Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, in Dallas for the NFL Draft, abandoned what was seen by many as a desire by his administration to privatize the local utility, via a statement Thursday morning.
“I am choosing to state unequivocally that I will not submit any JEA privatization plan to the City Council,” Curry said.
The law is that for privatization to move forward, the Mayor would have to propose the plan, Curry noted.
“I never proposed any privatization plan, nor did I ever suggest or say to anyone that I would propose such a plan,” Curry said, asserting that he “wanted to gather information.”
Curry, as is his wont, offered receipts for council members he is at war with.
“Unfortunately, a clear and reasonable process to discuss these issues was hijacked by a few special interests and politicians with an agenda to put politics above all else. Fixated on the false choice of “sell” vs “don’t sell” they created an environment fostering misinformation and mistrust,” Curry asserted.
Concert tickets became the source of a controversy in Jacksonville City Hall this month, illustrating (again) the distrust between City Councilman Garrett Dennis and Mayor Lenny Curry.
At issue: the distribution of free tickets for concerts by comedian Kevin Hart and country artist Tim McGraw.
On Apr. 3, Dennis’ assistant sent the Mayor’s staff “a public records request on tickets received and distributed, including dates requests were made and number of tickets given to each Council Members” for the celebrities’ gigs.
Apr. 17 saw the request unfulfilled to the satisfaction of Dennis’ office, which sent another email: “Any updates on the public record request? As you know, you are required to provide the Public Record request to Council Member Dennis listed below.”
The information was provided. And Dennis was frozen out of both events.
Dennis requested tickets for McGraw in late August, but was denied passes for the mid-September show. And regarding the Hart show in April, Dennis didn’t get tickets despite requesting in January.
Councilors Sam Newby and Katrina Brown likewise were denied passes requested in that timeframe, though Councilman Reginald Brown got two of the four tickets he requested at the same time.
Late asks by Matt Schellenberg and Reginald Gaffney were fulfilled, with each getting two tickets; Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, however, wasn’t so lucky.
Dennis’ office fired back: “We are not understanding how tickets are distributed when some CM’s clearly requested tickets at a much later date than others and requests were honored. We can’t assume that it is based on the frequency in which the requests are sent or the frequency of tickets that are actually granted. Please clarify the methodology by which tickets are distributed. We know that certain CM’s receive Multiple tickets for every event.”
A request of all ticket distributions going back to October has been made by Dennis’ office.
It appears that there will be a competitive race after all in Jacksonville City Council District 9 .
Incumbent Garrett Dennis faces a challenge from within his own party by way of Marcellus Holmes.
Holmes, who played professional football for the New England Patriots from 1997 to 2001 as both a practice and active squad member, is about to line up against a council member who has been a serious irritant to Mayor Lenny Curry.
When asked to assess Dennis’ performance, Holmes — reached by phone Monday afternoon — was diplomatic.
“He’s doing the best job he can,” Holmes said. “But I can give the community more of what it needs.”
Dennis, who hasn’t filed yet, insists he’s running for re-election. That was news to Holmes.
“I didn’t know he was running again,” Holmes said, adding that Dennis did a “great job his first term.”
Holmes, who currently is an at-risk case manager with first-time offenders at local nonprofit Daniel Kids, sees his experience as being key to “bringing the community together” to “meet the needs of every community” and “get every issue solved.”
There have been strong suggestions that Curry may have an interest in backing an opponent to Dennis. But, says Holmes, he hasn’t talked to the mayor.
That said, one of Dennis’ Council colleagues — fellow Democrat Reggie Brown, who is running from his seat for Audrey Gibson‘s spot in the Senate — did offer some advice: go in there and be yourself.
Dennis, when asked about facing an opponent for his re-election, was blunt.
“I don’t know who that is,” Dennis said. “Bring it.”
On Friday, WJCTbroke the news that “Data Targeting, Inc., a Gainesville firm that worked to elect Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, conducted a focus group study in late February asking participants whether they support selling municipal utility JEA.”
The claim was that “a private group of investors” who are “nonpartisan” were paying for the focus group, which saw participants get $100 a person.
Data Targeting’s Tim Baker, who serves as Curry’s political adviser (among a variety of other clients in the region and throughout Florida), told Florida Politics on Friday afternoon that neither Curry nor his political operation funded the research.
“I couldn’t confirm as a course of doing business if we did a focus group or who it was for,” Baker said, “but I can tell you that I’ve never done a focus group for any Curry entity or Curry funded entity since the pension campaign, and we did not conduct a group for any such Curry aligned entities on JEA privatization.”
Baker adds that the “public opinion research firm” is “active all over the state and nation for public, private, and campaign clients,” with a long history of “public opinion studies on a wide variety of topics all over the country.”
The privatization debate has proved a tough sell in Jacksonville, with locals including former Mayor Jake Godbold and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan sounding notes of apprehension.
“I’m following the interim CEO’s position, and that is they should not be pursuing this right now,” Curry said Thursday. “They need to get back to serving the customers and the core businesses and developing a strategic plan so they can adjust to the market forces for the future.”
Some are skeptical as to Curry’s real dispensation on the matter, given that the concept of exploring privatization was broached by former JEA Board member Tom Petway, a key Curry backer, as he exited the board late last year.
However, what’s clear: the focus group’s funding came from an operation not directly aligned with Curry.
