Jacksonville Archives - Page 2 of 77 - Florida Politics

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.

Jacksonville continues to mull expanded inmate work crews

Some enthusiasm still exists in Jacksonville’s City Hall when it comes to expanding the use of jail inmates for municipal work projects.

As we reported earlier this year, Jacksonville City Council members were examining the concept of using inmate work crews for remediation of municipal blight, even as prison strikes call attention nationally to what can go wrong with convict labor arrangements.

Earlier this year, suspended Councilman Reggie Brown enthused at the prospect, asked “wouldn’t it be nice to get inmates … to clean up the area” in downtown and other parts of town.”

Brown, a co-defendant in a federal fraud trial with Councilwoman Katrina Brown, was pulled from his post by Gov. Rick Scott, upon indictment.

Brown may be gone, but his idea still proves inspirational in the St. James Building, according to recent correspondence between Councilwoman Lori Boyer and the Office of General Counsel.

Boyer wanted to know back in March if blight cleanup could be parked in the Sheriff’s budget, if the city could pay “third-party entities” to watch over the laborers, and if city departments could “lease” officers to supervise work crews.

The solution with the most robust potential, said city lawyer Paige Hobbs Johnston: “Local governments can utilize a contractual arrangement with the State Department of Corrections for the use of prisoner inmate crews for public works, park projects or construction of public buildings.”

“The City would pay for the costs of the corrections officers (salary and benefits during the time of the project) required to oversee the project. I have found many examples of local governments that have in recent years signed such interlocal agreements such as Manatee County, Palm Coast, and Taylor County. The Florida Department of Transportation also utilizes inmate crews for road construction projects,” Johnston continued.

Community service hours, via the Salvation Army, offer another option for uncompensated labor. As would the use of juveniles, which would “help young offenders and forge a connection between them to their community and to allow them to have a positive impact on the aesthetics of their neighborhood.”

The answers were provided months ago; however, as Boyer just forwarded the email on Friday to the city’s chief administrator, Sam Mousa, it’s clear that the concept may have some legs as the city deals with blighted blocks, overgrown grass, and other issues that the city’s public works budget clearly isn’t fully addressing.

‘Pissed off’ Philip Levine slams NRA, no-show Republicans after Jacksonville weekend carnage

According to the final poll of the Democratic race for governor, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has faded with voters, down by 10 with a day left to go.

However, polls weren’t driving his itinerary for at least part of Monday.

In the wake of a weekend bookended by high-profile mass shootings after a high-school football game Friday night and a Madden video game tournament Sunday afternoon, Levine came to Jacksonville Monday — to rally the vote, and to (as likely nominee Gwen Graham did earlier in the day) talk gun law reform.

Levine used the front of the Jacksonville Landing, a time-ravaged, half-vacant riverfront mall built 30 years ago and made famous globally after the latter incident, as the backdrop as he addressed statewide and national media.

“To tell you that this is becoming way too regular an occurrence in Florida is an understatement,” a “pissed-off, infuriated” Levine said.

“What happened on Friday at Raines High School, what happened just behind me, what happened at Pulse nightclub, what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas … this continues to happen in Florida … the Gunshine State,” Levine added, with the “weakest gun safety laws in the nation.”

“The NRA, which stands for Not Responsible for Anything,” Levine said, “we’re going to make sure we defeat them.”

Levine was equally blunt regarding Republican candidates Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis, who canceled Jacksonville appearances after the mass shooting Sunday, in which two people were killed and 11 wounded.

“Radical Ron,” said Levine, “stands with Donald Trump … sided up with the NRA, so the bottom line is we know where he stands.”

Levine noted Putnam “was in charge of concealed weapons permits,” a process that was “messed up.”

“Only two jobs the guy has: to make sure that people who get concealed weapons permits have great background checks that are thorough and to make sure our citrus industry continues to grow, and he messed that up,” Levine said.

Gwen Graham, Philip Levine, Jeff Greene, Chris King in Jacksonville following shooting

The shooting at the gamers’ tournament Sunday at Jacksonville Landing is being followed by four Democratic gubernatorial candidates — Gwen Graham, Philip Levine, Jeff Greene, and Chris King — heading to Jacksonville, in part to offer direct responses.

Graham, the former U.S. Representative from Tallahassee, and King, the businessman from Winter Park, added additional events to their schedule Monday to specifically address gun violence and the shooting that left two dead and 11 injured. Greene, the businessman from Palm Beach, released a new schedule of events late Sunday that includes a Jacksonville stop. Monday morning, Levine’s campaign announced a stop at Jacksonville University.

Graham, the front-runner in many polls for Tuesday’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, announced she’ll be appearing for a “community conversation” at Uptown Kitchen, 1303 Main St., at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

She also has a previously scheduled Jacksonville event at the Mary Singleton Senior Center at 11 a.m. Monday.

Levine, the former Miami Beach Mayor who also is a front-runner in many other polls, announced a 10:45 a.m. stop at the JU Davis College of Business to meet with supporters, volunteers, and organizers.

King, running fifth and essentially out of prospects of winning but saying he is determined to continue pushing his messages, announced he’ll hold a news conference with North Florida gun violence activists and faith leaders outside Jacksonville City Hall at noon Monday.

Greene released a schedule of several newly announced public appearances around the state Monday and Tuesday, including an ice cream social at the Oceanway Community Center in Jacksonville at 12:30 p.m. Monday.

They and the other Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, as well as Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gov. Rick Scott, Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, Jacksonville-area leaders, and others all released statements Sunday.

