Jacksonville Archives - Florida Politics

Jacksonville Bold for 1.19.18 — America’s team?

One of two things could happen this weekend.

The Jacksonville Jaguars can shock the world Sunday and beat the New England Patriots.

Or the convergence of Tom Brady, home-field advantage, and the referees can create a more predictable outcome.

We will see soon enough.

The question that many outside of the 904 may be asking: have we reached Peak Jaguar?

Jalen Ramsey’s prediction of a Super Bowl win has become bulletin board material in New England. (Of course, A.G. Gancarski predicted a Super Bowl win weeks ago).

And Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum bet a case of beer with a Massachusetts politician on the game outcome; both of them running for Governor of their respective states.

And more fuel for the hype machine: Vice calling the Jaguars “America’s Team.”

America’s team?

“When you throw in your lot with the Patriots, you do so with celebrity fans like [Donald] Trump and Mark Wahlberg; when you get behind the Jaguars, you stand with … um … remember the woman that growled into the camera that time? Her. Who represents your ideal America more? Two wannabe tough guys that think they could have prevented 9/11? Or Roberta, a homeless woman who loved the Jaguars unconditionally through their darkest times?”

It’s hard to bet against the Patriots — the talent level, the refs, the coaching.

But it’s easy to cheer against them.

Jacksonville is in a unique position this week — able to shock the world and stymie a dynasty.

Feels good, right?

Two more years for John Rutherford, Al Lawson?

Reps. Rutherford and Lawson confirmed to Florida Politics plans to run for re-election in Florida’s 4th Congressional District.

“It is a tremendous honor to serve my fellow Northeast Floridians in Congress,” Rutherford asserted, “and I am proud of all our hard work over the last year fighting for jobs, veterans, a renewed military and secure borders.”

John Rutherford’s re-election bid is all but a sure thing.

“But a great deal of work remains ahead,” Rutherford added, “and I look forward to seeking re-election to continue this work on behalf of the fine people I am so humbled to serve.”

This confirmation is a prelude to a formal announcement later in the election cycle.

There were those in Northeast Florida Republican circles who speculated that Rutherford would stand down, setting off decision-making for local Republicans — incumbents in other offices and otherwise — who might seek to replicate the costly and occasionally fractious 2016 primary.

However, Rutherford has never given any indication that he wouldn’t run to serve at least one more term. And now it is clear that any shaking of the #jaxpol snow globe will wait until at least 2020.

Rutherford faces a clear path to re-election in what Congressional Quarterly calls a solidly Republican district.

Lawson’s district is solidly Democratic; the most significant challenge he may face — a primary battle from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

Lawson defends FISA vote

A controversial national security bill cleared the U.S. House last week, with Lawson joining the Republican majority in affirming governmental surveillance rights.

Al Lawson ensured the Trump administration had the tools it needed for surveillance.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows data monitoring via transnational fiber optic cables. While foreign nationals are the target, Americans are subject to surveillance.

The ACLU called it a “dangerous bill.” Lawson sees it differently.

“With today’s increasing reliance on advanced technology, threats present themselves in forms that have never been encountered and are becoming increasingly harder to detect. It is important that we provide law enforcement and national security agencies with the appropriate tools needed to secure the safety of all Americans,” Lawson asserted.

“While I agree there should be stronger warrant provisions protecting the rights of our citizens,” Lawson continued, “this program equips our agencies to defend the nation against domestic and international terrorism threats.”

“Voting ‘yes’ on this bill does not give a free pass for the National Security Agency, or any law enforcement agency, to spy on Americans, and the actions of NSA under FISA should be reviewed when necessary,” Lawson maintained.

“Though some of my colleagues and I were split on this legislation,” Lawson added, “I voted to provide our law enforcement and intelligence communities with the necessary resources that will ensure the greater safety of our country.”

Airbnb boo-boo

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine made his way to Jacksonville as part of his campaign for Governor. And the story ended up being about Airbnb, per the Miami Herald.

Phil Levine’s Airbnb beef overshadowed his Jacksonville stop.

Levine — who, per the Herald, went hard after Airbnb owners — had his Jacksonville event at an Airbnb property.

When asked about it by Herald reporters, Levine’s response was interesting.

“Maybe that’s what Airbnb wants you to think,” Levine said as his bus headed from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.

Levine’s spokesman clarified his position, saying that Levine’s local opposition to Airbnb was about “local control.”

Ron DeSantis to White House

Rep. DeSantis is Trump’s choice for Florida Governor — nettling Adam Putnam, who has run to the right as much as possible for months in the hopes of keeping the president’s supporters in play.

Trump reminded Florida voters of his choice — however subtly — this week, inviting a DeSantis to the White House for a women’s forum, via the Miami Herald.

Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey Black DeSantis, were invited to the White House for a women’s forum.

Casey Black DeSantis, the congressman’s wife, was on hand — along with Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Mrs. DeSantis, of course, has been a fixture on Jacksonville television — her current slot is hosting the infotainment-heavy First Coast Living on weekday afternoons.

Modest December fundraising for Northeast Florida Senators

Northeast Florida tate Senators Audrey Gibson, Aaron Bean, and Travis Hutson face no serious opposition; however, fundraising continued apace in December.

An Audrey Gibson primary challenge has yet to manifest.

Gibson, who may face a 2018 primary battle from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown, brought in $12,750 in December off 16 checks — half of them from consultants and political organizations.

Bean, unopposed this year, topped $90,000 on hand after raising $18,250 in December through 25 checks from industries and lobbyists. He spent over $12,000, much of it on political consultants, which would seem curious given that he is a safe Senator in a safe seat.

Bean brought in $19,000 more via his Florida Conservative Alliance political committee, which now has $115,000 on hand.

Sen. Travis Hutson, who won’t face voters until 2020, raised $2,000 in hard money in December; this gives him $38,000 in hard money.

His Sunshine State Conservatives political committee raised nothing and has $90,000 on hand, after $1,000 contributions to the campaigns of Reps. Keith Perry and Debbie Mayfield, and $6,000 to the Responsible Leadership political committee.

Hutson is locked in a sub rosa race for the 2022 Senate presidency with Dana Young. Young has a sizable financial advantage, which may or may not prove dispositive.

House incumbents keep trucking; HD 15 still a race

In Northeast Florida for state House races, unopposed incumbents kept trucking in December, while the race for HD 15 remained competitive in fundraising.

HD 11: Incumbent Cord Byrd, a Jacksonville Beach Republican, brought in $12,400 to push him to $29,700 cash on hand. Among the donors backing the unopposed lawyer: The Geo Group.

The GEO Group is a frequent donor to Florida Republicans.

HD 12: Incumbent Republican Clay Yarborough was just one more check away from $100,000 cash on hand. A $9,000 December — driven by insurance, CPA, and restaurant and lodging committee checks — brought the Southside Jacksonville conservative over $99,000.

Democrat Tim Yost raised nothing in December and has $1,800 on hand.

HD 13: Unopposed Democratic incumbent Tracie Davis brought in $7,000 in December, with beer wholesalers and firefighter unions standing out. Davis has raised $35,715 and reported no spending thus far in her campaign.

HD 14: Unopposed Democratic incumbent Kim Daniels raised $4,000 in December; $2,000 was from the Fraternal Order of Police, and $1,000 came from beer wholesalers to Daniels, whose day job is as a charismatic evangelist.

HD 15: Republican Wyman Duggan, a Jacksonville lawyer seeking to replace departing Jay Fant in House District 15, scored big in December on two fronts.

Duggan finally hit six figures in fundraising, reporting $10,124 of new December money, which pushed him up to $103,674 raised (and over $92,000 on hand).

Close behind: presumptive Democratic nominee Tracye Polson. Polson closed December with $69,642 cash on hand: she has raised $89,345 in hard money and an additional $15,665 in the account of her political committee, Better Jacksonville.

HD 16: Unopposed Republican incumbent Jason Fischer brought in $4,500 of hard money in December; he closed 2018 with over $76,000 in his campaign account. $5,000 of new money into his Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville committee left that tally near $40,000.

