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Lenny Curry draws challenger in 2019 mayoral race

While Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has not filed for re-election yet, he already has drawn a challenger for the 2019 mayoral race.

Democrat Doreszell “DC” Cohen actually filed in November.

An alumna of the University of Phoenix and Raines High School, Cohen has yet to raise any money for her bid against the mayor and his high-powered political machine.

We’ve reached out to Cohen to find out her reasons for running, and she pledged to get back to us.

When that happens, this piece will be updated.

Philip Levine among INFLUENCE Magazine’s 2016 Politicians of the Year

They can’t all be winners, but it’s fair to say several top Florida politicians had one heck of a 2016.

In the winter edition of INFLUENCE Magazine, we recognize some of the runners-up for 2016 politician of the year. Sure, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry may have grabbed the top spot, but these Floridians also had an extraordinary year.

They guided their communities through good times and bad; donned windbreakers and faced down storms; and were catapulted to the national stage. Some ousted the establishment, while others sailed through to easy victories. And one even mounted a successful comeback.

A couple of highlights:

— Gov. Rick Scott deserves a hand for the way he handled the multitude of challenges in 2016, from an attack on an Orlando nightclub to two hurricanes — Hurricane Hermine and Hurricane Matthew — barreling toward the state. Florida saw record tourism numbers, despite concerns about Zika and blue-green algae. And the Naples Republican shot on to the national scene for his steadfast support of Republican Donald Trump.

— With all eyes on Orlando this year, Mayor Buddy Dyer stepped up to the plate and represented The City Beautiful — and the state of Florida — with grace. He spearheaded the effort to create the OneOrlando Fund to assist victims of the Pulse nightclub attack, and was a steady voice throughout the tragedy.

— Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine has emerged as a leading voice in discussions about climate change. In recent months, he was name-checked in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece on the issue, featured on National Public Radio talking about the impact rising tides have on his community, and was interviewed by Leonardo DiCaprio for his climate change documentary.

— They’re the next class of congressmen (and congresswomen). The Sunshine State is sending 10 new members to the U.S. House of Representatives this year, marking one of the congressional delegation’s largest turnovers. We’re expecting great things from this group of guys and gals, which includes former state Rep. Matt Gaetz, former Gov. Charlie Crist and political newcomer Stephanie Murphy.

Want to know more about the 2016 Politician of the Year Runners-Up? Check out the 2016 winter edition of INFLUENCE Magazine, available online now.

Grieving mother: ‘Jacksonville’s Westside finally destroyed me’

The job of a big city mayor includes receiving a lot of accolades, but there is the flip side as well.

That flip side: being the person who deals with the grief of a city, and the specific mourning of individuals who seek redress.

One such individual — a mother who outlived her son — emailed Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry this month.

The email title?

“15 year old shot and killed off of Lake Shore.”

Erica Carter, the mother of 15-year-old Johnnie Carter, had a story to tell.

A story of a life gone too soon, extinguished in July, for reasons that seem too trivial to take the life of a young man approaching his prime.

A lot of stories like that abound in Jacksonville.

“My son was shot down and killed 1 block from our house on July 6, 2016. With an eye witness and a social media confession from a suspect, there has been no movement forward in my son’s case,” Mrs. Carter writes.

Mrs. Carter itemized her own struggles, which include a “lower class family, school and community. I have overcome statistics, and pushed passed the cycle of the need of gov. assistance taking care of four kids without help from anyone. I kept my kids in schools at the beaches, and in Clay County raising 4 good honor roll students.”

All was well until it wasn’t.

“Forced back to the Westside after a car accident and my dad having heart surgery. I watched my kids lives drastically change. I watched them get bullied and the schools do nothing. I watched their self esteem and grades drop. I watched as I called on the cops to help me get control of my son’s school attendance in a school he was tormented at while they did nothing. Now I sit back nearly 5 months after my son’s murder, and nothing. Your homicide detectives won’t even return phone calls,” Mrs. Carter writes.

She goes on to observe that 64 percent of murders in Duval are unsolved.

“I’m calculating an unimaginable amount of murderers running free on your streets. I’m a desperate, angry mother and citizen. It’s time something is done about this. Do we need fed assistance? Is there an internal problem in the police force? Please don’t overlook this child. He was smart. He was beautiful, and until the Westside of Jax got a hold of him, he was heading somewhere!”