Florida leaders, national figures respond to Jacksonville Landing mass shooting

Florida elected officials and politicians, as well as politicians and celebrities outside the Sunshine State, are responding to reports of multiple people dead and injured after a mass shooting Sunday afternoon at Jacksonville Landing.

Ivanka Trump

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Gov. Rick Scott

Attorney General Pam Bondi

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson

Mayor Lenny Curry

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Ron DeSantis

 

 

 

 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum

Gillum offered a statement later Sunday afternoon: “This gun violence epidemic must stop, and we simply cannot let this become the new normal. Too many lives are being snuffed out far too soon in everyday places like our high school football games, movie theaters, shopping malls, and public schools.”

“As long as we let this absurd status quo continue, in which the gun lobby controls our elected officials, this bloodshed will continue. I will lift the victims’ families up in prayer tonight, and as our next Governor, I will do everything in my power to finally pass the common sense gun safety laws we so badly need in the Sunshine State,” Gillum added.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine

“I am horrified and I am furious. The shootings are too many to count — in our schools, neighborhoods and nightclubs. Our thoughts are with the victims, but we should all be outraged. Too many lives are destroyed, while leaders take no action. It’s time for new leaders.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham

“I am tired of hearing ‘when is enough going to be enough.’I am tired of hearing ‘thoughts and prayers’ from those who do nothing,” Graham said. “We need to end these mass shootings — and the only way to do that is to vote out the politicians complicit in this cycle of death.”

Alyssa Milano

This is a breaking story and will be updated as reactions come in.

Jacksonville Bold for 8.24.18 — Closing time

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

Those of a certain age will recall the Semisonic earworm “Closing Time.”

It is also where we stand in primary season.

We already know what races we are tracking election night. In some, there is enough confidence in the results to have a sense of what the copy will say.

Sure, we’re open to surprises. But with polls and campaign finance reports and connections to most campaigns in the area, there just aren’t many shocks coming.

Another relevant line from the hit: “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

On Aug. 29, the candidates and their operatives on the losing side will face decisions. Some ops will get hired elsewhere. Losing candidates will resolve how best to make their endorsements and figure out their next move, with dreams dashed — potentially forever, in some cases.

“So, gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits.”

Right now, on the campaign trail (outside of a TV studio), this sentiment also applies.

While there will be plenty of time for campaign autopsies, they will be forgotten quickly enough. Unity rallies will attempt to spackle over turf wars. And this November will look (more or less) like they always do in election years that promise turnover in the state Cabinet and — perhaps — a new U.S. Senator.

In the primary wars, it’s definitely closing time.

Lawson leads Brown in CD 5 cash chase

Conditions are looking favorable for U.S. Rep. Al Lawson to win his primary battle over former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Alvin Brown never seemed to find his groove.

Lawson, ahead by more than 20 points in the only public poll of the race, endorsed by Brown’s local Florida Times-Union and Jacksonville state Rep. Tracie Davis in recent days, is also ahead in cash on hand as of Aug. 8 — the last date for which candidates have filed financial reports.

Lawson, who has raised just over $503,823, had $131,143 on hand. Brown, who has raised $388,649, had $84,361.

Lawson seems confident in his chances, posting to Facebook that “FiveThirtyEight’s ongoing forecast of 2018 House elections currently places me at a 99.9 percent chance of winning back the 5th District seat.”

Indeed.

Brown has touted endorsements from Jacksonville preachers: “more than 30 faith leaders representing a large swath of the local faith community.”

However, three of those preachers have walked back those endorsements, in an abundance of caution over the churches’ 501(C)(3) statuses.

Soderberg, Waltz look like best bets in CD 6

After an interesting summer in both parties’ primaries in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, some clarity in the cash race has emerged as early voting continues.

In the Democratic race, former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg has — as of Aug. 8 — amassed what appears to be an insurmountable lead in cash on hand over her Democratic opponents, with $1,096,754 on hand ($1.707,296 raised).

Nancy Soderberg has proved to be a big league fundraiser this cycle.

Stephen Sevigny, a radiologist from Ormond Beach, had $353,534 on hand ($874,212 raised). Farther back still, John Upchurch, an Ormond Beach lawyer, had $131,332 on hand.

Soderberg also is stretching a significant lead in the only public poll of the race. The most recent St. Pete Polls survey released this weekend, shows her as the choice of 50 percent of those surveyed, 31 points up on Sevigny and 38 points over Upchurch.

Similar clarity, though of a somewhat less pronounced degree, can be found on the Republican side of the ledger, with St. Augustine Beach’s Mike Waltz with more cash on hand than his GOP challengers John Ward of Ponte Vedra Beach and former state Rep. Fred Costello of Ormond Beach.

Waltz had as of Aug. 8 $286,706 on hand of his $1,066,996 raised, well ahead of Ward ($76,887 on hand; $1,076,400 raised) and Costello ($7,962 on hand; $254,683 raised).

A survey from a week ago showed Waltz with 40 percent support, with Ward in second place at 21 percent and Costello at 16 percent.

CD 6 is a Republican-leaning seat, though it’s open because U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis is poised to become the Republican nominee for Governor.

‘Walk it like I talk it’

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, addressing a packed nightclub in Jacksonville Tuesday, may be surging at the right time.

With the latest survey from St. Pete Polls of the Democratic race for Governor indicating that Gillum is within six points of front-runner Gwen Graham (and a private poll showing Gillum at 33 percent, 11 points above the field), a coalition of progressive groups announced Monday that they will commit $3.5 million to help Gillum get over the finish line.

Andrew Gillum has withstood slings and arrows, and is still in the game.

