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Jacksonville Bold for 7.6.18 — Fireworks or fizzle?

After a brief sabbatical, Bold is back.

The campaign season — local state House and Senate races and special elections, and statewide battles — is in full swing.

Competitive races abound up and down the ballot, along with more than a few cakewalks.

Since we took our break, we’ve also seen a new Jacksonville City Council president.

Jacksonville celebrates the return of Bold.

Aaron Bowman, an ally of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, is expected to presage an era of good feeling.

Will this happen? The mayor’s office hopes so.

With Jacksonville’s municipal elections running through May of next year, the local political season is a different matter than just the August/November cycle we see in state and federal races.

Ahead of us: close to a year of campaign finance watching, ad analysis, guessing and second-guessing, tips that do (and sometimes don’t) pan out.

People often say that FloridaPolitics.com covers the miscellany of the political scene, which otherwise would be ignored.

They’re right.

And for those of you who miss the content during the week, we try to bring together the best of the best (even in a slow week such as this) to you in Jacksonville Bold.

Great to be back!

LGBT group backs Lawson over Brown

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown faced questions about his commitment to LGBT rights during his four-year term, and those questions have continued to dog him as he mounts a primary challenge to Congressman Al Lawson.

The latest example: the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus choosing to endorse Florida’s 5th Congressional District incumbent, a first-term legislator from Tallahassee.

No surprise: Al Lawson gets backing from a prominent LGBTA group.

“Congressman Lawson has always been on the right side of the issues for the LGBT community,” said Terry Fleming, president of the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus.

“We are proud he’s our representative in Washington who will stand up for equal rights for all, and that’s why the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus is pleased to endorse Congressman Al Lawson for re-election,” Fleming added.

Lawson was “humbled by this endorsement from the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus.”

“Throughout my career,” Lawson added, “I have believed in true equality for all and fought to ensure no person is ever discriminated against due to his or her age, race, sex, religion or sexual orientation. We have made great strides in our nation, but there is still so much more we can do. I will continue to work to drive that path forward.”

Bean in cash cakewalk thus far

In Northeast Florida’s Senate District 4, incumbent Sen. Aaron Bean continued to hold a commanding lead over three opponents as of June 22, the most recent reportage date for state candidates.

The first three weeks of June, however, saw slow fundraising for Bean, who raised nothing for his political committee (Florida Conservative Alliance) and $4,500 in hard money, including maximum $1,000 contributions from Friends of Dana Young and GrayRobinson.

Boon times for Aaron Bean, as challengers struggle for cash.

Between the two accounts, Bean has roughly $160,000 on hand.

Bean will face a primary challenge, via Carlos Slay, a candidate widely seen as being backed by Bean’s political rival, former Rep. Janet Adkins.

Slay has not raised any money, and paid his filing fee via a personal loan.

The winner of the Bean/Slay clash will face two general election opponents, Democrat Billie Bussard and Libertarian Joanna Tavares.

Bussard has $4,500 on hand, having raised money between June 5 and June 22.

Tavares has less than $40 on hand after paying her filing fee.

What Bean is up to

The Fernandina Beach Republican will speak to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Jacksonville and will provide a postmortem of the 2018 Legislative Session Thursday, July 12, 9:30 a.m., Maggiano’s, 10367 Midtown Pkwy., Jacksonville.

Later that day, Bean will be honored with an award from the First Coast Apartment Association in appreciation for being a friend to their industry, 7:00 p.m., Sheraton Jacksonville Hotel, 10605 Deerwood Park Blvd, Jacksonville.

Yarborough dominates in HD 12 cash dash

State Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Jacksonville Republican in his first term, maintained his money lead over Democratic challenger Tim Yost through the first three weeks in June.

Clay Yarborough continues to hold a strong lead over Tim Yost.

Neither candidate has a primary challenge in House District 12, a Southside Jacksonville district that encompasses the Arlington area, which means this is a race to November.

Yarborough brought in $6,700 off ten contributions in the period, with Waste Management and the Southeast Florida Chamber of Commerce pacing the political veteran’s haul.

The Republican spent nearly as much as he took in during the reporting period, with $5,755 heading out the door, mostly to consultants and for a qualifying fee.

Yost had his best reporting period of fundraising since filing last summer, bringing in $2,521 ($1,781 of it from the candidate himself, to cover his filing fee).

Yost has almost $4,300 on hand, but Yarborough holds serve, with just under $107,000 in cash available.

Duggan closes in on Polson in HD 15 money battle

Democrat Tracye Polson will carry the party’s flag against one of three Republicans in a November race for exiting state Rep. Jay Fant‘s Westside Jacksonville seat.

GOP voters will pick Tracye Polson’s opponent. Donors are leaning toward Wyman Duggan thus far.

The bookkeeping through the first three weeks of June reveals a tightening financial picture between Polson, a well-funded first-time candidate, and Wyman Duggan, a Jacksonville lobbyist.

Polson brought in $3,647 to her campaign account, which now has roughly $115,000 on hand; her political committee added another $800, pushing that tally to $14,000 on hand.

Polson still leads the money race, but on the strength of his best reporting period since October 2017, Duggan is closing in.

Duggan brought in $13,800 to his campaign account in June (pushing the total near $121,000 on hand), driven by establishment support from J.B. CoxwellW.W. Gay, and CSX Transportation.

Running behind Duggan and Polson: the two other Republicans in the race.

Yacht broker Mark Zeigler brought in $5,325, pushing the first-time candidate over $33,000 on hand.

And Joseph Hogan, whose $1,500 in the first three weeks of June pushed his total over $8,000, may be trailing in fundraising. Nonetheless, he had the biggest name contributor of the four HD 15 hopefuls this cycle: former House Speaker Allan Bense.

Fischer stays strong against Dem challenge

In the first three weeks of June, state Rep. Jason Fischer, the incumbent Republican in Mandarin (Jacksonville) House District 16, lengthened his money lead against Democratic challenger Ken Organes.