HD 17: Down in St. Johns County, Republican incumbent Cyndi Stevenson brought in $10,481; she closed the year with just over $80,000 on hand.

HD 18: Safe incumbent Travis Cummings, a Clay County Republican, brought in $16,000, closing 2018 with $80,000 on hand.

Money-go-round

December saw some significant numbers for state and local candidates alike.

December fundraising for 2019 Jacksonville City Council candidates saw at-large Group 4 Republican Matt Carlucci leading the pack: $200,000 raised — with nearly $189,000 of that on hand — after $18,374 in December.

Matt Carlucci — and family — appreciate donor generosity.

In City Council District 5, Republican LeAnna Cumber has raised $145,000; $142,000 on hand.

Three other Republicans  — AL-2’s Ron Salem, District 13’s Rory Diamond, and District 14’s Randy DeFoor — are likewise over the $100,000 threshold. Only Salem faces competition as of yet.

Amazon says no

This week, Amazon narrowed down options for its HQ2 site selection to 20 cities. Jacksonville is not among them.

20 likely HQ2 cities; Jacksonville didn’t make the cut.

“We expect sometime before the end of the first quarter, maybe that Amazon will come out and say, ‘OK, we’ve done all our research, and we’ve narrowed it down to X number of cities.’ We don’t know how many those will be,” Bowman told a business group earlier.

Initially, 238 cities were in the running.

We covered the pitch weeks back, in which Jacksonville proclaimed itself to be “Amazon-centric,” with an ambitious futuristic vision for a future Amazon campus at the Shipyards property.

Miami is the only Florida city in the running; the Shipyards, meanwhile, will likely find another purpose.

Sheriff Mike Williams draws 2019 opponent

It looks like a competitive-ish 2019 race for Jacksonville Sheriff is imminent; incumbent Republican Williams will be challenged by Tony Cummings, a reform-minded Democrat.

Tony Cummings looks to make Mike Williams a one-termer.

Cummings got just 6 percent in a seven-way vote in 2015, so he definitely has room to increase his turnout.

His platform: stopping violent crime; the murder rate has continued to spike throughout the Williams era, with 148 murders last year.

His most prominent challenge: getting the money right.

After just two months in the race, Williams has amassed $138,800 in hard money and has another $192,000 in his political committee.

There is no way Cummings approaches those numbers anytime soon. And there is plenty more money for the incumbent out there.

Power switch not subject to popular vote

The people don’t have the ability to decide on whether or not Jacksonville’s JEA utility can be sold off, per the city’s general counsel.

General Counsel Jason Gabriel said the decision to sell off JEA is up to elected officials. Photo courtesy Florida Times-Union.

The Florida Times-Union reports that General Counsel Jason Gabriel said: “It’s a process that would result in the City Council and mayor ultimately making that decision.”

Council President Anna Brosche has tasked the City Council auditor with a report detailing what can be gained from privatization.

Two other reports have been done on this front since 2007; thus far, they have not convinced Council to move toward this.

Challengers line up against Katrina Brown

How vulnerable is Jacksonville City Councilwoman Brown, 14 months out from the first election? Six people already filed to replace her (Brown has not filed for re-election yet).

And two of them were in just the last week and a half.

Tameka Gaines Holly added her name to the Jax City Council race.

Last week, community activist Tameka Gaines Holly added her name to the race. A Leadership Jacksonville graduate with an aversion to taking strong positions on issues, she will try to win the seat by taking the high road.

This week, former Soil and Water Commissioner Albert Wilcox filed.

Wilcox, current Teacher of the Year at a local elementary school, cited Brown’s “problems” as creating a “void in leadership.” [Among those problems: a city lawsuit against her family business, which is now on its way to resolution; and a recent beef with the local police union about racial profiling].

Wilcox, a former legislative assistant for Sen. Betty Holzendorf, also has interned for then-Councilman Terry Fields and former Rep. Corrine Brown.

Holly and Wilcox have competition. Diallo SekouSeabrooks, Michael Sell, Brandon Byers, and Joenetta Dixon are all in the race, almost ensuring a May runoff will decide this.

The only other incumbent facing a challenge: Katrina Brown’s ally, District 7 Democrat Reggie Gaffney, who has four opponents.

Beyond those races, the other crowded race — five entrants and counting — is in District 10, where five people are in to face termed-out Reggie Brown.

Project Volt moves forward

Project Volt,’ an economic development deal moved Wednesday through a Jacksonville City Council panel, could potentially juice the local economy — bringing hundreds of solar jobs into the area, and allowing Jacksonville to enter a new industry that will grow in the coming years.

Jacksonville City Council will have to approve the deal Tuesday.

The unnamed company, which makes solar panels at eight locations around the world, is new to America: per the fact sheet, Jacksonville would serve as the company’s American headquarters.

And at least 800 jobs would be created and retained for at least four years locally — and those jobs would be on the Northside and Westside, economically challenged areas that could use employment diversification. While 100-150 people would come to get things started, city officials expect that most permanent hires would either move here from elsewhere or be of local origination.

Eight of the top 10 solar panel manufacturers in the world are in Asia, which means chances are very good that this would be the American outpost for a Chinese or Korean company.

It would occupy two buildings on the Westside: a manufacturing plant at the Cecil Commerce Center and an assembly and distribution facility on Faye Road. And they would put their money where their incentive pitch is, dropping $153 million into real estate upgrades and another $275 million into equipment (imported from Germany) in what is called “project investments.”

District hurdle cleared

Peter Rummell is one of the leaders of Jacksonville’s political donor set, and for the second straight week, he got news from a Jacksonville board regarding his District project.

The news was different from that coming out of last week’s Downtown Investment Authority meeting, which had the city of Jacksonville buying the land from JEA for the private development.

The good news continued for Peter Rummell’s District development, though the city may be spending in the end.

That proved controversial to City Council. The latest changes — a return to earlier expectations and terms — remove that controversy.

On Tuesday, the JEA Board approved a plan for Elements, the development company of Rummell and Michael Munz, to purchase the former Southside Generator Plant from the utility for $18.6 million.

Closing would be in July.

That was the deal before the DIA meeting last week.

The city may also invest over $26 million into infrastructure, though that’s still to be determined.

Munz explained the decision to remove the step that had the city purchase the land from JEA as a practical one, as the city component made the deal “more complicated than it should be.”

There was much acrimony last week from Rummell toward Council members. Apparently, it was only theater.

Corrine Brown clickbait

Tongues wagged in the comment thread set when the Florida Times-Union reported that Brown spoke at a Martin Luther King Jr. event Monday.

Friends … how many of us have them?

But no one should have been surprised.

Dr. King’s son — Martin Luther King III — has been a friend of Brown’s for decades, often appearing with her at political events.

During what passed for her 2016 re-election campaign, Brown brought King in as a special guest.

King showed up for a court hearing in 2017 with Brown, and held another fundraiser for her then.

Notable: King spent the day honoring his father making news of his own, comparing Trump to former to Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a well-known segregationist.

University of North Florida police embracing body cameras

To increase student safety, the University of North Florida police department will equip all officers with body cameras. A $29,000 grant, plus a similar amount from the college, will be used to help pay for the program.

“There’s a lot of measures that go into making me feel safe here on campus,” UNF student Hannah Melendez told Action News Jax.

All UNF police officers will soon have body cameras.

A recent overview of reported campus crimes in 2016 shows 5 rapes, 3 burglaries, 2 aggravated assaults and 5 motor vehicle thefts. UNF officials hope the body cameras will help cut those numbers down.

While the department already has about a half-dozen body cameras, officers say that isn’t enough.

UNF will hold a student feedback session on the body camera policy Friday, March 2, from 11 a.m. to noon.

First Jacksonville Zoo manatee critical care patient released

The Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens’ Manatee Critical Care Center released the first manatee patient into her new Florida home this week, reports News 4 Jax.

Carolina the manatee arrived at the Center Nov. 28, one of more than 10 of the sea mammals relocated from cold waters in South Carolina to warmer waters of Florida. Carolina, rescued from Charleston, South Carolina, was the first critical care patient at the Zoo’s facility. She was part of a larger operation to save those manatees that wandered into the Cooper River as temperatures quickly dropped in November.