Data Targeting does not divulge its clients or work done for them, so the ultimate source of funding for the research remains a mystery.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said last month that he wanted the city to have a “mature conversation” about JEA valuation and whether privatization was the way forward.
However, after yet another series of bad news cycles in which Curry, a popular mayor for most of his term, has seen that conversation and his mayoralty pilloried in the press, one has to wonder where this particular conversation about privatizing Jacksonville’s utility goes.
Every day, it seems that someone comes out against JEA privatization.
Wednesday saw former Jacksonville Mayor Jake Godbold weigh in.
“As a former mayor, every day I communicate with a lot of people in this community,” Godbold wrote. “The public disagrees with selling the JEA, something you should know from your PAC’s polling.”
Thursday was Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan‘s turn. Khan called it a “terrible idea” and said, “it ought to stay the way it is.”
While Curry was able to shake off Godbold’s comments, Khan’s comments were a different matter.
“I’m following the interim CEO’s position, and that is they should not be pursuing this right now,” Curry said Thursday. “They need to get back to serving the customers and the core businesses and developing a strategic plan so they can adjust to the market forces for the future.”
So is it dead?
Jacksonville City Council members heard interim CEO Aaron Zahn‘s pledge to pause the discussion Thursday.
“If we put a pause button on the public conversation, do we have assurance that there is a pause on the private conversation?” asked former Council President Lori Boyer.
Meanwhile, there is a sense that there may be another motion Tuesday night to kill the Special Committee on the future of JEA.
Chairman John Crescimbeni notes that even if the committee sunsets, discussions can continue via public notice meetings.
But the reality is that, unless or until privatization is reintroduced (perhaps as a JEA Board motion), then there is no exponent of the move in City Hall.
Curry’s team has won virtually every political fight it’s had.
The purges of boards and commissions, including the JEA Board, in 2015 and 2016 were described by one Council member as a “litmus test.”
“You’re with us or against us,” was how the vote was described.
Pension reform legislation. The Kids Hope Alliance. These likewise were non-negotiables for the Curry administration.
Now, with council clearly lined up against the sale, the only thing that can save the concept is a retooling of council itself.
Perhaps when Aaron Bowman, an administration ally, takes the gavel in July, things will cool off enough to have the “mature conversation.”
Or perhaps, like the Human Rights Ordinance was to be for former Mayor Alvin Brown, it will be a second-term thing.
Curry is not in imminent political danger from any of this. A campaign account totaling $1.5 million and a lack of credible opposition on the ballot ensures that.
However, the feeling of invulnerability that his administration enjoyed has been punctured.
Every candidate for city office will be asked about JEA, and one answer will be acceptable to voters as this discussion stands right now.
Was the city, in the end, not “mature” enough for this conversation?
The issues with JEA’s future are real. Revenue streams will be flat. It is likely that there will be a phalanx of retirements down the road. And the utility’s $116 million contribution to city coffers will sunset in 2021, requiring re-negotiation as soon as next year.
If the city has this conversation a couple of years down the road, at a point when current economic conditions may no longer be so favorable for investment-grade capital, will it be a different conversation?
What happens, also, when the savings from pension reform that have boosted recent capital budgets dry up in the wake of mandated employee raises and other factors?
And what happens if bond rating agencies get chilled later this year from the drama around the privatization debate?
Time will provide answers to all of these questions.
But for now, the privatization scheme floated late last year by one of Curry’s biggest donors, Tom Petway, as he exited the board appears to be suspended.
In Jacksonville, tales of the next year of elections have just begun.
In this edition: congressional fundraising. For those needing a guide to both contenders and pretenders, a look at the money (months before voters cast ballots) will tell that tale.
Down the page, our story on City Council fundraising. Some candidates who are not faring so well saw it, as indicated by the relative paucity of glad-handing for our Jacksonville correspondent by players not really in the game.
For those who decry the “horserace coverage” of politics — is it indeed not a race? Courting the donor class, pandering to “the rubes,” emotional appeals, gaming the outcome — they are all hallmarks of a competition.
And for the title of this week’s Bold, we borrowed (stole) from Jay-Z — and not just to ensure Lenny Curry reads it.
“Can’t knock the hustle” serves as a reminder to all of those working this cycle that, even as the physical days get longer, the time to decide your fate is closer to the end than the beginning.
The anxiety of influence
“It’s good to have all these relationships in D.C., but as Senator, you have more influence.”
The above quote, by far, was the most notable offered during Gov. Rick Scott’s tightly messaged “business roundtable” in Jacksonville. It also illustrated a unique dual message; that of the outsider who can play the inside game.
Scott reprised his critique of term limits, coupled with a vision of what he would do as Senator to redress constituent concerns.
Scott vowed, for example, that he would be positioned to help get JAXPORT’s dredge federally funded.
In response to a question about waterways, Scott vowed to talk to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who (depending on who you ask) may or may not have exempted Florida from offshore drilling.
Scott also vowed to meet with heads of other federal agencies.
Scott’s tacit pitch: being able to play the inside game from day one, while still using outsider rhetoric, such as he did on taxes.
Rep. John Rutherford, the former Jacksonville Sheriff who is now representing Northeast Florida’s 4th Congressional District, cleared the $300,000 on-hand mark by the end of March.
Rutherford had not been aggressively fundraising before the just-concluded quarter. Rutherford ended 2017 with $183,748 on hand.