Jason Fischer continues his fundraising lead.

Neither candidate faces a primary opponent, making the race in 16 a sprint toward November.

Fischer’s political committee, Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville, brought in $21,000; his campaign account received another $8,500.

School choice money, via Step Up for Students founder John Kirtley, comprised $10,000 of the committee’s haul; Florida Power and Light, a company with lobbyists in Jacksonville’s City Hall during the lapsed debate over potential privatization of the city’s utility, ponied up $5,000.

The $8,500 of new money in Fischer’s campaign account came from 10 contributors, including long-term care apothecary Senior Care Pharmacy, the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association, and the Southeast Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Fischer’s committee had at the time of filing $80,000 on hand; his campaign account had another $93,000.

Organes, meanwhile, raised $6,484, pushing his campaign account over $20,000 on hand.

Among Organes’ backers: former CSX CEO Michael Ward, notable as Organes retired from the Jacksonville railroad, former State Attorney candidate Jay Plotkin, and the local Sheet Metal Workers.

What Nelson is reading

Melissa Nelson, the State Attorney for the 4th Circuit Court, couldn’t have commissioned a stronger endorsement of her job performance thus far than this paean to “smart justice” in the Florida Times-Union.

Melissa Nelson gets her most robust endorsement yet. (Image via Folio Weekly)

“Among the brightest spots in Nelson’s vision is expanding diversion and civil citation programs, which seek to steer individuals away out of the criminal justice system. Diversion programs use alternatives to the usual criminal court system to process certain low-level, nonviolent offenders. Rather than rely on criminal sanctions that often do little more than force offenders to languish in a jail cell, diversion programs require these individuals to undergo substance abuse, mental health or other treatment,” the editorial from the right-leaning R Street Institute reads.

“By embracing “smart on crime” justice, Northeast Florida finds itself in good company. Conservative-led jurisdictions across the country are beginning to experiment with new ideas and reap prodigious returns on the back of evidence-based reforms,” the piece continues.

Read more here.

Ray retains tax collector cash lead

As of June 22, former State Rep. Lake Ray leads his three opponents in fundraising for the Duval County Tax Collector election to be held this August.

The election, which will see the top two candidates move to the November ballot if no one gets a majority of votes, was necessitated by former tax collector Michael Corrigan moving on to a role with Visit Jacksonville.

Ray, a Republican, has raised $128,660, with $17,350 hauled in between June 1 and June 20. He has over $119,000 on hand.

Doyle Carter, languishing third in the money race.

Ray’s closest competitor is also a Republican, former property appraiser, and city councilman Jim Overton, who has raised $90,000 total, with almost $79,000 on hand.

During the most recent three-week reporting period, Overton brought in $15,650.

Running third in the money race: current Jacksonville City Councilman Doyle Carter.

Carter, also a Republican, had the best three-week period of all the candidates. His $22,050 haul included a noteworthy donation, via the “Jacksonville Conservative Action Fund” committee, seeded solely by the Republican Party of Florida.

Carter has over $53,000 on hand.

Running in fourth place: the sole Democrat in the race, former State Rep. Mia Jones.

Jones raised $9,740 in the three-week reporting period and has just over $12,000 total.

Task force hits Jacksonville government for transparency failings

In its final report, the Jacksonville City Council Task Force on Open Government offered an indictment of Curry’s administration and the Jacksonville City Council on transparency issues.

The media has long wondered why Lenny Curry’s emails lack real discussions of city issues.

The panel, co-chaired by trial lawyer Hank Coxe and former Jessie Ball DuPont Center head Sherry Magill, says city government makes it “difficult for the public to understand governmental processes and decisions.”

Mayoral staff review of public records requests and disallowing journalists to interview department heads: two of the black marks identified.

The City Council also gets dinged for not posting text messages and emails to a public portal. Indeed, the only Council communications available without a public record request are emails to the whole Council. And text messages, for anyone in city government, are not made available without said PRR.

Critics of the city website say it’s hard to navigate, and lacking attention to SEO or navigation; the city budget for being hard to understand; public notice processes are “archaic.”

Whether legislation will emerge from this or not is a different matter.

The task force was a priority of former Council President Brosche, and it is by no means certain that her Council colleagues share her interest in increasing transparency in the ways the task force recommends.

Jacksonville leads in emerging economic centers

Some good news for once, and kudos to the Jax Daily Record for providing it.

Per a recent study from the Urban Land Institute, Jacksonville is among a leader in “emerging economic centers.”

Photo of St. Johns Town Center, via Visit Jacksonville.

Jacksonville, with 11.9 percent of urban residents living in emerging economic centers, is seeing “new urban cores” emerge.

The study spotlighted Riverside and the Town Center.

What is missing: “mixed-use districts,” with high-density housing and upscale retail.

Perhaps the District will solve that problem once it is built on the Southbank.

Car trouble

Suspended Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown, at this point, is better known for her legal woes than anything she’s done legislatively.

Another legal action against the compromised councilor.

38-count federal indictment, spotlighting a scheme to defraud with another suspended councilman (Reggie Brown), is the reason.

However, the feds aren’t the only ones suing Katrina Brown. Also coming after her as of this week: Wells Fargo, which loaned her money using a 2000 Ford Explorer as collateral, is now suing her for a nonperforming loan.

This is Katrina Brown’s second lawsuit regarding lapsed car payments since she has been on Council: the first one involved a 2006 Porsche Cayenne SUV.

In this case, Wells Fargo subsidiary OneMain loaned Councilwoman Brown $8,300 at 25 percent interest using a 16-year-old truck as collateral on Nov. 2016, just weeks before the FBI, the IRS, HUD, the Small Business Administration and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office raided her family’s BBQ sauce plant.

Councilwoman Brown stopped making payments on the loan last summer, per the lawsuit.