Carolina the manatee is released into warm Florida waters after a six-week rehab at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens’ Manatee Critical Care Center. Photo courtesy SeaWorld.

Showing symptoms of cold stress, rescuers decided to wait before releasing Carolina. She spent six weeks in rehabilitation, before her release with another manatee rescued from Brevard County.

“We helped give her some tube feedings and antibiotics and pain medications and made sure she was eating well and that her systems were working right,” said Zoo veterinarian Meredith Persky. “That’s how we were able to successfully release her.”

Jacksonville strikes back against ‘human tragedy’, picks proven opioid suit lawyers

The opioid crisis has hit Jacksonville hard. And now, via engagement of an international class-action law firm, the city is ready to hit back.

Scott & Scott, headquartered in Connecticut, will help the city pursue tangible remedies from opioid manufacturers. This firm has scored significant eight-figure cash settlements from numerous pharmaceutical companies and is currently handling legal actions in New Jersey and Pennsylvania against the same.

The city’s opioid overdoses have spiked in recent years, with 464 in 2016, and still more than that in 2017.

Councilman Bill Gulliford, who sponsored legislation to get an experimental treatment program for those who come to ERs after overdoses, sees the suit as a way to fight back against a “human tragedy” that has wreaked havoc on city resources ranging from emergency rooms to overstretched public safety personnel.

Florida Politics spoke with Gulliford this week, and he discussed at great length the opioid crisis.

“I walked through the morgue and into the cooler yesterday. That slams life and its realities home to you,” Gulliford said.

The morgue, these days, is full to capacity — and then some.

The local medical examiner’s office sees bodies on top of bodies, with processing of new intake delayed by days often of late.

To counteract this, the City Council authorized money for a temporary storage unit and office space — a stop gap until the city can build a new building. Temporary facilities, to be installed in the next 90 days at a cost of $206,000, will encompass the portable refrigerating unit for 40 additional bodies, and a mobile unit will accommodate six additional staffers to handle the case load.

Hard and soft costs will tax the city’s budget, ranging from extra money and overtime for EMTs to shuttle victims to potential recovery, to a need for more and better physical facilities.

The lawsuit, whose target has yet to be determined, will redress some of those fiscal costs.

But compensation for a human loss is a different matter.

Jacksonville Bold for 1.12.18 — Smells like teal spirit

Here we are now. Entertain us.

EverBank Field was lit Sunday, as the Jacksonville Jaguars laid a smackdown on the Buffalo Bills, in a 10-3 defensive struggle that was best watched live and in the stands.

Jacksonville hadn’t hosted a playoff game this century; the crowd was hyped. And mostly Jaguar fans.

The media derided the win — but for those who saw the end, when Jalen Ramsey picked off the Bills’ QB, it was a moment of triumph.

Jalen Ramsey gives the Jags a moment of triumph.

People stayed in the stadium — a few Bills fans aside — until it was over.

It was Jacksonville’s moment.

As we enter what will be a bruising political year, it’s useful to remember that community is what brings us together.

It’s the teal, yes. But it’s more than that.

It’s the realization that it’s Duval against the world.

There are those who bet on the world.

But Sunday showed that it feels better to bet on Duval.

Especially when the Jags go over.

Doctor, heal thyself

Problems with your marriage?

Is it unhealthy?

The Florida Legislature is willing to help future couples avoid such troubles as they traipse into connubial bliss.

Do as we say … not as we do.

The solution: a “guide to a healthy marriage.”

The version filed in the House is a guide that would contain resources addressing “conflict management, communication skills, family expectations, financial responsibilities and management, domestic violence resources and parenting responsibilities.”

Monday saw Jacksonville Republican state Rep. Clay Yarborough file the House version of the legislation (HB 1323).

The Legislature wouldn’t write this guide on its own (probably for the best given that philandering ended the careers of two Senators in recent months, with another former Senator and current state Representative going through a prolonged high-profile and messy divorce).

Instead, the guide would be written by the Marriage Education Committee: a panel of six marriage education and family advocates, two picked by the Governor, two by the Senate President, and two more by the House Speaker.

In other words, the same formula that has led to a smooth-running Constitutional Revision Commission could be brought to bear on Florida marriages.

Private funds would pay for the guide w, and reading it would be a prerequisite for a marriage license.

Jay Fant files monument protection bill

Rep. Fant, a Jacksonville Republican running for Attorney General, presented the latest in a series of base-pleasing bills for the 2018 Legislative Session Monday.

Fant’s HB 1359 (the “Soldiers’ and Heroes’ Monuments and Memorials Protection Act”) contends that any wartime monument erected after 1822 on public property may only be moved for its repair or the repair of the property containing it.

Desecration of monuments would be a felony if passed.

The bill’s primary imports: forestalling removal of Confederate monuments, as happened most recently in Memphis. And establishing criminal penalties for tampering — penalties that would supersede the ordinance code or enforcement inclinations of rogue municipalities.

Fant’s hometown Jacksonville dealt with a Confederate monument removal debate in 2017; Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche took a position in favor of moving monuments to museums, as they divided the community

Fant’s legislative docket is serving up more red meat than the butcher at Avondale’s renowned Pinegrove market.

If enacted, his “Free Enterprise Protection Act” will “ensure that Florida business owners are protected from government sanctions and penalties when they are exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Fant was inspired to file FEPA by the case of a Colorado baker who balked at making a wedding cake for a gay couple, as said baker saw the act of baking as lending sanction to their choice to marry. FEPA would protect the free speech rights of businesses.

Fant also is carrying the House version of a Senate bill that would allow people to carry guns to, from, and during events in Florida’s great outdoors; if it clears the governor’s desk, everyone from crabbers to dog-walkers will be protected while packing heat.

Aaron Bean talks Rob Bradley, sanctuary cities

Sen. Bean spent some time giving his thoughts on the Legislative Session — including the benefits of an appropriations chair from Northeast Florida (Fleming Island Republican Sen. Bradley), and potential pitfalls for a bill he is carrying.

Aaron Bean was typically enthusiastic about 2018.

Bean was voluble on what Bradley means, both for the Senate and the region.

“I have known Sen. Bradley for almost 30 years,” Bean asserted, “and he is going to be outstanding as Appropriations Chair. He makes it look easy, but he is always the most prepared member in the room from his constant reading and research.

“As a sub-chair for the criminal justice and environmental appropriations committees,” Bean added, “members could be sure that Senator Bradley was going to know why funds were being spent, and he would be sure it was a good use of taxpayer dollars.”

“He is going to be great for Florida. It is a bonus that he is from North Florida. North Florida Legislators are still going to have to work for any requests, because Bradley is not going to give anyone a pass just because they are from our area, but he is going to deliver a budget we can all be proud of,” Bean said.

Bean is carrying 23 bills — but the most high-profile measure (a ban on sanctuary cities that should clear the House easily) may not get through the Senate.

“Our Sanctuary City bill faces a tough opening as it has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. We don’t have the votes to get it passed — yet — so we are working hard to get that done,” Bean said.

Big month for Bradley committee

Fleming Island Republican Sen. Bradley saw his political committee raise more money in November than in any other single month.

Rob Bradley is becoming a major power broker in NE Florida.

And in December, Bradley’s Working for Florida’s Families exceeded that sum, setting an internal record level of fundraising for the second straight month.

The committee hauled in $173,000, with significant buy-in from U.S. Sugar, Walmart, Florida Blue, Associated Industries of Florida and the associated Florida Prosperity Fund.

All told, the committee has over $720,000 on hand.

Bradley became the Appropriations Chair after the removal of now-resigned Sen. Jack Latvala, his predecessor in the role.

Northeast Florida legislators expect that he will be in a position to ensure that the oft-neglected region gets its fair share in the budget process.

Bradley backs Wyman Duggan

A key endorsement in the House District 15 race, as Sen. Bradley backs Duggan — thus far, the sole Republican candidate.

Bradley described Duggan as “a respected community leader who will serve with honor, integrity, and commitment to our shared conservative values.”