His strategy has been to expand the voter universe; however, as he has noted, resources had previously precluded him from letting his target voters know who he is.

Gillum, when asked about the new polls swinging his way, noted that his campaign didn’t begin its “paid communication until two weeks ago.”

“We knew that because we couldn’t match the financial resources of the other campaigns, that we had to wait until the iron was really hot before we could strike and maximize our message. As voters are learning that we are a real option in this race,” Gillum said, “they’re choosing us.”

“I believe it’s going to be that momentum that will surge us through [to the nomination],” Gillum said.

Regarding the third-party groups backing him, Gillum noted that while he wasn’t deeply “familiar with what the outside groups are doing,” he hopes that “the $3.5 million investment will be directed toward the field.”

“That’s the best bang for the buck at this point, to get to voters and move those voters to the ballot box. If we do that,” Gillum said, “and they do that, we win.”

Curry favors Troutman

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry made another late-game endorsement in a statewide race Monday, backing Rep. Baxter Troutman for Agriculture Commissioner.

Baxter Troutman has some strong Jacksonville connections.

This endorsement indicates the value of relationships. Curry’s chief of staff Brian Hughes had been running the Troutman campaign before Hughes took a city job. Now, the operation is run by another Jacksonville op, Carlo Fassi.

The timing of the endorsement’s release seems less than coincidental, counterprogramming Sen. Marco Rubio campaigning Monday in Hialeah for Rep. Matt Caldwell, one of Troutman’s three opponents (whose campaign manager Brian Swensen had the same role in Curry’s 2015 campaign for Jacksonville Mayor).

Curry, per a statement from the Troutman campaign, is “happy to endorse Baxter Troutman … a farmer and rancher, a businessman who has created thousands of jobs, and … a genuine conservative.”

“Of all those seeking this job,” Curry emphasized, “Baxter is clearly the most qualified and ready to help keep Florida growing.”

In accepting the endorsement, Troutman noted Curry’s “proven record of problem-solving.”

“He’s demonstrated that executives can implement conservative policies, stand by their convictions, and get things done despite our current heated political climate,” Troutman remarked.

Campaign manager Fassi asserts that the Troutman campaign is poised to win, leading “outside the margin of error in every statewide poll conducted in this primary to succeed Adam Putnam.”

“Our internals have had Baxter anywhere from 6-10 points ahead of our nearest competitor,” Fassi adds, “while industry polls have shown the race even less competitive.”

Outside help for Wright in HD 14

The Democratic race in House District 14 between incumbent Rep. Kim Daniels and Duval County School Board chair Paula Wright continues to get more interesting as the primary approaches.

Paula Wright is on the base path, but can she score?

Wright, whose campaign account fundraising has been lackluster ($25,085 raised through Aug. 10; just over $12,000 on hand) is enjoying a television ad buy from the New Direction Now political committee.

The spot hits positive, autobiographical themes, including addressing former teacher Wright’s commitment to education.

Through Aug. 10, the committee has been seeded with $27,000. Of that sum, $15,000 comes from the Florida Education Association.

It’s telling that the FEA has funded a positive spot for Wright, as Daniels’ attempts at educational policy improvements in her two years in Tallahassee have been idiosyncratic and seemingly unaligned with the agendas of most public-school advocates.

One Daniels’ bill passed in the 2017 session: House Bill 303, the “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act,” would ban school districts “from discriminating against students, parents, and school personnel on basis of religious viewpoints or expression,” and would require a school district “to adopt limited public forum policy and deliver a disclaimer at school events.”

A 2018 Daniels’ bill, which also passed, likewise blurred the boundaries between the pulpit and pupils, requiring all schools to display the state motto, “In God We Trust,” in a “conspicuous place.”

Daniels, who has benefited from contributions from Gary Chartrand and Charter Schools USA, seems to have an agenda at odds with traditional education interests.

No runaway winner in tax collector tangle

A week out from the primary election in the four-way race for Duval County Tax Collector, campaign finance reports reveal a surprisingly competitive money race.

Jim Overton is in the primary mix, but will he be around afterward?

The three Republicans in the race — Jacksonville City Councilman Doyle Carter, state Rep. Lake Ray, and former property appraiser Jim Overton — all had roughly $60,000 cash on hand as of Aug. 21.

Carter, who raised $2,050 in the week leading up to Aug. 10, has just under $60,000 on hand of the $81,550 he has raised.

Ray, who has been the most aggressive candidate in the race, including attacking Overton for mistakes made as property appraiser, currently has the least money of the three: just over $55,000 on hand of the $155,375 he raised.

Ray raised $1,400 in the week leading up to Aug. 10, including donations from Carter’s City Council colleague Danny Becton. His spending has been eye-popping: almost $100,000 doled out ahead of the Aug. 28 election.

Overton, meanwhile, has just under $60,000 on hand also, after a $1,575 week leading up to Aug. 10.

Three Republicans headed into a blanket primary with Democrat Mia Jones likely only have one ticket to the November general election between them.

Jones lags behind the trio, with roughly $30,000 on hand, but because she’s the only Democrat on the ballot, she stands a strong chance of getting the most votes next week.

Too late to expand early voting?

On Monday, a group of Jacksonville Democrats made their push to expand early voting sites to local colleges and universities.

The goal: to get early voting sites at the University of North Florida and, perhaps, other colleges.

However, logistical roadblocks remain.

Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan told local media that “criteria of selection of an early voting site involves more than just that it is available. Public access, adequate parking for our staff and voters, facility security, ADA compliance, proximity to other early voting sites and of course do we have the money budgeted for an additional location.”

