Jacksonville Archives - Page 6 of 53 - Florida Politics

Lenny Curry is INFLUENCE Magazine’s Florida Politician of the Year for 2016

It’s fair to say Lenny Curry had one heck of the year. He did everything from addressing the public pension funding shortfall to bracing his community for a 100-year storm. And now the 46-year-old Jacksonville mayor can add one more thing to his list of 2016 accomplishments: INFLUENCE Magazine’s 2016 Politician of the Year.

The biggest issue in Jacksonville in recent years has been the pension shortfall, something that piqued Curry’s interest early on. Mayors had come and gone, unable to solve the problem. But the Curry administration found a fix: an unprecedented referendum extending a half-cent infrastructure tax past its 2030 sunset, creating a stable funding source for the obligation.

“It intrigued me,” he said. “There was great and significant political risk pursuing this in the first term, specifically within the first year, but if you want to do big things, you’ve got to play big ball.

He did his homework and decided to move forward, saying he “wasn’t going to let it sit for four years.” The decision to move forward was the right one; voters overwhelmingly approved the measure earlier this year.

But that wasn’t his only challenge in 2016. As Hurricane Matthew barreled toward Florida, Curry was one of dozens of elected officials up and down the state’s east coast urging their residents to stay out of harm’s way. The community was spared a direct hit, but the impact from the storm was severe.

Curry said he was “completely and totally at comfort and at ease in handling the decision making, the preparation, and the communication” before, during and after the storm. And he looked to Gov. Rick Scott, a long-time friend and political ally, for advice and encouragement.

With 2016 in the rear view mirror, Curry is now looking toward the future. That means focusing on downtown revitalization efforts and discussions about social legislation.

Want to know more about our 2016 Politician of the Year? Check out AG Gancarski‘s profile of Curry in the 2016 winter edition of INFLUENCE Magazine, available online now.

LISC unveils ambitious redevelopment plan for Jacksonville’s Eastside

Jacksonville’s Eastside faces challenges on par with any area in Jacksonville.

One census tract has 51.2 percent of its residents below the poverty line, an 18 percent unemployment rate, and a $23,158 median household income.

Another nearby tract is even worse.

65.3 percent of residents fall below the poverty line, and 60.3 percent are unemployed. Median household income is below $11,000. Housing prices in these tracts are around $65K on average.

Health outcomes in the Eastside are just as bad.

The Eastside is part of Health Zone 1, the worst in the city, where half of all children live in poverty. Two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Less than a sixth of the population has post-secondary education.

And as one would expect, violent crime is also an issue. From the police shooting of Vernell Bing, Jr. to the drive by shooting of toddler Aiden McClendon, the Eastside is wracked with outcomes closer to the Third World than the First World.

This, despite city money going into EverBank Field, the Jacksonville Veterans’ Memorial Arena, and the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

These projects, expected to bring economic benefit to the neighborhoods that house them, have yet to.

Despite the Eastside’s seemingly perennial struggles, there may be hope for a turnaround in the next few years, if an ambitious redevelopment plan gets traction and buy-in from civic leaders.

LISC Jacksonville – the Local Initiatives Support Corporation – presented the mayor’s office with as “Eastside Initiative” plan on Thursday.

Billed by Executive Director Janet Owens as a “redevelopment strategy that incorporates the rich heritage and culture of this neighborhood,” Owens expects detailed discussions with senior staff for Mayor Lenny Curry in the coming weeks.

The Eastside Initiative has five areas of focus: the Business Association/District; coordinated rehabilitation and infill development; “strategic site acquisitions”; multi-family development; and jobs/workforce development.

The plan currently calls for 285 multi-family rental units and “36,000 square feet of commercial/training space for workforce development,” via a training/education center on Albert Street.

The expectation: that the plan would “catalyze” additional housing projects “leading to the preservation and/or creation of 700-800 additional units of housing.”

All of this, however, is contingent on the city “acquiring, assembling, and transferring strategic parcels” in the area on and around A. Philip Randolph Blvd.

Development would impact both Springfield and the Eastside both.


Broadly speaking, the plan has three initial development phases.

