Lenny Curry Archives - Florida Politics

District project clears JEA board; developers now to buy land from JEA by July

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

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

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

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

Closing would be in July.

That was the deal before the DIA meeting last week.

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

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

Elements now is charged with “working very quickly” to amass the necessary capital and meet the deadline, after the decision to take out the assignment step with the city.

The development, as proposed, could transform the Southbank.

“Upon completion The District will encompass approximately 200,000 square feet of retail space, 200,000 square feet of office space, 1,170 apartments/condominiums, and a 150-200 key hotel,” per a dedicated website to the project, which touts the District as being beneficial to the “body, mind, and soul.”

There are other steps this week. The DIA was slated to meet Wednesday to discuss the aftermath of the JEA meeting; with the controversial step of removing the city purchasing land for the private development removed, that discussion may be anticlimactic.

Likewise rendered moot: a Jacksonville City Council special committee that was formed by Council President Anna Brosche last week to examine the deal, in light of proposed city spending on the deal.

That panel was to kick off on Thursday morning. That committee is now cancelled, per chair Republican Matt Schellenberg, the liaison to JEA.

Schellenberg said that “we’re all in favor of doing something with downtown,” but that — as the JEA Board said — if the deal isn’t closed by July, it should be rebid.

Council President Brosche, meanwhile, is “pleased that it appears the project is moving forward.”

Jacksonville Bold for 1.12.18 — Smells like teal spirit

Here we are now. Entertain us.

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

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

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

Jalen Ramsey gives the Jags a moment of triumph.

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

It was Jacksonville’s moment.

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

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

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

There are those who bet on the world.

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

Especially when the Jags go over.

Doctor, heal thyself

Problems with your marriage?

Is it unhealthy?

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

Do as we say … not as we do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jay Fant files monument protection bill

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

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

Desecration of monuments would be a felony if passed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Bean talks Rob Bradley, sanctuary cities

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

Aaron Bean was typically enthusiastic about 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big month for Bradley committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bradley backs Wyman Duggan

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

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

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

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

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

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

$142K haul for Lenny Curry committee

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

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

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

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

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

Danny Becton, Sam Newby launch Jax Council VP runs

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

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

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

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

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

All are first-termers.

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

Read the whole story here.

Reggie Gaffney runs hard for re-election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honors for HRO sponsors, as theocons challenge bill

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

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

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

Unsurprisingly, Equality Florida gives itself credit for passage.

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

Props for FPL, JEA from environmental groups

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

Coal may not be the future after all …

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

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

The ambitious moves earned kudos from leading environmental groups.

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

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

JAXPORT adds direct New Zealand, Australia service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville City Council mulls morgue money Tuesday

2017 ended with bodies piling up in Jacksonville’s morgue.

2018 brings something approaching a solution via Ordinance 2018-005.

A bill slated to be introduced at Tuesday’s City Council meeting on an emergency basis will offer what Medical Examiner Valerie Rao called last week a “proposed space solution,” which includes “office and refrigerator space”: a walk-in cooler that would give 40 spaces, and a “modular office on site.”

$206,000: the cost of the complete proposal.

Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa described the temporary facilities as getting the ME “over the hump” to mitigate the current crisis, with a building in a future capital improvement budget.

There will be an “in and out” bill Tuesday in Jacksonville City Council, Mousa said last week, to encompass the portable refrigerating unit for 40 additional bodies, and a mobile unit for six additional staffers to handle the case load.

Equipment is also needed, Mousa said, “for stacking the bodies in the cooler. They’re referred to as racks, I believe.”

“This will give her sufficient capacity for today,” Mousa said, adding that a new facility may be moved up in the CIP.

The “programming phase” — an antecedent to moving the facility up in the capital improvement plan — would take six or seven months, which would allow the administration to mull hard costs of the facility.

Mousa noted that, though a new facility was originally outside the five-year plan, reports of bodies on the floor spurred the Mayor’s Office into “immediate action.”

The next budget would allow for the programming phase, and before the summer budget hearings, a funding source would likely be identified for this capital need.