Mike Hogan has not been given the benefit of the doubt on this issue.

Hogan noted that he and University of North Florida have been working to find a way forward on an early voting site, but the logistics mentioned have proved to be prohibitive.

Edward Waters and Jacksonville University are also under consideration, but “time is very limited” given the scope of the election.

“The Russians are in our database,” Hogan added. “All we know is what the Senators have told us and they can’t give us real information.”

The primary election, Hogan added, won’t be over until Sept. 10 or 11, when results are certified. On Oct. 7, the final list of early voting sites has to be submitted to the Secretary of State office.

Personnel note

Sen. Aaron Bean adds Chesten N. Goodman — Goodman will be Bean’s new district legislative assistant, responsible for handling legislative policy matters. Goodman previously worked for Rep. Jay Fant as his legislative assistant after graduating from Florida State University. He is currently completing his final semester of graduate studies at Florida State to get a graduate degree in American Politics and Policy. “Chesten’s prior legislative experience in the Florida House made him the obvious choice for filling the vacancy in our office,” said Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican. He represents Senate District 4, which includes parts of Nassau and Duval counties.

Special election challenge rejected

David Taylor, a former Jacksonville City Council Republican candidate who has not been immune to controversy over the years, saw his lawsuit against the Duval County Supervisor of Elections thrown out Tuesday by Judge Robert M. Foster.

David Taylor likened the decision to “communism” in a statement after Judge Robert Foster’s ruling.

Taylor’s charge: The special election in District 12 was not publicly announced in a publication of record, one that saw the only qualified candidate, Republican Randy White, win without opposition.

Jacksonville General Counsel Jason Gabriel framed the decision to throw the case out as a victory for the consolidated government.

“In summary, the plaintiff, David Taylor, sought to invalidate the special election because he claims he was not provided notice of the qualifying period established by the City Council. In misapplying state statute, Mr. Taylor argued that the Supervisor of Elections was required to publish notice of the election in the newspaper because there is a requirement for such notice to occur in special elections called by the Governor and Florida Secretary of State,” Gabriel asserted Tuesday.

“The complete dismissal of Mr. Taylor’s complaint is significant because the Court reviewed the requirements necessary to set a local special election for Council vacancies and acknowledged all of our arguments that it is the City Charter and local Ordinance Code that dictate the requirements of the special local election, and such were followed,” Gabriel added.

In a seven-page decision, the court repeatedly struck down Taylor’s petitions for relief, effectively saying that even if there were a legitimate petition for redress, it couldn’t be provided in a timely way.

JEA wants out of Plant Vogtle

According to WSAV in Savannah, Jacksonville’s municipal-owned utility JEA wants out of the Plant Vogtle deal.

The controversial accord, set a decade ago, obligated JEA to buy electricity from two reactors that were at the beginning of the construction process.

Can JEA dump this deal? Stay tuned.

“Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) says it wants out and is urging MEAG to vote “no” on any continuation of the new reactors. In a letter to MEAG CEO James Fuller, JEA … wrote that ‘a decision to continue (the new reactors) cannot be justified on any rational basis.’”

A clean energy advocate quoted in the Savannah market piece noted that “staying locked on to this sort of sinking ship means you’re going to pull your ratepayers down and so I think JEA is ready to jump ship.”

Getting out of the deal could cost JEA $1.5 billion, but would represent savings of at least $750 million, per the Florida Times-Union.

Fall semester begins at UNF

As the fall semester begins at the University of North Florida, it’s not just a new school year for the incoming freshmen. Monday was the first day for President David Szymanski.

Welcome back!

Szymanski, who previously served as dean of the Lindner College of Business at the University of Cincinnati, is taking the reins from John Delaney, who retired in May.

While Delaney is now in the private sector, he will not be soon forgotten. The student union is named after the former president, among the many changes returning students will notice.

Also new are renovations to Skinner-Jones Hall, with upgraded classrooms and research labs for engineering and computing.

UF Health TraumaOne nationally recognized

University of Florida Health has received national recognition as a level I trauma center by the American College of Surgeons, the health system announced last week.

The Chicago-based association assesses trauma facilities to help hospitals improve care and to provide an objective, external performance review with stringent criteria, reports the Jacksonville Business Journal. The process includes a peer review team spending two days at the facility to evaluate policies, resources, patient care and other performance metrics. The designation is for three years.

UF Health Jacksonville gets national recognition.

In operation since 1983, UF Health TraumaOne, at 655 8th St. W., is one of 10 level 1 trauma centers in Florida — the only one of its type in Northeast Florida, and just one of three trauma centers in Duval County.

Other trauma facilities include Wolfson Children’s Hospital, which specializes in pediatrics, and Memorial Hospital, which also received level II designation in 2018.

Gorillas find new home at Jacksonville Zoo

A family of gorillas moved home this week, part of the Jacksonville Zoo’s new African Forest exhibit, which is set to open Aug. 31.

The gorillas — father, named Lash; mother, named Madini; and baby gorilla, named Patty — were released into the display after a year of renovations, reports News4Jax.

Welcome home! (Image via WJXT News4Jax)

The new African Forest habitat replaces the Great Apes Loop, which has been around for nearly 20 years. Renovations include additional viewing windows, water features for the animals and new homes for bonobos and lemurs.

Jaguars considering trade offer for Fowler

During the long, hot practices of NFL training camps, tempers tend to flare. Fights break out, like they did when Dante Fowler, Jr. tangled with two teammates in separate incidents two weeks ago.

The second one, featuring Fowler and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, led to the former Gator’s suspension. Subsequent events indicate this may be more than just a skirmish that blows over.