Among Rutherford’s more interesting supporters: Jacksonville donor Peter Rummell, who has said he would only give money to candidates who backed an assault weapons ban. Rutherford never took that position.
Corporate donors include Clear Channel, Viacom, Walmart, and Rayonier.
Rutherford faces no credible primary opponent; however, the Democratic field in the deep-red district is still shaking out, even as none of them thus far enjoy any fundraising traction.
In the Democratic primary for Florida’s 5th Congressional District, there appears to be a money race after all.
Per a news release from Alvin Brown, the former Jacksonville Mayor enjoyed a 2:1 fundraising advantage in Q1 2018.
And that means that Brown has pulled close to incumbent Rep. Al Lawson regarding cash on hand.
For the quarter, Brown brought in $167, 088.73; Lawson $83,866.34.
By the end of 2017, before Brown entered the race, Lawson had $100,000 cash-on-hand. Now Lawson has just under $160,000; Brown has a little over $127K.
Brown is “humbled by the widespread grassroots support for our people-powered campaign, which will allow us to connect with voters across the 5th District. Floridians have proved they are ready for new leadership as Washington politicians continue to care more about self-preservation than fighting for the people back home.”
Ward, Waltz self-finance to replace DeSantis in DC
What’s clear about the race to succeed Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District: There will be a lot of money spent to get the nomination.
Ponte Vedra businessman John Ward still leads with cash-on-hand in the seat that encompasses southern St. Johns, Flagler and Volusia counties; however, Fox News contributor Mike Waltz is close behind.
As of the end of March, Ward had $709,340 on hand (with $555,000 of that from his own checkbook). Waltz, who loaned his own campaign $400,000, has $653,354 on hand.
On the Republican side, Ward and Waltz are demonstrating the most fundraising ability. Former state Rep. Fred Costello has $15,720 on hand. St. Johns County Commissioner Jimmy Johns has yet to report fundraising.
Two Democrats, meanwhile, also show a talent for fundraising.
Democrat Stephen Sevigny said Friday that his campaign brought in $250,000 in the first quarter. Sevigny’s total includes $50,000 in candidate loans. He finished the quarter with $227K on hand.
Nancy Soderberg, a former Ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton, currently leads the primary field with $920,000 in total fundraising after reporting $375,000 raised for the quarter. With $595K on hand, she is keeping pace with the Republicans, without spending her own money on the campaign so far.
JAXBIZ picks Duggan for HD 15
On Tuesday, JAXBIZ (the political arm of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce) endorsed Wyman Duggan in House District 15.
“Wyman is an experienced, conservative leader who can make an immediate impact for our community in Tallahassee,” JAXBIZ Chair Dane Grey said. “Wyman understands the importance of growing jobs for hardworking families and attracting investment in our community.”
Duggan faces two Republican opponents in the primary and a lull on the fundraising front. For the second straight month in March, he raised just over $2,000; he has just over $95,000 cash on hand.
Duggan, a land-use attorney with deep connections in Jacksonville, has amassed a phalanx of endorsements since entering the race to succeed Rep. Jay Fant, and the JAXBIZ endorsement confirms his position as the choice of Jacksonville’s political and business establishment.
The bill is now ready for the full Council to vote on it next week.
The money was available, per a city representative, because of “excess debt service” funds from FY 17.
Among the projects to be funded: “Seating bowl repairs and widening of the front entrance plaza at the Arena, steel painting, lighting upgrades, bleacher repairs, upgrading of video control room equipment and concourse televisions, and turf equipment replacements at the baseball grounds, and replacing aging food service equipment, upgrading the phone system, seating bowl repairs, and building system upgrades at the stadium.”
The city has spent big money on the sports complex in recent years.
In recent years, Jacksonville taxpayers have authorized $88 million of city-funded capital improvements to the Jaguars’ stadium: $43 million for the world’s biggest scoreboard, and half of a $90 million buy-in that secured a new amphitheater, a covered practice field, and club seat improvements.
Council still hashing out cannabis conundrum
Ordinance 2018-75 would revise extant code relative to medical cannabis. However, a Jacksonville City Council committee can’t figure out a way forward, with a deferral on the bill again Monday
The code was formulated in response to “Charlotte’s Web” low-THC cannabis being the single legal strain, and after an extended period of debate, processing and dispensing were allowed in commercial districts, with cultivation permitted in agricultural regions.
That debate was tortuous; so too is this one, with the second deferral of this legislation in Monday’s Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health & Safety Committee pushing back the bill two more weeks.
“This bill puts our code in compliance with Florida statutes,” said a representative from the Office of General Counsel. “The statute prohibits cultivation and processing facilities within 500 feet of a school” but allows a dispensary given a waiver within 500 feet.
However, given a wide range of concerns addressed this week in committee, it is clear that a public-notice meeting will be needed to refine bill language.
Curry draws challenger
Curry faces a challenge on the 2019 ballot, and it all stems from a beef over a boat show.
Former Atlantic Beach Commissioner Jimmy Hill, a Republican like Curry, took issue with a scheduling snafu over a 2017 boat show that led to him being edged out of promoting boat shows altogether, leading ultimately, he says, to Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Now Hill hopes to have the last laugh … and edge Curry out of the Mayor’s office next year.
Hill believes his group was edged out of the boat show because it used Metro Park and was “the last remaining obstacle to getting rid of Metro Park.”
“The Lenny Curry administration is wholly responsible,” Hill said, for the boat show issues.