Wyman Duggan has all the endorsements he could want … and no primary opponents.

Duggan, meanwhile, is “honored to have the support of Sen. Bradley who has served as a conservative leader in the Florida Senate. I look forward to working with Sen. Bradley throughout my campaign and in the Florida legislature fighting for a more prosperous and brighter future for Florida.”

Duggan has scored a swath of endorsements from Republican electeds, setting up the “Your leaders trust Duggan … shouldn’t you?” mailpieces.

Jacksonville City Councilmen Danny Becton, Matt Schellenberg, Greg Anderson, Aaron Bowman, Scott Wilson, Doyle Carter, Jim Love and Sam Newby are on board. So are former Councilmen Jim Overton and Kevin Hyde. And Rep. John Rutherford, State Sen. Aaron Bean, State Rep. Jason Fischer, Duval Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell, Duval Tax Collector Michael Corrigan also back Duggan.

$142K haul for Lenny Curry committee

It was a December to remember for Build Something That Lasts, the political committee of Jacksonville Mayor Curry.

Lenny Curry’s fundraising is so strong that gravity has stopped applying to him.

The Curry committee cleaned up to end the year, raking in $142,000, pushing the committee up to $603,000 on hand.

The strong month comes at a pivotal time for the Mayor’s policy and political operations. The Mayor’s Office aligns with a proposal to privatize JEA, a pitch which has floated periodically over the years but returned at the end of last year, via a proposal from a key political supporter and outgoing board member Tom Petway.

Additionally, Curry likely will face at least a nominal opponent for re-election. Whether he does or not, however, his committee likely will play in Jacksonville City Council races — supporting candidates who align with his vision, and working against less cooperative Council incumbents.

Danny Becton, Sam Newby launch Jax Council VP runs

An annual tradition in Jacksonville City Council is beginning anew: the race for Jacksonville City Council VP.

Often — but not always — the VP slot is a springboard to the presidency the next year.

Two Republican Councilmen — Becton and Newby — are in the race already.

Sam Newby may be the early front-runner for Council VP.

Two more — Republican Scott Wilson and Democrat Tommy Hazouri — are giving the race a close look.

All are first-termers.

Wilson finished second in the VP race in 2017; Hazouri, meanwhile, is a former mayor and the only Democrat in the mix.

Read the whole story here.

Reggie Gaffney runs hard for re-election

One Jacksonville City Council member who doesn’t need to wonder about Curry targeting him in 2019: Gaffney.

Democrat Gaffney is a strong supporter of Jacksonville’s Republican Mayor, standing by Curry even when many other Council members cast aspersions, and the Councilman hopes that a record of tangible achievements in his district outweighs negative press.

Corrine Brown is out of the game, but Reggie Gaffney wants 4 more years.

A recent video, cut with an unseen interviewer, reveals more about Gaffney’s platform.

“District 7 is a very large district,” Gaffney said. “I like to think of District 7 as three different communities all with different needs.”

While there are many “priority projects” he could cite, Gaffney says that Amazon — “because it’s about jobs” — is No. 1.

Meanwhile, Gaffney takes credit for fixing the collapsed Liberty Street Bridge, calling it his “first project.”

Gaffney also takes credit for compelling Curry to address drainage issues in the flood-prone Lower Eastside.

Gaffney then asserted his key role in getting money for the stadium improvement projects (amphitheater, covered practice field and club seat renovations) approved in his term.

“The mayor said, ‘I need your help,’” Gaffney said, and he was willing to — as it meant “jobs” for his district.

“I said ‘let’s make it happen,’” Gaffney related.

Honors for HRO sponsors, as theocons challenge bill

Last February, Jacksonville expanded its Human Rights Ordinance, giving protections to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the workplace, public accommodations and housing markets.

It is Feb. 3 at the Florida Yacht Club; Equality Florida will honor the three sponsors of the legislation: City Council VP Aaron Bowman and Councilman Jim Love (two Republicans), and Councilman Tommy Hazouri (a Democrat).

Tommy Hazouri is one of the HRO co-sponsors set to be honored.

Unsurprisingly, Equality Florida gives itself credit for passage.

“After a nearly 10-year campaign, Jacksonville ended its reign as the only major city in Florida without an LGBT-inclusive Human Rights Ordinance. In February 2017, we saw unprecedented leadership and investment in this battle by Equality Florida, the citizens of Jacksonville, and these three elected leaders — resulting in the updated HRO on Valentine’s Day.”

Props for FPL, JEA from environmental groups

St. Johns River Power Park, the largest operating coal power plant in Florida, has been shut down, co-owners Florida Power & Light and JEA announced Tuesday.

Coal may not be the future after all …

The utilities said the historic Jacksonville plant was aging and no longer economical as one of the highest-cost facilities among both FPL’s and JEA’s generating systems.

At nearly the same time, FPL lit up four new solar power plants — some of the largest ever built — and says it is nearing completion on four more new solar farms in a matter of weeks.

The ambitious moves earned kudos from leading environmental groups.

“FPL has a forward-looking strategy of making smart, innovative, long-term investments, including solar, to reduce emissions while providing affordable, clean energy for its customers,” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida’s interim executive director.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical to addressing climate change,” said Greg Knecht, deputy executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “Anytime we can replace less-efficient sources of energy with cleaner fuels or solar it’s a benefit for people and nature. Investments such as FPL’s in clean-energy technologies are key to Florida’s future health and prosperity.”

JAXPORT adds direct New Zealand, Australia service

Beginning March, JAXPORT will offer direct service to New Zealand and Australia for roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) cargo through Höegh Autoliners’ new U.S. to Oceania direct express Ro/Ro service.

JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal will serve as the last East Coast port of call in the rotation.

JAXPORT will offer direct service to New Zealand and Australia for roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) cargo through Höegh Autoliners. Photo credit: Lucien van Horn

The monthly service will start with the first vessel, the 6,500-CEU (car capacity) Höegh Jeddah, sailing out of Jacksonville. Vessel rotation will include Auckland in New Zealand as well as Brisbane, Port Kembla, Melbourne and Fremantle in Australia.

Horizon Terminal Services, Höegh Autoliners’ fully owned terminal owning and operating company headquartered in Jacksonville, will provide fumigation and wash down services at Blount Island.

Additional information on Höegh’s trade route to Oceania is available at icptrack.com.

UNF tops in U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Online’ bachelor’s programs

The University of North Florida earned a top spot in U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 Best Online Programs rankings.

Released this week, UNF is among the Top 40 colleges and universities in the country for “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs,” ranking included data from nearly 1,500 distance-education degree programs nationwide.

UNF tops in U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Online’ bachelor’s programs.

At No. 31, UNF jumped 17 spots from last year’s ranking, and is the only higher education institution from the Jacksonville area listed among the rankings in this category. The University also landed on the “Best Online Education Programs” list, a graduate-level ranking. Only degree-granting programs offering classes entirely online were considered.

“It’s very rewarding to have U.S. News & World Report rank our bachelor’s and our graduate education online programs among the best in the nation,” said UNF President John Delaney. “Faculty in our online programs are committed to this form of program delivery and have developed course materials and teaching methods that are second to none.”

More information on the “Best Online Programs” rankings is at usnews.com/online.

Jacksonville Bold for 1.5.18 — Cold outside, 2018 is hot

The weather report was unprecedented this week. Cold as ice, as the Foreigner classic goes.

But for those needing a warmup, the 2018 political landscape brings the heat.

Right now, it’s hotter than July in the orbit of almost-Jacksonville Rep. Ron DeSantis. He’s got the billionaires backing him, and a robopoll saying he’s more popular than Adam Putnam.

Time will tell there.

The race to replace DeSantis in Congress also is heating up.

We also have Democratic candidates making moves — both in 2018 and 2019.

And if you read down far enough, you will see us predicting a Jaguars Super Bowl win.

Perhaps we are still celebrating the New Year on that last item?

Bold is back (as you can see) and we are ready for whatever 2018 brings.

Billionaires back DeSantis for Governor

Breaking: lots of people who can buy and sell most of those reading this blog post want DeSantis for Governor.