Dante Fowler Jr. has had multiple run-ins with the law.

This week, news broke that the Jaguars were contacted by the New York Jets about a possible trade for Fowler. The name offered in return was quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who is trying to return to the NFL after a devastating leg injury two years ago.

When he was hurt, Bridgewater was already showing signs of becoming a dynamic NFL quarterback. After his contract expired last year, the Jets signed him.

Fowler also had to overcome a serious injury. After being the third overall pick, he suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first day of rookie minicamp.

The Jaguars could be looking for a solid backup for Blake Bortles at quarterback and have someone with NFL experience who could fill in if Bortles is injured. In addition, the team is well-stocked on the defensive side of the ball, making an addition to the offense something worth considering.

If the fight is more than just a training camp skirmish and the Jaguars are looking to promote locker room harmony, Bridgewater would be a good option. He is not known for having a flamboyant personality.

At first glance, such a trade might not appear to provide a fair return for the Jaguars. Bridgewater has yet to prove he is fully recovered.

There are two more preseason games remaining. Jaguars’ fans will have to wait and see how it all plays out.

‘Walk it like I talk it’: Andrew Gillum’s campaign may be surging at the right time

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has heard that his campaign isn’t viable from the moment he got in the race.

People aren’t saying that anymore.

With the latest survey from St. Pete Polls of the Democratic race for Governor indicates that Gillum is within six points of frontrunner Gwen Graham (and a private poll showing Gillum at 33 percent, 11 points above the field), a coalition of progressive groups announced Monday that they will commit $3.5 million to help Gillum get over the finish line.

Meanwhile, he’s one of a few candidates barnstorming the state on a bus, and that bus rolled into Jacksonville Tuesday evening, where Gillum rallied “young professionals” at a downtown hotspot.

Gillum’s supporters in Jacksonville tend to be younger and more ethnically diverse than those backing the other Democrats (and never mind Republicans).

His strategy has been to expand the voter universe; however, as he has noted, resources had previously precluded him from letting his target voters know who he is.

Now, finally, they do know. If they didn’t, perhaps Bernie Sanders‘ swing through Central Florida with Gillum taught them.

And it’s just possible he can close the deal before next Tuesday. His team feels confident in talking about a “surge.” And Gillum, who was confident when he was polling next to Chris King, came into Jacksonville more so, having fulfilled his initial campaign vision, an “18 month view of engagement.”

Gillum, when asked about the new polls swinging his way, noted that his campaign didn’t begin its “paid communication until two weeks ago.”

“We knew that because we couldn’t match the financial resources of the other campaigns, that we had to wait until the iron was really hot before we could strike and maximize our message. As voters are learning that we are a real option in this race,” Gillum said, “they’re choosing us.”

“I believe it’s going to be that momentum that will surge us through [to the nomination],” Gillum said.

Regarding the third party groups backing him, Gillum noted that while he wasn’t deeply “familiar with what the outside groups are doing,” he hopes that “the $3.5 million investment will be directed toward the field.”

“That’s the best bang for the buck at this point, to get to voters and move those voters to the ballot box. If we do that,” Gillum said, “and they do that, we win.”

“I think we win anyway, but certainly … the field level is where we do best,” Gillum noted.

“We’ve been the same all the way through. We’ve led the field on all the issues,” Gillum added, “It’s after I’ve gone there on every issue, the candidates tend to follow me there.”

Voters, Gillum predicted, will be able to choose who represents their viewpoints “most authentically, what their experiences are as Floridians.”

Gillum has adopted the Migos “Walk it like I talk it” lyric as a de facto campaign anthem, a very much of-the-moment song that is a natural touchstone for his base — younger voters who understand that this election represents the beginning of a generational shift in Florida politics.

In front of a packed out crowd in Jacksonville’s 1904 music hall, one of the better known live music spots downtown, Gillum quoted that song again.

“I walk it like I talk it,” Gillum said. “Some of my opponents don’t.”

Indeed, with one major Democrat being a (at best) recently lapsed member of Mar-A-Lago and another one getting fundraising help from Republican Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, it was easy to guess who that reference might have covered.

Gillum, walking the stage looking more like a performer than a politician, rocked the audience, but it was — in the end — GOTV.

“I want to be that governor, but I can’t be that governor unless you get out and vote,” Gillum noted.

Concepts like “work with dignity … a wage you can live on … not poverty and squalor” — these were not abstractions to those on hand. They were real to these millennials and Gen Y types, who see the 20th century conception of the middle class shrinking in the rear view mirror.

“There are more of us than there are of them,” Gillum said, regarding a potential general election clash with a Republican.

Polls are all over the place, and that general election battle may or may not happen.

But the feel in Jacksonville Tuesday night was that Gillum will be in it when the votes are counted in six days.

Jacksonville Bold for 8.17.18 — Sizzle, and steak

Wishful thinking predicates much of election season. Aspirational ads for Democrats; appeals targeting nonexistent issues (hello, “sanctuary cities”) for Republicans.

Ultimately, these moves — whether pulled by a winning or losing campaign — are strategic. How a Republican is to eliminate sanctuary cities or how a Democrat is by force of will to create Medicare for All or legalize cannabis is left to the voters’ imaginations.

From the embryonic, conceptual phases of campaigns, where voters can convince themselves that radical shifts can happen, thinking evolves eventually. Pretenders fall off. People start thinking strategically about their vote. And, in the cases of early front-runners, we often see how shallow that support is once the game changes.

As you will see below, there’s not a lot of drama in certain races. We have a good sense of who will win area Congressional primaries. Less of a good sense as to who will win a couple of state House races.

