Lenny Curry Archives - Page 2 of 135 - Florida Politics

A.G. Gancarski’s 10 people to watch in Northeast Florida politics: 2018 edition

Politics in Northeast Florida is about to heat up, with state races in 2018 and Jacksonville municipal elections in 2019. Here are ten names worth watching.

Alvin Brown: Is he running for the U.S. House against Al Lawson? Mayor against incumbent Lenny Curry?

He will have to decide, one way or another, this year.

We’ve gone into the challenges Brown would face against Lawson: among them, primarying an incumbent; not being known west of Duval County; a lack of buy-in among Jacksonville Democrats (who think he disappeared after losing the Mayor’s race in 2015, only returning ahead of running for whatever this year or next); and a lack of buy-in among the donor class.

The Peter Rummell-types have moved on, some to Lawson. And the trial lawyers probably aren’t that hyped up on taking Alvin to the next level.

That said, there almost has to be a Jacksonville candidate — and Alvin Brown looks like the best bet. Still.

Those familiar with Brown’s thinking say it’s Congress or bust. Time will tell.

Lisa King: The new chair of the Duval Democratic party is fired up and ready to go when it comes to the 2018 cycle.

Expect King, an establishment Democrat from the Hillary Clinton wing of the party, to manufacture media coverage every time there is an opportunity.

Unifying the party and building donor confidence will be key this year, as King tries to turn Duval into “Bluval.”

Carlo Fassi: One of the sharpest political minds in Northeast Florida that most people outside of downtown haven’t heard of.

Fassi is running Baxter Troutman’s campaign for Agriculture Commissioner — sort of the Royal Rumble battle royal of GOP primary races.

Before turning his attention to statewide work, Fassi worked for State Attorney Melissa Nelson, first as her campaign manager, then handling public affairs in her office.

Fassi is not a self-promoter by trade — and that may seem anomalous to fans of the political consultant game.

But expect this: no matter how Troutman fares this year, Fassi will be increasingly sought after for Republican candidates down the road.  

Reggie Brown: Is he running against Audrey Gibson for the state Senate?

To us, that sounds like a suicide mission. And we’re skeptical it’s going to happen.

Brown, a Jacksonville City Councilman, would run into some of the same issues Alvin Brown would run into versus Lawson. How does he credibly challenge a Senator who is poised to lead the caucus after the November election? Specifically, one who has institutional buy-in with corporate and institutional donors.

Rory Diamond: Diamond, an alumnus of the George W. Bush White House, the California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger administration, and head of the charitable non-profit “K9s for Warriors,” is highly regarded among local Republicans.

He’s a current Neptune Beach City Councilman, and he’s making a run for Jacksonville City Council in 2019.

He also has roughly $100,000 banked.

Yet he will face a competitive race.

There are those who contend that Diamond isn’t enough of a social conservative to replace termed-out Bill Gulliford on the City Council.

There will be a candidate that attacks Diamond on those grounds.

Garrett Dennis: With Brian Hughes moving into the office of Mayor Lenny Curry as chief of staff, there are strong expectations that the political and the policy sphere will essentially become one.

With that in mind, it’s worth watching the only Democrat on Council who has acted like a Democrat: Garrett Dennis.

Alone among Council Democrats, of whom at least a few have functioned like adjuncts of the Mayor’s office, Dennis has embodied an actual attempt to put checks and balances on the Curry agenda.

He’s taken risks. Taken slings and arrows for his trouble. But on a City Council that has not offered much resistance to any of the reforms in the last thirty months, Dennis is the sole reminder that there are two political parties in this town, each with their own agendas.

Empower Jacksonville: There’s not a breakout star of this group — a Christian conservative Liberty Counsel front that would like to see, ultimately, a City Council referendum to overturn the LGBT protections in the Human Rights Ordinance expansion of 2017.

But the group is very much worth watching. It seeks to have two ballot items next August. The first: a referendum to change the city’s charter to allow citizens to challenge any law via referendum.

The second measure: a straw ballot on whether or not the HRO should be subject to a citizen referendum. The specific area of contention: the additions to the law this February, not the previously extant law.

Those additions: protections of LGBT people in the areas of housing discrimination, workplace protections, and public accommodations.

This underscores a larger rift in the Republican Party between religious conservatives and more pragmatic conservatives; naturally, the latter category is called RINOs by those in the religious camp.

Aaron Bowman: A VP for business recruitment for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Bowman also is City Council VP.

And he will walk into the presidency next year.

Bowman has been an interesting case. A dyed-in-the-wool Republican, the former Mayport base commander nonetheless is the kind of Republican who embodies the “kinder, gentler America” former President George H.W. Bush talked about.

He ran for office against a Christian conservative, vowing to push for the aforementioned Human Rights Ordinance expansion. And that went through this February.