Councilman Danny Becton expressed hope for a deep dive into decedent data, so that the Council would have a better understanding of the corpse inflow and output into the extant facility.

“The programmer of the facility will definitely look at all the statistics that are available — trends, capacity, future needs,” Mousa said.

Administration members said in December that a permanent facility build could take two years; a building in Orlando cost $16 million in 2010, and given increases in commodity costs and the ever-weakening dollar, that may be an optimistic estimate for a cost.

Duval’s medical examiner serves 1.3 million people in six counties.

Despite controversy, Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney mounts re-election bid

A number of Jacksonville City Council members will face competitive races should they want to be re-elected.

However, in terms of sheer amount of opponents, no one faces more competition than Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who has four opponents already filed to face him in 2019.

The Democrat, representing a district that sprawls from Downtown toward the airport, has dealt with legal scrapes in the past ranging from Medicaid overbilling (an issue in the campaign) to double dipping on homestead exemption claims (an issue while in office).

Gaffney, a former close associate of Corrine Brown during her scheme to enrich herself via siphoning contributions from a sham educational charity, is not running a mea culpa campaign, however.

Rather, he is running on his record.

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

Gaffney is billing himself as a “strong advocate for Special Needs citizens,” and saying that he “assisted” in bringing 6,420 jobs to Jacksonville.

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

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

While there are many “priority projects” he could cite, Gaffney says that Amazon — “because it’s about jobs” — is number one.

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

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

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

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

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

Gaffney also credits himself with having “saved the JIA CRA” — the community redevelopment area near the Jacksonville International Airport.

“That’s dollars that I could use for infrastructure improvement for the Dunn Avenue area going to Oceanway,” Gaffney said, noting road improvements and LED lights in the targeted area.

“That’s big,” Gaffney said.

Gaffney is not the most polished legislator on the council, though he is comfortably within the top 20.

That said, his strong working relationship with Curry — who takes Gaffney at his word ahead of a tough vote — has helped him compile a list of tangible improvements.

Perhaps part of the reason Gaffney has launched his active campaign earlier than his colleagues: the sheer number of opponents, which could theoretically preclude him winning outright in March’s first election (essentially an NPA “blanket primary”) and avoiding the May general election.

While Gaffney (with over $13,000 banked at the end of November) isn’t exactly lighting it up in terms of campaign finance, his opponents have done even worse in fundraising.

Recurrent candidate Marc McCullough reported $1,800 raised.

And three other opponents raised nothing.

$142K December haul for Lenny Curry political committee

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

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

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

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

One of the biggest December contributions — $35,000 — came from U.S. Assure, an insurance company that sees Tom Petway’s son Ty as CEO. Another contribution from a JEA heavy hitter: $5,000 from Mike Hightower, the utility’s top lobbyist.

Another major December contribution — $25,000 — came from the Gary Chartrand Trust.

Committees ponied up also.

Keeping Florida Affordable, the political committee of serial donor John Rood, threw in $8,000.

And Making a Better Tomorrow, a political committee of Eric Robinson — the Sarasota School Board member who serves as treasurer for this committee and other Curry-friendly candidates and committees — ponied up $50,000, continuing a cycle of contributions and expenditures between these two committees.

Cobranding links Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, NFL Jaguars

The 2015 Jacksonville Mayoral campaign is just a memory now. And the alliance between former Mayor Alvin Brown and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan has a newsreel quality.

It almost seems quaint.

In 2014, when it seemed like Brown was a slam dunk for re-election, the city signed off on an ambitious capital investment: $43 million into EverBank Field upgrades, highlighted by the so-called world’s largest scoreboards.

There was criticism from what passes for the left in Jacksonville, but the gambit paid off. The big-ticket spend cleared City Council with ease, and Khan was among the biggest supporters of Brown for re-election.

Was it personal affection? Not necessarily. It was business.

Lenny Curry won the election, of course, and within months of that win, Khan became Curry’s leading supporter.

And Curry, who prioritized building a relationship with Khan, has done so. They align politically and professionally, with a shared vision for Jacksonville.

Since 2015, Khan has dumped $200,000+ into Curry’s “Build Something That Lasts” political committee.

