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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

 

 

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!

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