This loan’s timing tracks with two of the counts against Katrina Brown in the federal indictment, which asserts that she was trying to secure a loan for $60,000 for “working capital” for her KJB Specialties from a company called LendCore through Nov. 2016, and $50-$55,000 from Credibly and Webbank in the same time frame. Part of the scheme to defraud, per the indictment, included materially altering bank statements.

Katrina and Reggie Brown, at this writing, are expected to see their federal trials begin Sep. 4.

Pretty vacant

On June 1, Gov. Rick Scott suspended two Democratic Jacksonville City Council members who face 38 federal counts in a scheme to defraud local and federal taxpayers.

While Scott has not yet picked replacements for Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, former Council President Anna Brosche solved the issue for their constituents weeks ago.

That solution: Councilman Sam Newby and Brosche will fill in for the suspended duo until replacements are appointed.

“Me stepping in to help handle things in District 10 is a very temporary situation,” Brosche said to one of many impassioned speakers at a June public notice meeting.

And indeed, it was temporary, as now current Council President Aaron Bowman exercised his authority and relieved the two at-large Republicans of those duties this week.

“That was not a legal assignment,” Bowman said. “They have five at-large representatives to represent them.”

Brosche appointed herself and Newby to the roles, she said Tuesday, because she believed the need for a point person to address concerns specific to those districts.

The move “wasn’t about legal authority,” she added; rather, it was about ensuring the constituents had representation.

Brosche also noted that, in her understanding, similar moves in the past filled in the gap for suspended councilors.

School super speaks out

WJCT interviewed Dr. Diana Greene, the new superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, this week.

(Image via WJCT)

She’s not quite sure what needs changing first.

“I don’t think what I know right now is enough information to make that determination. What are the areas that need the most improvement? But there are general areas it would matter what district I’m in. Academics is always going to be something that we can always improve. Ensuring safety and security of our students, making sure that our employees are safe in their locations at work,” Greene said. “Those are things that are happening not only in Duval but across the country, and we want to continue to focus on those same issues so that our students, when they come to school, they know that they’re in a safe environment, when our teachers come to work, they’re in a safe environment and that the No. 1 priority is doing what’s best for students to ensure their success.”

Greene also seemed open to a millage hike via referendum:

“I think any passing of a referendum requires a coalition of involved and engaged citizens in the process and stepping in July 2, being my first official day, I need to again get to know people, introduce myself to the community … It does take time. It takes time to understand what are the issues? And 1) will a referendum help solve those issues? My first role is to No. 1 get to know everyone, but No. 2, identify what are our issues?”

The board appointed Greene, who started this week.

Save the date

St. Johns Chamber of Commerce is holding a Candidate Meet-and-Greet, Monday, July 16, at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, 1050 A1A North. The nonpartisan event – from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. – will feature a straw poll conducted by the St. Johns Supervisor of Elections. It’s free and open to the public.

JTA bond rating stays strong

Bond rating agency S&P is upholding the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) ‘AA’ rating, giving stability for the regional transit agency’s local option gas tax (LOGT) revenue bonds, series 2015.

Series 2015 bonds represent JTA’s first direct debt issuance; money helps fund roadway and mobility improvements. This rating reflects an assessment of the prospects of LOGT revenues relative to the required JTA debt service payments, along with future capital needs.

“This bond rating assessment strengthens the financial position of the Authority,” said JTA Board Chair Isaiah Rumlin. “The rating allows the Authority to continue to improve safety, reduce congestion on major roadways, provide mobility options and enhance the quality of life for the community.”

JTA works with the City of Jacksonville to identify specific roadway, transit and mobility projects. Construction is underway for roadway development as well as enhancements for bicycle, pedestrian, transit and ADA accessibility. Since its inception in 2015, the program is installed 7.5 miles of sidewalk.

“The 2015 bond issuance has enabled the JTA to aggressively implement the JTAMobilityWorks initiative,” said JTA Chief Executive Officer Nathaniel Ford. “I want to thank our board of directors for their governance and commitment to effective financial management.”

JAA head to retire

Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA) Chief Executive Officer Steve Grossman is retiring at the end of 2018. Named CEO in September 2009, Grossman oversees the operation, maintenance, development and marketing of authority assets such as Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), Cecil Airport/Spaceport, Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport (JAXEX) and Herlong Recreational Airport. He also serves as the primary JAA representative to the community.

Retiring JAA CEO Steve Grossman. (Image via News4Jax)

Under Grossman’s leadership, JAA achieved annual operating profit margins of at least 30 percent.

JAA Chair Giselle Carson said in a statement: “Under Steve’s leadership, JAX saw a recovery in passenger traffic after the Great Recession, celebrated its 50th anniversary, launched our Aviation Hall of Fame, developed Cecil Airport bringing over a thousand new jobs to the area and watched Cecil Spaceport bring in new technology that will take us into the future.”

Grossman has been a member of the Airports Council International World Governing Board and is a past chair of Airports Council International-North America. He currently serves on the City of Jacksonville Tourist Development Council, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce board of trustees, and the University of North Florida Transportation and Logistics Advisory Council.

Flagler Hospital breaks ground on Murabella Health Village

Nearly 100 people attended the groundbreaking of the Flagler Health Village at Murabella.

When completed by the summer of 2019, the new facility will include 20,000 square feet dedicated to urgent care, advanced imaging, laboratory services, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, primary care and specialty care. Additionally, plans for the site include a 25,000 square foot healthy lifestyle center with fitness, prevention and education program offerings for all ages.

Flagler Hospital is expanding with a new satellite facility.

“As we broaden our reach into new markets, we do so with great enthusiasm. It is important for us to heal people when they are sick and also to support a healthier, more vibrant community,” Flagler Hospital President and CEO Jason Barret said in a news release.

Special guests at the event included Kalilah Jamall, staff assistant in the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who brought along special message from Nelson; State Sen.Travis Hutson; Jackie Smith, aide to Congressman John Rutherford; City of St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver; City of St. Augustine Vice Mayor Todd Neville and St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Operations, Greg Voss.

