Jacksonville Archives - Florida Politics

Jacksonville CFO Mike Weinstein headed out, treasurer Joey Grieve moving up

One of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s most trusted lieutenants, Chief Financial Officer Mike Weinstein, will leave City Hall Nov. 9.

“Since 2015, during the transition between my administration and my predecessor’s, Mike Weinstein has been both trusted adviser and friend. His expertise and depth of knowledge helped me prepare balanced budgets that met our city’s priorities, create a solution to the pension crisis, and set Jacksonville on a sound financial path,” Curry said Monday.

Tuesday saw the very quick naming of a replacement: treasurer Joey Greive, a trusted and reliable hand, will move to CFO. And Greive will be replaced by his current assistant, Randall Barnes.

While the City Council will have to approve these moves, there is no reason that wouldn’t happen.

The Weinstein era spans the better part of the history of Consolidated Jacksonville, with service in multiple roles and some runs for electoral office in the mix.

He served in the Florida House between 2008 and 2012. One of his bills proved to be prescriptive for Jacksonville’s solution to its pension liability: a measure to allow discretionary sales surtaxes to fund indigent health care facilities.

When Weinstein and Curry came into Jacksonville’s City Hall, the city’s general fund budget was throttled by pension obligations of more than $300 million a year.

Weinstein’s discretionary sales surtax concept came into play, with the city able to negotiate defined contribution plans for new city hires, while routing post-2030 collections of the city’s ½-cent sales tax currently used to fund Better Jacksonville Plan projects to the pension liability.

The city also reamortized pension debt, creating flexibility in the near term, and banking on growth to help pay off a pension obligation that is between $3 and $4 billion now.

Weinstein also served last year as the interim CEO of the Kids Hope Alliance, serving an important bridge role as the city reorganized its children’s programs.

Jacksonville is enjoying a renaissance in terms of its municipal credit standing, getting its first AAA rating for a standalone municipal bond just last week (even as local utility JEA is under a “credit watch” from another ratings agency).

There are those who have suggested that the next high profile departure from City Hall could be Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, who like Weinstein, has spent decades in the public sector and who, also like Weinstein, came in to help stabilize a new administration.

Weinstein is also known for having one of the catchiest campaign themes in Jacksonville history, one that seemed to borrow freely from Kenny Loggins‘ “Footloose”. The video is below.

Jacksonville to expand early voting sites to University of North Florida, Edward Waters College

Activists wanted early voting at Edward Waters College and the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. And now they’ve got it.

Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan confirmed such in an email to Jacksonville City Council members Monday, noting that “sites will be open to all eligible registered Duval County voters. These two additional sites will provide Duval County voters access to 20 Early Voting locations.”

“Funding for the two additional Early Voting sites will be absorbed within my currently requested budget,” Hogan noted.

This made a piece of legislation — a proposal by Councilman Garrett Dennis to allocate $30,000 to expand early voting sites to Edward Waters College and the University of North Florida — “unnecessary,” per Hogan.

Florida Atlantic University, the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida, Florida State University, and the University of South Florida are all slated to host early voting before Election Day this year.

Dennis moved to withdraw the bill, noting an email from Hogan committing to open the sites.


Jacksonville celebrates bond rating milestone, as JEA credit trends south

This week, Jacksonville celebrated a milestone in its history of bond ratings: its first standalone AAA rating. Meanwhile, its local utility suffered a setback.

On Monday, CFO Mike Weinstein emailed that the city “received notification that Fitch Ratings has upgraded to ‘AAA’ from ‘AA’ the City’s excise tax revenue bonds.”  

“Our records show this is the first time in City of Jacksonville history that the City, or any of its revenue pledges, has received an ‘AAA’ rating from a major rating agency on a standalone basis,” Weinstein observed.

“This is exciting news for our City!  Not only is it confirmation that the strong fiscal management you established is being recognized by the financial community at large, but it is also proof that the Jacksonville economy is vibrant and growing,” Weinstein added.

“This is a tremendous win for the City of Jacksonville,” said Mayor Lenny Curry. “I’m proud of the history we are making by bringing strong fiscal management to our city. My administration will remain consistent in our commitment to respect the hard-work of taxpayers.”

In less “tremendous” news that was not trumpeted with a press release, Friday also brought word that Standard and Poor’s put local utility JEA on a “negative credit watch,” as Florida Times-Union reporter Nate Monroe noted.

“In our view, JEA’s assertions that its board acted beyond the scope of its authority raises questions about the quality of the utility’s internal controls,” S&P analyst David Bodek said, per the Times-Union

“In our opinion, the utility’s legal claims seeking to repudiate the board’s actions after a decade call into question the utility’s willingness to meet its contractual financial obligations.”

The JEA Board agreed to purchase power from the under construction Plant Vogtle in Georgia in 2008. The plant has had delays and increased costs in construction, and the current leadership of the utility filed suit to get out of the deal — which did not play well with S&P.

Notably, the city’s press release hyping the credit upgrade dropped at the same time reports of the S&P hit on JEA dropped.