Sources familiar with the dynamic describe Curry and Khan as close, and even when Khan and Curry are forced to deviate on issues — such as the decision of Jaguars to kneel during the National Anthem at a game this year, when Khan stood up for free speech and Curry served up red meat, saying the decision to kneel was “stupid” — the attitude can be summed up as “see you on the other side.”

During Curry’s era, money has been poured into the stadium complex also.

A $90 million capital investment paid for a covered practice field, an amphitheater, and stadium renovations, which were in place for this NFL season; the city of Jacksonville paid for half of that, and no one dared vote against it on the pliant City Council.

That amphitheater will be featured on Friday, as Curry will host a “Bills Bustin’ Bash,” a pep rally before the first home playoff game in years.

Skeptics point out that between the Curry and Brown eras, almost $90 million of city money went into stadium renovations. The city’s bed tax will be used to pay off the financing on that over a course of decades, meaning that maintenance costs for other city facilities will be paid for out of the general fund.

Curry, by the standards of Jacksonville Mayors, is more enthusiastic about NFL football than any of his predecessors.

Jaguars’ quarterback Blake Bortles is a personal friend, and Curry has predicted double digit wins for the team each of the three seasons he has been Mayor.

The NFL Network is often on in Curry’s office, the deep dive into sports a reprieve from the pressures of dealing with Jacksonville stakeholders.

But on this Friday, Curry himself was on the NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football,” where the Mayor talked up his team and his town.

“This is the show that I wake up to almost every morning,” Curry said.

Curry went on to discuss the city’s excitement about the game — and owner Shad Khan.

“Jacksonville is on fire. The fans are excited,” Curry asserted.

“When Shad bought the team, there was a new energy,” Curry said, describing “economic development” as one of the benefits.

“Our downtown and working with him and investing there is going to look very different in the next five or ten years,” Curry added, a potential allusion to an “entertainment zone” concept Curry has floated with friendly media in recent weeks.

Curry also addressed Bortles on the program.

“He’s my QB 1. He’s the team’s QB 1. The fan’s QB 1,” Curry said. “Blake can get the job done when he needs to.”

“I know Blake personally … he is mentally tough. All this noise doesn’t get to him,” Curry added.

Curry also discussed Jaguars’ all-world cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

“He’s just a competitor,” Curry said, describing Ramsey “locked in” during pregame warmups.

“A good person … but a competitor,” Curry added, floating a description that some might use to describe the Mayor himself.

After the TV hit, Curry went on to set up a wager with the Mayor of Buffalo.

If the Jaguars win, Buffalo sends wings. If the Bills win, Jacksonville sends Firehouse subs and craft beer.

Jacksonville Bold for 1.5.18 — Cold outside, 2018 is hot

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

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

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

Time will tell there.

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

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

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

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

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

Billionaires back DeSantis for Governor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DeSantis leads in poll … is it real?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fred Costello in CD 6 GOP derby

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

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

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

Fred Costello’s campaign is classic red state.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Al Lawson challenger scores CBC staffer endorsement

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

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

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

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

State Reps. preview 2018 Legislative Session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire interview here.

SPLC lauds Melissa Nelson

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

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

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

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

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

Curry to appear on ESPN Sunday

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

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

An ESPN producer reached out Tuesday via email:

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

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

ESPN could soon feature the ”Mayor of Sacksonville.’

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

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

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

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

$490,000 buys a lot of BBQ

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three-way dance in at-large 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth asking: Does Mason have Google?

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

Happening Saturday 

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

JTA launches test track for self-driving vehicles

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

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

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

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

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

City Council to review Jacksonville Zoo ‘living shoreline’ project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three UF Health Jacksonville leaders to retire

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

Russ Armistead, Penny Thompson and Bill Ryan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predictions for 2018

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

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

Last year, we got a whopping 40 percent right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the whole slate here.

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

Lenny Curry to talk ‘Sacksonville’ on ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is a hardcore NFL fan, so much so that one of his life goals will be completed this weekend on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown.