The first: redevelopment of the lower part of A. Philip Randolph Blvd. This includes “large scale, mixed income multi-family development” and rehabilitation and redevelopment of vacant lots and extant housing stock.

The northern part of A. Philip Randolph is next, including revitalization of existing green space, adaptive reuse of a vacant warehouse site, and single-family and multi-family infill.

From there, more in-fill housing on arterial streets would follow.

The first part of 2016 would be devoted to site assessment and environmental testing, project design, and community engagement.

If all goes as planned, total capital investment in the project would reach $21.705 million by the end of 2020.

To put this number in perspective, the city plans to invest $6.8 million for a Lower Eastside drainage project, remedying a long-term infrastructural problem.

And the city’s big ask this legislative session: $50 million to remove the Hart Bridge offramps by the stadium, routing traffic instead onto the underutilized Bay Street to service the sports complex and expected development at Metropolitan Park and the Shipyards.

If all these plans come together, the Eastside may look different when Lenny Curry leaves office than when he took control of City Hall’s fourth floor.

In Jacksonville, Adam Putnam talks energy independence, technology, and transportation

On Thursday, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam spoke in Jacksonville, capping off an event at the North Florida TPO.

After a discussion by local leaders on advancing technology in the sector, including electric buses and autonomous vehicles, Putnam spoke of the unique challenges Northeast Florida will face via rapid growth.

Putnam said that local transportation advances “personified disruption,” with the potential to “turn the [sector] on its head.”

“When these things start to happen, they happen quickly,” Putnam said.

Putnam lauded Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority for converting vehicles to clean energy as well, before pivoting into remarks about the “generational shift” related to driving habits and the cities of the future.

Kids today, Putnam said, aren’t as yoked to vehicle ownership as generations in the past.

Despite this shift, congestion is a statewide impact, Putnam noted, along with lack of infrastructure.

These issues affect commuters, but they also affect businesses reliant on infrastructure to make their margins.

Congestion: a “quality of life impediment and a drag on the economy.”

Putnam speculated on a big federal infrastructure bill, urging that “Florida gets its fair share,” and adding that there is “no better time than to be investing in infrastructure projects.”

Northeast Florida, said Putnam, is a model for the rest of the state.

The “revolutionary” shift in oil and natural gas production in the last decade domestically has helped Florida.

“We have established North American energy independence,” Putnam said. “It’s a new dynamic.”

To capitalize on that, specifically relative to natural gas, the infrastructure — from pipelines to ports — is imperative.

Regarding post-Panamax ships, Putnam noted “they’re only going to stop here if there’s something to put back on that boat.”

“Northeast Florida is uniquely positioned to take advantage of that renaissance in manufacturing,” Putnam said, and “can be that hub of activity for energy development, port and trade business, and energy storage.”

Disruption was a recurrent theme in Putnam’s remarks, which also posited that the increased demand for STEM jobs will be an economic driver.

“We need an economy and an education system that prepares talent for those career tracks,” Putnam said.

However, said Putnam, there is an “angst” for those such as truck drivers, fleet maintenance workers, and so on.

Technology advancements require people to become “adaptive and agile,” which can be difficult for workers who are displaced.

However, said Putnam, attention to “workforce development” will help to mitigate the effects of unavoidable changes.

In homecoming speech, John Rutherford addresses Jacksonville business club

On Wednesday, Congressman-elect John Rutherford addressed Jacksonville’s Southside Business Men’s Club at their weekly meeting.

Well before the program began, Rutherford was talking to club members like old friends. And people at tables were swapping Rutherford stories.

Not a surprise, given the former Jacksonville Sheriff’s deep roots in the community, and fourteen years in the club.

One day after Rep. Ander Crenshaw briefly addressed the crowd of dignitaries at the JAXUSA quarterly awards, saying of D.C. that he wouldn’t miss the “circus,” but he would miss the “clowns,” Rutherford prepared to become Jacksonville’s establishment ringmaster.

Rutherford noted that “it was always an honor and a privilege to serve as sheriff,” calling law enforcement a “calling” and a “ministry.”

“It’s funny the way the lord works. He shut the door on law enforcement, through term limits … when you’ve been in God’s grace for 41 years doing what you want to do, it’s kind of tough.”