Jax neurosurgeons bring lifesaving work to Philippines

In June, Jacksonville pediatric neurosurgeon Philipp Aldana joined other health care professionals on a volunteer educational medical mission to his native Philippines. They make the 9,000 trip every two years to teach new neurosurgical techniques to Filipino doctors and consult on neurological cases.

As the Florida Times-Union reports, the trip is a reminder of the vast difference between health care services available in the Philippines and the United States.

Aldana, who is based at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and UF Health Jacksonville, along with his wife, Carmina Montesa Aldana, founded the Jacksonville-based Neurosurgery Outreach Foundation to help close that health care gap.

A group of Jacksonville surgeons volunteer in the Philippines. (Image via Jacksonville Business Journal)

This trip, the Aldana’s were joined by a group of volunteers that included Ricardo Hanel, an endovascular neurosurgeon with Baptist Health and Lyerly Neurosurgery; H. Gordon Deen Jr., a neurosurgeon at Mayo Clinic; and Karen Lidsky, another pediatric critical care physician with UF Health Jacksonville and Wolfson Children’s Hospital.

During their trip, the gave lectures to 50 Filipino health care providers, including 20 neurosurgeons, as well as $100,000 worth of donated surgical clips to treat aneurysms, a treatment unfamiliar in the Philippines. Also, more supplies and $15,000 for an indigent patient fund.

Working with Filipino colleagues, the group provided free surgical care to four children and four adults who had brain and spinal cord tumors, brain aneurysms, neck instability and hydrocephalus.

“It’s always something new,” Aldana told the Times-Union. “We never really know what cases we’ll encounter until a week or two before. … There is no shortage of cases.”

First Coast YMCA becomes Florida’s first Armed Services affiliate

The First Coast YMCA, partnering with the Armed Services YMCA, became the first affiliate in Florida – and one of 20 in the nation – in its mission to support service members and families in the Jacksonville military community.

First Coast YMCA. (Image via Jacksonville Business Journal)

According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, First Coast YMCA has 12 branch locations across the five-county region, giving it a “unique position to serve as a central support system for Jacksonville’s military community.”

As an affiliate, First Coast YMCA can now provide armed service members and their families affordable access to wellness solutions, special rates for membership and summer camps for all military ranks, as well as free programs in Healthy Living Centers. Special rates are also available for all Honorably Discharged Service Veterans.

Cecil Spaceport tests prototype

Per the Jacksonville Business Journal: Atlanta-based Generation Orbit Launch Services Inc. tested a prototype liquid rocket engine at Cecil Spaceport.

By late 2019, the GOLauncher1 hypersonic flight test booster is expected to launch satellites from horizontal aircraft.

One of a half-dozen such facilities in the U.S., Cecil Spaceport is the only spaceport approved for horizontal launches on the East Coast.

Cecil Spaceport tests the GOLauncher1 hypersonic flight test booster. (Image via Generation Orbit)

The GO1 is “an affordable and flexible hypersonic testbed” for technology experiments in conditions between Mach 5 and Mach 8, according to a news release.

According to the Journal, GO1’s combustion engine, powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene, performed as expected during tests, the first of their kind to be conducted at Cecil. The engine test demonstrated a capability of cruising at Mach 6 at heights between 80,000 and 90,000 feet, a crucial point for hypersonic flight testing.

Jaguars fans will see more teal in 2018

If Jaguars fans like seeing their team sporting a different look from time to time, they will have the opportunity this year. The NFL has reportedly told all 32 teams they may wear alternate or throwback uniforms three times in 2018 as opposed to two last year.

Jacksonville changed their alternate uniform during the offseason, responding to those fans who have expressed their satisfaction with the teal look. Team management is equally pleased.

“True to our current identity and what we want to represent for years to come, our new uniforms are no-nonsense, all business and unmistakably Jaguars,” said owner Shad Khan. “Tradition has returned to Jacksonville.”

Teal and black are in this season.

At least one publication agrees with the fans. The Jaguars teal is ranked 11th best among those polled in a national ranking and easily the best among AFC South teams (Tennessee is next best at 21).

The question arises as to which games the Jags should wear the new look. A look back to 2017 shows they brought out the best in the Jaguars and worst in their opponents.

On November 5, they hounded the Cincinnati Bengals 23-7, with Jalen Ramsey nagging Bengals’ Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green into an ejection. On December 10, Seattle Seahawks’ defensive end Quinton Jefferson was ejected, then tried to go into the stands after a fan after Jacksonville’s 30-24 victory.

This publication suggests the best choices would be the home opener on September 16 vs. the Patriots, the October 28 game in London against Super Bowl champion Philadelphia, and the November 18 Sunday night home game against the Steelers. The pro football world will be focusing on all three games.

The best case against the home opener is a desire to wear white in the September late afternoon heat and force the Patriots to wear dark blue. In that case, the October 14 road game at Dallas or the December 16 home finale with Washington could be worthy substitutes.

Andrew Gillum, backed by billionaires, delivers populist sermon in Jacksonville

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is fond of reminding audiences that he’s the only “non-millionaire” in the Florida gubernatorial race.

The Democrat did just that in Jacksonville Thursday evening at a town hall event held at a Northside church, in cadences appropriate for the venue.

Despite being of modest means personally, Gillum has the help of two prominent billionaires, with one of them, George Soros, again in late June ponying up $250,000 to Gillum’s Forward Florida political committee. In total, the Soros family has pumped $750,000 into Gillum’s quest for the Governor’s Mansion.

The other big name on the billionaire left, Tom Steyer, committed $1 million via his NextGen super PAC. Half of that total was directly linked to Steyer.

And those numbers may not be the ceiling for those commitments.

What they are, Gillum told Florida Politics, is opportunity: “to let voters, particularly those who are going to be an important part of our base, know that we are a choice on the ballot.”

“What most people are counting on is that we won’t be able to communicate so that voters in this state don’t know that I’m a choice on the ballot. We’re convinced that we don’t have to be all over television. We don’t have to be the campaign that raises the most money even,” Gillum added.