Mrs. Carter sent subsequent emails, which we will excerpt given the sensitivity of the information.

One excerpt, which didn’t name potential suspects in the murder, was quotable.

“I have been completely unable to work or function properly since my son has died. I am once again forced ask for help for the first time in years that I’ve been eligible for it. Because I worked hard, because I wanted my kids to have an opportunity. Johnnies was stolen from him, and from us. I fighting hard to come back for my remaining 3 children. The Westside of Jacksonville finally destroyed me. I’ve overcome abuse and neglect to self educate myself and work hard to show my kids that independence is important.  This independence that I was so proud of has been stolen from me. Please, please, help me. Help my family,” Carter wrote.

The mayor offered an extended response, which we will also excerpt.

Johnnie’s murder was senseless and horrifying, and I am so sorry for your loss. My heart goes out to you and your family,” Curry wrote, adding that “[b]ringing Johnnie’s killer to justice and making sure everything is done properly are the essential goals in this case.”

“My commitment as mayor is to do everything in my power to reduce crime and violence in our community; and I know that this is a commitment shared by Sheriff Williams. Since taking office, we have worked together to develop strategies and commit resources needed for reducing violent crime in Jacksonville. It is frustrating and heartbreaking to see lives lost to violence in our city. That’s why we are working as hard as we can to ensure that not one more young life is lost to senseless violence. As a community, we can and must do better to prevent tragedies, like Johnnie’s and others,” Curry added.

The mayor closed by saying that “creating a safer Jacksonville is my number one priority. We must solve the problem of violent crime for the benefit of every neighborhood, every family, every person and every child in our city.”

Whether the problem can be solved or not is a huge policy question. There are, as promised during the campaign, more cops on the street, with some new equipment. There is also an emphasis on Jacksonville Journey programs, which could have a long term palliative effect.

What’s clear, though: the problem, if it is to be solved, will be too late for one grieving mother.

A mother contemplating her first Christmas without a son, a young man she brought into this word with such promise and watched leave it in a casket.

Behind the scenes, Robin Lumb guides Jacksonville’s public policy

Compared to other members of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s administration, Policy Director Robin Lumb has a behind the scenes role.

He’s rarely at meetings of the city council – an irony, of sorts, given his term spent among that body.

However, Lumb has been working on the policy side, on issues that largely are under the radar until they are in the news.

FloridaPolitics.com reviewed memos and policy papers from Lumb’s tenure, which started last summer, and we found that his role encompasses many different areas.

Though Lumb is rarely quoted in the press, the policy director exacts influence over a great deal of city decision making, including macro issues – such as logistics around the re-creation of the Neighborhoods Department – and more granular, day to day concerns.

Lumb’s initiatives have a direct effect on administration policy.

Just as importantly, however, they also frame the narrative.

As Lenny Curry and his political team know very well, it is narrative that drives the future.

And even though Lumb doesn’t give quotes, he helps to shape that unfolding story.

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One strong example of such: executing Lenny Curry’s “vision for Jacksonville,” a 2015 campaign document that expresses priorities, such as public safety, economic opportunity, education, neighborhoods, and downtown.

In a September 2016 memo to Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart, Lumb formulated a strategy.

The “next six months,” Lumb noted, need to contain “specific policy recommendations and initiatives to address key features in all policy areas” in the plan.

All of these will “require funding and need to be addressed in the FY 17-18 budget … At a minimum, we need to be seen as having done two or three significant things in each policy area by July 1, 2018.”

“Lenny Curry’s ‘Vision for Jacksonville’ will be the benchmark against which we are measured in the 2019 election,” writes Lumb.

“For obvious reasons,” Lumb adds, “it’s important that we begin to act on it.”

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Actions take many forms, and occur in many areas.

Among those areas: crafting the first letter requesting assistance to HUD Secretary Julian Castro regarding the issues in Eureka Gardens, a few pages that set into motion a series of events, including the compelled sale of Global Ministries Foundation properties and the re-election bid of Sen. Marco Rubio.

Another area where Lumb’s impact has been felt: Hemming Park, a perpetual lightning rod for controversy.

Much of the coverage of Hemming’s issues has revolved around public disorder, mainly predicated around the unpredictable and extra-legal actions of the transient community that congregates there when weather permits.

Lumb’s first concern? The tree canopy.

Lumb noted that a vast majority of the oak trees in the park will need removal sooner than later, as they were planted in 1978, and the typical lifespan for these trees is between 30 and 50 years.