Since Lenny Curry took over as mayor in July 2015, the city has strengthened its financial standing.

In 2015, Curry noted that if the city didn’t address its unfunded pension liability, the city could be like Detroit by 2020.

The first Curry capital improvement plan was lean, a measure of money encumbered by the city’s spiraling pension liability.

While the pension liability is still spiraling (north of $3.2 billion now), relief occurred when the city ratified a pension reform plan that moved people hired after October 2017 to defined contribution plans — rather than the defined benefit iterations that caused the city such fiscal strain.

That ratified reform lowered the city’s contribution from an expected $360 million in FY 17-18 to $221 million, reamortizing the debt and structuring paydown to start in 2030, when the Better Jacksonville Plan would be paid off; the ½ cent sales surtax currently dedicated to that capital improvement plan of the turn of the century will instead be moved to old pension debts.

The near-term salutary effects of the restructuring can be seen in the latest proposed budget, slated to be ratified later this month. Ratings agencies like the fact that the city “stopped the bleeding,” instituted a defined contribution plan, and identified a revenue source.

As compared to the $1.19 billion general fund budget in FY 16-17, and the $1.27 billion budget last year, the general fund budget is up this year to $1.31 billion.

That’s thanks to pension reform, which the Mayor’s Office says contributes to $331 million of savings over two years.

“Without pension reform,” Curry said, “millions and millions of dollars would be diverted away from making our city better.”

A big part of the spend: capital improvements. FY 18-19 will see $161.4 million allocated to improvements, with big spends on Hart Bridge offramp removal ($12.5 million from the city matching the same sum from the state), a new fire station ($5 million), road resurfacing ($12 million), money for infrastructure at U.F. Health ($15 million, part of a $120 million commitment) and sidewalk projects (many of them delayed for years).

The CIP, at $161.4 million, doubles Curry’s first CIP of $72 million, and comes at a time where the city is investing heavily in police, fire, and children’s services via the “Kids Hope Alliance” — a Curry-devised umbrella organization that oversees spending on children from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds.

There have been worries about the city’s financial position in the past: a bill introduced in Council last year would have set aside year-over-year portions of increases in general fund revenue and apply them to the unfunded liability, with that portion eventually capping out at 15 percent of yearly revenue hikes.

That bill was floated because there were worries that the city could face a $10 billion unfunded liability by the time the ½ cent Better Jacksonville Plan sale tax was repurposed to tackling that deferred bill.

The Curry administration was adamantly opposed.

“We’re done with pension reform,” said more than one official.

And as far as the ratings agencies are concerned, the city’s approach is vindicated in one sense.

The question that many will be watching, both for the 2019 elections and beyond: how does the city’s financial position translate into dealing with historic inequities, with many older neighborhoods on the Northside, Westside, Arlington, and the Southside dealing with issues ranging from poverty and poor education to subpar infrastructure.

And a corollary question, especially in light of the JEA gambit: will the mayor’s office be seen as liable for the issues at the local utility, which is now run by a Curry ally, and which has a board stocked with Curry picks?

Certainly, potential opponents for Curry — such as Councilors Garrett Dennis and Anna Brosche — will frame it as such.

Jacksonville Bold for 9.14.18 — Time marches on

The primaries are now well behind us.

The parties have unified. Ops for losing candidates have moved into other campaigns (or endeavors).

If you pay attention, there is — at times — a crispness in the morning air.

And while that coolness may be fleeting, it’s an augury of the inevitable march of time.

The days will shorten. By late October, we will have a sense of who is in the best position to win state races — including a state House and a local Congressional race, each of which could be an augury of the oft-discussed “blue wave.”

Campaign season feels endless during the primary slog. But as we get inside of eight weeks before the general election, the news cycles speed up, and what was hypothetical moves ever closer toward the inevitable.

DeSantis leaves Congress

Per Fox News, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has resigned from Congress, with the pressures of the gubernatorial campaign requiring a full-time commitment to the race.

More of this for Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis, whose district runs from St. Johns County south past Daytona, was a third-term Republican.

DeSantis sent a letter Monday to House Speaker Paul Ryan announcing his immediate resignation.

“As the Republican nominee for Governor of Florida, it is clear to me that I will likely miss the vast majority of our remaining session days for this Congress. Under these circumstances, it would be inappropriate for me to accept a salary,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis’ Democratic opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, has not indicated he would resign his post in kind.

Soderberg builds momentum

While it’s by no means certain that Ambassador Nancy Soderberg will be successful in her Congressional bid, the facts are that she is showing a lot of strength as the general election campaign kicks off.

Nancy Soderberg expects to win the money race in CD 6.

Soderberg’s campaign crossed the $2 million threshold on the strength of over 7,500 contributions this election cycle, a campaign release trumpeted Monday.

“We continue to be blown away by the grassroots support driving our campaign,” Soderberg said.