The book on Bowman among some on Council was that he thought he should have been in leadership from the start. That didn’t sit well with some Council veterans.

He’s there now, of course, and the way he won the Council VP election in 2017 was notable. Pledges materialized seemingly from thin air, with Bowman becoming the runaway choice.

Meanwhile, during the presidency of Anna Brosche, Bowman avoided making waves on hot-button issues like Confederate monuments. He clearly is amassing political capital. Will he use it during his presidency? Or does he have more ambitious plans down the road?

Earl Testy: Why Testy?

Despite having just $13 cash-on-hand, the self-styled “radical Republican” has already become the most quotable Jacksonville candidate since Rep. Kim Daniels.

Testy is known for mansplaining about how sexual harassment was a function of the female libido.

“They have themselves and their libidos to blame for much of their own abuse by men,” Testy posted to Facebook.

And if that isn’t enough, he also advocates the “conversion of Negro Democrats to the Republican Party.”

“I devote a portion of the time remaining in my life to facilitating the conversion of millions of Negro Democrats back home to the Republican Party,” Testy remarked.

Testy is running against an establishment Republican — Randy DeFoor — who will have all the endorsements and money she needs.

There likely will be a Democrat in this race — and other candidates — before all is said and done.

So why are we watching him? The reality is that he will get a sizable chunk of the vote… in the most liberal district in the city. Which says quite a bit about where Duval County really is.

Tracye Polson: Can Polson, a clinical social worker by trade, do the seemingly impossible and turn Rep. Jay Fant’s red district blue?

The Democratic candidate for House District 15 is about to find out.

Polson is keeping pace with the Republican in the race — Jacksonville lawyer Wyman Duggan — in terms of fundraising.

She also is aggressively canvassing the Westside Jacksonville district, an approach that she and her volunteers hope overcome the tendency of some voters in the district to just vote for the Republican.

Polson does have a primary opponent, but he is essentially unknown to local Democrats. Polson, by contrast, is a known quantity.

Florida Times-Union editorial board all-in for ‘entertainment zone’

At the end of November, Florida Times-Union reporter Nate Monroe wrote one of those articles so pointed that television reporters, in a crash course on political committee finance, were asking follow-ups during gaggles.

Entitled “Political committee spending keeps many details of Mayor [Lenny] Curry’s trips in dark,” the piece examined some off-schedule trips the mayor took with Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan — dual-purpose excursions devoted to rainmaking for Curry’s political committee and exploring entertainment districts around sports stadiums in various cities.

Those cities included Baltimore, where the football team’s owner has bemoaned attendance troughs this season, and St. Louis, which lost its NFL franchise to Los Angeles (but still markets its baseball team).

The piece contained a graphic (“Anatomy of a political perk“) exploring Khan’s $200,000 spending into Curry’s political committee.

A sharp piece – one that could win awards the next time hardware is given out – despite the fact that the paper’s editorial board doesn’t seem to have read it.

On Thursday, the editorial board proved that money spent on political travel indeed was money well-spent, going all-in behind the concept in “Stadium area needs an entertainment zone.”

“Mayor Lenny Curry is right to push for a major entertainment district in the stadium area,” the editorialists write. “It’s an idea that is working well in peer cities like St. Louis and Kansas City.”

From there, the editorial offered a revisionist history version of the 2005 Super Bowl celebration.

National sportswriters bemoaned a surfeit of amenities, ranging from hotel rooms to taxicabs. There’s a reason that Jacksonville hasn’t been in the Super Bowl mix in the decade-plus since — one that Shad Khan spoke to in an article from January of this year.

Khan said: “Here in Jacksonville? Absolutely not. What it takes to get a Super Bowl, I think, is setting Jacksonville up for failure. I think, with time and money, energy is much better served on something else. For example, what they’re going through in Miami. A big renovation with the Dolphins would be a great venue for a Super Bowl. I’d love to see Florida get Super Bowls, but I think Tampa and Miami are much better suited for that. The requirements now for hotel rooms and some of the other infrastructure amenities — we don’t have here, so let’s not kid ourselves.”

But what does Shad Khan know?

Check out the T-U narrative.

“Jacksonville had an exciting entertainment district for the 2005 Super Bowl. Bay Street was packed with revelers. The Main Street Bridge was turned over to pedestrians and fireworks shows. We brought in cruise ships for extra hotel rooms. Tents were raised for entertainment. Old warehouses were turned into bars. Jacksonville rocked. We know how to put on a party!”

The Khan narrative is rooted in the business case: we don’t have the infrastructure.

The Times-Union narrative is rooted in a history that leaves out some of the ridiculous locations for Super Bowl parties, including (but not limited to) the former “Edge” nightclub in Arlington’s blight district, and Five Points’ creatively-named “Club 5.”