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

An ESPN producer reached out Tuesday via email:

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

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

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

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

The Jaguars are favored in Sunday’s tilt against the Buffalo Bills by upwards of 7 points. Tickets for the game are sold out and are the hottest ticket among the wildcard games on the resale market.

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

Northeast Florida lawmakers preview 2018 Legislative Session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think that will continue,” Yarborough said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Byrd likewise sees the status quo being maintained.

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

A.G. Gancarski’s 10 predictions for Jacksonville politics in 2018

For the third straight year, Florida Politics is attempting to predict how politics in the 904 will go.

And hopefully the predictions will go better than they did the previous two years.

2016’s predictions were as reliable as a coin flip: Six right, six wrong.

2017 saw six wrong… and four right.

Batting .400 is fine for a baseball player; however, it indicates room for improvement in terms of political prognostication.

Without further adieu, let’s see if the third time is the charm.

____

1. Al Lawson will win Democratic primary in CD 5

In 2016, Al Lawson took advantage of Corrine Brown having legal problems and a concomitant inability to fundraise, and won a primary election in a re-configured Congressional District 5.

In 2018, Lawson looks poised to defend his crown — with a Jacksonville challenger, at this writing, being slow to materialize.

While former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has teased a candidacy, Lawson has a number of factors in his favor.

Incumbency, and the fundraising networks that allows, works in Lawson’s favor. As does playing ball with the Jacksonville business community. And working well with his Jacksonville House colleague, Republican John Rutherford.

Lawson had a slow third quarter, but carried $97,000 cash on hand into the final three months of the year; it’s not as if he’s been dynamic in fundraising up until now. But Lawson has the western part of the district on lock. Brown’s challenge: to engage the donor class, and to convince skeptical Jacksonville Democrats that he’s for real.

Because make no mistake — Brown would have to sweep Jacksonville Democrats, and drive high turnout.

Brown, however, may have another option.

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2. Democratic challenger will emerge for Lenny Curry

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is polling well, at least according to a University of North Florida survey in the fall.

Sixty-nine percent approval citywide, 57 percent approval with Democrats and 59 percent with African-Americans.

So it’s all clear for his re-election bid, right?

Not exactly.

Democrats hold a registration advantage. And there is a lot of time between now and March 2019.

One worry — which may surprise some — is that Alvin Brown makes another bid for City Hall.

The case: Brown was above 50 percent favorables even when he lost the election, a loss that had much less to do with Brown than it did with the shambolic, disengaged campaign on his behalf.

Brown’s messaging was a mess, with the mayor accepting cataclysmic help from the Florida Democratic Party, and taking positions that were out of their playbook — and out of step with the Jacksonville electorate — such as a push for an increased minimum wage.

Brown was ill-prepared to deal with realities as a result of not being true to his messaging, such as a shot up school bus on the evening of a debate.

All that said, he lost by fewer than three points.

While those close to Brown tell us that he’s looking at Congress rather than City Hall, there are those in Curry’s orbit who don’t want a rematch.

____

3. FEMA $ delay will lead to hard budget choices

As hard as it is to believe, the Donald Trump administration may not have it all together when it comes to FEMA.

Per the Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville is waiting on $85 million from FEMA for Hurricane Irma. That’s added to an additional $27 million the city is waiting on from Hurricane Matthew.

Is the city sitting pretty? Depends on how you look at it.

While the city has roughly $200 million in fund balance, per the Times-Union, the reality is that even before Irma, senior staffers from Lenny Curry’s office were talking of the need to boost the emergency reserve — as the city’s bond rating was capped below AAA by low reserve levels.

Of course, that’s not the whole story.

Part of the issue: high fixed costsdespite pension reform.

Another part of the issue: a surfeit of tangible steps to deal with climate change, particularly salient after a year when epic flooding hit Jacksonville after Irma — weeks after Harvey doused Houston with a year’s worth of rainfall.

Another budget without real attention to storm budgeting — and infrastructure — will lead to consequences down the road.

The feds aren’t going to help.

____

4. John Rutherford waltzes to re-election

The Duval Democrats are making some interesting moves, but one of them doesn’t seem to be fielding a viable candidate against John Rutherford for re-election.