If Ron DeSantis were an 80s pro wrestling group, they’d be called Money Inc.

Team DeSantis rolled out more than 50 Floridians stretching from Miami through the Panhandle and featuring Palm Beach billionaire Thomas Peterffy; and more than two dozen national names, topped by Las Vegas casino mogul and conservative political rainmaker Sheldon Adelson.

DeSantis’ state financial leadership team includes Republican donors and timeshare moguls Jackie and David Siegel of Windermere; Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus; Palm Beach fundraisers Gay and Stanley Gaines; and Art Hudson of Orlando.

In addition to Adelson, the national committee includes David Bossie of Dallas, who is chairman of the Citizens United political activism organization and was a deputy campaign director for Trump; Republican financier Rebekah Mercer of New York; Dick Uihlein of Chicago, a big backer of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Club for Growth; and Christian-conservative cause financier Foster Friess of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The GOP race for Governor is shaking out to be Tallahassee interests backing Putnam versus outside interests backing Richard Corcoran. This raises interesting questions for the House Speaker and undeclared candidate. Can he compete with these machines?

Putnam has on-hand roughly $15 million; DeSantis, no doubt, will be able to catch up.

DeSantis leads in poll … is it real?

The DeSantis campaign pushed out a poll, via POLITICO, that has the congressman leading Putnam — even before declaring his candidacy.

Are friends electric? Are pollsters robotic? Ron DeSantis and Marc Caputo say yes to the latter.

“The automated ‘robopoll,’ which had a sample of 1,423 likely GOP voters, had DeSantis with 28 percent, ahead of Putnam (25 percent), and Corcoran (3 percent),” the POLITICO write-up asserts.

President Donald Trump’s endorsement of DeSantis matters bigly also. 84 percent of Republicans polled view Trump favorably. And 36 percent see themselves as “Trump Republicans.”

Worth noting: A robopoll is generally not something POLITICO Florida embraces. However, in this case, it made an exception … for reasons not disclosed.

Also, worth noting: This is the only poll that has shown DeSantis even within striking distance of Putnam.

Fred Costello in CD 6 GOP derby

State Rep. Fred Costello is joining what appears to be an increasingly crowded field in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

Costello finished a distant second to incumbent DeSantis in the 2016 primary, with 24 percent of the vote; however, with DeSantis essentially running for Governor at this point, Costello will join a field that includes businessman John Ward.

Other candidates — including former Green Beret Michael Waltz, St. Johns County Commissioner Jimmy Johns, and Brandon Patty — are taking hard looks at the race; if that field shakes out with six candidates, a hard 24 percent could be competitive.

Fred Costello’s campaign is classic red state.

Costello plans to roll out his campaign Saturday, Jan. 6, at Rockefeller Park at the Casements in Ormond Beach. Rallies follow throughout the day throughout the district.

Costello was a former Ormond Beach Mayor before moving on to the state Legislature. He intends to brand his campaign with a fealty to Trump, an adherence to so-called “Judeo-Christian values,” and localism.

“I have lived, raised my family, worked, played and prayed in Congressional District 6 for 40 years. As a USAF veteran and business owner who has served you as a dentist, Ormond Beach Mayor & State Representative, I am well prepared to Stand for US!”

Costello’s campaign will roll out prominent backers speaking at the events: among them, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland, Deltona Mayor John Masiarczyk, state Rep. David Santiago and state Sen. Dennis Baxley will be among the elected officials on hand for regional launches.

Greeting him on the trail, per POLITICO Florida: a complaint that he was campaigning as early as August 2017.

Prediction: DeSantis endorses someone else in this field. DeSantis was irked earlier this year by another candidate, John Ward, jumping in too early.

Al Lawson challenger scores CBC staffer endorsement

Rontel Batie, a Democrat challenging incumbent Al Lawson in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, brought out an endorsement from a former Congressional Black Caucus executive director (Abdul Henderson) this week.

Al Lawson isn’t taking Rontel Batie seriously yet. And Batie is exploiting the situation.

Batie has pointed out previously that Lawson doesn’t line up with the CBC. Batie, a former Corrine Brown staffer who emerged from the CBC’s political operation, is clearly more prepared to line up with the caucus.

“I am pleased to have received an endorsement from Abdul Henderson, who served as the Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus from 2015-2016. Abdul is very familiar with my work ethic and has long believed that we need to make room for young leaders in Congress like myself,” Batie said.

State Reps. preview 2018 Legislative Session

In 2016, Cord Byrd, Clay Yarborough, and Jason Fischer overcame competitive primaries to win nominations — despite powerful interests and strong candidates going against each of the three in the process.

Clay Yarborough is one of three Jacksonville Republicans beginning year 2 next week.

The general elections, in each of their districts, lacked drama: all three beat write-in candidates, garnering over 90 percent of the vote.

We asked the three of them to evaluate the working relationship of the Duval Delegation going into the Legislative Session, their own personal priorities for the 60 days, as well as getting their thoughts on working with City Hall throughout the process this year.

All three of them believe that the delegation is in sync.

Fischer and Byrd messaged specifically on lowering taxes further; Yarborough discussed bills of specific importance to him, including a measure that would repurpose unused medications for those who need them in the state.

As well, all three discussed how the new configuration in the Mayor’s Office — with Chief of Staff Brian Hughes taking an official role — would affect Jacksonville priorities.

None anticipated an adverse effect; Fischer offered the hottest quote.

“The addition of Brian Hughes is a force multiplier for the city. If you want to build something that lasts,” Fischer said, “hire Brian Hughes.”

Of course, “Build Something That Lasts” is the name of Mayor Lenny Curry’s political committee.

Read the entire interview here.

SPLC lauds Melissa Nelson

The Southern Poverty Law Center lauded Melissa Nelson, 4th Circuit State Attorney, for meaningful reforms that have halved Duval’s arrests of children.

The SPLC gave Melissa Nelson props … something that never happened to Angela Corey.

“It is encouraging to see that the number of children prosecuted as adults in Florida has declined, but the fact that we’re sending more than 1,000 children into the adult criminal justice system every year is troubling. Florida prosecutes more children as adults than any other state — often at the sole discretion of prosecutors,” asserted an SPLC representative.

“Some areas of the state with reform-minded state attorneys are keeping their promises to send fewer children to the adult system. In Duval County, there was a nearly 50 percent drop in children going to adult court,” the SPLC continued.

Civil citations were among the reforms that activists thought former State Attorney Angela Corey was too slow to implement. Nelson beat Corey by a more than two to one margin in the 2016 Republican primary, with anecdotal evidence of Democrats and independents crossing over to vote against Corey.

Curry to appear on ESPN Sunday

Jacksonville Mayor Curry is a hard-core NFL fan — and one of his life goals will be completed this weekend on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown.

The reason: the Jaguars are hosting a playoff game, and Curry proclaimed standout defensive end Calais Campbell the Mayor of “Sacksonville.”

An ESPN producer reached out Tuesday via email:

“We are heading down to Jacksonville this week to speak to the Jaguars defensive line, and Calais Campbell, who last month you proclaimed as the ‘Mayor of Sacksonville.'”

“Would you have a window of availability anytime Thursday or Friday to be interviewed on camera about your proclamation? We’d be happy to conduct the interview in your office as it would only take about 15 minutes (we would just need about an hour or so to set up),” the producer wrote.

ESPN could soon feature the ”Mayor of Sacksonville.’

While we haven’t confirmed Curry’s participation in this, sources familiar with his thinking say there is no way he would miss this opportunity.

Campbell, a tenth-year player from Miami, has 14.5 sacks on the season; the big-ticket free agent holds the franchise record.

The Jaguars are favored in Sunday’s tilt against the Buffalo Bills by upward of 7 points, and tickets for the game are sold out and are the hottest ticket among the wild card games on the resale market.

The Jaguars are a 3 seed in the AFC playoffs, meaning that barring a string of upsets in the first two rounds, this will be their only home playoff game.