Soderberg’s Republican opponent, Mike Waltz, a former Green Beret and aide to VP Dick Cheney, has raised over $1 million for the campaign, and doesn’t expect to have to raise that much to beat Soderberg in a district that has voted Republican in the last two election cycles, including +17 for President Donald Trump.

On Monday, Soderberg’s campaign produced a poll showing the race too close to call. Waltz’s campaign was skeptical, suggesting that Democrats may have been oversampled to get that result.

Bean cash haul

State Sen. Aaron Bean, whose district encompasses Nassau and part of Duval County, crossed the $200,000 cash on hand threshold as of his latest finance report.

Four more years? We’ll know in eight weeks.

Bean brought in $2,525 to his campaign account and $6,666 to that of his Florida Conservative Alliance political committee between Aug. 24 — 31. He has just over $100,000 in his campaign account and another $102,000+ in his committee kitty.

The Jacksonville Association of Firefighters donated the maximum $1,000 to his campaign account, offering the most locally notable name on his donor roll.

Regarding the $6,666 to his committee account, that came from Spring Hill Hospital and Brooksville Hospital, both sharing an address in Antioch, Tennessee.

Bean’s opponents face cash flow deficits compared to the incumbent.

Democrat Billee Bussard, a Jacksonville journalist of long standing, raised $1,660 in the week between Aug. 24 — 31. She has nearly $5,000 on hand.

Libertarian Joanna Tavares has not raised money, and has $40 on hand.

Senate District 4 has a strong GOP plurality. Of its just over 360,000 voters, almost 175,000 are Republicans, with 94,000+ Democrats and the rest being NPAs.

Polson builds cash lead 

Democrat Tracye Polson is confident in her ability to take what is now a Republican-held seat in House District 15, and that confidence will only be bolstered after the latest financial reports in the race.

The Blue Wave may spill over the banks of the St. Johns into Jacksonville’s Westside.

During the period from Aug. 24 to 31, Polson stretched her lead over Wyman Duggan, a Republican lobbyist whose backing from the Jacksonville establishment has not translated into winning the money race.

Polson brought in $6,042 to her campaign account, giving her $145,000+ in hard money. She also raised $3,100 for her committee account, which now has $41,000 on hand.

Duggan, conversely, raised $187,000 ahead of a primary, which he won with just 40 percent of the vote despite being the only candidate on television, with over $100,000 committed to ads where Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry vouched for the candidate.

He has less than $7,000 on hand now, with no money raised in the week after the primary. Polson has, at least for the moment, a more than 25-to-1 cash on hand edge over the establishment candidate.

Despite the cash lead, expect Polson to keep pushing. She knows that the machine never runs out of gas.

Fischer draws $11K in one week

While Duggan may have some issues, another Curry ally is winning his own fundraising war.

Jason Fischer isn’t wasting time amassing resources against a Dem challenger.

State Rep. Jason Fischer, a first-term Republican from Jacksonville, faces a general election challenge — and judging from the first week of post-primary fundraising, he takes it seriously.

Between his campaign account and that of his political committee, Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville, Fischer brought in $11,000 in the week leading up to Aug. 31, giving him roughly $200,000 on hand as he faces his first election against Democratic opposition.

Fischer’s campaign account saw $10,000 of the action, buoyed by donors with organizational interests, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Rep. Travis Hutson‘s First Coast Business Foundation political committee, and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Fischer’s opponent, retired CSX lifer Ken Organes, is at a cash disadvantage, with just over $31,000 on hand as of Aug. 31.

HD 16 is decidedly GOP, with 55,612 Republicans compared to 35,750 Democrats and 27,788 NPA voters.

Curry favored by donors, again

Curry has raised over $2.5 million for his re-election bid next year, after $221,000 in August receipts between his campaign account and that of his Jacksonville on the Rise political committee.

Lenny Curry calls this part of the campaign ‘just staying warm.’

Curry’s campaign account took in $33,000 of that number; it now has $428,730 raised, with over $414,000 on hand. The committee raked in $188,000, boosting it to $2.138 million raised and $1.66 million on hand.

The committee donors reflect a statewide interest in Curry’s re-election, exemplified best by the First Amendment Fund (a committee primarily funded by the committees of Sens. Joe Negron and Bill Galvano and Rep. Gayle Harrell) going $25,000 deep.

Local interest abounds also. The Rogers Towers funded Committee for Economic Development and Advocates for Business Growth accounts donated, as did the JAXBIZ political committee of the Jacksonville Chamber.

Thus far, Curry faces nominal competition for the March election. Between them, his four opponents have raised less than $2,500.

Speculation swirled that Jacksonville City Councilwoman Anna Brosche (a Republican like Curry) was to file this week, and some of those speculators contend she has over a million dollars in commitments should she run.

Former Times-Union columnist (and seeming future campaign asset) Ron Littlepage poured petrol onto the fire Monday evening.

Parental leave props

The conservative Washington Examiner lauded Jacksonville’s soon-to-be-ratified policy ensuring six weeks of parental leave for new biological parents under city employ.

National plaudits for Lenny Curry’s latest policy reform.