And now the ultimate revenge: a challenge on the ballot.
Hill, who worked for Curry’s election, asserts that he “misjudged [Curry’s] character and willingness to do the right thing for people.
Moreover, the challenger says he’s not alone in his chagrin with the incumbent.
“There’s a groundswell of people disappointed in the Mayor,” Hill said. “Key players in his administration are steering him in the wrong direction.”
The first candidate to hit $250,000 raised, Matt Carlucci, is suspending fundraising for his at-large race against Don Redman.
Also starting off extremely strong: LeAnna Cumber, who has raised over $170,000 for a district race against Democrat James Jacobs, who has under $500 on hand.
Not every race is seeing robust fundraising, however; For those wanting to get money out of politics, the District 10 race offers a unique illustration. Only one of the six candidates (Kevin Monroe) has more than $1,000 on hand.
Surprising that property or union interests aren’t floating a candidate, bankrolling him and her for reliable votes on issues that may come before the council. But there’s still time.
New JEA interim CEO Aaron Zahn took over this week after a board meeting saw a vote go his way over CFO Melissa Dykes.
There are those close to the process who believe Dykes’ tenure will be short-lived in this role, with other opportunities opening for her elsewhere.
This was not a move many predicted before recent weeks and was presaged with a game of musical chairs, in which Zahn resigned his position to pursue the interim CEO position, one filled by Dykes for the prior week, after longtime JEA CEO Paul McElroy stepped down 10 days ago.
Dykes and Zahn both lobbied board members for the position. But members, appointed by Curry, voted for the Mayor’s man.
Zahn noted that he wanted a “pause” in privatization talks, though he would not say how long that pause needed to be. We got reactions to that from some leading members of the Jacksonville City Council.
Sen. Aaron Bean and Rep. Cord Byrd this week presented a $375,000 check to Neptune Beach’s Mayor and City Council.
The money was part of an appropriation to bolster the beachfront city’s stormwater drainage system on Florida Boulevard. The Northeast Florida Republicans helped secure the money state budget during the 2018 Legislative Session.
“Once this project is complete, Neptune Beach and the Beaches community will be better prepared for the next storm and have safer access to Florida Boulevard during emergencies,” Bean said.
Byrd added that the project “will improve the Beaches stormwater system and ensure a safe evacuation route for residents during a natural disaster.”
Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown thanked the lawmakers for pushing for the funding and said it “will go a long way toward alleviating our drainage problems in our city and, most importantly, will restore safety to our evacuation route.”
Bean presents $975K to STEM advancement
On Monday, Bean presented a $975,000 check to Kathleen Schofield, executive director of STEM2 Hub; Gary Chartrand, chair of STEM2 Hub Corporate Board and a group of aspiring Northeast Florida STEM students.
During the most recent Session, Bean worked to secure funding for STEM2 Hub’s Northeast Florida 21st Century Workforce Development project, which increases the availability of STEM-related educational programs.
STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — represent some of the fastest-growing, most in-demand career fields in today’s workforce.
“STEM education is vital to the future workforce of our state,” Bean said. “I envision a Florida where all children have the chance to learn these critical skills, so they can realize their truly unlimited potential. This funding moves us closer to fulfilling this vision and provides Northeast Florida’s students with the opportunities needed to compete and excel in the 21st Century.”
The STEM2 Hub project helps schools to continue offering 21st Century Skills Development programs to students in Northeast Florida, with a focus on robotics, coding and workforce-aligned after-school programs and high-quality math instruction. The goal of schools working with the STEM2 Hub is to increase the number of STEM-capable graduates.
“It is so important that we give all students the opportunity to grow competent in the skills of problem-solving and critical thinking,” Schofield said. “We must make students feel connected to community and business leaders, as well as to their schools, so that they see a pathway to their own success.”
Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis filed a bill this week that is his latest shot across the bow of Mayor Lenny Curry.
The bill, while not likely to pass, will be an interesting litmus test of how much political capital Dennis has with Council in the wake of some difficult news cycles for the Curry administration.
Per media release Wednesday, the bill would amend the JEA Charter to give the City Council four of seven of the JEA board appointments, and would give the council confirmation approval of Curry’s three appointees.
While Curry could remove his appointees to what is currently a shorthanded board with two vacancies, with council approval, the Mayor would have no power to remove appointees.
New JEA Board picks would have to be Duval residents for three years.
The JEA Board, which Curry purged soon after taking the Mayor’s Office in 2015, made news Tuesday by choosing Aaron Zahn, a utility neophyte who was on the JEA Board for a month, to be an interim CEO.
Many have pointed out that Zahn and Curry are political allies, with a gaggle Wednesday seeing Curry answer a question about attending the same church as Zahn.
Zahn wants a pause on the privatization conversation that has roiled City Hall in recent months, though he is indeterminate about how long that pause should take.
Dennis, meanwhile, has already lost one recent board-related battle with Curry; Curry’s favored candidate for Kids Hope Alliance CEO, Joe Peppers, resigned from that board soon after being appointed to successfully pursue the paid position.
Jimmy Hill, an Atlantic Beach Republican challenging incumbent Lenny Curry in the Jacksonville Mayor’s race, confirmed to Florida Politics on Monday that he and his wife had filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy just days before filing for mayor.
The Hills listed assets of $686,412 (including a $635,000 house) and liabilities of $519,251 in the Mar. 29 filing. Income of $5,400 monthly doesn’t match up with expenses of $8,700, per the filing, which showed checking balances of roughly $3,600.