$490,000 buys a lot of BBQ

WJXT contributed the latest in a depressing and distressing cycle of stories about Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown’s family’s failed business venture — a BBQ sauce plant that couldn’t get off the ground, despite SBA and city loans and grants totaling well over $3 million.

Per WJXT4 THE Local Station”: The bankruptcy judge spelled out a restructuring plan to pay back a portion of what’s owed.

After $3M in loans and grants, Katrina Brown’s sauce biz couldn’t get off the ground.

“The Brown family companies operate two businesses and owe the city a total of $572,000. The city is suing them separately over the $220,000 grant and a $350,000 loan. Of that, the judge ordered the family to pay back the city only $80,000 the next seven years,” a solution which “leaves city taxpayers $490,000 short.”

The Councilwoman’s Porsche likely won’t be seen around City Hall, either.

“Katrina Brown’s debt to pay off her Porsche was also in the settlement. She got an insurance payout enough to cover the outstanding car loan. Documents don’t disclose why, but sometimes you see payouts after an accident.”

Three-way dance in at-large 2

A Democrat might jump into the scrum in Jacksonville City Council’s at-large District 2.

Darren Mason — a member of Duval Democratic Party leadership and an alumnus of the office of current Councilwoman Joyce Morgan — is mulling a run.

Darren Mason is prepared to flex his political muscles and enter the field of play for 2019.

Currently, two Republicans are in the race: well-financed Ron Salem and former Councilman Bill Bishop.

The calculus: Bishop and Salem would cannibalize the Republican vote in this citywide race, clearing a path to the runoff for Mason.

Worth noting: oppo on Bishop was pushed out in 2015 when he ran for Mayor.

Worth asking: Does Mason have Google?

He should be in the race by mid-January, according to an informed source.

Happening Saturday 

State Sen. Travis Hutson and state Rep. Paul Renner, both of Palm Coast, join Farm Share to host a free food distribution at the WE Harris Community Center, 400 Harris St. Distribution begins  9 a.m., and is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

JTA launches test track for self-driving vehicles

Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s new autonomous vehicle (AV) test track opened Wednesday, featuring a self-driving 12-passenger vehicle.

The JTA track — between Intuition and Daily’s Place — will research different AVs over the next two years, writes Will Robinson of the Jacksonville Business Journal. The inaugural ride was with a Transdev vehicle with room for six seated passengers and six standing passengers.

JTA unveiled a new autonomous vehicle test track, open to the public to help users get used to the technology and to provide JTA with feedback.

“In Jacksonville, we clearly continue to stay ahead of the curve in how we provide transportation to our citizens,” CEO Nat Ford told the Journal. “We thought really big with this.”

The track will see a rotation of vehicles — of various sizes — every six months, testing different speeds and functionalities to select the Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) as part of the Skyway infrastructure. JTA intends to retrofit the 2.5-mile Skyway infrastructure, with offramps to expand the transit system into Brooklyn, LaVilla, San Marco, to EverBank Field and more.

City Council to review Jacksonville Zoo ‘living shoreline’ project

After six years of talk and planning, an eco-friendly project to stem erosion at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens shoreline may finally be realized — pending City Council approval.

Steve Patterson of the Florida Times-Union reports that the city’s Environmental Protection Board voted in November to fund a “living shoreline” project, using part of a $165,000 trust made up from fines collected from polluters.

In addition to city council approval, legislation to allow the money to be spent must be filed — expected sometime this winter, Patterson writes.

The project showing Jacksonville Zoo’s proposed ‘living shoreline.’

According to city lawyers, an agreement for the new money must be treated like a construction project, one where Public Works Department officials review and approve. Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a project permit, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved the project.

Usually, a bulkhead would be used to stop the waves, but it would isolate turtles, wading birds, crabs and other creatures in the river from shallower water. Bulkheads can also be affected by the water and storms.

The proposed living shoreline would be a more sustainable way to block waves, applying reef balls in the river adjacent to the shore’s low-tide line. Reef balls, concrete domes with holes, intended to allow shellfish and other creatures grab hold and start new reefs to filter water and slow waves.

Three UF Health Jacksonville leaders to retire

As 2017 ends, three of UF Health Jacksonville senior leaders — Russ Armistead, CEO; Penny Thompson, vice president of Government Affairs; and Bill Ryan, senior vice president and chief financial officer — enter retirement. Each made significant contributions to patients and staff for years to come.

Russ Armistead, Penny Thompson and Bill Ryan.

On Aug. 16, 2004, Armistead was recruited to UF Health in Gainesville as associate vice president of Finance and Planning. In December 2012, amid negotiations to take an administrative position at Augusta University, then known as Georgia Regents University, UF Health President David Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., asked Armistead to become CEO of UF Health Jacksonville and use his financial expertise to lead the hospital into a more profitable future. Armistead began as CEO Jan. 7, 2013.

His legacy includes improving the cultural harmony of hospital staff and physicians through hospitality training, promoting increased employee engagement numbers by addressing issues that matter to staff, and by making himself available through weekly rounds and his “A Few Minutes with Us” biweekly video series.

On Jan. 1, Leon L. Haley Jr., M.D., MHSA, will assume the role of CEO following Armistead’s retirement.

Thompson began her career with UF Health Jacksonville Jan. 20, 1987, as director of communications and marketing. In this role, she fostered important relationships within the media and the community to make UF Health Jacksonville a more well-known resource for patients in its service areas.

Thompson served the past 18 years as vice president of Government Affairs. Her accomplishments include playing a vital role in securing an additional $2 million in city funding for the hospital, which unlocked more than $18 million in federal funding. She also secured funding through the hospital’s Volunteer Services budget to start the Arts in Medicine program, which has transformed the experiences of countless patients in their time of need. Thompson was also key in establishing UF Health Jacksonville as one of two designated Children’s Miracle Network hospitals in the city of Jacksonville.

Ryan joined UF Health Jacksonville as CFO in December 2001, believing he was fully prepared to manage the financial assets of a large academic hospital. Ryan admirably negotiated the internal relations, budgets and debt arrangements to successfully maintain UF Health Jacksonville as a fully functioning and valuable safety-net hospital for the Jacksonville community.

In September 2003, Ryan retired, but would return as CFO in July 2015.

Predictions for 2018

For the third straight year, Florida Politics has advanced predictions for 2018 in Northeast Florida.

Super Bowl Shuffle for Shahid Kahn and the mayor? We predict it!

Last year, we got a whopping 40 percent right.

Could we do worse this year? It’s possible!

Our crystal ball sees Al Lawson and John Rutherford walking to re-election in the House.

We also see a Democrat — perhaps even one with a pulse — emerging to run against Curry.

JEA privatization, we believe, will be a tough sell.

Real candidates will emerge to face City Council incumbents Anna Brosche, Katrina Brown and Garrett Dennis.

And the Jaguars will … GULP … win the Super Bowl.

Read the whole slate here.

Also worth reading: People to watch in 2018 and How botched were last year’s predictions?

Help wanted: GateHouse Media seeks statewide political reporter

Interested in writing about the hurly-burly of Tallahassee politics? GateHouse Media has a job for you.

The Legislative Session is fast approaching; the job, posted Dec. 21, has yet to be filled.

“GateHouse Media’s Florida newspapers are seeking an aggressive, multi-talented Capitol Bureau reporter to enhance the group’s coverage of statewide issues for a range of newspapers whose coverage areas span nearly the entire state, from the Panhandle, to inland agricultural areas to the coasts,” the posting asserts.

Indeed, for those who might expect a local reporter to focus on statewide issues relevant to the local market, that coverage area offers a wide scope.

Panama City, Gainesville, Ocala, Jacksonville, Daytona Beach and Sarasota — all major metros with discrete needs and expectations from their legislative delegations.

“This reporter needs a voracious appetite for all things Florida, a willingness to depart from the herd in story selection and storytelling and an ability to juggle the demands of daily developments during the often chaotic days of the legislative session with the need for deeper dives into investigative pieces and data crunching, political analysis and the issues important to GateHouse’s diverse readership,” the posting adds.

And there is more, of course.