Rutherford is a nice guy and an enthusiastic advocate for the Trump agenda — which, at least conceivably, could make him worth targeting.

However, Duval Dems don’t seem interested in fielding a candidate — like Nancy Soderberg in Congressional District 6 — who can challenge him.

Maybe it’s not a winnable seat. But a serious candidate should emerge. But hasn’t yet.

____

5. JEA privatization push gets ugly

The cleanest distillation of the Lenny Curry administration’s case for JEA privatization was made in Sunshine State News weeks back, by South Florida journalist Allison Nielsen.

The city could get a lump sum of money by selling the utility to outside investors. But there would be consequences, including the loss of the near $115 million JEA contribution, and property tax revenues. Not to mention how accountable an outside operator would be to Jacksonville politicians.

JEA also carries debt, and has been dinged by Moody’s for an unwise investment in nuclear power, per the Florida Times-Union.

In short, there are a lot of caveats.

____

6. Serious challenges for City Council incumbents

Three to watch: Anna Brosche, Katrina Brown and Garrett Dennis.

All three were elected in 2015; all three will face serious re-election challenges, essentially because they pissed someone off.

Brosche has sparred with Mayor Curry on a number of issues, including but not limited to pension reform and the Kids’ Hope Alliance.

Brosche also upset police union head Steve Zona in commenting on disproportionate stops of African-American jaywalkers; Zona, on Twitter, advised Brosche to clean up the City Council.

By that he means Councilwoman Katrina Brown.

Brown accused Jacksonville police of racially profiling a Council colleague during a traffic stop. She would not walk it back, despite national Fraternal Order of Police leadership showing at Council to force her hand.

Expect FOP candidates to come after both women’s Council seats. A retired cop, perhaps, for each.

Councilman Dennis, meanwhile, has been (along with the aforementioned Brosche) the sole source of antagonism for the Mayor’s office.

He clowned Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa during budget hearings, and fought Mayor Curry on issue after issue over the summer.

He will be a target of the Mayor’s political operation.

____

7. Another hurricane impacts NE FL

As the Governor likes to say, I’m not a scientist, but with water temperatures warming up farther and farther north every year, odds look good for a third storm year in a row. If you are investing in generators, beat the rush.

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8. Lenny Curry distances self from Donald Trump as scandal builds

Mayor Curry spent a lot of 2016 and 2017 answering for Trumpiness. The best — or worst, depending on how you feel — example was when questions came in at a presser about the Paris Accord.

Curry has yet to actually have to say President Donald Trump is wrong about something. But conditions are changing.

Robert Mueller is for real. And so are conditions that are conducive to a wave election. And the utter frustration with having one’s own agenda hijacked by some idiotic tweet or soundbite from the White House.

Trump has, by and large, been a bust for Jacksonville. See the above section on FEMA money. Even when a Republican mayor walks the line, Jacksonville is still shorted.

In 2018, Curry will have occasion to put distance between himself and the president. On some issue, somewhere.

The base might not like it, but it will happen. Trump is only becoming more erratic, in terms of messaging, as he sits on Pennsylvania Avenue.

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9. Murders continue spike, but no challenge to Mike Williams

Murders are up for the third straight year — at this writing, the final number isn’t in, but it is at least 131.

Last year saw 118 homicides.

This, despite additions of ShotSpotter and NIBIN — a national database that takes fingerprints of bullets to find killers. And additions of new police officers and equipment in the last three city budgets.

Ambitious politicians would make a real run at Williams. However, there don’t seem to be many of them.

Williams has consolidated support in the JSO, and has a $300,000+ campaign nest egg.

Thus, even if murders go up again in 2018 — a safe bet, given that there is no real change in conditions or legislation that drive them — Williams is on the glide path to re-election.

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10. Jaguars win the Super Bowl

In this year of inverted reality, the Jacksonville Jaguars are as good as any team in the league. Even with wide receivers plucked from obscurity. 

The playoffs — Buffalo at home, then Pittsburgh on the road — shape up well for them.

And the Patriots are beatable. So too are the Vikings — or any NFC team.

Now, the question: do they remake this classic?

 

 

 

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