Both spots were, once upon a time, two of the grimiest clubs in the city, where electronic dance music offered a syncopated soundtrack for low-grade vice and second-rate subversion. These were not suitable spots for Super Bowl parties.

Yet, as Donald Rumsfeld famously said, “you don’t go to war with the army you want. You go to war with the army you have.”

The purple prose continues: “Like an urban Cinderella story, once midnight struck after the Super Bowl weekend, the area returned to its previous dismal state. It’s time to turn that memorable, once-in-a-lifetime Super Bowl event into a regular reality.”

The editorial notes that Khan’s Iguana Investments holds development rights to the Shipyards — savvy readers will note that Khan, just a few paragraphs above, eviscerated the concept of Jacksonville hosting another Super Bowl.

And, further down, it also noted Curry declined an interview request for this article — probably for the best, given that the T-U editorialists went farther in selling the concept than he would.

Leaving aside the issues mentioned above with Jacksonville hosting another Super Bowl, there are existential pressures to come for Jacksonville budgets.

One of those problems: pay raises for city employees.

Police and fire are slated for 20 percent hikes over the next few years, with other city employees trailing behind. These raises were the price paid for getting unions to move future employees to defined contribution plans rather than defined benefit pensions.

The city, committing to pension reform, made what Moody’s called a “buy now, pay later” bet.

Jacksonville would have faced draconian cuts in the current budget had pension reform not passed; as it was, the city saved — regarding FY 17 money — $142 million by restructuring what is now a $3.2 billion hit for the unfunded liability from defined benefit pension plans.

Meanwhile, there are capital needs for that temporary budget relief created by deferring a big chunk of payments until 2031 on the defined benefit plan; among them, the laundry list of broken promises to the Eastside and Northwest Jacksonville, a septic tank phaseout program, beach restoration and other repair needs from the last two hurricanes, and so on.

If the T-U is going to address those, it will be in a different editorial. This one ends with more of a “choo-choo” motif.

“So though we don’t know many details, it’s important for city leaders to get on board with the train of progress. It’s on the tracks, and the mayor is the conductor.”

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

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

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

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

One of them was money for septic tank removal.

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

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

The measure died in committee.

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

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

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

Another called pitch strikeout.

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

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

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

Thus far, crickets.

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

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

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

We were wrong.

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

This saved the city money in the short term.

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

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

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

In any event, we botched that one.

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

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

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

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

Instrumental in the push: Jaguars owner Shad Khan,

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

Whether that’s true or apocryphal, who knows.

But a win’s a win.

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

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

Last year saw 118 homicides.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better luck next year!

Déjà vu in Jay Fant endorsement flap

The News Service of Florida reported Monday about some apparent inconsistencies in a list of supporters recently rolled out by Attorney General hopeful Jay Fant.

It seems that not all of those listed as supporters actually support Fant, a Jacksonville Republican.

Carolyn Otworth, the Clay County chair of the Trump Club, told NSF’s Dara Kam her name was included on the list without her approval.

“I was just shocked that anyone would say I endorsed them when I did not,” Otworth said.

Kam points out that “Florida law makes it a crime for ‘any candidate or person on behalf of a candidate to represent that any person or organization supports such candidate unless the person or organization so represented has given specific approval in writing to the candidate to make such representation’.”

Not a good look for an AG candidate, especially one running as a law-and-order Republican.

And unfortunately for Fant, this kind of screw-up has happened before.

In 2014, when Fant was running for the House District 15 seat he is now ready to leave, Fant claimed endorsements he didn’t actually have from “the NRA and the Florida Right to Life.”

In the endorsement war, Fant is losing “bigly,” (to quote Donald Trump).

Ashley Moody has collected myriad endorsements from county sheriffs thus far; Rep. Frank White, meanwhile, has been endorsed by two prominent Republicans in Fant’s home base: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and U.S. Rep. John Rutherford.

Fant has gotten support from fellow members of the Florida House.

So far, Fant has collected over a dozen House endorsements — a combination of locals, such as Paul RennerBobby PayneClay Yarborough and Jason Fischer, and other colleagues, such as Mike Miller.

The Fant campaign commented on Tuesday, sending us a news release that indicates Fant support from a “Trump coalition.”

Joe Gruters, co-chair of the Florida Trump campaign, said, “Ever since the first release last week, my fellow Trump patriots have been calling me asking how to get involved with Fant campaign because they see his efforts to shake up the status quo and get things done.”

The list of Trump patriots is below.

Jacksonville files motion to dismiss in Jacksonville Landing lawsuit

On Friday, Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel motioned to dismiss a lawsuit from Sleiman Enterprises, the owners of the beleaguered Jacksonville Landing.