As is the case every year, none of this is too surprising. Polls are transparent. Campaign finance is easy enough to figure out. And most reading this can read candidates and their chances pretty well also.

Levine in Jax

Jacksonville was the fourth and final stop on Philip Levine‘s barnstorming tour of local early voting locations Monday.

Philip Levine says he’s “everywhere” right now, and will be back before the primary vote.

This tour happens as tensions have boiled over between Levine and another Democratic contender, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene.

As the two work to drive up each other’s negatives, polls show that U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham holds an advantage.

An internal poll released last week by Levine has him behind by four points. A Graham poll shows her up on Levine by 16 points. Greene was behind the top two in both cases.

Levine was not especially dismayed by the turn the campaign has taken.

“The bottom line is this,” Levine said. “I think the people deserve to know what someone’s track record is” vis a vis Trump.

Levine estimated having been “on television … a hundred, two hundred times … during the 2016 election, warning America that this guy would be a terrible president.”

“I think that when someone pretends [he’s] fighting them while being at his country club by the ocean — we call it Kremlin-by-the-Sea — and passing the Grey Poupon across the table and thinks that’s fighting Donald Trump,” Levine added, “the people have a right to know.”

“You don’t want Donald Trump’s friend — you want who Donald Trump fears,” Levine said. “The people of Florida should understand who is who, and that’s why we’re doing it.”

Curry endorses DeSantis

According to WJCT, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said he and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis align on prominent issues — being tough on crime and investing in youth — and they both come from similar working-class backgrounds and want others to have the same opportunities.

‘Brothers of a different mother’: Lenny Curry calls Ron DeSantis ‘ the right guy right now.’

“Ron’s a good conservative,” Curry told reporters. “I’ve been about disrupting the status quo locally, and I think that that’s what’s got to happen everywhere, and Ron’s going to disrupt the status quo as the governor of the state of Florida and I’m supporting him, voting for him and encouraging folks to get out and vote in the primary.”

DeSantis called Curry “innovative.”

“What he’s done here is showing that you got to be bold, you just got to keep pushing,” he said. “And that’s obviously what I would want to do as governor.”

Tale of two districts

For nearly three decades, two congressional districts split the city of Jacksonville.

One of them, what is now Florida’s 4th Congressional District, was represented for years by reliable — and by today’s standard, moderate — Republicans Tillie Fowler and Ander Crenshaw.

Ander Crenshaw and Corrine Brown represented Jacksonville together for 16 years.

The other district, currently the 5th Congressional District, was Democrat Corrine Brown‘s sinecure. The maps on that district changed periodically, seemingly always under legal challenge, a process that ended in 2016 with Brown’s district being moved from its south/southwest jog toward the Orlando area to a straight east-west configuration.

Jacksonville, as of yet, doesn’t have the population to house two districts within Duval County — and given the cartographical challenges of minority access districts, that may not be the case after the next apportionment either.

However, a look at book closing data for CD 4 and CD 5 reveals two districts that ultimately will be decided in primary elections, proving that some things really don’t change in the 904.

Read more here.

Brown going down

If the election in Florida’s 5th Congressional District were today, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson would cruise to victory, according to a St. Pete Polls survey of the race released Monday.

Nancy Pelosi was one of just many big-name endorsers for Al Lawson this cycle.

A survey of 445 likely Democratic primary voters shows Lawson with 50 percent of the vote, with opponent Alvin Brown at 28 percent. The balance of voters are undecided. The margin of error is 4.6 percent.

Lawson has strong leads of 15 percent and up among all surveyed demographics with appreciable data: whites and blacks, men and women, and every age cohort.

Among those who already voted, Lawson is up 52-42; among those yet to vote, Lawson’s lead balloons to 49-26.

Despite the negative messaging in this race in recent weeks against Lawson, the incumbent has not seen his favorable ratings damaged. Fifty-four percent of Democrats in the district regard him favorably, giving him a +36 rating (Brown, with 36 percent of Democrats regarding him favorably, is at +16).

The winner of this race will face Republican Virginia Fuller, a first-time candidate without an appreciable campaign infrastructure.

Notable: the Florida Times-Union also endorsed Lawson this week, another sign this is over.

Last dance for Waltz foes

A new survey conducted by St. Pete Polls shows Republican Michael Waltz pulling ahead of primary opponents John Ward and Fred Costello in the race to succeed DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

Mike Waltz is seen here on Fox News demonstrating a ‘go bag,’ suitable for escaping terrorist attacks.

The new poll commissioned for Florida Politics asked likely primary voters who they would support if the election were today. Waltz, a St. Augustine Army veteran, would take 40 percent of the vote, results show. Ward, a Palm Coast Navy veteran, would win 21 percent, while former Ormond Beach state Rep. Costello would get 16 percent. Another 23 percent of those polled remain undecided.

The poll, taken Aug. 10, shows an even more pronounced lead for Waltz among voters who already cast their ballot in the race. Waltz won support from 41 percent of those polled. Interestingly, Costello outperformed Ward among those eager voters, winning 22 percent to Ward’s 21 percent.

More than 23 percent of those surveyed already voted in the Republican primary.

The poll shows significant movement from a survey by St. Pete Polls conducted July 18. Then, the three Republicans appeared to be in a dead heat, with Costello just over 21 percent, Ward just under 21 percent and Waltz at 20.

HD 14, 15 still in doubt

Both the Democratic primary in House District 14 and the Republican race in HD 15 offer a soupçon of drama as early voting continues.

In HD 14’s Democratic two-way, challenger Paula Wright finally has cash on hand lead over incumbent Kim Daniels.