Rutherford’s priest told him to “accept” God’s grace, and with Crenshaw’s retirement, “God opened another door.”

“This is no less a calling for me than law enforcement was,” Rutherford said regarding the House.

Rutherford then pivoted to orientation stories.

Speaker Paul Ryan was hosting a dinner inside the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, and when Rutherford and his wife were walking to the Capitol, “it took my breath away.”

“The enormous responsibility of it really hit me,” Rutherford declaimed.

Inside the dinner, Rutherford noticed a plaque: “John Quincy Adams’ desk sat here.”

That reminded Rutherford of his “obligation to the district,” to the weight of following Crenshaw, Tillie Fowler, and Charlie Bennett.

Rutherford told a story of Election Night.

His wife looked down at her phone at 7:10 and exclaimed that “they just called your race.”

Of course, that race was decided more or less in the primary, something that couldn’t be said about the top of the ticket.

By 3:30 in the morning, with Trump’s election, Rutherford was reassured.

With majorities in both houses, “I believe that we can do great things for this country.”

Congress knows, Rutherford said, that it needs to fix overregulation and taxation.

High corporate taxes, Rutherford said, keeps capital offshore.

Lowering taxes and systemic reform could lead to repatriation, Rutherford said, with some “true reform on the international side where they’re going to go with territorial tax.”

The regulatory process, Rutherford said, would be “moved back into Congress where it belongs.”

“The executive branch has been legislating by fiat, and all of that is going to stop,” Rutherford said.

Securing the borders, with “drugs and violence that pour across our southern border that is no longer sovereign,” is a priority.

As is “taking care of our veterans.”

If veterans are not taken care of, “the next generation ain’t gonna sign up,” and there’s “nothing better than a volunteer military.”

Another priority: stemming $150 billion of “waste and fraud in entitlements.”

“It is off the chain,’ Rutherford said, vowing to “get us back to a welfare to work state rather than an entitlement state.”

All of this, Rutherford contended, is part of the quest to “make America great again.”

When advised not to reach across the aisle by an audience member, Rutherford demurred.

“I don’t mind reaching out. I think we should convince them to go with us on the journey,” Rutherford said, noting that it’s “up to them” if they “don’t want to come on the journey.”

That journey will include tax reform (which could include a flat tax or a “fair tax”), and a hard look at Social Security and Medicare, with an eye toward spurring the economy toward 4 percent growth.

“We are never going to cut our way out of a $19-20 trillion budget. We have to grow our way out,” Rutherford said, “and I can’t think of anyone better [to lead the way] than the next president.”

There are limitations, of course, to what a freshman can do; Rutherford doesn’t expect to be on Appropriations next year.

However, as a freshman who essentially won his race in August, he was able to help out with other campaigns, building the kind of political capital with House leadership that might give him a leg up over some of his freshman class.

Some news came out of this event also, including key staff announcements.

Kelly Simpson will be Rutherford’s chief of staff, moving over from Robert Hurt’s office. Jackie Smith, a Crenshaw holdover, will run the district office.

Rutherford expects a staff of between 14 and 18 people in the end.

Of Trump’s cabinet picks, Rutherford is especially excited about Scott Pruitt at the EPA.

Kim Daniels names staff, sets Friday meet and greet

Rep. Kim Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat representing House District 14, announced her legislative staff Wednesday.

Juanita Dixon will serve as Daniels’ legislative aide and Roshanda Jacksona former chair of the Mayor’s Commission on Women, will serve as the District Secretary for the first-term state representative.

Those constituents seeking to meet her staff have an opportunity Friday morning.

Daniels’ staff will be at the Johnson Branch YMCA on Cleveland Road, between 9 and 11 a.m. on Friday.

There will be door prizes, and continental breakfast will be provided.

Jacksonville’s place in ‘changing global economy’ discussed at JAXUSA luncheon

Introducing one of three winners of JAXUSA awards at a Tuesday luncheon, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was in civic booster mode.

Curry took stock of a “really busy year … a really good year,” in which “the Chamber, civic and business leaders and the city council … demonstrated to the public what is possible.”