In November, Sleiman filed a lawsuit against the city; as WJCT reported, various breaches of contract made it impossible — per the Sleiman narrative — to run the thirty-year-old riverfront mall.

Friday brought the city’s response in “Jacksonville Landing Investment, LLC v. City of Jacksonville.”

The city asserted that the JLI filing was a “shotgun pleading,” replete with assertions that don’t jibe with the facts.

Among the assertions:

The city noted that in mid-October it gave JLI 30 days to remedy the “depressing state of the Landing” to remedy what the city asserted was a breach of contract. Instead, the ownership group launched a “media blitz” pushing a complaint: “little more than a laundry list of stale grievances, false and incomplete assertions, and gratuitous and self-serving statements.”

That complaint, asserts the city, should be dismissed, as the “relationship between the City and JLI is that of a landlord and tenant” and that certain claims — such as the city allegedly being required to provide parking and security — aren’t borne out by the facts.

The 17-page filing makes the case, repeatedly, that the JLI position isn’t borne out with specifics, including specific causes of action.

And provides another piece of evidence that the gap between the city and the current owners and operators of the Landing is perhaps beyond bridging.

Lenny Curry staffer decries Garrett Dennis’ ‘aggression’ against her

The Jacksonville City Council approved six members of the Kids Hope Alliance board on Tuesday, including Joe Peppers.

Peppers, in fact, was approved unanimously — but by no means does that mean his nomination process went smoothly, specifically with regard to one particular Councilman: Garrett Dennis.

In fact, the process was characterized in an email by Jessica Laird — a liaison from the mayor’s office who sat in on the meeting between Peppers and Dennis — as one in which Dennis showed “aggression” to her during a Nov. 20 meeting between Laird, Dennis, and the nominee, worrying her that there may be “blowback” against Peppers’ nomination.

Peppers, for his part, emailed Laird on the evening of Nov. 20, describing Dennis’ behavior as “bullying.”

Councilman Dennis, meanwhile, had his own version of events — saying that the mayor’s office’s involvement in the process was unusual and raised questions about the “independence” of the nominees.

Dennis also noted that he felt the mayor was trying to intimidate him with follow-up communications, including a phone call and an invitation to an in-person discussion of the matter.

A former chair of the rules committee, Dennis met with what he estimates to be hundreds of nominees, and in all that time he had “never had the mayor’s office babysitting nominees.”

Dennis did not want Laird in the meeting, though he maintains that he was “not aggressive to her.”

“I don’t usually let people sit there,” Dennis said, noting that Laird was attempting to defend Curry.

“If I allow you to speak,” Dennis said he said to Laird, “it will be your last time. I told her to sit and listen, but it was not her place to defend the mayor.”

Dennis, when asked, said his attitude had nothing to do with Laird being female, noting that a meeting between him, Ali Korman Shelton of the mayor’s office, and another nominee reflected no such issues.

Curry and Dennis soon enough had words, Dennis related.

A tense elevator ride, in which Curry was “not a happy camper,” gave way to a very “abrasive” phone call from Curry, which Dennis described as confrontational.

Dennis claims Curry invited him to his office for a follow-up conversation, but Dennis did not walk over.

Dennis also claims that Peppers talked to him on Nov. 21, and said that “the mayor shouldn’t have sent a cub into the lion’s den.”

Peppers confirmed via email that the meeting was tense: “for various reasons, most of which I am not privy. From my perspective, we have resolved the issue and I look forward to working with CM Dennis and Ms. Laird going forward.”

“My hope is that all parties show each other grace as we move forward and we focus on making KHA great for the children of Jacksonville,” Peppers added.

The mayor’s office — via Spokeswoman Marsha Oliver — offered a statement Friday morning.

Their take: the email speaks for itself.

“The email speaks for itself as it relates to whose actions were described as ‘bullying.’ It is not a practice of the mayor or his administration to discuss one-on-one interactions with council members. Mayor Curry did, in fact, contact Council member Dennis to request a meeting,” Oliver wrote Friday morning.

“Mayor Curry is committed to ensuring that all City of Jacksonville employees thrive in a workplace where they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. As for the KHA board appointments,” Oliver added, “we are delighted that Board member Peppers and the other nominees received overwhelming support for the experiences and contributions they will bring in serving Jacksonville’s children.”

Tensions between the Curry administration and Councilman Dennis have surfaced before, of course, both in the Kids Hope Alliance legislative process and the budget process that preceded this.

But this opens up a new chapter, a new level of tension — and the feeling among many close to the mayor’s office was that Dennis crossed a line, one with particular provenance in this era when men intimidating women in the workplace has become an issue of unprecedented visibility and urgency to resolve.

Jacksonville Bold for 12.15.17 — #Duuuuval: The year that was

In the year-end edition of Bold, we look at the stories that shaped 2017.