Digital, traditional mail, and personal voter contact (as Gillum said, “showing up on their doorsteps”) are among the ways to maximize resources.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be an air war,” Gillum said, with his appeal to a “built-in constituency” serving as a force multiplier.

Gillum acknowledged the backing from Steyer in the town hall, and his mention of the million-dollar donation scored a round of applause, the first of many throughout the evening.

But opponents — both in the other party and in the primary field — have fired off with criticism.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, in his speeches to GOP audiences, positions his campaign as a bulwark against the influence of the two billionaires. And Putnam’s rhetoric is echoed on the Democratic side by Jeff Greene, a billionaire in his own right who entered the race in recent weeks.

“If you want to have Florida managed by George Soros and whatever he wants, regardless of whether the governor likes it, and Tom Steyer, then you can go with Andrew Gillum,” Greene said last weekend.

Gillum, as one would expect, dismisses these critiques.

“I have known Mr. Soros for about fifteen years,” Gillum said, “and he has contributed to work I’ve supported at the People for the American Way Foundation and the youth leadership work I’ve done around the country. He has never called up and asked me for a single thing.”

“It’s easy for someone like Jeff Greene to want to dismiss someone getting support from someone else. He’s the same candidate who made his fortune by shorting the market. Now, he did well, but a lot of people did not do well during that terrible housing downturn,” Gillum added.

“I don’t have the luxury of his three-plus-billion-dollar fortune to try to buy a race,” Gillum continued, “but I don’t believe that’s what’s going to win.”

Rather, Gillum believes his appeal rests in “the kind of authentic, real energy that’s showing up on the ground from everyday people.”

Though by the standards of the gubernatorial field, one where Democrats Philip Levine and Greene have a so-far bottomless capacity to self-finance, and where Republican Adam Putnam cleared $30 million raised some weeks back, $1.75 million is real money — especially for a campaign like Gillum’s, uniquely capable of galvanizing the grassroots and (at least theoretically) expanding the universe of primary voters.

Seventeen months ago, Gillum described an “eighteen-month view of engagement” approach to the campaign, one that involved reaching out to voters who wouldn’t turn out otherwise.

Gillum noted the task as the election approaches is “narrowing our focus on the parts of the state that will allow us the best yield for our time.”

Time will tell if that prevails.

Most polls have shown Levine and Gwen Graham ahead of Gillum, Chris King, and Greene.

And in the Jacksonville market, the biggest names to endorse Gillum have been former state Sen. Tony Hill and former state Rep. Mia Jones, with other Democrats, such as Jacksonville City Councilmen Garrett Dennis and Tommy Hazouri, backing Graham.

However, the Gillum approach seems predicated on the kind of variables that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld referred to as “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns.”

Are the pollsters and pols wrong?

That’s Gillum’s bet. And that of the billionaires bankrolling his populist bid.

Gillum is delivering a message that Democratic voters yearn for, regarding such issues as criminal justice and rehabilitation (including the regressive “money bail” system), veteran homelessness, jobs with a living wage (including teaching), Medicaid expansion and indigent health care, the judiciary and others.

And he is delivering that message with a messianic verve and commitment, as well as a definite generational appeal to voters under the age of 40, that eludes many in the field.

Gillum kept his remarks positive in the town hall, though he did note a disagreement with Graham on “the issues.”

“She voted against President [Barack] Obama 52 percent of the time … to ban Syrian refugee immigration … in favor of the Keystone Pipeline,” Gillum said, noting that while “it isn’t personal,” he doesn’t trust Graham “when [our] back is against the wall.”

As the candidate told us Thursday, it’s a five-way race for the nomination. And 20 percent plus one vote, in theory, can win it.

“My conversation and my comments are informed,” Gillum said, “by the people I’ve come in contact with on the trail.”

“We’ve been written off more times than I’ve got fingers for. I believe we come back after every one of them. We’re beginning to peak,” Gillum said, “right at the time that we need it.”

Andrew Gillum slates Jacksonville town hall for Thursday evening

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, firmly in the mix of the Democratic gubernatorial field with less than 60 days before the primary, will court Jacksonville voters Thursday evening at a town hall event.

The event kicks off at 6:30 p.m at the Gateway to Heaven church located at 7700 N. Pearl Street.

Attendees, especially those who have followed Gillum throughout his campaign, should expect to hear road-tested talking points, if the Orlando event last week was any indication.

“He dogged the incumbent for not expanding Medicaid and turning away federal cash for high-speed rail; he gave a full-throated endorsement for Amendment 4; and he detailed an extensive list of education priorities he’ll push for if elected — a $50,000-a-year base salary for teachers, better early education, and more opportunities for K-12 students who aren’t college-bound to learn skills that can land them a place in the workforce,” wrote Florida Politics’ Drew Wilson.

Gillum, who is fond of reminding audiences that he’s the only “non-millionaire” in the Florida Governor’s race, nonetheless has serious financial help also, via two prominent billionaires.

One of them (George Soros) in late June ponied up $250,000 to Gillum’s Forward Florida political committee, bringing Soros money in total to $750,000. And as Florida Politics reported first last week, billionaire Tom Steyer committed $1 million to the Gillum effort via NextGen America, Steyer’s progressive super PAC.

While Gillum lacks the resources of the other Democratic contenders (not to mention the Republicans), what is clear is that his benefactors believe he is worth the investment.

Garrett Dennis plans Tuesday town hall to ‘stop the murders’

Jacksonville City Council may be on its traditional early-July “summer break,” but Councilman Garrett Dennis isn’t even taking a pause.

Dennis, along with political consultant Dwight Brisbane and others, will host a community discussion Tuesday evening with an eye to “stop the murders.”

The event kicks off at Edward Waters College’s Milne Auditorium at 6:00 p.m.

Dennis’ Council district, which encompasses areas ranging from Murray Hill to New Town, deals with violent crime on par with almost any area in the city in some parts.