“The position also requires a reporter who can adeptly balance the immediate demands of digital news production with those of print, inform readers about the people who are making the policy decisions that will affect their daily lives and how – particularly those representing the areas covered by GateHouse’s papers – keep track of the special interests that influence decisions and get beyond the mechanics of what’s happening in Tallahassee to telling readers why it matters,” the posting continues.

There’s a lot to unpack in that 76-word sentence. And a lot of seemingly contradictory expectations, as a reader in Panama City and a reader in Jacksonville may have different views on what’s happening and why it matters.

“The beat demands a mix of daily, enterprise and longer-term investigative pieces that complements, rather than duplicates, what’s available from the wires,” the posting concludes.

GateHouse offers a map of Florida markets on its website, yet that map is incomplete, not reflecting recent acquisitions of Morris Publishing properties in Jacksonville, Daytona and St. Augustine.

Until late last year, Jacksonville’s Florida Times-Union had a dedicated Tallahassee “bureau chief”: Tia Mitchell.

Mitchell was to “rebuild the paper’s presence in the state’s capital.”

But she has moved on, covering the DeKalb County beat for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And the Florida Times-Union and other GateHouse properties will maintain an umbrella presence, one that “complements” the work of the Associated Press and News Service of Florida.

In Jacksonville, there have been some changes in the Florida Times-Union model already.

One such change: the outsourcing of printing operations, which leaves 50 workers contemplating job searches before local print operations are shuttered in February.

That outsourcing of printing could affect distribution of papers and force writers covering late events to offer truncated versions of local stories for the print edition — referring readers to the internet for the full story.

Daily journalism faces myriad challenges. And political journalism clearly is no exception.

In a state where population continues to grow, it is notable that daily newspaper subscribers in GateHouse markets will have to rely on “one size fits all” political coverage, reporting that by its very nature cannot drill into the unique intersection of local and regional players and their statewide representatives.

Northeast Florida lawmakers preview 2018 Legislative Session

In 2016, Cord Byrd, Clay Yarborough and Jason Fischer overcame competitive GOP primaries to win nominations — despite powerful interests and strong candidates going against each of them in the process.

The general elections, in each of their districts, lacked drama: all three beat write-in candidates, garnering over 90 percent of the vote.

We asked the three Republicans to evaluate the working relationship of the Duval Delegation headed into the 2018 Legislative Session, their own personal priorities for the 60 days, as well as getting their thoughts on working with City Hall throughout the process this year.

All three of them believe that the delegation is in sync.

Byrd — a Republican whose district includes the Jacksonville beaches along with Nassau County — asserted that “the delegation works very well together and I consider us all friends. I cannot think of an issue where our priorities for improving the quality of life for our constituents do not align.”

Yarborough, whose Southside Jacksonville district encompasses the areas he represented on the City Council, asserted that “we saw some good work the past year.”

Ali Korman Shelton with the Mayor’s Office approached us with a couple ideas that I know we worked on,” Yarborough said, noting his own work on getting pedestrian safety measures into the budget.

A bill to get new crosswalk countdown heads that Yarborough carried was vetoed last year; however, he intends to carry that again.

“We’ve had a lot of issues with pedestrians getting hit where local and state roads come together,” Yarborough said. “The state has some skin in the game there and it needs to put some money in place to help with that.”

“It’s been a good working relationship and collaboration among the freshmen,” Yarborough noted about the Duval Delegation being “on the same page with priorities.”

“I think that will continue,” Yarborough said.

Fischer, who represents Southside Jacksonville from San Marco south to Mandarin, likewise was optimistic.

“I think everyone is focused on and committed to helping Jacksonville and the Northeast Florida region. There are differences of opinion at times,” Fischer said, “but when it comes to big picture stuff, I think we put aside our differences and focus on helping people.”

The legislators also discussed, at some length, their priorities for 2018.

“One of my legislative priorities is hurricane relief and preparedness. Two hurricanes in two years impacted many families throughout the district,” Byrd said, “and not just along the coast.  Many people are still waiting for relief. Cutting through the red tape to provide relief more quickly now and in the future is a priority. Coastal hardening to protect our natural resources is also a component of this effort.”

Among the bills Byrd is carrying this Session: an ask for $2 million for coastal hardening in Jacksonville Beach.

“Working with the veterans in our community is also a priority. There is a lot of work that needs to be done for them and I know that the Mayor and Governor share my concerns that we can do more to ensure that Florida is the most veteran friendly state in the nation,” Byrd added.

“I am also really excited about the economic growth and opportunity that North Florida is experiencing.  Keeping taxes and regulation to a minimum will help this effort,” Byrd continued.

Fischer also spoke to the importance of “tax relief” for “citizens and businesses.”

“If we can cut taxes again this year, we can keep our economy growing,” Fischer noted.

“After we secure a tax cut, my next priority is to shift money from some areas I think are wasteful spending and push it into roads, bridges, and other vital infrastructure.”

Yarborough noted a couple of priority bills he’s carrying.

“One is a bipartisan effort that I’m doing with Rep. Nick Duran,” Yarborough noted, a revamp of the cancer drug donation program to the prescription drug donation program.

“It allows drugs to be reused if they haven’t been opened … or compromised,” Yarborough said. “The current state law says we can do that with cancer drugs,” but the revamp would allow for a “wider range” of people to be helped.

Yarborough is also carrying a bill that would allow law enforcement to use drones to investigate crime scenes after crimes have occurred, for evidence collection after an accident scene.

The three legislators also evaluated their working relationships with the office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry — which made a high-profile add at chief of staff in Brian Hughes.

Fischer — who employed Hughes as a political consultant during his 2016 campaign — was excited by the hire, and by his continuing relationship with the Curry administration.

“I have a great relationship with Mayor Curry and I think he is doing a phenomenal job. He’s not just a constituent, he’s a personal friend,” Fischer said.

“The addition of Brian Hughes is a force multiplier for the city. If you want to build something that lasts,” Fischer said, “hire Brian Hughes.”

Yarborough likewise is optimistic, not anticipating any change in the ability to get local priorities through. He noted that Ali Korman Shelton — the city’s intergovernmental affairs liaison — has been his point of contact, and he anticipates no change there.

Byrd likewise sees the status quo being maintained.

“I do not anticipate any changes in working with the Mayor’s office. The City has always been responsive to my requests and ensuring that the Duval portion of District 11 is in the City’s plan for growth and prosperity.  The budget this year was already going to be tough and was only made more challenging by Hurricane Irma. Everyone should be prepared for tough budget negotiations regardless of any changes in the Mayor’s office.  In my conversations with fellow members of the delegation I know we are ready for the budget battle,” Byrd said.

Jacksonville seeks $10M from feds for beach renourishment

Two consecutive years have seen hurricanes strafe Duval County shorelines. And Jacksonville leadership wants $10 million in federal help.

Last week, Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa emailed Susie Wiles, a City Hall veteran and Ballard Partners lobbyist who ran the stretch run of President Donald Trump‘s Florida campaign.

The subject: getting federal movement on beach renourishment funds.

“The City of Jacksonville needs the USACE to fully fund the Project Information Report (PIR) that is currently in their DC office,” Mousa wrote.

“The PIR includes the Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies (FCCE) component to bring the beaches back to the Design Template (100% Federal) and to then increase the amount of material to reach the normal ‘Beach Renourishment’ plan (this would have the normal local partnership contribution). The Dunes Restoration is not a part of the PIR…it would be accomplished as a piggyback onto the USACE effort but completely funded by COJ,” Mousa added.

“We believe St. Johns County & Nassau County PIR has already been approved/funded. We cannot seem to get ours moving,” Mousa continued.

Florida Politics reached out to Mayor Lenny Curry‘s administration for more context on this email.

The city seeks “approximately $10 million to restore the beach to its normal renourishment template.”

Though Mousa bemoaned getting the PIR moving, the city does “not consider the matter stalled, but rather the request proceeding through normal channels. We have no information on neighboring county efforts.”

And regardless of what happens, the city asserts that “Duval County will do whatever is needed to protect our shoreline.”

The city, of course, has put major money into beach restoration: $7.5 million of a $22 million price tag, for a project completed in June.