A pension problem — with a solution that seemed impossible at the end of 2015.

A legendary politician sentenced to prison.

Northeast Florida politicians are moving toward leadership in the state Legislature.

Rights for the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community — finally guaranteed in an ordinance.

A “stimulus budget.”

Reform of children’s programs.

A Council President the Mayor didn’t pick.

Last, but not least — the Jaguars return to relevance.

Happy holidays, and see you in 2018.

Buy now, pay later

Pension Reform: The biggest Jacksonville story of the year — by far.

The real work began soon after Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry took office. There was the “heavy lift” in Tallahassee, one that required Curry and allies to make the sale to the Senate and the House.

Lenny Curry got pension reform through, accomplishing what previous mayors didn’t.

From there, a referendum in 2016 — passed with 65 percent of the vote.

After that, the unions had to agree to terms — that was done, more or less, before winter 2017 ended.

Then, council approval — a fait accompli … after all, it wasn’t like those deals were going to be sent back to the table.

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

So that’s the reality.

Worth watching: how the city handles the out years, as savings from the pension reform are consumed by workforce raises.

Corrine Brown goes down

Former Rep. Brown had the worst year of her life. She was convicted on 18 counts related to the One Door for Education scheme. And then she received five years in prison — though she is fighting that sentence.

Judge Timothy Corrigan’s heart: Two sizes too small for leniency for Corrine Brown.

The sentencing essentially gave voice to the jury’s verdict, with Judge Timothy Corrigan noting that Brown’s comments were “reprehensible” at times, such as when she said the Pulse massacre happened because the FBI was too busy investigating her.

Brown got a sentence that reflected a spirit of “general deterrence,” a sentence “in the mainstream” of public corruption cases in recent years. In other words, the judge did not go easy on her.

“A sentence of probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts would not be sufficient,” Corrigan said.

“The public had a right to expect,” Judge Corrigan said, that Brown would not “abuse public trust and responsibility … this was a crime borne of entitlement and greed … bad business.”

We shall see where the appeal leads, but the odds are good Brown will be in orange in a matter of weeks.

Audrey Gibson ascendant

In November, State Sen. Gibson won a narrow 8-7 vote of Senate Democrats to become Senate Democratic Leader Designate for the 2018-2020 legislative term.

Gibson will succeed current Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II when his term ends next November.

Sen. Audrey Gibson is one Duval legislator to watch, as she amasses power.

“I look forward to working with Caucus members on their priorities and ensuring their voices are heard on legislation impacting all Floridians.  I am also excited about bringing in new Democrat Senators to the Florida Senate to create a legislative balance in the Chamber,” said Gibson.

Gibson, meanwhile, may face a primary challenge from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown.

We asked Brown what the case would be for running against a caucus leader, assuming Gibson doesn’t run against Lawson. And how he would match her fundraising and endorsements.

“All actions will be taken under consideration,” Brown said.

Time will tell if this challenge happens.

Rob Bradley helms appropriations

November also saw state Sen. Bradley move into the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The buck stops with Rob Bradley — at least regarding those coming through the Senate.

“I’m just focused on getting the job done with as little drama as possible. There’s been enough drama in politics lately. It’s time to just roll up our sleeves and get the job done,” Bradley said, noting that he’s not new to the appropriations game.

“I’ve spent a lot of my Senate career working in the Appropriations arena,” Bradley noted, “having chaired three different budget subcommittees.”

Bradley is already reaping specific benefits of his role; his political committee raised $124,000 in November — a record high for him.

As well, the region is poised to reap benefits this session, via priority environmental bills headed to Appropriations.

SB 204 approves spending at least $75 million a year on springs projects and $50 million annually on projects related to the restoration of the St. Johns River and its tributaries, as well as the Keystone Heights Lake Region.

SB 370 would mandate a $100 million minimum spend from Amendment One funds on the Florida Forever program. That number doubles the budget ask from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Paul Renner on path to Speaker

Along with Sens. Bradley and Gibson, Northeast Florida has hope in the House in the form of state Rep. Renner.

Paul Renner is still another NE Florida legislator to watch on the leadership track.

For the Palm Coast Republican, the path to winning June’s 2022 Florida House Speaker election in Orlando — with 16 votes in the first round — was not a sure thing.

But it’s a good thing.

State Rep. Clay Yarborough, the former Jacksonville City Council President who was one of those 16 Renner votes, noted that the outcome lined up with his count.

Yarborough saw “tremendous positives” for the region and the city both — positives that will be seen before 2022, as in the years leading up to Renner’s Speakership, he will be in “conversations with leadership,” and his “place at the table” will help him advocate for regional priorities.