However, there are some who believe Dennis’ ultimate goal is moving beyond Council toward a mayoral run as soon as 2019.

Dennis, a Democrat, has said repeatedly that Lenny Curry, a Republican, will be a one-term mayor.

If Dennis does run, he will face opprobrium from one already-filed candidate, activist Connell Crooms.

“Several people approached me … and had complaints about the media pushing Garrett Dennis to run for Mayor,” Crooms said.

“I would welcome a debate (in fact I relish it) with Garrett Dennis and Lenny Curry because I more than either one having been here before either one were in office and understand it’s about the People. The contradictions of Dennis and Curry will expose itself, and there are MANY,” Crooms added.

Dennis has yet, as of the time of this writing, to express an opinion on Crooms’ remarks.

In HD 16, incumbent Jason Fischer expands money lead over Democratic challenger

In the first three weeks of June, state Rep. Jason Fischer, the incumbent Republican in Mandarin (Jacksonville) House District 16, lengthened his money lead against Democratic challenger Ken Organes.

Neither candidate faces a primary opponent, making the race in 16 a sprint toward November.

Fischer’s political committee, Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville, brought in $21,000; his campaign account received another $8,500.

School choice money, via Step Up for Students founder John Kirtley, comprised $10,000 of the committee’s haul; Florida Power and Light, a company with lobbyists in Jacksonville’s City Hall during the lapsed debate over potential privatization of the city’s utility, ponied up $5,000.

The $8,500 of new money in Fischer’s campaign account came from ten contributors, including long-term care apothecary Senior Care Pharmacy, the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association, and the Southeast Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Fischer’s committee had at the time of filing $80,000 on hand; his campaign account had another $93,000.

Organes, meanwhile, raised $6,484, pushing his campaign account over $20,000 on hand.

Among Organes’ backers: former CSX CEO Michael Ward, notable as Organes retired from the Jacksonville railroad, former State Attorney candidate Jay Plotkin, and the local Sheet Metal Workers.

State political candidates and committees face a deadline to file reports showing finance activity through June 30.

What to watch for in July in Jacksonville politics

The Jacksonville City Council begins its summer break (July 2 — 13). This is advantageous: It allows them to order more plaques and picture frames for proclamations, and allows some time to plan more creative escapes from the dreaded Sunshine Law.

The schedule has a lull, but that doesn’t mean things are getting dull. What follows: some political phenomena to watch in Dirty Duval in that dread interregnum between July 4 and the beginning of Jaguars’ preseason.

New Budget July 23: Mayor Lenny Curry’s budget presentation to July 23, as City Council President Aaron Bowman will be traveling the week before, and the late reveal will require serious budget meetings by the Finance committee that may impact Council members’ Labor Day travel plans.

That’s the bad news. The good news is, if the capital improvement budget is any indication, there will be lots to run on and little to grouse about.

As the Florida Times-Union reported, a draft CIP has $189 million in projects and includes such big-ticket items as beginning to tear down the Hart Bridge ramps and $20 million for U.F. Health.

This is up from a CIP that was close to $100 million in the last budget, and $78 million before that.

Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa said a couple of years ago the city could use a $400 million capital budget. What is clear: this election year budget uses budget relief from pension reform and still-cheap-for-now borrowing to attempt to make a dent in Jacksonville’s capital needs.

More murders? More problems: A narrative persists in Jacksonville that the public safety rhetoric that Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams ran on has not led to a reduction in the murder rate.

Even though both first-term Republicans are candidates with a real cash advantage, this could be a problem in the quickly-approaching 2019 campaign.

The 4th of July through Labor Day is a time that historically is conducive to murders, including but not limited to the turf war variety by competing gangs. If there are headline-grabbing weekends, it will be exploitable by those challenging incumbents.

Mayor’s race moves: Will Anna Brosche file once she finishes her vacation? Will Garrett Dennis?

Brosche and Dennis seem to be testing the waters. Brosche has said as much to media numerous times. Dennis, meanwhile, has said repeatedly that Lenny Curry will be a one-term mayor.

I’ve said this on electronic media, and I’ll type it here: Dennis and Brosche, whether they run against Curry or run for re-election, will have oppo against them shopped.

Tim Baker does not play around.

Curry is well-positioned with Chamber Republicans for his re-election. It remains to be seen how he will bring the cultural conservatives, piqued over the non-veto of the Human Rights Ordinance expansion to protect LGBT people, back in the fold.

Curry did visit the Duval Republican Party recently, a sign that he’s going to try to shore up his right flank. But expect a lot of folks to stay home. Both from knocking on doors and voting.

What’s clear is that he has problems with a number of different groups. How many people who voted for Alvin Brown in 2015 are lined up for Lenny in 2019? It’s hard to see this one being a coronation like the re-elections of John Delaney and John Peyton.

However, there are strategies to muddle the field. One such strategy that forces friendly to Curry can use, especially to keep Dennis/Brosche in check: find a way to build up activist Connell Crooms.

Crooms likely won’t have the capital to market his campaign beyond the social media space, but he made it clear last week that he is ready to counter-message Dennis.

“Several people approached me … and had complaints about the media pushing Garrett Dennis to run for Mayor. Local Democrat leaders have long been upset that I won’t run under their party banner. I’ll say this, I don’t care and I would welcome a debate (in fact I relish it) with Garrett Dennis and Lenny Curry because I more than either one having been here before either one were in office and understand it’s about the People. The contradictions of Dennis and Curry will expose itself, and there are MANY.”

If you are Lenny Curry (and if you’re him, you’re probably watching Good Morning Football on NFL Network instead of reading this), you want Crooms to get some traction. Find a way to make him a vessel for all the oppo that undermines Dennis’ (or Brosche’s) bona fides. Find a way to get money to him, even through a dizzying maze of Eric Robinson political committees. Impose false purity tests via proxy on the left, and stay in the center-right lane.