The Hills have a mortgage of roughly $295,000, and $223,000+ of unsecured debts, including to 1010 XL, 904 Happy Hour, Gatehouse Media, and other vendors related to the North Florida Boat Show, which Hill asserts was run out of business by bad practices in City Hall.
“Their actions just destroyed us,” Hill said of his boat show that was capsized in 2017 after a dispute over event dates at Metro Park with the city proved fateful for the production continuing on. “We were targeted.”
Hill noted that, had his imbroglio with the city not happened, he and his wife would “probably just be doing boat shows.”
However, Hill’s experience “opened the door,” with people coming forth to tell their own tales of tangling with City Hall.
“Favoritism” among senior staff begets a “systemic problem” in the building, Hill said, with winners and losers being picked by the Mayor’s Office.
Hill rues backing Curry in 2015, saying “I’ve never been so wrong about someone in my life.”
Hill, in addition to running against the mayor, also says that litigation against the city is “probably pending.”
Also pending: Hill’s refiling of the bankruptcy petition, as he was found to have filed a deficient Chapter 13 plan to make creditors whole.
In campaigns, there is always a watershed moment when all the gauzy, aspirational rhetoric fades — like so many temporary tattoos — replaced by the hard realities of campaign finance and infrastructure.
For races on the 2018 ballot, we are there — even if some candidates haven’t figured it out.
If one is looking to win a primary in August, as many Democrats have to do this year locally, one might think that the campaign would be in high gear. The money would be in place. The team would be working.
We see that with some candidates (for example, who is working harder this cycle than Tracye Polson in her state House race?). With others, we don’t (consider Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown, who hasn’t done anything in his challenge to Sen. Audrey Gibson but buy campaign T-shirts).
The most prominent campaign event this week was the Governor’s rally Wednesday. Lots of incumbents and prospective candidates on hand; some should have taken notes.
In some quarters, People malign Rick Scott as a checkbook candidate. But he assembles the best team, has resources to message, and understands the discipline needed for such message.
He’s been working the same speech around the state, but he keeps refining it, getting more comfortable with the material. And, despite mourning a trusted aide, he has learned to reflect the affinity of the crowd. His smiles seem natural now.
And Bill Nelson is in for a fight.
As any incumbent can tell you: build the infrastructure before you need it. Because you will need it sooner than you think.
Scott Senate rollout
Gov.Scott rolled out his Senate campaign in the Jacksonville market Wednesday, with a stop at Ring Power on the Southside.
Scott’s political committee has sent out prepared remarks for each local event that have been the same as those sent out for the launch in Orlando Monday.
However, at least in Jacksonville, he deviated from the remarks, adding new details about retiring $9 billion in state debt during his tenure — a tacit allusion to the Congressional Budget Office predictions of increasing deficits over the next decade, subtly noting that Florida is not on that fiscal path under his watch.
Throughout his 10-minute speech, the Governor was upbeat, in “happy warrior” mode.
The local Democratic Party had called for protests; however, if there were protesters, they were not noticed by this reporter or other media on hand.
Scott drew a crowd of roughly 300, including numerous members of the Duval County Legislative Delegation and the Jacksonville City Council, as well as people who hope to serve in Tallahassee or City Hall.
In contrast to other events on tour, the Governor took questions. Included were answers about an elections complaint against the New Republican PAC and on Syria policy.
Soderberg rakes in more campaign donations
Democrat Nancy Soderberg, a former Ambassador to the United Nations during the Bill Clinton presidency, posted another impressive quarter of fundraising in her bid to succeed Republican Ron DeSantis in Congress.
Per a media release: Soderberg raised $375,000 in the first quarter of 2018. Soderberg raised $920,000 during her bid for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.
The media release does not give an indication of what’s been spent this quarter; however, by the end of 2017, Soderberg raised $544,636, with $376,000 on hand.
This puts her ahead of other Democrats in the race. Stephen Sevigny has nearly $227,000 on hand; John Upchurch, just over $123,000.
Republicans running for the seat have yet to file fundraising reports or issue media releases.
The cash on hand leader as of the end of 2017 was Republican John Ward, a businessman living in Ponte Vedra, somewhat to the north of the district that runs from southern St. Johns to Volusia counties.
Ward, who loaned his campaign $500,000, had $644,000 on hand.
Brown, Lawson make moves in congressional primary clash
The Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, a cartographical anomaly that sprawls from downtown Jacksonville west to Tallahassee, saw some moves this week by both incumbent Al Lawson and challenger Alvin Brown.
Lawson’s campaign showed its first signs of engagement, with the hire of self-styled “hip-hop lobbyist” Phillip Singleton as the campaign’s “senior adviser,” handling fundraising and outreach.
Singleton’s comments in the media release seem to suggest that Lawson’s efforts thus far in the campaign have been lacking.
“I am ready to hit-the-ground-running and re-energize our donor and voter base,” said Singleton.
Alvin Brown also is making moves, though it is difficult to tell if his latest will help in a Democratic primary.
Brown dined with right-wing talk radio host Ed Dean this week, a curious move … even with Dean hosting a straw poll this weekend on the Southside.
Dean’s listeners tend to be Tea Party/Trump Republicans, few of whom will vote in the Democratic primary in CD 5.
Brown, of course, is no stranger to outreach to the right wing — a triangulation strategy he used when running for Jacksonville Mayor.