“Only three states require paid parental leave: Rhode Island, California, and New Jersey. This development in Florida is exceptional because the mayor has found a way to offer it to his employees, without being forced to, and in a way that doesn’t cost taxpayers additional funds,” the Examiner contends.

“Paid parental leave is a controversial topic, particularly among conservatives, who are usually against it, because politicians usually want a state to force employers to offer it or raise taxes to pay for it,” the editorial continues, noting that Curry’s friend Marco Rubio is one of the few conservatives to push for the policy on a federal level.

Firefighters make NYC trip

WJXT offered the best report in the local market on last weekend’s trip to New York for the Jaguars’ season opener. Curry and local firefighters were on hand.

Lenny Curry with fire union members before the Jags’ season opener.

Firefighters make the pilgrimage every year, commemorating the first responders whose lives were taken on 9/11/2001. This year, with the Jags playing in East Rutherford, things went a bit different, courtesy of Jaguar defender Malik Jackson.

“When he heard Jacksonville firefighters were going up to the 9/11 ceremony, he provided them with custom jerseys and tickets to the game between the Jaguars and Giants. He even met up with them on the sidelines for photos,” WJXT reports.

Morgan gets establishment nod

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Joyce Morgan faces a former two-term Councilman, Bill Bishop, in her re-election bid.

Joyce Morgan, a pragmatic Democrat, looks to have support from the machine against Bill Bishop.

After one month of running an active campaign, Morgan, a Democrat representing the Arlington area, has taken the cash lead over the stalled-out operation of Bishop, who is just three years removed from drawing nearly 20 percent citywide in the Mayor’s race.

The Morgan/Bishop race is the latest piece of evidence that political prominence in Jacksonville can be an ephemeral thing.

Bishop abandoned his citywide run for an easier race earlier this year, but Morgan’s early momentum suggests that even a district race may prove daunting for his political comeback.

From the Jacksonville Jaguars and owner Shad Khan to the powerful bestbet empire and the Fraternal Order of Police, what’s clear is that the donor class backs Morgan over Bishop.

Morgan raised $15,697 and has nearly $14,500 in hand after her first month’s fundraising, which puts her over the peripatetic Bishop operation, which continues to combine slow fundraising and high recurring costs.

Bishop has just over $12,000 on hand after 11 months of fundraising, including a $700 haul in August that merely defrayed some of the costs of his campaign consulting.

Bishop and Morgan are the only two candidates in the District 1 race.

Fiorentino, Delaney named Florida’s ‘most influential’

The Fiorentino Group’s Marty Fiorentino and John Delaney are among those listed on Florida Trend’s inaugural list of the 500 Most Influential Floridians.

In establishing the roster, Florida Trend began with categories used by the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Also, there were some rules of thumb: No elected officials, and no more than three people from any one firm.

Marty Fiorentino
Mr. Influential, Marty Fiorentino.

Both Fiorentino and Delaney — a former Jacksonville Mayor and recently retired as president of the University of North Florida — made the cut in the category “professional services.”

“When I was chairman of the Jacksonville Port Authority, we created separate airport and seaport authorities,” Florida Trend quotes Fiorentino in his entry. “This was a big community issue and was greatly debated. It took a lot of outreach and advocacy to get this done.”

Delaney is noted as part of a “collaborative governmental relations effort between the Fiorentino Group, one of the city’s leading consulting and advocacy groups, and Rogers Towers, an old-line law firm that’s a fixture in Jacksonville.”

Personnel notes

Per the Jacksonville Daily Record, some big names have board action.

“The Jacksonville Port Authority elected four officers to its board of directors. Chair John Falconetti, chairman and CEO of Jacksonville-based Drummond Press Inc.; vice chair John Baker, executive chairman of FRP Holdings Inc.; treasurer Jamie Shelton, president of Bestbet Jacksonville; and secretary Wendy Hamilton, president, Eventide Investments of Florida Inc,” the JDR reports.

Additionally, “Kerri Stewart, JEA’s chief customer officer, joined Groundwork Jacksonville’s board of directors. Before joining JEA, Stewart served as chief of staff for Curry and chief administrative officer for Mayors John Peyton and Alvin Brown.

On the campaign side, Jenny Busby (the former aide to Tommy Hazouri and U.S. Rep. Al Lawson) will be on the ground this fall helping Polson in the HD 15 race. Busby is the second Hazouri aide to be enlisted in the Polson quest (Haleigh Hutchison being the first).

Groups unite for affordable senior housing

Aging True, a nonprofit organization that provides senior housing services, and Tampa workforce housing developer Blue Sky Communities are receiving $16.6 million in federal funding to renovate a third Aging True senior apartment building in downtown Jacksonville.

Cathedral Townhouse, a 50-year old 177-unit apartment building located at 501 North Ocean Street, will receive an update of its major building systems, life safety, accessibility, and energy efficiency. All units will receive new kitchens, lighting, flooring, and upgrades of plumbing and electrical systems and exterior painting. The work is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2019 and be completed by late next year.