Beyond that, Lumb does address that transient community: “the city does not have a compelling interest in creating conditions in the park conducive to attracting any group of persons looking for a place to ‘hang out’ for extended periods of time … people who otherwise have no reason to be downtown other than to receive services from homeless agencies, food kitchens, and shelters.”

Lumb’s recommendation: that Hemming Park become Hemming Plaza again, and be returned to the custody of the Parks Department.

Friends of Hemming Park or a similar non-profit could be retained for the express purpose of promoting events, managing vendors, et al.

Lumb’s other suggestions: surveillance cameras, replacing the sickest trees, and removing the park’s two fountains.

Many of these suggestions seem to be on their way, with the city taking back control of the park.

One important suggestion that Curry’s critics would want to see: a “well-managed day center for the homeless.”

If the mayor were to roll out a proposal for something along these lines, one could expect the timing to be deliberate: perhaps the March ICARE meeting of local socially-conscious church types would be that time.

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Lumb’s input has also been provided on Jacksonville’s controversial red light camera program, the only advocates of which seem to be in the sheriff’s office or the editorial room of the Florida Times-Union.

Lumb noted that the contract with Redflex is set to expire at the end of 2017, and will require a new RFP for extension.

Lumb also noted that the city boosted its statutorily mandated cap on debt, which was set at $7.8 million, but actually increased to $12.6 million due to these $3,999 cameras.

Lumb concludes that, while the city’s red light camera program is “well-designed” compared to some in the state, it would be incumbent on Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams to push for an extension of the program.

Williams, “the most credible actor in this process,” should “take the lead in any effort to continue and/or expand the program here in Jacksonville.”

Another way to read that: the mayor won’t gain any political capital from becoming the mouthpiece for Redflex, and should leave that task to others.

Beyond red light cameras, Lumb also has advocated the “Shotspotter” technology that will be implemented in the city’s violent crime hot zones to detect the location from which stray gunshots may hail.

“I’ve been an advocate for this technology for some time and nothing I’ve heard or read during my research has convinced me otherwise,” Lumb writes, advocating its deployment over “several square miles” with money from the Jacksonville Journey budget.

Lumb’s recommendation prevailed in the budget, with a pilot program rolling out in 2017.

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Lumb’s commentary is not restricted to enforcement issues.

Consider, for example, his comments on the St. Johns River Accord, an agreement to clean the tributary that ended in July 2016.

Lumb offered a report on the project, which was suffused with his characteristic deadpan presentation.

“It’s arguable whether the accord represented a genuine effort to jumpstart the process of improving water quality or was primarily an attempt to package, for public consumption, a series of water quality projects that COJ and JEA were already legally obligated to carry out,” Lumb wrote.

Lumb suggested that, in continuing the work of the accord, that the mayor’s office should create a “Nitrogen Reduction Working Group” including the city, JEA, the St. Johns River Water Management District, and FDEP, convening the group in early 2017 with a report due by the year’s end.

This would “demonstrate a continued commitment to the health of the St. Johns River,” Lumb wrote.

Among Lumb’s papers: a draft of a press release issued by the mayor’s office opposing water withdrawals from the St. Johns River.

Though the mayor’s position did not prevail, it did achieve an easy political win with locals, especially those more ambivalent about Curry than the GOP base.

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Lumb was also pointman on Mayor Curry’s “official comments” regarding the EPA cleanup plan for the Kerr-McGee Superfund site.

The site, a former fertilizer factory for 85 years, requires massive remediation.

In the letter Lumb crafted outlining Curry’s “official position,” the mayor expressed concern about contamination beyond the property line, into adjacent lots, the St. Johns River, and Deer Creek.

The letter, Lumb notes, is “not inconsistent” with the position of the St. Johns Riverkeeper.

As with the previous river messaging, there is a conscious balancing of policy objectives and political realities.

Often, there is little daylight between the two.

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An interesting example of Lumb attempting to throw a stiff arm to a local columnist: an August draft of a letter, from the mayor, responding to Ron Littlepage’s column opposing the pension reform referendum that passed overwhelmingly at the end of the month.

Much of Lumb’s policy analysis is antiseptic, weighing costs and benefits in a dispassionate way.

The Lumb response to Littlepage had the kind of swagger one might expect from a former county chair of the Republican Party.