The region, Yarborough said, can be “lining stuff up” that takes years to realize — a generational opportunity for Northeast Florida.

Considering state Sen. Travis Hutson — whose territory overlaps with part of Renner’s House district — is also in the leadership discussion, the region may be positioned to score wins, necessary as legacy costs and infrastructure burdens pile up.

HRO, at last

Valentine’s Day was especially happy for Jacksonville’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, for that was the day the Jacksonville City Council passed the Human Rights Ordinance.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri was among those leading the fight for LGBT rights.

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

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

“As your Mayor, I promised to convene community conversations about discrimination. At the conclusion of those conversations, I exercised an executive action to implement a clear policy for City of Jacksonville employees and contractors. I said then and continue to believe additional legislation was unnecessary. But this evening, a supermajority of the City Council decided otherwise. This supermajority, representatives of the people from both parties and every corner of the city, made their will clear,” Curry said in a statement.

Despite all the drama leading up to it, there have been just two claims — housing discrimination — made since it passed.

There is, meanwhile, a movement toward a citizen referendum to repeal it. Time will tell if that goes anywhere.

Budget bonanza

The Florida Times-Union called Curry’s third budget, passed by the Jacksonville City Council in September, a “stimulus budget.”

It was, indeed, an infusion of capital into perpetually shorted departments — and the kind of political triumph Council could share.

A rising tide lifts all boats … and glasses.

A unanimous vote was cast for the city’s $1.27 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, one with $131M in capital improvements, and 100 new police positions.

There was a certain irony in the unanimous vote, given the fractiousness of the Finance Committee during August budget hearings — when members said they felt “targeted” by a poll from Sheriff Mike Williams’ political committee that said people wanted more cops on the street.

Curry built a political machine to get into office, and he did so even with many GOP officeholders backing his Democratic opponent’s re-election effort.

In the office are some of the best operators working the room — and he has become increasingly adept at giving Council members photo opportunities, the kind that allows them to take credit for something tangible happening in their districts.

And it is by no means clear that he will even face a challenge in 2019 — not bad, especially given the Democratic registration advantage in Dirty Duval.

Kids Hope, not Kids Hype

Jacksonville Children’s programs were reformed this year, with the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission being rolled up into a new board — Kids Hope Alliance.

City Council was nearly united in support of Curry’s children’s program reforms.

The City Council debate was fractious, of course, with objections from Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis to the pace of pushing the legislation through and the need for a new organization at all.

Six of the seven board picks sailed through Council this week, with Brosche and Dennis voting against one who violated the in-county residency requirement that was part of the ordinance.

However, look for Brosche to be a factor going forward — she is slated to become the Council liaison to the board.

Brosche vs. Curry

The most interesting power play of the year has been the battle between Council President Brosche and Mayor Curry.

Lenny Curry and Anna Brosche have had a rivalry since she took the Council presidency.

Recall that Brosche beat administration ally, John Crescimbeni, in a pitched battle for the presidency in the spring.

Much of the noise from Crescimbeni supporters came back to the Council veteran being more “ready to lead” than third-year member Brosche, given his experience on the Council and in the VP role.

One interesting wrinkle in the race: what seemed to be a certain commonality among many of Crescimbeni’s supporters — primarily older, white males.

Did issues of youth, gender, and other demographic demarcations sway their positions?

“I certainly picked up on what you said … I had not picked up on it until you pointed it out,” Brosche added. “You pointed it out well in terms of the picture that was made. I didn’t necessarily reach that conclusion … at the outset.”

Brosche and Curry have clashed, both on her insufficiently optimistic read on pension reform, and her skepticism on the Kids Hope Alliance.

Expect that friction to be constant as long as both are in City Hall.

JAXPORT Puerto Rico relief update

A new message from JAXPORT Executive Vice President Roy Schleicher gives a December update on Puerto Rico relief efforts.

Thanks to the generous Northeast Florida donors, Schleicher says JAXPORT relief partners distributed 500,000 pounds of goods to more than 20 towns and municipalities throughout the island territory devastated by Hurricane Maria.

JAXPORT’s relief partners have distributed 500,000 pounds of goods to more than 20 towns and municipalities throughout Puerto Rico.

With roads and bridges still washed out or in disrepair, making moving large trucks difficult, many of these goods needed to be moved inland by small trucks and cars, going directly to those in need.

Donations also helped with transportation costs to send 13 full-sized shipping containers full of basics such as food, water, batteries and hygiene items from Jacksonville to San Juan. The JAXPORT shipment was over and above those from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government agencies, and did not include other relief containers organized and transported by groups outside of the JAXPORT-related network.

Residents of Northeast Florida and other areas gathered supplies in the containers, which were then sent to JAXPORT for shipment to Puerto Rico. All the supplies collected traveled to Puerto Rico via the Port of Jacksonville, the No. 1 commercial trade partner with the island.