And these issues run concomitant with other storm-created needs, adding up to an $85 million hit from Irma, after a $45 million hit from Matthew (from which the city is still waiting on the vast majority of anticipated federal reimbursements in the $26 million range).

Slow start for Jacksonville opioid treatment program

The first month of “Operation Save Lives” – Jacksonville’s experimental inpatient opioid treatment program – is in the books and the results are mixed.

The program, intended to address the mounting body count from the use of fentanyl and its derivatives, sees a local emergency room used as a feeder for two inpatient treatment programs, which would (at least in theory) help some of Jacksonville’s addicts beat the habit.

In practice, the program is suitable – at least thus far – for a small fraction of the patients who present themselves to emergency rooms with overdose symptoms.

From November 18 to December 18, 24 such patients manifested and just six are “receiving or pending treatment.”

Fifteen declined treatment. Two more left against medical advice.

The program may be expanded to the Southside of Jacksonville in 2018; per the city’s opioid pilot program status report, that would be “in order to increase participation in the program.”

Overdoses, at last count, end four times as many lives as homicides in Duval County, with 2016’s count of 464 casualties more than doubling 2015’s count of 201.

Caucasians represent 86 percent of the deaths. More than half of those passing away are in their 30s and 40s.

Behold, the wreckage: A look at A.G. Gancarski’s 2017 predictions

Another year is mercifully almost in the books, and with that comes another chance for this writer to offer self-recrimination for yearly predictions that looked good in January.

Prediction 1 [TRUE]: The Duval Delegation will struggle to deliver.

On this one, I have to consider what the Mayor told me was the key priorities.

One of them was money for septic tank removal.

The city and JEA have committed to a five-year, $30 million shared process of removal of old septic tanks, with the idea of getting these properties onto city water and sewage.

The city wanted $15 million from the state; however, the Duval Delegation didn’t even carry the bill — which was instead carried by Rep. Travis Cummings of Clay County.

The measure died in committee.

So on that issue, the Delegation didn’t get it done.

Prediction 2 [TRUE]: Nothing for Hart Bridge offramp removal

The big ask last year: $50 million for removal of Hart Bridge offramps, with the idea of moving traffic onto surface streets by the Sports Complex.

Another called pitch strikeout.

No one even carried the bill. Delegation members told this reporter that they hadn’t been told about the project before it was introduced at a Duval Delegation meeting.

Delegation Chair Jay Fant said in March he would have been “happy to carry the bill,” but that the mayor’s office “backed off” because the concept “needed some validation” and wasn’t just a “request and get.”

The city is now pursuing a $25 million federal infrastructure grant, and wants $12.5 million from the state to help with that.

Thus far, crickets.

But long story short, the city didn’t get what it wanted there.

Prediction 3 [FALSE]: Collective bargaining with unions won’t wrap in time for 2018 budget

We were pessimistic that collective bargaining with unions, regarding pension reform, would take longer than it did.

We were wrong.

The unions traded pay raises for current members with the end of defined benefit plans for new members, who are all now into defined contribution plans.

This saved the city money in the short term.

As CFO Mike Weinstein said, the savings add up to “$1.4B less out of the general fund over the next 15 years,” and “without that revenue” from the half-cent sales tax, the city would have “difficulty matching revenue to expenses.”

The city was able to defer what is now a $3.2 billion obligation until 2030, when the Better Jacksonville Plan half-cent sales tax will be repurposed to dealing with what is now a pension plan playing out the string.

This allowed the city to have a bigger budget than in previous years, with more money for infrastructure spending.

In any event, we botched that one.

Prediction 4 [FALSE]: Human Rights Ordinance expansion won’t go through.

After five years of trying to find a way to add LGBT people to the city’s HRO, activists got their wish on Valentine’s Day; the expanded ordinance passed by a 12-6 margin in City Council.

The expansion added sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the list of protected categories under the ordinance, which ensures that people aren’t discriminated against in the workplace, the housing market, or public accommodations (restrooms, locker rooms, and so on).

Mayor Lenny Curry returned the bill to the city council without his signature; the bill is now law.

Instrumental in the push: Jaguars owner Shad Khan,

Khan, per some sources, read an article of this writer’s that suggested that Khan lean on Council for a yes vote.

Whether that’s true or apocryphal, who knows.

But a win’s a win.

Prediction 5 [TRUE]: The murder rate won’t abate.

Sad to be right about this one, but as the T-U’s homicide tracker says, the city is at 128 murders with two weeks to go this year.

Last year saw 118 homicides.

Curry and Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams probably won’t get real electoral challenges for re-election.

If they did, however, they would be vulnerable on this issue.

Prediction 6 [TRUE]: Alvin Brown continues to resurface.

This reporter has seen more of Alvin Brown this fall than he has his own mother … which means that he probably should visit home more often.

It also means that Brown is around; a fixture at everything from meetings of Duval Democrats to Corrine Brown hearings.

Brown, who is still mulling running against Al Lawson for Congress, is out there for a reason.

Prediction 7 [FALSE]: Local Dems vie to replace Al Lawson

While Brown is mulling, no one seems to be moving.

Audrey Gibson is in Democratic caucus leadership in the Florida Senate. Tony Hill is on Lawson’s payroll.

The expectations of a battle royale between Democrats, thus far, have been dashed.

Prediction #8 [FALSE]: There will be a homeless day resource center in Downtown Jacksonville

This was a priority of activists; this was not a priority of the Lenny Curry administration.

The contention: the day center had “mixed results.”

As is the case with other social-service legislation, such as the Jacksonville Journey, the mayor’s office wanted a data-driven approach. And the data showed that a day center serves a supplementary, not a primary purpose.

Prediction #9 [FALSE]: The city will reassume control of Hemming Park.

Jacksonville has found a rapprochement with a restructured Friends of Hemming Park group, meaning that this is not under direct city control.

Prediction #10 [FALSE]: Political scofflaws will skate on charges

This is false solely because Corrine Brown did get sentenced to five years in prison. At her age, that essentially is a life sentence.

All told, batted .400, with four correct and the rest junk.

Better luck next year!

Air Force rebuffs Jacksonville, sends F-35s to Alabama, Wisconsin

A big setback manifested for Jacksonville Friday, as the U.S. Air Force passed up a chance to station F-35’s in the military-friendly city.

The Air Force instead went with Truax Field Air National Guard Base in Wisconsin and Dannelly Field in Alabama as the bases for the next-generation aircraft.

Florida politicians tried to win this battle for F-35’s, but clearly did not overcome delegations elsewhere — despite strong support from the state’s Republican leadership for President Donald Trump during his campaign.

May saw the entire Florida Congressional Delegation come together to make the case for the planes coming to Jacksonville.

“We are confident that your continued review will show that 125th Fighter Wing is highly capable of supporting this fifth-generation fighter platform and that basing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in Jacksonville applies the right force at the right place,” the delegation’s letter asserted.

That confidence was clearly misplaced.

Also finding their recommendations falling on deaf ears: Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam and Gov. Rick Scott.

“With Jacksonville’s unparalleled airspace and infrastructure, no other place in the nation is better suited for a new squadron of F-35 fighters,” Putnam wrote in July to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

“There is no doubt that Jacksonville and the 125th FW are the nation’s ideal choice for the basing of these aircraft,” Scott wrote, citing value-adds.

Apparently, in fact, there was some doubt after all.

The F-35’s would have brought Jacksonville $100 million in estimated economic impact, 200 jobs and — crucially — a guarantee of continued air presence once the F-15s are inevitably phased out.

Republican Rep. John Rutherford asserted that Florida legislators will try again: “We are disappointed by the decision but are looking forward to future basing rounds for the Guard. The 125th Fighter Wing remains well-positioned to serve as the home of these highly capable aircraft. The entire Florida delegation remains fully committed to supporting our outstanding Guard and bringing F-35 capability to Northeast Florida.”

This is the second setback for the Jacksonville area in recent months, with the Florida Times-Union reporting in September that Mayport won’t get the nuclear carrier local politicians wanted.

With another round of BRAC imminent, the Jacksonville area has to wonder if more bad news is coming.

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