“Littlepage announced … that he was finally getting off the fence to vote against the ‘Yes for Jacksonville’ plan to permanently fix our pension problem,” Lumb wrote.

“It’s just too bad he got off on the wrong side of the fence,” Lumb quipped.

Lumb asserts that the veteran columnist has “problems with … math” and understanding of the legislation behind the referendum, as he defended the referendum in light of “pension costs [having] eaten nearly one-third of the city’s annual budget.”

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Robin Lumb doesn’t seek out the press. And he doesn’t get the publicity for his role that he theoretically could.

But what is clear: Lumb sees a long-term vision for the administration.

And in his niche, he is helping to bring that vision to reality.

Almost two years ago, Lumb used his role as Duval GOP chair to help guide the party’s executive committee toward an endorsement of Lenny Curry in the mayoral race.

Now, with Curry in office, Lumb has a quieter role, but a role every bit as instrumental to the administration’s success, both in terms of first-term policy and the seemingly inevitable re-election campaign.

Reading the tea leaves of the Lenny Curry-Alvin Brown meeting

Friday saw an official meeting between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and former Mayor Alvin Brown.

And with that meeting, a message to #jaxpol: the bitterness of the 2015 election was finally consigned to memory.

The picture above: worth a thousand words. Acrimony expunged, replaced by bonhomie.

The campaign for Jacksonville mayor was the most expensive local campaign in history. And that money was spent, especially on the GOP side, with a specific intent.

That purpose: to undermine what was perceived to be soft support for Alvin Brown, via a “death by 1,000 cuts” approach that saw Brown and his team on the defensive in every news cycle.

Whether Brown was missing the budget vote in city council for a Bill Cosby fundraiser, or his campaign was touting a convicted murderer as a “job creator and business leader,” Brown was on the defensive as a candidate from the fall of 2014 straight through to the 2015 election.

And when he did get it going in earnest early in 2015, there were glitches.

Brown wasn’t prepared to take fire, day after day, from Curry and Bill Bishop before the March election.

Bishop lacked real money to run the campaign, yet his rapport with local print media gave him earned media, in which he made the case that Alvin Brown didn’t merit four more years. And even when Bishop endorsed Brown after the race became a two-man battle, the endorsement and subsequent campaigning with Brown didn’t undo the damage done before the March “First Election” vote.

Curry, meanwhile, had all the money he could need, along with a political team that simply did not lose news cycles.

However, 2015’s epilogue has already been written. The meeting between Curry and Brown represents a prologue, for 2017 and beyond.

Notable: Brown reached out to Curry to schedule the meeting.

There are a number of plausible interpretations for the timing.

One such interpretation: Brown wanted to give Curry time to settle into office.

With Curry’s first term a third of the way over, he definitely should be settled in at this point.

Another such interpretation: with Brown not ending up in a Hillary Clinton administration, as was expected until the votes were counted Election Night, the former mayor had to commit to a back up plan.

And that back up plan: becoming a part of the Jacksonville scene again, and the brotherhood of former mayors.

From there, if history is a guide, options abound.

Consider the last one-term mayor in Jacksonville: Brown’s fellow Democrat, Tommy Hazouri.

Hazouri, like Brown, had a term with some tangible accomplishments.

However, Hazouri also had some issues.

The book on Hazouri was that his administration had the city’s books in “financial disarray.” That his team had issues with messaging through the media.

Those issues parallel those of Alvin Brown.

Curry was able to message during his campaign on getting the books in order, just as Ed Austin had against Tommy Hazouri. And there were times in Brown’s tenure where the message the administration wanted to get out through the press didn’t quite get out.

And all of that is the past now.

When Brown set up a meeting with Lenny Curry, it represented a radical shift from his absence from the public eye since June 2015.

Brown, even as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, mostly avoided the Jacksonville market in the fall.

Brown was deployed on mayoral bus tours through places like Ohio, and other parts of Florida, as if a conscious decision was made not to parlay on his name value locally.

Brown did attend a November rally in Northeast Florida, where President Obama spoke on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

However, Brown didn’t speak at the event. And there was some speculation as to whether or not Brown even stayed for the entirety of the Obama speech.

Alvin Brown’s path to D.C., as a Clinton appointee, is being foreclosed even as this is typed, as Donald Trump‘s electoral votes are counted.

However, Brown’s future itself is not foreclosed.

As a mayor who lost a very close election 17 months ago, Brown may not have present-tense political capital, but it is very easy to imagine how a reinvented Alvin Brown could become a factor locally in 2017.