Going forward, JAXPORT has begun discussions on the best way to continue Puerto Rican hurricane relief during the next stages of their recovery, seeing a need for support remains as the island rebuilds.

Again, Schleicher gives thanks for the donations, which put Jacksonville’s “unrivaled transportation and logistics know-how to work, quickly and efficiently,” to provide emergency aid when it was needed most.

“Along with my heartfelt thanks to all of you,” he says “I would like to specifically send my deep appreciation to [Haskell Co. CEO] Steve Halverson, who did not hesitate for a moment when asked if he could organize help for those suffering after the hurricane … Aqua Gulf Transport, Inc., Todos con Puerto Rico, TOTE Maritime and Trailer Bridge worked together to deliver hurricane relief supplies to Comerio, Puerto Rico. The town’s Mayor, Josian Santiago, and his wife received the container.”

Political preview Jacksonville: Media’s view of the 2018 Session

Members of the Jacksonville and Capitol Press Corps will offer a special preview of the upcoming 2018 Florida Legislative Session hosted by the Fiorentino Group, Tucker/Hall, and Rogers Towers.

Scheduled Friday, January 5 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. at The River Club, 1 Independent Dr., the exclusive, invitation-only luncheon will provide an opportunity to hear top Florida political journalists on what they see on the legislative horizon, with a chance for the audience to ‘turn the table’ and ask questions.

Panelists include Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times; Mike Clark of the Florida Times-Union; Matt Dixon of POLITICO; our own A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics and Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

Attendees will join Jacksonville business and community leaders for a complimentary lunch and insightful preview of the upcoming Legislative Session. Complimentary parking is available. Registration is at events.r20.constantcontact.com.

Jaguars matter

To close, some good news …

The Jacksonville Jaguars are a] guaranteed a winning season and b] are playoff bound.

No one doubts Blake Bortles now.

As someone who covered the team on game day for close to a decade of futility, it’s incredible to see one of the best defenses ever assembled in teal and black.

And Blake Bortles — who has taken his share of static — conquered the learning curve and has excelled, even with his top two wideouts on the shelf.

And Leonard Fournette — a little bit Jerome Bettis, a little bit Todd Gurley. The kind of sledgehammer that breaks opposing defenses’ wills.

This year, for the first time in too long, the Jaguars matter in December. And beyond.

To quote the great Jackie Gleason … “How sweet it is!”

Kevin Gay to chair Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance

On Thursday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced the chairman of the board for the Kids Hope Alliance will be Kevin Gay.

Gay, founder and CEO of Operation New Hope-Ready4Work (an organization that helps ex-offenders re-acclimate to society), will helm a board that includes Rebekah Davis, Nat Glover, Joe Peppers, Tyra Tutor and Dr. Marvin Wells.

All six were confirmed Tuesday by Council. One more slot is left to be filled on the board.

The Kids Hope Alliance is preparing to handle oversight over Jacksonville’s $35 million portfolio of children’s programs, taking over from the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and Jacksonville Journey.

“Kevin is an outstanding leader and advocate in our community,” said Mayor Curry. “He has dedicated his life to ensuring that our most vulnerable citizens have the tools, resources and skills they need to be productive in our community. He will be a wonderful champion of hope for our children and our city. “

‘Amazon-centric’: Jacksonville pitch for Amazon HQ2 includes 200 acres downtown

Like many cities, Jacksonville is making a pitch for Amazon’s HQ2. The value add locally per a video from Burdette Ketchum: land on the old Shipyards site downtown.

The video, which was first reported by Jenna Bourne of Action News Jax, begins with sprightly acoustic guitars leading into a backing track reminiscent of the Postal Service circa 2003.

It touts Jacksonville as “Amazon-centric,” with a “one-of-a-kind urban core campus and transit,” and an “inspired year-round coastal lifestyle.”

The video also touts Jacksonville’s “leading educational institutions and regional partnerships,” and Jacksonville itself as an “emerging city inviting your partnership and social impact.”

“Just like you, we’re customer-centric. So our proposal is built around your team members,” asserts a millennial-male voiceover in a crisp tone devoid of a traditional Jacksonville accent.

“Our job will be to attract them here, inspire them, and keep them productive. Like everyone in Jacksonville, they’ll love living here,” the voiceover adds.

And, asserts the voiceover, they’ll love working here: on a “200 acre live, work, and play campus at the heart of our waterfront city, in our urban core.”

This relationship, the video continues, is one that no other city can offer. It will allow Amazon to “impact the culture and the social responsibility of our city.”

“Shovel-ready land nestled between our established office district and our NFL stadium and amphitheater will be conveyed to Amazon at no cost,” the video continues. “We will shape it together as we grow.”