Curry referred to Jacksonville’s “international footprint and brand,” before saying that “the best is yet to come” and urging people to “rest up and buckle up.”

And a panel of economists that spoke soon after the mayor concurred that, given the large amount of unknowns in 2017, buckling up may be good advice.

The economy will grow and change in the near future, in large part due to deregulation and stimulus money to be printed out of the ether.

But it is by no means certain that Jacksonville will be able to fully exploit that.


The feature event at Tuesday’s JAXUSA quarterly luncheon: bankers and economists discussing Jacksonville’s place in the changing global economy.

Leslie Slover, Regional Head of Deutsche Bank, moderated the discussion between two panelists: Peter Hooper, Deutsche Bank’s Chief U.S. Economist, and Nathaniel Karp, BBVA Compass Bank’s Chief U.S. Economist.

Hooper and Karp concurred in their assessment of Jacksonville’s advantages — and disadvantages.

Hooper noted that in a climate of financial stimulus like most are anticipating from the Donald Trump administration, Jacksonville is an “attractive place to locate,” mostly because of low costs.

However, Hooper cautioned that a paucity of skilled workers may be a concern.

“You don’t want to tell people you’re running out of workers,” the Deutsche Bank economist cautioned.

Karp echoed those concerns, saying that Jacksonville’s labor force is weak in the STEM Sector — a campaign priority of Mayor Curry’s.

In other words, Jacksonville is going to have to figure out how to compete, in terms of STEM jobs, to get to where it needs to be in terms of the larger economy.


The economists spent a small portion of their program on Jacksonville, touching on a variety of subjects including NAFTA, Fed policy, conditions in Europe, and the Trump effect.

Hooper said that tweaks to NAFTA need to “go light,” lest a “huge can of worms” be opened.

Karp echoed that point, noting that technological improvements, rather than trade deals, are responsible for attrition of jobs from the industrial sector.

Karp also noted that the integration of border states in the U.S. and Mexico is often greater than the integration of states like California to the rest of the U.S., due to trans-border assembly of products.


Regarding the Fed and Janet Yellen, the chair who served as a pinata for the president-elect before Election Day, Hooper noted that while Trump was critical of low interest rates as a candidate, “President Trump will prefer lower rates.”

Changes at the Fed, Hooper added, would “not be to the benefit of the new president.”

Hooper speculated that Yellen and Trump “could grow to appreciate each other.”

Karp suggested a balance between hawkish and dovish members of the Fed’s board, as Trump works toward a positive outcome (potentially) of enhancing GDP growth without too much inflation.

Both concurred that there will be a real increase in financial liquidity, to drive supply-side growth in the manner of Reaganomics.

Hooper noted that the “markets have good reason to be ebullient,” given expected spending on infrastructure and a rolling back of nettlesome regulations.

GDP, Hooper suggested, could grow by a full point.

That is, if Trump avoids a trade war.


Before the economists had their say, some hardware was given out, via the JAXUSA Jax Partnership awards.

Mike Butler of J.P. Morgan won the International Leader of the Year award.

The Haskell Company garnered the International Company of the Year Award for mid-size companies.

Fidelity Information Systems Global won the International Company of the Year Award.

Lyft claims to save time, boost economy in Jacksonville

Even as Jacksonville waits for yet another legislative session to offer clarity in ridesharing legislation from Tallahassee, transportation networking giant Lyft has a message.

Lyft claims to save Jacksonville time, and claims to boost the local economy.

Lyft claims to drive $5 million of new spending to the local economy, with 73 percent of respondents to a local survey claiming that Lyft makes them feel comfortable going out later or staying out longer.

Corollary to that: nearly 89 percent of respondents to the survey claim Lyft helps them avoid driving while intoxicated.

Another claim from Lyft: the company saves Jacksonville residents 33,000 hours a year, and that 22 percent of Lyft rides in Jacksonville start in underserved areas.

In a release to media, Lyft also offers a deep dive into the demographics of its drivers.

A full 80 percent of Lyft drivers are otherwise employed, with 90.9 percent having need for flexible hours.

21 percent of Lyft drivers are otherwise occupied in the creative class; 29 percent, meanwhile, own small businesses.