In an ordinary Democratic primary, it would be easy to imagine a digital ad proclaiming Brown to be a tool of the right.
However, those with memories going back two years will recall Trump’s Florida co-chair Susie Wiles helping to pitch Lawson to Jacksonville media as he ran against Corrine Brown.
Gibson slams Scott, lauds ‘moderate’ Nelson
Senate Minority Leader-Designate Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, excoriated Scott upon his U.S. Senate campaign launch Monday.
“Rick Scott cannot erase seven years of leaving behind my constituents and others throughout this state and now try to take his same show to Washington. His jobs incentive programs have not provided real jobs to the average Floridian because he counts failed potential job creation as a Florida job,” Gibson said.
Scott’s relationship with President Donald Trump, Gibson asserted, is something voters should “definitely” consider, given Trump’s lack of “decorum” and “predictability.”
Besides, Gibson joked, Trump may not be President for very much longer.
As well, Gibson doubted Scott’s ability to be a “consensus builder,” which “moderate” Nelson has been for years.
“He may not necessarily characterize himself that way,” Gibson said of Nelson as a moderate, but lauded his ability to “build a bridge” and bring “balance to his position as a Senator.”
Additionally, Scott is as much a “career politician” as Nelson, Gibson said, given that he’s running for one office from another.
Could Dem take Fant House seat?
The race to replace Rep. Jay Fant in Jacksonville’s House District 15 continues, and March showed evidence of more traction from Democrat Polson.
For one thing, she’s up nine points in a poll her campaign commissioned — a major shock when one considers that for years no Democrat even bothered to run in the traditional GOP sinecure.
Polson, the sole Democrat running to replace the Attorney General hopeful, reports a combined March fundraising total of $30,821.00. She’s raised $174,103 between her campaign and political committee accounts, with $113,635 on hand.
“We have been knocking on doors since Veterans Day and one thing is very clear,” said Polson. “Voters are looking for a new leader to send to Tallahassee.”
To win that race in November, Polson will have to beat a Republican; currently, three are vying for the nomination.
In HD 15, Jacksonville land use attorney Wyman Duggan now faces two Republican opponents in the primary and trouble on the fundraising front. For the second straight month, he raised just over $2,000; he has just over $95,000 cash on hand.
Duggan leads Republicans Mark Zeigler and Joseph Hogan in fundraising.
More harsh words between Jacksonville’s City Council President and Mayor.
Lenny Curry went on TV and put Anna Brosche on blast. Brosche responded in kind.
“As for his messaging against me, I am, quite frankly, surprised to be an object of his constant attention, one requiring a messaging campaign. While he is focused on the dynamic of our unhealthy relationship, I am going to continue my efforts to serve the people of Jacksonville, and keep asking questions to make sure everything adds up for the people,” Brosche added.
Of course, the central battleground for this conflict, at this point, is the special committee to explore the potential sale of Jacksonville’s utility, JEA.
After two consecutive Thursdays in which he took tough questions from that committee, JEA CEO Paul McElroy decided his time was up and stepped down from the highest paying public position in the city.
For Brosche, this decision adds to the current “uncertainty” surrounding the utility.
“Uncertainty has been a frequent term used in the process of evaluating a potential sale of JEA; Paul’s departure brings no exception,” she added.
The spot, which will have a $5000+ ad buy, will appear starting Monday on digital channels and Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, per the news release.
Can unions keep up with Lenny Curry in the ad game?
The spot weaves together a narrative from local media accounts, chargingCurry with taking actions to move forward with a sale of Jacksonville’s public utility despite a declared agnosticism to the topic beyond a “mature conversation” about the value of the “asset.”
“Everyone connected with the sale is also closely connected to the mayor,” asserts the copy. “According to a city auditor, Curry’s administration has been working behind your back preparing for a sale.”
A local union head expressed the rationale for the spot.
“While Lenny Curry continues to say that he is not a proponent of selling JEA, his actions are not matching his words. Our ad simply connects the dots based on evidence provided by local media. We do hope that the Mayor will listen to the will of the people and stop this push to sell JEA,” asserts D. Jason Baber, vice president of the Professional Employees Association.
“While we understand it takes a vote of council to actually sell JEA, we are asking that the Mayor as the leader of this city publicly end what we believe he started. We are asking that he publicly come out and say he is against the sale of JEA,” Baber adds. “If he is unwilling to do this, we know he and any candidate he supports wishes to sell JEA against the will of the people.”
Local unions released a statement opposing the exploration of a sale of the utility last week; this week, they continue pushing the narrative.
It remains to be seen if this will ultimately affect Curry’s re-election bid, however. The Mayor faces no credible opposition and raised $1.5 million in campaign funds in March, his first month as a filed candidate.
Sheriff raises $400K for re-election
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams is back to fundraising in earnest for his re-election bid, and both committee and hard money coffers are healthy after a strong March.
Williams brought in $27,500 off 43 contributions to his campaign account, his most active month since launching last year.
He has raised $179,450 and has over $175,000 on hand.
His political committee, A Safe Jacksonville, brought in $38,000 in March. The committee has $232,000 on hand.
All donations to the committee came either from the family of Tom Petway, the former JEA Board member who kicked off the latest debate regarding privatizing the utility, or the Sorensen family of Firehouse Subs fame.
Williams’ opponent, Democrat Tony Cummings, raised no money for the second straight month, and has just over $200 banked.