Cathedral Terrace Apartments is getting a facelift.

Renovation of Cathedral Townhouse is the third Aging True senior affordable apartment building renovated by Blue Sky.

In 2016, Blue Sky completed a $10 million renovation of Cathedral Terrace, a 240-unit tower built in 1974 and located 701 North Ocean Street. Funding for the project came from Florida Housing Finance Corp. 4% tax credits, Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority and the City of Jacksonville State Housing Initiative Program (SHIP).

This year, Blue Sky will complete the $12 million in renovations for Cathedral Tower, a 203-unit apartment building located at 601 North Newnan Street that was built in 1968.

UNF named a ‘Best Regional University’

For the eighth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report has named the University of North Florida among its “best regional” universities in the South.

UNF was ranked No. 42 in the region this year, up six spots from last year. The university was also ranked No. 14 in the “Top Public Schools” list, No. 29 in the “Best Colleges for Veterans” list, No. 58 in the list of the “Best Value Schools,” and No. 82 in the list of “Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs.”

UNF: Among the nation’s best regional universities.

“I take great pride in being able to lead a university that is of the caliber of the University of North Florida,” UNF President David Szymanski told WJCT. “The University is showing up in nearly every national college ranking, putting UNF at the top of some very impressive lists. These accolades are a true testament to our outstanding faculty and staff as well as the talents of our phenomenal students.”

In its rankings, U.S. News & World Report use a combination of a school’s academic reputation, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources and alumni donations.

Jacksonville Zoo offers discounted admission for Hurricane Florence evacuees

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is offering $10 general admission to the Zoo to evacuees from Hurricane Florence. The discount applies at the gates to those with IDs from Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Hurricane Florence could bring 24 hours of hurricane conditions to Carolinas.

As Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens recovered from damage sustained from Hurricane Irma one year ago, the Zoo understands that routines can be disrupted, particularly when people are away from home and worried.

A day at the Zoo can be just the thing to lift spirits.

To entertain those seeking shelter from Florence, the zoo is celebrating the opening of the great ape African Forest exhibit, and Dinosauria in its final weeks. Also, the Fiesta del Jaguar event is set for Saturday, Sept. 15.

The Zoo would also like to extend good luck to all the zoos and aquariums in the path of the storm and the dedicated keepers who are there to take care of their animals.

For more information on the fun happenings at the Zoo, visit www.jacksonvillezoo.org.

Jags’ much-anticipated rematch with Patriots almost here

Sunday will mark 237 days since that Sunday afternoon in Foxborough, Massachusetts when the Jacksonville Jaguars were five minutes away from going to the Super Bowl. Jacksonville was hanging onto a 20-17 lead over the New England Patriots, but could not hang on long enough, especially with Tom Brady on the other side of the ball.

The lead should have been bigger earlier in the period when Jags’ linebacker Myles Jack stripped Dion Lewis of the ball for a fumble and had clear sailing into the end zone and a 27-10 lead. The officials inexplicably said Jack was down, so no touchdown and eventually, no Super Bowl.

For Jaguars fans, Myles Jack wasn’t down.

Jaguars’ fans have been waiting for Sunday’s appearance by Brady and the Patriots since the day the schedule was announced in the spring. So have the Jaguars’ players.

Myles Jack wasn’t down” shirts, posters and maybe even a flyover, will be present in and around TIAA Bank Stadium. The noise level will be as great as it has ever been.

In other words, imagine tens of thousands of Jalen Ramseys out there.

This is as good of a time as any to play the Patriots, who are without their star wide receiver Julian Edelman as he serves a four-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. Other Patriots are also dinged up, but all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski is ready to go and will be targeted early and often by Brady.

For the Jaguars, workhorse running back Leonard Fournette is nursing a sore hamstring, which could press T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant into leading roles if Fournette cannot play. Coach Doug Marrone said, “we’re going to give it some time and see where we are when it’s time to start testing it.”

That would be some time Friday, which means it could be a game-time decision on whether the second-year back can give it a try. If not, the backup running backs will be counted upon, or if that doesn’t work, call on quarterback Blake Bortles to pass the Jags to victory, or the league’s top defense may be able to add some points themselves.

While winning Sunday will not compensate the painful loss in January, it can put a good-sized Band-Aid over the wound.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry over $2.5M raised for re-election bid

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has raised over $2.5 million for his re-election bid next year, after $221,000 in August receipts between his campaign account and that of his Jacksonville on the Rise political committee.

Curry’s campaign account took in $33,000 of that number; it now has $428,730 raised, with over $414,000 on hand. The committee raked in $188,000, boosting it to $2.138 million raised and $1.66 million on hand.

The committee donors reflect a statewide interest in Curry’s re-election, exemplified best by the First Amendment Fund (a committee funded largely by the committees of Sens. Joe Negron and Bill Galvano and Rep. Gayle Harrell) going $25,000 deep.