Nearly one in seven Lyft drivers are veterans, while three in ten are caregivers.

After a quiet spell, Lenny Curry extols Donald Trump on Twitter

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry broke recent protocol on his Twitter account with a couple of enthusiastic Tweets about President-elect Donald Trump.

The Tweets, issued on Friday evening upon the mayor’s return from the city’s annual bond rating trip, speak to an alignment the Jacksonville mayor has had with Trump going back years.

“President elect .@realDonaldTrump using football metaphor- that’s music to my ears,” Curry Tweeted at 8:03 p.m.

“@realDonaldTrump talking tax cuts-   That’s a focus on hard working folks & famiiies. Mentioning the forgotten man and forgotten woman,” Curry Tweeted at 8:15 p.m.

Curry hosted a Jacksonville rally for Trump in August during his push for the pension reform referendum, though he conspicuously avoided serving up “Lock her up” styled red meat, preferring instead to introduce the speakers in a low-key manner.

Many pundits, including this writer, predicted that Curry co-branding with Trump was going to hurt the pension-tax push.

However, it had the opposite effect, according to polling conducted at the time of the referendum.

Curry’s Trumpian co-brand helped him solidify his base.

Curry has extolled the virtues of Twitter Trump for nearly five years, off and on [H/T: Ben Marcus]

On May 27, 2012, Curry thanked Trump for his “commitment to free enterprise and pursuit of happiness.”

On July 25, 2012, Curry described a Fox News segment with Trump, on the Greta Van Susteren show, as “refreshing” and “telling it like it is.”

On Aug. 7, 2012, Curry was watching Trump on Fox News Channel again: “@realDonaldTrump. Says on FOX he would like to see Obama college records. I agree with @RealDonaldTrump.”

And on Oct. 7, 2012, Curry spoke “To the trolls hitting @RealDonaldTrump. Go back in your holes. You are stinking up Twitter. The stench forced me to respond.”

Curry’s support for Trump was much more measured during the campaign, with the mayor rarely offering comment on the candidate more emphatic than affirming that he stood with the Republican nominee.

The high point of his August remarks at the Trump rally lacked the rhetorical flourish of a couple of those 2012 Tweets.

“I came in as an outsider and I promised to turn the status quo upside down,” Curry said in August, before pitching the pension tax to scattered, tepid applause — then saying “Trump will flip the status quo upside down.”

And both men are involved in projects that indeed may “flip the status quo.”

Indeed, Curry told us last week that “reform of the system” was a message he intended to convey on the trip to New York to meet with bond ratings agencies.

With Curry’s team involved in tough negotiations with the city’s unions, with the city looking to impose unprecedented 401k plans on new hires (including public safety officers), the timing of Curry’s re-affirmed affinity for Trump bears watching.

The mayor will need support from fiscal conservatives to counter the robust public information campaigns that will be mounted by police and fire unions, especially as the city council tends to go wobbly under concerted pressure.

Trump, meanwhile, has taken the unusual move of issuing a riposte to a CIA report released Friday that asserted Russian involvement in Wikileaks oppo dumps on the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again’,” asserted a Friday night email from the transition team.

Northwest Jacksonville Title I teachers sound off to Rick Scott, Pam Stewart

On Thursday, Florida Governor Rick Scott and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart held a “teacher roundtable” at an elementary school in Northwest Jacksonville.

Reynolds Lane Elementary, located near the industrial areas of Commonwealth Avenue, is in a neighborhood that shows up on the crime blotter and the lead stories of the news all too frequently.

Thursday saw Gov. Scott and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart listening to those primarily young, female, and enthusiastic teachers describe what it is they do and deal with on a daily basis, with all parties sitting on child-sized chairs in a mid-20th century styled library.

The governor wasn’t here in Jacksonville to talk … but to listen, to “hear your ideas,” he told the teachers.

And so it was he heard them. And promised to look at engaging deans of colleges of education into the issues related to Title I schools, as well as discussing waiving recurrent costs related to teacher certification.


Among the pressures: teacher certification, a recurring cost that led one teacher to say “we have to pay to stay employed,” and “it should be free.”