The video also promises “innovative public transportation” for “Amazonians,” allowing the campus and the city’s “upstart downtown” to grow in tandem.

As well, the video pitch promises “aggressive” pursuit of the project, with the most “competitive costs in Florida.”

Mayor Lenny Curry offered a statement: “I greatly appreciate and value the work City staff and the Chamber have led on the development of this proposal. Proposals are a first step that communicate our genuine interest, commitment, and vision for a project.”

“This Amazon project, like any other project we pursue, will be negotiated against a scorecard to ensure it provides a return to taxpayers and contributes to job growth and economic development. We will continue to work hard on this deal that would result in over 50,000 jobs for Jacksonville,” Curry added.

Duval Democrats ‘aggressively organizing’ as Lisa King prepares to lead them

After winning her election for chair of the Duval County Democrats earlier this weekLisa King issued a statement that read more like a call to arms.

“The stakes have never been higher for our country. The ideals that we hold so dear seem to be under attack every day. While we are currently the minority in the federal and state government, there are proportionally more registered Democrats than Republicans. It is our duty as an organized party to not only engage our voters,” King wrote, “but to also fight for their rights and well being every step of the way.”

“We will not sit back and watch the rights of our citizens be challenged at every turn. We can and will bring the fight for human rights, health care, equality, and justice to the front steps of our Republican Legislators. We will be a force to be reckoned with on the public stage where these battles are fought. We will exude strength and grace – fighting for our values and pushing back against any individual or group who decides to challenge them. We are Democrats and we are ready to fight for American values,” King added.

Duval Democrats performed well for Hillary Clinton in 2016. She got more votes in Jacksonville than Donald Trump. King was instrumental in that effort as the regional lead for the Clinton campaign.

Next year is bearing down on Duval Democrats, and they are fielding interesting candidates, such as Tracye Polson in House District 15 (where one-half of the political team for the likely Republican nominee, Wyman Duggan, is headed to City Hall to work as Lenny Curry‘s chief of staff).

Polson, of course, is aggressively campaigning — canvassing every weekend, and offering social media commentary on news stories. As of this moment, she is the best chance Northeast Florida Democrats have to flip a seat.

Still, there are holes in the field. Mayor Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams have no 2019 ballot competition. State Reps. Cord Byrd and Jason Fischer lack even nominal opposition in next year’s general election. Are Dems going to concede these opportunities?

Time will tell on that.

“I can tell you that we are aggressively organizing so as to turn out Dems and dem leaning NPAs in every precinct in this County.   I’ve talked to most of our statewide candidates and they all know how well we did for HRC in 2016 so I expect we’ll see all of them here. We have a lot of work to do but we’ve never been more unified and committed to doing it,” King asserted.

King understands better than many how partisanship works.

Despite raising more money and getting more endorsements than Al Ferraro in her 2015 race for Jacksonville City Council, King was unable to beat him.

King gave us a candid interview after that ballot-box setback.

Her polling had her up two weeks before the election; however, King noted that the “top down partisan messaging from either team,” which drove party identification voting as the Lenny Curry team wanted.

In her hyper-Republican Council district, King was washed out.

Curry, once in place, looked to revamp the city’s boards and commissions — and in his sights was the Planning Commission.

King, who was by then chair, and fellow Democrat Joey McKinnon were targeted for removal, and by a 13-5 City Council vote, they were yanked.

The vote was especially notable because many Democrats, such as Garrett DennisKatrina Brown and Reggie Gaffneywent against King.

King asserted then that “nothing teaches you who your friends are quicker than who is on your side when they have something to lose.” [Worth noting: since that 2015 vote, Dennis may have learned the same lesson at the hands of Council].

King was said to have been too partisan for the comfort of Curry and his inner circle.

Now, in what could be construed as an irony, she takes the helm of the local party in the same week that Mayor Curry’s chief political strategist, Brian Hughes, became chief of staff (effective Jan. 2).

For King, that hire is an example of “blurred lines” between politics and policy in the administration.

“Mayor Curry has stated that Hughes has played a significant role in key issues of his administration such as pension reform and the [Kids Hope Alliance]. He played that role while on the payroll of the Mayor’s PAC. Have open government norms been violated?”

“This is a disturbing question that taxpayers have a right to have clarified. I served on the Planning Commission as a volunteer from 2012-2015. Before even my first meeting,” King said, “Jason Gabriel of the General Counsel’s Office briefed me on the requirements of the Sunshine Law and continued to remind me and my colleagues of its requirements. Our leaders owe us real transparency.”

Will the Democratic Party finally serve as a bulwark against what King and other Dems see as the Curry administration’s blurring of policy and politics?

Time will tell.

But their new chair is aware of the ineluctable partisanship of the game being played.

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