Delaney joins Rogers Towers/Fiorentino Group initiative
The next move for former Jacksonville Mayor and University of North Florida President John Delaney was revealed Wednesday via media release. He will work as part of a strategic alliance between Rogers Towers and the Fiorentino Group.
The alliance, formed five years ago, includes collaboration on business and government affairs issues; business counsel; higher education issues; complex environmental matters and a variety of other government affairs needs at the local, state and federal levels.
Delaney is singularly positioned to help in these matters.
“John’s professional career has been one of the ‘most unique’ and diverse of almost anyone I know, and he brings to our clients’ needs a special perspective that will be of great value as they deal with legal issues as well as the ever-changing landscape of both the political world and government affairs arena,” said Fred Franklin, Rogers Towers managing director.
“John has been a part of some of Jacksonville’s most successful public policy initiatives,” said Marty Fiorentino, president of The Fiorentino Group. “His decades of experience in local, state and federal politics and tenure as president of one of Florida’s leading educational institutions has involved him in many complex issues where his leadership has had a real and positive impact. His addition to our team will provide exceptional added-value services as we develop winning strategies for our clients to influence public policy.”
“As I made my decision to retire from UNF, I looked for a new chapter to open in my career that offered me the chance to bring together the skills and experiences I have harnessed since starting out as a young lawyer working for former Mayor Ed Austin, when he served our community as State Attorney,” said Delaney.
“Having known Marty and Fred both personally and professionally over the years, I was aware of the great work their firms were doing. We collectively started a conversation that led to this decision. I look forward to working with the two of them and their teams to represent clients in a variety of areas both here in Northeast Florida and around the state and nation,” Delaney added.
Overton makes a political comeback
Jacksonville political veteran Jim Overton became the first of what could be many candidates for Duval County Tax Collector.
Overton, who filed this week, is no stranger to Duval County voters.
With Tillie Fowler‘s blessing, he ran to serve her unexpired term on City Council in 1992, serving two full terms after that. Overton subsequently served three terms as Duval County Property Appraiser.
Overton tells us that current tax collector Michael Corrigan, who is under consideration to be CEO of Visit Jacksonville, encouraged him to run.
Corrigan and Overton are friends outside of the political sphere, and Overton believes that Corrigan has done a “good job” in the role, and, if elected, he will keep the office on an “even keel” for the next couple of years.
Overton notes that the tax collector’s office is a “bigger shop” than the property appraisers, but otherwise believes it’s an “easy fit.”
Overton already knows many staff members in the office he seeks, and some encouraged him to run.
Overton’s entry in the race will likely force certain termed-out members of the Jacksonville City Council who have been eyeballing a run at the office to make moves or cut bait.
Council candidate Carlucci clears $250K raised
Jacksonville political veteran Matt Carlucci, a Republican running for City Council in at-large Group 4, became the first candidate this cycle to clear $250,000 raised.
And, audaciously, he is taking a break from fundraising … having hit his campaign budget.
Carlucci, who seeks to return to Jacksonville’s legislative body, drew from a diverse group of contributors again in March, as he brought in over $29,000.
Republicans, such as U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, former City Council President Kevin Hyde, and former Council colleague Dick Kravitz, gave to Carlucci, as did Democrats, such as School Board member Warren Jones and City Council candidate Sunny Gettinger.
Corporate interests, such as the Haskell Company and J.B. Coxwell Contracting, likewise featured on the contribution list.
The $29,150 raised by Carlucci is his most significant single month haul since July 2017, and comes after another former councilman, Don Redman, became the second candidate in the race.
Boylan makes up ground in Council race
Two Republicans — former WJCT CEO Michael Boylan and Chamber candidate Rose Conry — are squaring off to replace termed-out Matt Schellenberg in Jacksonville City Council District 6.
Conry, while still the front-runner regarding money both raised and on-hand, lost some ground to Boylan in March.
Boylan raised $11,400, in his second straight month over five figures in fundraising. As evidence of a genuinely divided donor class in this race, such Jacksonville heavyweights as former Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton’s Gate Petroleum, PrestonHaskell and Jaguars/FPL lobbyist Paul Harden all ponied up for Boylan.
Conry’s operation is being run byCurry’s political adviser, Tim Baker; however, her $2,275 haul was the weakest of her six months as an active candidate. Among the donors to Conry in March: Bold City Strategic Partners and John Baker.
Despite the reversal in fortunes in March, Conry still holds leads in total money raised ($69,635 to $41,875) and cash on hand (approximately $63,400 to roughly $31,400).
Diamond banks $8K more
For those who might want to challenge Republican Rory Diamond as he runs to succeed termed-out Bill Gulliford on the Jacksonville City Council, it’s getting late.
Diamond, whose campaign is being handled by Curry’s political adviser Tim Baker, banked another respectable month of fundraising in March, raising $8,350. He now has raised $119,000, with over $113,000 on hand.
Among the names on Diamond’s latest report: Jacksonville investor Ashton Hudson, and University of North Florida Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Chris Warren.
Diamond has already outraised Gulliford in each of his runs. Gulliford, unopposed in his 2015 re-election bid, raised $95,000.
In 2011, when Gulliford initially won the office, he raised just over $47,000 (though he defeated Danny Becton, who raised $115,000).
JEA straw vote on November ballot
Two bills of note passed by the Jacksonville City Council Tuesday evening.