Licensure is also a pressure. Another teacher noted her desire of “permanent licenses,” saying “a lot of teachers actually dropped because they didn’t get that five-year removal.”

Scott explained these practices, saying that people want “accountability.”

“I’ve been able to get rid of 2,500 regulations on the state level,” Scott said, “and I’ll go back and look at this one.”

After the topic of professional credentials was exhausted, student behavior came up next.


Teachers feel “ill-equipped” to deal with student mental illnesses, especially those that have not been diagnosed.

“When they’re endangering the staff,” one teacher said, “there’s not much we can do.”

First-year teachers, said one instructor, could use training.

A school like this, said the instructor, has a great deal of such issues, due to a lack of parental involvement.

A “very high turnover of teachers” is the result.

“We had a field trip, and we couldn’t find chaperones,” the instructor said.

Some parents, said another teacher, “know school starts in August and ends in June.”


Still another teacher — a third-year teacher from the University of North Florida– learned that “I just feel a need to be here,” even though her school didn’t prepare her for a school such as this.

The governor was incredulous that deans of colleges of education don’t come to schools like this to see how things worked out.

In the post-event gaggle, the governor vowed to “talk to deans” and “make sure our universities are getting out and talking to teachers” at these schools.

Scott also vowed to “go back and look at fees to see if there’s anything I can get rid of there.”

“Nobody brought that up to me before,” Scott said.

Neighborhood events bill clears second Jacksonville council panel

A bill allocating $70,000 t0 Jacksonville City Council members for internal costs on “neighborhood events” had gotten some pushback when introduced by Councilman Reggie Brown earlier this year.

However, in the current round of committee hearings, the measure is getting traction.

The measure cleared Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services on Monday. And on Tuesday, the Rules Committee approved it 5 to 1, with Danny Becton in opposition.

The Rules version came with a number of amendments attached beforehand: third party donations are a gift to the city, not to the council member; “Neighborhood Community Events” may not be “promote[d]” by council members; council members are not allowed to “solicit donations”; and the Neighborhoods Department must be part of the review of the event.

These amendments sought to sharpen distinctions between political events and events for community enrichment and education, the latter of which was the councilman’s intent.

Among its terms: city dollars would only pay for internal costs, such as city resources relative to police and fire/rescue, bleachers, and so on. Not for amenities like “bounce houses”, which Brown had advocated as something to give kids something to do while parents/guardians learned about city services.

As well, the council member could not promote the event before the event was approved by the affected departments, risk management, the finance and ethics departments.

Discussion was robust in Rules.

Councilman Greg Anderson expressed concerns about the series of approvals needed. The OGC representative noted that the event had to be submitted for approval 60 days prior to the date of the happening.

Councilman Brown addressed the issue of at-large council members having events; Brown was “comfortable” with the $70,000 allocation, given his expectation that not every council member would have events the first year.

Currently, the council has just over $133,000 in reserve.

The allocation would be “first come, first serve,” said the OGC rep on hand.

The expectation is that each event is going to draw 500 people at least, with a desired range of 1,000 to 1,500 people.

Councilman Brown noted that his events have grown over the years, from 100 people at his first holiday “day of service” event (which introduces constituents to city services), up to 1,000 people at more recent events.

Hence, the “best guess” is employed to make initial projections.

Much discussion revolved around disbursal of the $70,000, with cautionary tales spun about a council members potentially spending the whole sum on one event, and Councilman Danny Becton expressing concern over this discussion as it relates to potential boost in the council travel budget.

Brown noted that “we’re all responsible and we know the intent of the bill … whatever the amount is, let’s be sure to divide it by 19.”

Councilman Greg Anderson sought a “monetary limit” in the bill, to cap the amount spent by a given council member.

Councilman Becton reiterated his opposition, calling this a “party thrown [with] taxpayer dollars,” and claiming that the blurring of the lines between a campaign event and a community education event is inevitable.

“From a funding standpoint, as a city we’re not out of the woods yet,” Becton added, noting pension costs and capital costs (such as drainage problems) preclude using money “for this type of purpose.”

This bill inspired considerable discussion, and the measure will be tweaked further at Finance Committee on Wednesday morning.

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