And insist that, no matter how marginal an opponent is, said opponent is in the debates. You’re on TV as often as you want. Your opponents, like Eminem in “Lose Yourself,” get one shot, one opportunity to seize everything they ever wanted.

And they likely don’t have the campaign guidance to know how to exploit it, creating one of those “mom’s spaghetti” moments the fortysomething rapper lionized in that hit.

The goal: 50.01 percent in March. With the best polling and messaging operation in the area, and a bunch of late-starting campaigns in opposition, there is a way to create a demolition derby in the field even before the first debate.

Al against Al: City business may be in a lull, but the titanic battle for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 5th Congressional District continues.

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown scored arguably the biggest individual endorsement of the campaign season, via Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan last week.

Word from a Khan confidant: Congressman Al Lawson didn’t even try when it came to building a relationship with Khan over two years. Whether that’s true or not is less important than the fact that it’s Khan’s perception. He owns the town. And every politician is little more than a glorified keyholder.

Perception, including nationally, is that Lawson is vulnerable. Roll Call lists Lawson as a potential Democrat who could go down in the August primary, in the wake of Rep. Joe Crowley’s defeat in NYC.

The Roll Call analysis elides certain details, among them, being that Brown is, despite messaging on Lawson’s purported softness on gun control and non-revulsion by President Donald Trump, not some progressive reformer, but a fairly conservative Democrat.

Another elided detail: the Jacksonville Vs Tallahassee dynamic of this race. Locals aren’t especially excited about Alvin Brown, but the “this is a Jacksonville seat” belief was never shaken, even after Corrine Brown lost to Lawson in 2016.

New Councilors: We know that by the time the Jacksonville City Council reconvenes that there could/should be new Councilors. But who?

Weeks into the application process, three Republicans jumped in who have run, and lost, before.

Terrance Freeman, who finished second in a five-man primary in the Southside’s HD 12 is one. Rev. Mark Griffin, who lost a surprisingly competitive race in the HD 13 general election, a second. And Chris Whitfield, thumped in the general election in HD 14, is the third.

Scott very easily could pick two Republicans to replace indicted/suspended Democrats Katrina and Reggie Brown.

Chris King touting internal poll showing all his numbers rising

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King is releasing results of internal polling Wednesday that show his support numbers rising across the board in four Florida markets heading toward the August 28 Democratic primary.

The survey by David Binder Research finds a relatively tight race for the top four contenders in a survey of likely Democratic primary voters found in a combination of Gainesville with Panama City, Jacksonville, Orlando and West Palm Beach. It also shows King making significant progress there and among specific demographic groups: both men and women, white, African-American and Hispanic voters, and across four age brackets.

Overall the survey of 519 likely Democratic voters, polled two weeks ago by cellphone and land-line, found former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham leading with 21 percent, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine essentially tied with her at 20 percent; King at 11 percent; and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum at 9 percent.

At the time of the survey, the fifth major Democratic candidate Jeff Greene had only just launched his campaign; he barely showed up in the poll, at just 2 percent. The final 37 percent of voters were undecided.

David Binder Research, a California-based firm that was an in-house pollster for the Obama For America campaigns in 2008 and 2012, claimed a 4.3 percent margin of error for the overall results.

“We’ve said all along in this campaign that when voters meet Chris King, they tend to support him,” King’s senior adviser Omar Khan said in a statement the campaign is releasing along with a summary of the poll results Wednesday morning. “As we continue to introduce Chris and his bold, progressive vision to voters across Florida, we’ll continue to see support for his candidacy grow. Democrats are looking for a fresh, bold vision for Florida’s future in 2018 and this survey proves Chris is uniquely positioned to win among a crowded field of conventional politicians from the political establishment.”

King’s campaign was more interested in the change since the previous David Binder Research survey. Among Democratic voters “certain to vote for King,” he was barely showing up outside of the margin of error in an early March statewide poll. That was before he [and Graham and Greene] began television advertising. King’s numbers have gone up 5-10 percent in all four markets and within all the demographic groups when comparing the surveys.

King’s campaign did not release any statewide numbers for the June survey.

The King campaign also released the following analysis provided to it by David Binder Research along with the results:

“The survey indicates that voters respond very favorably to information about King’s experience living his progressive values every day and his bold policy priorities. Voters from across all demographic groups react positively to King being a proven progressive with a criminal justice reform plan that ends the death penalty, legalizes and taxes recreational marijuana, expands Medicaid to cover 800,000 more Floridians, and expands high-wage job opportunities by making community college and trade schools free. Voters react favorably to King’s courage to hold politicians’ of both parties feet to the fire in taking on the NRA.

“Additionally, results from this survey show that King has special appeal to important voter segments that are expected to turn out in high proportions in the August primary. King grows his strong base with females, progressives, African-Americans, Hispanics, and voters across all age groups throughout the state to lead all other candidates by a wide margin after voters hear communication about his priorities and policies.

“The survey clearly shows that if voters hear about King’s story and his plans to work on behalf of Floridians, his support level could grow to 33 percent, which in this crowded field of Democratic candidates would be more than enough to ensure the Democratic nomination for Governor of Florida.”

Rick Scott wants murderers of transgender Jacksonville women brought to justice

Gov. Rick Scott, in Jacksonville Tuesday on a campaign stop, was compelled to address a recent spate of murders of local transgender women.

In recent months, three were killed. Concern is galvanizing the local LGBT community and is eliciting action from Equality Florida, which held a media conference at Jacksonville City Hall contemporaneously to Scott’s event on Jacksonville’s Westside.

“I just feel sorry for people,” Scott said. “You hope that it would never happen.”

“I hate that these things happen. On the state level, we provide some funding for Jacksonville to deal with, you know, helping to reduce their crime.”

“I know that Mayor [Lenny] Curry and Sheriff [Mike] Williams both ran to focus on making this a safe place to live,” Scott said.

“I always say there’s three primary jobs as Governor. You focus on how you make sure people get a job, how kids can get an education, and how you keep people safe,” Scott said.