Local interest abounds also. The Rogers Towers funded Committee for Economic Development and Advocates for Business Growth accounts donated, as did the JAXBIZ political committee of the Jacksonville Chamber.

Thus far, Curry faces nominal competition for the March first election. Between them, his four opponents have raised less than $2,500.

Speculation swirled that Jacksonville City Councilwoman Anna Brosche (a Republican like Curry) was to file this week, and some of those speculators contend she has over a million dollars in commitments should she run.

When asked Friday, Brosche likened the talk to an “echo chamber.”

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis has also hinted at running. Dennis, a Democrat, has joined Brosche in the last year in standing athwart administration proposals.

For Tracye Polson, flipping HD 15 means defeating ‘special interests’

Dr. Tracye Polson, running in Westside Jacksonville’s House District 15, is the most likely Northeast Florida Democrat to flip a Republican seat.

However, she understands that to win that battle, she will have to run a gauntlet of attacks from the statewide Republican establishment.

Incumbent Jay Fant stepped down, and Republican nominee and lobbyist Wyman Duggan emerged from a bitter primary that he won with just over 40 percent of the vote. The healing has yet to begin.

Duggan introduced himself to the district with heavy television ad buys. He had to spend. Duggan, supported by the Jacksonville establishment (including political patron Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who was featured in multiple ads), battled attacks against his lobbying for a company looking to buy local utility JEA.

Duggan raised over $187,000 but had less than $13,000 on hand after the primary election receipts were counted. That said, hard money only tells part of the tale.

Primary mailers from Central Florida Conservatives for Truth, a political committee with a seemingly unlikely interest in Jacksonville politics, were ultimately funded by Citizens Alliance for Florida’s Economy, chaired by uber political consultant Anthony Pedicini.

That committee has raised $5 million in the last four years, and has been called one of the largest “dark money” committees by the Florida Times-Union. Recent contributions have come from House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s Watchdog PAC, Disney, and the Associated Industries of Florida-yoked Voice of Florida Business.

While it is certainly more than possible that similar dynamics will play in the general, where appeals will be microtargeted by Duggan’s political team to suppress Polson’s vote, the Democrat is in a stronger position: at least on paper.

Polson had no primary challenge, and was able to spend the summer canvassing the district — one that has roughly 1,000 more Democrats than Republicans.

She emerged with roughly $140,000 in her campaign account and another $38,000 in her political committee.

Her early messaging post-primary has largely been biographical, exemplified by a video (entitled “Transformation”) released to the public Wednesday.

In the 111-second video, Polson describes her reasons for running: to “transform our lives for the better.”

That urge to transform informs the video’s narrative arc, in which Polson describes the struggles her Vietnam veteran father had after leaving the service and the “issues returning veterans face.”

“As a mental health professional,” Polson says, “I see people’s struggles up close.”

Those struggles include “veterans confronting PTSD, combat stress, and traumatic brain injury.” Not to mention children who survive school shootings, addicts in recovery, and first responders who “face daily horrors to protect us.”

“Too often, we accept problems as permanent,” Polson says. “I can’t accept the status quo any longer.”

“Big special interests tell us meaningful change is impossible. They’re wrong. We have the power to transform Florida,” the candidate says in closing.

Polson will hold what is being billed as a community town hall Wednesday evening at “Fatballs Sports Bar and Grill” on 103rd Street. The event starts at 6:00 p.m.

Polson’s video is below.

Corrine Brown case to be heard by appeals court

A federal appeals court is expected to hear arguments in December in a challenge filed by former Congresswoman Corrine Brown after she was convicted on felony charges in a charity scam.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week said oral arguments are needed in the case and tentatively scheduled them for the week of Dec. 10 in Atlanta, according to an online docket.

Brown appealed to the Atlanta-based court after she was convicted last year on 18 felony counts and sentenced to five years in prison.

A former 12-term Democratic congresswoman from Jacksonville, Brown was convicted on fraud and tax charges related to her role in using contributions to the One Door for Education charity for personal expenses and events.

But in the appeal, Brown contends that a juror was improperly dismissed from her trial. The dismissal came after the juror made statements such as the “Holy Ghost” told him Brown was not guilty.

Prosecutors, however, argue a district judge acted properly in replacing the juror with an alternate and disputed that the decision violated religious rights.

Brown, who lost a re-election bid in 2016, is an inmate at the Coleman federal prison in Sumter County, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Jacksonville seeks fresh thinking after high-profile weekend killings

After a weekend bookended by high-profile mass shootings after a high-school football game and a Madden video game tournament, Jacksonville leaders are looking for solutions.

One such solution was advanced Wednesday in a meeting of City Council members and non-profit leaders: budget enhancements in the form of grants for organizations devoted to prevention and intervention.

The Mayor’s Office already devoted $50,000 to crime reduction earlier in the week; Councilman Reggie Gaffney wanted to move $300,000 into the same, to “reach out” and “partner with the faith-based community and other non-profits not receiving money from the city.”

“It’s just a drop in the bucket,” Gaffney cautioned, “but you have to start somewhere.”