Straw ballot for JEA sale:2018-141 will prime a straw ballot referendum for November to test the voters’ mood on a JEA sale.
The measure, sponsored by Garrett Dennis and John Crescimbeni (two skeptics of the need to sell), would, in theory, serve as a corrective to an impending sales pitch to sell from many directions.
Crescimbeni noted in committee that the straw ballot is nonbinding and merely gives direction on whether to “participate in that process … weigh in and tell us they’re interested, or they’re not interested.”
A rumor the bill would be pulled from Consent ultimately proved unfounded.
Board reform: 2018-165, also sponsored by Dennis, will bar an active member of a board from applying for a paid position with the organization controlled by the board.
This bill was drafted after Joe Peppers, a member of the Kids Hope Alliance board who has since stepped down, made a successful play for that organization’s CEO position.
Dennis, one of the council’s most strident opponents of the reforms that brought KHA into being as a replacement for the Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey, saw Peppers as unqualified to be CEO and as someone who is parlaying relationships with the board and Curry’s team into a high-paying job.
Dennis said the bill would foster “transparency and fairness.”
Leading pot lawyers expand to Jacksonville
Bold City has a new pot law firm, which will practice out of the Riverside shopping center.
Denver-based Vicente Sederberg LLC, described as “one of the nation’s leading marijuana law firms,” is opening a Jacksonville office — serving the largest city in Florida’s burgeoning medical marijuana markets.
The extension of Vicente Sederberg — which claims to have “guided” one of the state’s five original medical marijuana licensees — is the latest development in the growing legal community for the marijuana industry.
Sally Kent Peebles will head the Jacksonville office, according to a news release.
Several lawsuits are expected after Tallahassee Judge Karen Gievers ruled that Tampa strip club entrepreneur Joe Redner can grow his own pot to treat his lung cancer.
The firm is also sponsoring the “National Cannabis Industry Association’s Quarterly Cannabis Caucus” in Tampa next week, as well as taking part in North East Florida NORML’s 420 on the Beach event in Jacksonville Beach set for (you guessed it) April 20.
T-U praises Ford’s ‘dynamic change’ at JTA
Nat Ford recently celebrated five years as CEO of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.
“These have been the most enjoyable five years of my career,” Ford told the Florida Times-Union.
“And they have been five of the best years in JTA’s history, too,” the editorial board praises in a new op-ed. “In short, JTA has become a more modern, more responsive and more relevant transit system.”
Since taking over JTA, Ford:
— Completely overhauled JTA’s antiquated route system, increasing the on-time rate for buses to 80 percent.
— Launched the first two lines of the premium First Coast Flyer traveling into the Northside and Southside with fewer stops; a third Flyer to the Beaches will start later this year.
— “Skillfully united the community’s stakeholders” to support revamping the Skyway, transforming the old automated aerial structure into a roadway with a ramp system that can accommodate driverless vehicles.
— Installed a test track to test driverless vehicles.
— Broke ground on the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center in the LaVilla neighborhood.
— Spearheaded JTA takeover of the St. Johns Ferry, with substantial infrastructure improvements. “The ferry’s ridership numbers are now booming, and it has shed its reputation for being woefully underutilized.”
“We’ve built up a reputation that has transcended Jacksonville,” Ford told the Editorial Board. “At the state and federal level, there is a lot of confidence in our agency.”
Greyhound ready for big move
Jacksonville’s Greyhound Intercity Bus Terminal is ready to make the big move from its longtime home at 10 N. Pearl St. to a new location about seven blocks west near the Prime Osborn Convention Center.
Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s new hub will connect national, regional and city bus service, as well as the Skyway and nearby Interstate 95.
As reported by the Jacksonville Business Journal, the Greyhound terminal at 1111 W. Forsyth St. is the first phase of a $57.3 million JTA Regional Transportation Center project, funded by a combination of federal, state and local money.
Andy Rodgers, JTA project administrator, told the Business Journal the 9,660-square-foot facility was both on budget and schedule after about a year of construction.
The same food vendors as the current Greyhound station will operate the restaurant area.
JTA owns the building, and Rogers said it will lease it to Greyhound Lines Inc., which will move in April 17. The facility also will handle Megabus and RedCoach bus services.
UNF executes lease in historic downtown Jacksonville building
The University of North Florida is leasing the fourth and fifth floors in the historic Barnett National Bank Building in Downtown Jacksonville
The Coggin College of Business satellite campus will occupy about 16,000 square feet.
According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, the Barnett Building is under restoration as the first phase of a $100 million “adaptive reuse program” through a partnership of SouthEast Development Group LLC and The Molasky Group of Companies.
Rehabilitation will include a complete historic preservation of the building as well as the Laura Street Trio, a structured parking facility on the adjacent city lot at 28 W. Forsyth St.
Classrooms and faculty support facilities can accommodate as many as 200 students and a new Entrepreneurial Center to develop and support new businesses. UNF interns will earn credits through the center, working with entrepreneurs in a business incubator program.
“Most cities that have thriving entrepreneurship ecosystems usually have a university involved as part of that,” Mark Dawkins, dean of the UNF Coggin College of Business, told the Business Journal.
The UNF Coggin College of Business has four departments offering eight majors: accounting, economics, finance, financial planning, international business, management, marketing, and transportation and logistics.
“UNF wants the center to benefit not only students but the Jacksonville community as a whole,” Dawkins added.