Paula Wright’s game-ready, but her opponent specializes in brushback pitches.

Wright has continued to raise money. Between July 28 and Aug. 3, the last dates for which campaign finance numbers are available, Wright raised $7,675, with cash from Realtors, AFSCME, and a sheet metal local union contributing.

Wright has just over $14,000 on hand (more than Daniels), and according to her campaign finance report, will spend a lot of that money on canvassers (the majority of the nearly $2,800 spent between July 27 and Aug. 3 went for such purposes).

Wright has some advantages. A current chair of the Duval County School Board, she is no political neophyte. And she’s backed by Democratic elected officials, including Sen. Audrey Gibson, state Rep. Tracie Davis, and Councilman Garrett Dennis.

Daniels, who has had her share of scandals and apostasies from Democratic orthodoxy, is seen as beatable by those close to Wright.

In HD 15, meanwhile, the Republican side of the ledger is where the action is, with lobbyist Wyman Duggan trying to close the deal against primary opponents Joseph Hogan and Mark Zeigler.

Duggan has spent more than $85,000 on television in July. He continues to raise money ($10,000 between July 27 and Aug. 3, including donations from pharmaceutical and Realtor trade group political committees) and has roughly $75,000 between hard money and committee money as he heads into the stretch run.

It gives him more cash on hand than Zeigler (~$28K) and Hogan (~$28K) combined.

Public polling of this race has yet to surface. However, a recent mailer from Duggan’s political committee slammed Hogan for his support for former Jacksonville Mayor Brown in the 2015 race against current Republican incumbent Curry.

Hogan “stands with anti-Trump progressives,” the mailer charges, as Hogan said Jacksonville was “better off” with Brown.

The Duggan bet seems to be that district voters need reminding of that particular deviation from doctrine.

October surprise

The Florida Supreme Court has agreed to take up a dispute about whether Gov. Rick Scott has the authority to appoint a Northeast Florida circuit judge.

David Trotti’s position is that he should ‘win’ the seat unopposed.

Justices issued an order Thursday accepting the case and scheduled arguments Oct. 2. But the order showed a divided court, with Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and Jorge Labarga backing the decision to take up the case and Chief Justice Charles Canady and justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson opposed.

The case stems from the upcoming retirement of Judge Robert Foster in the 4th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Duval, Clay, and Nassau counties. Foster was expected to leave office Jan. 7, 2019, which would be the end of his term, because of mandatory retirement age.

But on April 2, Foster sent a letter to Scott making the retirement effective Dec. 31, four business days ahead of schedule.

The Scott administration argues — and the 1st District Court of Appeal agreed — that the governor’s acceptance of a judicial resignation before the start of an election-qualifying period creates a vacancy that should be filled by appointment, rather than election.

If Foster retired Jan. 7, the post would be filled by election. Jacksonville lawyer David Trotti filed the legal challenge arguing that the opening should be filled in this year’s elections. Trotti tried this spring to qualify to run for the judicial spot but was denied. The Supreme Court arguments will come about a month before the Nov. 6 general election but after ballots are printed.

Hogan on blast

Early voting is allowed on college campuses — but Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan isn’t having it at the University of North Florida.

(Image via Jax Daily Record)

Via Folio Weekly, Megan Newsome — a UNF student who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit intended to secure that access for college students — is not happy.

“Students have been fighting for this change for years, and now that the option is finally on the table, officials in Alachua and Hillsborough counties have already taken steps to make early voting on UF and USF campuses a reality. Leon County’s Supervisor of Elections has remained open to the possibility, too. But Hogan will not even “entertain the option” because it would be “just too darn difficult,” Newsome writes.

“The closest early voting location to UNF’s campus is over 3 miles away,” Newsome notes.

No, thank you

DeSantis may want Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams to be his Lieutenant Governor.

But it’s not happening, Williams told WJXT this week.

Mike Williams slams the door on Lieutenant Governor talk.

Williams will not accept the offer, “slamming the door” on the bid.

“As long as the people of Jacksonville want me to serve them, I will honor that trust,” Williams said.

Williams, a candidate for re-election in 2019, faces nominal competition.

Between his campaign and committee accounts, Williams raised just $1,450 in July. He is left with roughly $440,000 on hand.

Williams is not in any appreciable danger at the ballot box. His sole opponent, Democrat Tony Cummings, has $700 on hand.

Mayfield seeks audit of JEA nuclear costs

State Sen. Debbie Mayfield is calling the Florida Legislature’s auditing and accountability office to look into JEA involvement an expensive nuclear power project — blasting it as an “alarming example” of “potential mismanagement” at the city-owned utility.

Nate Monroe of the Florida Times-Union reports that JEA’s involvement in the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion project served as a backdrop for a contentious debate at City Hall over the privatization of JEA.

Debbie Mayfield is taking a hard look at JEA nuclear costs.

JEA’s share of Vogtle — as much as $4 billion over 20 years — is raising alarm bells with both city officials and credit-rating analysts.

While JEA is telling Plant Vogtle co-owners to cancel the project, Monroe noted that utility officials are “actively searching for ways to get out of the contract it has with the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, one of the co-owners.”

Mayfield represents Senate District 17, which covers Brevard and Indian River counties — about 150 miles south of Jacksonville. The Mayfield Republican is requesting the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability Office to complete a full examination of JEA’s contract with MEAG. She also wants a report submitted to the House and Senate leadership by Feb. 1.

“Citizens from the community have expressed concern over recent events and published reports that suggest serious issues surrounding the spending and operation decisions of the JEA,” Mayfield wrote to auditors this week.