Mayor Lenny Curry wants the money in the new budget, Oct. 1, Gaffney said. Gaffney gave no indication as to whether this would be one-time or recurring money.

But no matter.

Over half the Council showed up to lend support. The crowd spilled over into a second conference room.

Colleagues, including Jim LoveJoyce Morgan, and Terrance Freeman spoke in support, with Freeman noting that a lot of “mom and pop organizations” had “a huge impact with limited dollars” during the Jacksonville Journey era.

Councilman Sam Newby echoed Freeman.

Councilwoman Lori Boyer, calling the initiative “critically important,” noted that the Council had prioritized addressing violent crime in the city months ago.

“The mayor is fully behind this,” noted Council President Aaron Bowman, who wants the business community to engage.

Bowman, an officer at the Jacksonville Chamber’s business recruitment wing, is uniquely positioned to make that happen.

Myriad community members, including leaders of non-profits and churches, have yearned for city support — and ironically, a weekend of violence may lead to help for those who are “boots on the ground,” including afterschool programs.

For Gaffney, there is political provenance for this meeting. In an election with myriad challengers, reaching out to the faith community helps to blunt challengers who say he’s not doing enough.

And for the city, there may (or may not, who knows) be some surcease from the kinds of killings that are getting Jacksonville noticed again globally.

Not everyone thought the money was enough. Activist Denise Hunt said it was “appalling” that given an ever-increasing Sheriff’s Office budget, only $350,000 was being pitched.

But for those leading non-profits with needs, it was better than zero.

It will take more than money, said Councilman Bill Gulliford.

“It’s a community issue, because nothing prevents that violence from going from one area to another area. It spreads. It’s already spread,” Gulliford said.

Gaffney noted that anytime a kid is shot, the mayor calls him to talk “solutions.”

Speaking of solutions, Kids Hope Alliance head Joe Peppers noted his group, which will have a $41 million budget next year, has been involved in community discussions, and is moving toward better “merging” services with those who need them.

“We’re looking for sustainable solutions,” Peppers said, and a “collaborative spirit” — a potential challenge when there are more asks than funds available.

“We’ve got to start changing the narrative … telling the stories of our babies and you all, who are out there fighting the fight,” Peppers said.

KHA will also have $50,000 in fines and forfeiture money, and the total $400,000+ will allow “microgrants” starting at $5,000 and moving up, Peppers said.

Whether the money goes to alternative schools or church programs ultimately will be subject to future negotiations, Council President Bowman said.

“I really need measurable successes, and I will go after the business community,” Bowman said, pledging to be “unmerciful” in harvesting that money.

Meanwhile, a Jacksonville City Councilman’s wife has a concept to pitch, that was slated to come up in this meeting, but didn’t.

Dr. Ceil Pillsbury-Schellenberg observed in an email that “Jacksonville has NO comprehensive, coordinated, research-based, strategically-designed, operationally-detailed plan to stop the blood of JAX youth in our streets.”

To that end, she had a pitch: MOBLZE. And jargon to go with it.

“Moblze’s heavy lifting occurs though entrepreneurial mindset saturation—utilizing the global gold standard curriculum of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE pronounced nifty).  My City Connected, Jacksonville’s brand new high tech weapon, allows us to literally saturate our poverty-stricken areas with the entrepreneurial mindset and facilitate funding to make ideas blossom into family-supporting revenue streams for the entrepreneurs who emerge.  For the first time in history, we can scientifically tell you, in advance, who they are likely to be so we can make efficient use of scarce resources,” Pillsbury-Schellenberg asserted.

“Success in the fight against poverty has to come from people of color challenging themselves to reach the potential within.   Black politicians and pastors can only do that to a certain extent because they have to rely on others for their livelihood and watch what they say,” Pillsbury-Schellenberg related.

She was unable to pitch her idea at the meeting, which was regrettable, as she may have gotten interesting responses from those in the room.

Duval County vote count could have ‘delay’ after ballot size snafu

Voting machine issues are cropping up in Jacksonville precincts as Election Day continues. And “unscanned ballots,” some worry, may add drama to the count this evening.

The problem: the width of some ballots, mostly but not exclusively NPA, is too broad for the tabulation machine.

However, Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan expressed confidence, saying the size issue “might delay it somewhat but we plan on finishing it tonight.”

We reported this morning about ballot tabulation issues at Mandarin’s Precinct 606, where a machine had rejected ballots, requiring a manual count

Similar voting machine failures happened at Precinct 510 in Jacksonville, and throughout much of the rest of the city.

This didn’t reassure one tipster: “I tried to insert my ballot four times and it kept getting rejected. So they then told me to put it in some slot manually. It’s not secure. There’s a stack just sitting there. Anyone could reach out and grab them.”

Duval Democratic Party chair Lisa King described a situation where bags of “unscanned ballots” will be taken to the SOE office for input, where the machines have more “play.”

Hogan explained it: “some ballots (mostly NPA) have a width problem.”