“You hate when anything like this happens,” Scott said, “and I hope whoever did it is caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

These murders come at a time when Jacksonville, at least when it comes to municipal code, has made gains in protecting LGBT rights in the areas of employment, public accommodation, and housing protections.

However, Jacksonville — despite concerted workforce additions and budget enhancements for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office — is struggling with stemming the blood tide of murders and finding the killers.

In a media release Tuesday afternoon, Equality Florida posited that the killings may be the work of a serial killer.

“The transgender community in Jacksonville is frightened. They fear this could be a serial killer or orchestrated violence targeting the community. They do not feel protected on their own streets,” said Gina Duncan, the group’s director of transgender policy.

Jacksonville City Council bids farewell to the Anna Brosche presidency

Tuesday evening represents a changing of the guard for the Jacksonville City Council.

It will be President Anna Brosche’s last meeting as presiding officer. Thursday sees current VP Aaron Bowman installed as her successor.

Among the highlights of a light Tuesday legislative agenda are presentations from two task forces Brosche created: One on local civil rights history; the other on open government.

Running out of time in her year, Brosche pushed forward these ambitious task forces, attempting to get citizens to weigh in on these issues.

The end of the Brosche era will be welcome news for Mayor Lenny Curry. Brosche is being encouraged to run for mayor against her fellow Republican, who has been at odds with him since she took the gavel a year ago.

Among the Curry initiatives Brosche questioned: Kids Hope Alliance and the exploration of JEA’s market value (which she asserted was a ruse to move forward with a sale).

The Mayor is still salty about resistance from Brosche and other quarters.

In contrast, Bowman is so allied with Curry that the Mayor came out, sat with Bowman’s family, and watched Council unanimously vote for him to become President-designate, then walked out of the room after the 19-0 vote became official (there was a weak rumor of a second candidate being nominated, but that scenario did not come to pass).

The two first-term Republican legislators, thought by many outside Council to be natural allies, will represent very discrete approaches to the job.

Despite a tumultuous year, Brosche was upbeat in her assessment of her tenure.

“After learning from prior presidents that things go differently than planned or expected, I intentionally had no expectations. I enjoyed my year as President and find great joy and satisfaction in serving the people of Jacksonville,” she said.

When asked her most significant accomplishment, it was “putting the brakes on a fast-moving freight train to sell JEA.”

Indeed, the JEA experience is arguably definitive of the Brosche presidency. The Mayor’s Office, which seemed to play footsie with the idea of a sale as soon as prominent donor Tom Petway pitched privatization upon leaving the JEA Board last year, was at odds with Brosche, who sought to slow the process, forming a JEA Special Committee to explore the utility and the pros and cons of privatization.

The committee proved, for a short while, to be an irritant to the executive branch. Soon enough, the Council neutered the panel, expanding it from five hand-picked sale skeptics to a full 19 members, then stripping it of subpoena power. The dagger at the heart of the Mayor’s Office: dulled and rendered harmless.

“Besides that, I’m very proud of the historical work of the Task Force on Civil Rights History. As a general rule in life, I don’t have regrets; I go with the flow and learn at every turn.” Brosche said.

2019? She’s weighing her options. Meanwhile, Brosche expressed confidence that Bowman would “do a fine job leading council.”

Bowman, when asked to assess the Brosche era, demurred: “I’m focusing on my term and think a question about her legacy is better directed at her.”

Also, Bowman assessed the synchronicity between the Mayor and the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, for which Bowman serves as VP of the JAXUSA recruitment wing.

“The Chamber, the Mayor and I all have many similar interests: downtown development, job creation, making Jacksonville a safer city, supporting and inviting business growth and good policy, etc. The Mayor and I are committed to working together so it should be an active and exciting year for our residents,” Bowman asserted.

The Council, pending appointments from Gov. Rick Scott, is short two members; they were suspended due to an alleged scheme to defraud a Small Business Administration lender.

Those Council districts shouldn’t suffer, per Bowman, who is “holding good assignments for the appointments,” with “many Council past presidents are standing by to train and mentor.”

“My committee assignments are designed to fairly represent our city and be effective at policy and legislation,” Bowman said.

One applicant for a vacancy: Chamber-connected Terrance Freeman, Bowman’s former Council aide.

Freeman lives across town from the districts, but this geographic gap does not worry the President-designate.

“Terrance would be a great Council member. I’m not involved in the selection process, but I’m sure the governor will make the best choice for our city,” Bowman said.  

As it happens, the Governor will be in Jacksonville Tuesday, right around the time Brosche convenes the Council for the last time. Time will tell if Rick Scott finally is ready to make his move, or if he will wait until a news dump late Thursday or Friday.

Worth noting: Council is on “summer break” starting July 2, meaning that any training/orientation of the new charges will have to happen sooner than later.

Paula Wright to challenge Kim Daniels in HD 14 Dem primary

Arguably, the most iconoclastic Democrat in the Florida Legislature, Rep. Kim Daniels appeared poised to sail to re-election.

Now, she will have a primary challenge from Duval County School Board Chair Paula Wright.

Wright qualified just before the noon Friday deadline and told Florida Politics that education issues are motivating her run.

When asked to appraise Daniels’ performance in Tallahassee, Wright withheld comment.

Daniels, an evangelist by trade, has just under $11,000 in her campaign account, a low number for an incumbent. However, she demonstrated an ability to self-finance in her 2016 race.

Interestingly, two politicians in Daniels’ orbit — Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown and former Daniels’ aide Roshanda Jackson — filed to run primary challenges against State Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Tracie Davis, respectively.

There were strong suggestions from allies of Gibson and Davis that Daniels had a hand in those candidacies.

Brown was indicted on federal fraud charges and suspended from City Council, and raised no money for his Senate bid. He pleaded poverty and has a court-appointed lawyer.

Jackson had $800 on hand at the end of May.

At this writing, neither qualified.

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