JEA interim CEO Aaron Zahn told reporters he welcomed the review but disagreed that the decision to invest in Vogtle was evidence of mismanagement.

“JEA has just been taken for a ride,” Zahn said.

Khan ready to build

Jaguars owner Shad Khan, according to the Jacksonville Daily Record, is prepared to get moving on big projects.

The paper writes: “The plan is to commence construction on a parking structure, entertainment complex, hotel, office tower and residential building at the same time so that most of the construction occurs during the NFL offseason.”

“Based on what we talked about today, I’d say any deal would need to be in place by the end of the year to hit that mark,” said Jags President Mark Lamping.

Ready to build: Shad Khan’s vision includes a hotel on the former Shipyards property.

“Shad is anxious to get moving on these projects because he’s a big believer in momentum,” Lamping said. “It’s one of the hardest things to get, it’s one of the easiest things to lose.”

Lamping added that movement on development at the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park wouldn’t happen until the Hart Bridge offramps go down.

Should any city incentives be required, Khan is well-positioned as both Curry’s most prominent supporter and a donor in most Council races already.

Social Grounds gets props

At this week’s Cabinet meeting, Gov. Rick Scott recognized Jacksonville’s veteran-owned Social Grounds Coffee Company with the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award.

Scott said, “I’m proud to recognize Social Grounds Coffee Company with the Business Ambassador Award today. Florida is the most veteran-friendly state in the nation, and it’s great to see veteran-owned companies succeed in Florida.”

Gov. Rick Scott recognizes Jacksonville’s veteran-owned Social Grounds Coffee Company with Business Ambassador Award.

Social Grounds Owner and Marine Corps veteran Jason Kelloway said, “I am truly honored to receive the Business Ambassador Award from Governor Scott on behalf of the entire team at Social Grounds. We love our city and will continue to use our coffee to help change lives and make a difference in our community.”

In July, the release from Scott’s office notes, the Governor visited Kuwait and took coffee from Social Grounds to serve to the troops.

Ramsey, Fowler stay home as Jags visit Minnesota

The Jaguars are in Minnesota practicing with the Vikings before getting together in the second preseason game on Saturday. They are there minus two players.

Both cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. are back in Jacksonville serving a one-week suspension. Fowler’s banishment came after two altercations with teammates, the most heated between the former Florida Gator and fellow defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.

Ramsey, the All-Pro from Florida State, stuck up for his one-time rival by going after a reporter who was recording Fowler’s altercation with Ngakoue. After Philip Heilman of the Florida Times-Union reported on the incident, Ramsey tweeted, among other things “if y’all want war, we got sum for y’all.”

Jalen Ramsey staying home as Jaguars visit Minnesota.

With team management, let alone the media relations department, working to generate positive coverage of a young, up-and-coming team, good relations with the local media is a priority. Ramsey’s actions, as well as Fowler’s, were determined to be “a violation of team rules,” prompting the suspensions.

Ramsey said his coaches had urged him to speak his mind. He recalled a recent meeting where coaches said “Yo, Jalen, we need you to say this,” and “come Thursday, we need you to say this on the media.”

This is probably true, but it is also likely the coaches never urged him to attack the media on Twitter. On the other hand, coaches can smile broadly when Ramsey’s incessant trash talking on the field leads opponents to take silly penalties.

The altercation last year with Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green, which led to Green body slamming Ramsey on the field, is a prime example.

When Ramsey and Fowler return to practice Monday, hopefully, the messages will have been delivered.

Jacksonville City Council panel begins budget deep dive Thursday

The annual review of the city of Jacksonville’s proposed budget by the City Council’s Finance Committee sees its first in a series of all-day sessions begin Aug. 16.

As compared with 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.

The reamortization of what is now over $3 billion of pension debt from Jacksonville’s costly defined benefit plans, closed as of 2016 to new applicants, is allowing city leaders to spend in ways not possible otherwise.

Savings realized from pension reform, $331 million over two fiscal years per Mayor Lenny Curry, are allowing the spending.

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

According to the just-released quarterly report from the Jacksonville City Council auditor, the city is well-positioned.

The city is poised to achieve a $12 million favorable variance on the current budget, which should be helpful as Jacksonville awaits reimbursements for over $87 million of hurricane-inflicted costs in the last two years. (The city is eligible for 87.5 percent of that money eventually being reimbursed).

Public safety spending, boosted again in this budget, will be discussed Aug. 16.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office would get $30 million in new money, facilitating 180 new officers (even as the total employee cap goes down), and a new data center for crime fighting. Fire and Rescue would receive an additional $17 million.

Children’s program spending will be reviewed Aug. 22. The newly formed Kids Hope Alliance would get $41 million, a big boost from previous spending on the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission. Sixty new therapists would be funded for public schools, Curry said, with a 10 percent bump in children accessing KHA services.

A big part of the spend, to be discussed on Aug. 28, capital improvements.

FY 18-19 will see $161.4 million allocated to improvements, with big spends on Hart Bridge off-ramp 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).

Curry’s budget should have an easier time than it did last year when a Finance Committee stacked with Democrats (thanks to the previous council president) went beyond the numbers to ask epistemological questions about tactics in local policing.

This year sees Curry allies abound on the committee: Greg AndersonLori Boyer, and Bill Gulliford (all former Council Presidents) will dominate the proceedings.

Anderson and Council President Aaron Bowman both want a focus on the numbers, a more than tacit acknowledgment that the priorities of the Mayor and his allies largely overlap.

After the August deliberations, the full City Council will vote on the budget in September, with the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

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