“The ballots were tested weeks ago by our IT staff with no problems, we also had a test deck of ballots from the printer, no problem. We also tested the ballots when we held the Logistics & Accuracy public test,  performed and attested by the Canvassing Board – no problems,” Hogan added.

“The problem is not in every precinct. Standard operating procedures were followed by the Precinct staff and all tabulated ballots are placed in an specifically designed, emergency locked compartment on the tabulator,” Hogan asserted.

“After the Poll closes those ballots will be rescanned on the Precinct tabulator, if they still fail they will be placed in an locked bag and transported to the Election Center to be counted.  Every vote will be counted and accuracy will be maintained.”

Meanwhile, there are numerous contentious local elections.

In HD 15, Hogan’s son Joseph is running for the Republican nomination. In HD 14, Rep. Kim Daniels faces a primary from well-funded and connected Paula Wright, a race suffused with brutal oppo hits and everything that goes along with them.

In Florida’s 5th Congressional District, former Mayor Alvin Brown has an uphill battle against U.S. Rep. Al Lawson.

Al Lawson tries to fend off Alvin Brown

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson is facing a serious Democratic primary challenge from a former Jacksonville Mayor as he seeks a second term in a congressional district that stretches across a large part of North Florida.

Lawson, 69, handily beat longtime Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown, in 2016, while she was embroiled in a criminal investigation that led to her eventual conviction on corruption charges and a five-year prison sentence.

But now Lawson, who served nearly three decades in the Florida Legislature and lives in Tallahassee, is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Alvin Brown, 56, the first African-American elected as Jacksonville Mayor. Brown lost his mayoral seat after one term in 2015, after winning the election in a close contest in 2011.

Both candidates take similar positions that reflect the voters in Congressional District 5, which sprawls across eight North Florida counties, running 206 miles from the urban neighborhoods of Jacksonville west to the rural enclave of Gadsden County near Tallahassee.

The district is heavily Democratic, with 61 percent of the voters supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016. It has the third-highest voting-age population of African-Americans among Florida’s 27 congressional districts. The winner of Tuesday’s primary will be a heavy favorite in the November general election against Republican Virginia Fuller.

Brown and Lawson said they would support impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. They oppose repealing the Affordable Care Act and want to expand health care programs. They support efforts to curb student debt and to improve economic opportunities, particularly in rural areas.

But despite those similarities, Brown has campaigned aggressively against Lawson. Earlier this year, Brown’s campaign slammed Lawson as “Trump’s favorite Democrat,” after Lawson applauded during the president’s State of the Union speech. Lawson said he reacted because Trump was talking about lower unemployment rates for minorities.

Brown has combed Lawson’s lengthy record in the Legislature and has highlighted Lawson’s support for issues like the use of publicly funded vouchers to send students to private schools.

He also criticized Lawson for supporting the original ‘Stand Your Ground’ legislation in 2005. The issue gained more visibility after the shooting of an unarmed African-American man in Pinellas County last month, with the Pinellas Sheriff declining to seek charges because of the law. The shooter has since been charged with manslaughter by the local state attorney.

Lawson said the 2005 law had bipartisan support, and he voted for it as an effort to let homeowners defend themselves. But he said he now supports repealing the law after a series of changes, including a 2017 revision that makes it harder to prosecute shooters who cite the law in their defense.

“It’s telling that Al Lawson has disgracefully defended support for ‘stand your ground’ for over a decade, and has now changed his tune,” Brown said.

But Lawson has hit back at Brown, noting the failure to win re-election as Mayor, calling his one term in office “a disaster.” Lawson has also criticized Brown for failing as Mayor to aggressively support a human-rights ordinance guaranteeing protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Like the 2016 race, the Lawson-Brown contest also represents a geographic battle.

Lawson won only 20 percent of the Duval County vote in his race against Corrine Brown in 2016. But his victory was based on his commanding lead in the counties outside of Jacksonville, including winning 75 percent of the vote in Leon County.

A similar scenario could be shaping up this year, based on a poll released Thursday by the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Laboratory. In a survey of 402 likely voters, the poll showed Lawson leading Brown by a margin of 48 percent to 29 percent, with a 4.9 percentage-point margin of error. Twenty-two percent of the voters were undecided.

The poll showed Brown leading in Duval County by a 47-29 percent margin, while Lawson held a 68-10 percent lead among voters in the rest of the district.

Through Aug. 8, Lawson had raised $504,000 for his campaign, with $131,000 in cash on hand, according to federal election records. Brown had raised $389,000, with $84,000 in cash on hand.

Lawson has won support from a solid majority of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus. U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi endorsed Lawson last month.

“Al has proven to be an effective voice for North Florida during his first term in Congress,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Brown has secured a number of endorsements, including from major labor groups. The Florida Education Association and Duval Teachers United are supporting his campaign.

“Alvin Brown shares our values and vision of a Florida in which all of our children can receive a quality education regardless of ZIP code,” said Terrie Brady, head of the Duval teachers group and former chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.

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