Republicans smirked when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee placed Vern Buchanan second on its “2018 Republican Retirement Watchlist.”

They were equally amused when the DCCC listed the Sarasota Republican’s 16th Congressional District as one of 79 around the nation for targeting next year.

Whether they’ll still be delighted a year from now is unclear, but Florida Democrats appear pleased to have a viable candidate to challenge Buchanan in personal injury attorney David Shapiro.

The only previous foray into electoral politics for the 58-year-old Siesta Key resident was in 2006, a wave election for Democrats nationwide where Shapiro fell just 750 votes short of winning a seat in the Florida House.

Nationwide Democrats are hoping for a similar wave in 2018 in the first election since Donald Trump became president. Shapiro says he can’t predict what will happen around the country next year, but he says he’s confident he can win Florida’s 16th congressional district next year, which encompasses northern Sarasota, southern Hillsborough and Manatee counties.

“I think right now there’s a sense of frustration among a large population that this is not working,” Shapiro says of Washington. “We have to work together. No one party has the monopoly over every good idea and no one party can get their way.”

Wanting to work across the aisle, Shapiro said he had long been involved with the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, and most people he encounters in the district just want good government, something they’re not getting right now.

“We need a whole sea change in Washington. We need to get back into some cooperation. Work together, present properly and truthfully to the American people, share the credit for the accomplishments, and actually get something done.”

Shapiro faults Buchanan’s environmental record, noting that the incumbent could have been a leader in championing alternative energy sources but hasn’t, adding that he’s put “the breaks on polluters.”

And he’s very critical of Buchanan (and the GOP) for consistently voting down the Affordable Care Act without offering something better in its place. With some needed reforms, Shapiro said the ACA can prosper; he believes that Republicans will come around and support being part of that change.

“They can step in, and if they can improve it, they can take some of the credit,” he said, noting that the roots of the ACA go back to the Republicans in the 1990s and their criticism “was simply used to weaponize and assist them to gain political power.”

Shapiro supports the DREAM Act to bring young, undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, and supports comprehensive immigration reform, though he hasn’t thought through exactly what that would look like.

The deadly ambush in Niger is reinvigorating calls for a new congressional authorization for U.S. military operations overseas.

Niger prompted Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain to say that he and the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, are working on a proposal to update the broad war powers Congress gave the commander in chief after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“That’s a very complex question,” Shapiro responded when asked if a new authorization is needed. “I think, to be safe, Congress should have more oversight.”

Buchanan had held the seat since 2006 when Katherine Harris left it to run for the U.S. Senate. That year, he narrowly defeated Democrat Christine Jennings. After that, Buchanan has rarely been challenged by a Democrat since then, with Keith Fitzgerald coming closest in 2012 (he lost by 7 percentage points).

Buchanan has more than $2 million already in the bank for ’18.

“I need to have enough money to give the voters an informed choice, that’s how I’ll see it,” Shapiro says.

“Sarasota, Manatee & Hillsborough County have a pretty easy choice on this one,” says Sarasota Republican Committeeman Christian Ziegler, who worked for Buchanan for several years. “In one corner, Dave Shapiro – a liberal ambulance chaser whose first vote in Congress would be to make Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House vs. Vern Buchanan – a career job creator who aggressively listens to those he represents and has served our area well. This is a no-brainer for those living in Florida’s 16th Congressional District.”
Jan Schneider and Calen Cristiani are the other Democrats who are running in the contest.

Senate passes $36.5B disaster aid bill; Donald Trump signature next

The Senate passed a $36.5 billion emergency aid measure Tuesday to refill disaster accounts, provide a much-needed cash infusion to Puerto Rico, and bail out the federal flood insurance program.

The 82-17 vote sends the measure to the White House, where President Donald Trump is sure to sign it.

The measure provides $18.7 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s rapidly dwindling accounts, and $16 billion so the flood insurance program can keep paying claims.

It brings the total approved by Congress during this fall’s hurricane season to more than $50 billion — and that’s before requests expected soon to cover damage to water and navigation projects, crops, public buildings and infrastructure, and to help homeowners without flood insurance rebuild.

“We’re still waiting for all the data to come in from Texas to determine what the need is,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican, whose Gulf Coast district was slammed by Hurricane Harvey. “We’ve already done the supplementals to keep the agencies going, but the long-term stuff — public assistance, FEMA and housing — are the big questions. We still haven’t gotten all the numbers in from the state.”

The measure fails to address demands from the Florida and Texas delegations for more funding now, but lawmakers representing those states have won assurances from GOP leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney and Trump himself that more help is in the works.

“I want to stress that much, much more will be needed in my state,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas. “It’s not over and done with, and it’s not time to just move on.”

The current measure would permit FEMA to allocate up to $5 billion to assist Puerto Rico’s central government and various municipalities through a cash crisis. Maria has largely shut down the island’s economy and choked off tax revenues. The island’s electric grid has been mostly destroyed and more than one-fourth of Puerto Rico’s residents don’t have potable running water.

Some conservatives, however, are becoming uneasy with the steadily growing cost of this year’s spate of hurricanes.

“People here will say they have great compassion and want to help the people of Puerto Rico and the people of Texas and the people of Florida,” said Sen. Rand Paul, a Texas Republican. “It is compassion with money that doesn’t exist, money that’s borrowed.”

But Republicans controlling Washington are proving more willing to send aid to Texas and Florida this year than they were with New York and New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy hit those states — which are strongly Democratic — five years ago. And just last year, Republicans held up funding sought by President Barack Obama to combat the threat of the Zika virus and to help Flint, Michigan, repair its lead-tainted water system.

Now the challenge is whether Puerto Rico, which sustained enormous damage after Hurricane Maria’s landfall more than a month ago, will get enough aid to rebuild.

Trump tweeted earlier this month that the federal government can’t keep sending help to Puerto Rico “forever” and suggested that the U.S. territory was to blame for its financial struggles.

“You’ve got over 1,000 communities that haven’t had any assistance,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican. He said Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory whose people are American citizens, can “absolutely” count on Washington to treat the island as an equal to Texas and Florida.

There’s also unrest among opponents of the heavily subsidized federal flood insurance program, which many lawmakers say is in need of reform.

The federal flood insurance program, said Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, “encourages thousands of Americans to live in some of the most dangerous real estate in the country.”

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