Congressman-elect Al Lawson won’t be in Tallahassee forever. And it is entirely possible that Lawson could face a Jacksonville challenge in 2018.

Could that be Alvin Brown?

Back in our “five people to watch in 2016” piece, we tabbed Brown as someone to watch relative to the CD 5 seat.

We haven’t written the 2017 version of the list yet.

Odds are very good that Alvin Brown will be on it again, however.

Even if Brown chooses not to run for Congress, there is plenty to keep him busy locally.

An at large city council seat will be open in 2019, and Brown theoretically could run against Bill Bishop, who has already committed to run in the race to replace John Crescimbeni, the current occupant.

If that were to happen, it would be interesting to see how Curry and his political machine might react, as there was no love lost between the two Republicans when Bishop endorsed Brown.

And other openings could manifest in Jacksonville as well.

In other words, Alvin Brown will have a second act in the limelight.

The only question now is which stage he will pick.

Lenny Curry demands audit of Jacksonville Children’s Commission

It’s been a rough stretch for the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, and the week before Christmas brought even more coal for its stocking.

This month had already seen the Jacksonville City Council’s Finance Committee taking JCC CEO Jon Heymann to task for an unusual amount of “emergency” appropriations bills in recent years, and keeping the council in the dark as to shifts in or need for additional programming resources.

And that was followed last week by revelations at a JCC meeting that over half a million dollars of contract dollars appropriated to JCC were unspent.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, as of Monday, had seen enough, and demanded a third-party audit of the JCC in an email related to that fund balance.

“Given finite resources, my public safety priorities and my specific focus on providing opportunities for kids, it is critical that JCC be aligned w/ those priorities AND demonstrate  measurable, positive results for the young people served,” Curry wrote.

JCC Board Chair Matt Kane said, per the Florida Times-Union, that “we should be ecstatic about this.”

Time will tell if ecstasy is the dominant emotion, however.

Lenny Curry is INFLUENCE Magazine’s Florida Politician of the Year for 2016

It’s fair to say Lenny Curry had one heck of the year. He did everything from addressing the public pension funding shortfall to bracing his community for a 100-year storm. And now the 46-year-old Jacksonville mayor can add one more thing to his list of 2016 accomplishments: INFLUENCE Magazine’s 2016 Politician of the Year.

The biggest issue in Jacksonville in recent years has been the pension shortfall, something that piqued Curry’s interest early on. Mayors had come and gone, unable to solve the problem. But the Curry administration found a fix: an unprecedented referendum extending a half-cent infrastructure tax past its 2030 sunset, creating a stable funding source for the obligation.

“It intrigued me,” he said. “There was great and significant political risk pursuing this in the first term, specifically within the first year, but if you want to do big things, you’ve got to play big ball.

He did his homework and decided to move forward, saying he “wasn’t going to let it sit for four years.” The decision to move forward was the right one; voters overwhelmingly approved the measure earlier this year.

But that wasn’t his only challenge in 2016. As Hurricane Matthew barreled toward Florida, Curry was one of dozens of elected officials up and down the state’s east coast urging their residents to stay out of harm’s way. The community was spared a direct hit, but the impact from the storm was severe.

Curry said he was “completely and totally at comfort and at ease in handling the decision making, the preparation, and the communication” before, during and after the storm. And he looked to Gov. Rick Scott, a long-time friend and political ally, for advice and encouragement.

With 2016 in the rear view mirror, Curry is now looking toward the future. That means focusing on downtown revitalization efforts and discussions about social legislation.

Want to know more about our 2016 Politician of the Year? Check out AG Gancarski‘s profile of Curry in the 2016 winter edition of INFLUENCE Magazine, available online now.

LISC unveils ambitious redevelopment plan for Jacksonville’s Eastside

Jacksonville’s Eastside faces challenges on par with any area in Jacksonville.

One census tract has 51.2 percent of its residents below the poverty line, an 18 percent unemployment rate, and a $23,158 median household income.

Another nearby tract is even worse.

65.3 percent of residents fall below the poverty line, and 60.3 percent are unemployed. Median household income is below $11,000. Housing prices in these tracts are around $65K on average.

Health outcomes in the Eastside are just as bad.

The Eastside is part of Health Zone 1, the worst in the city, where half of all children live in poverty. Two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Less than a sixth of the population has post-secondary education.

And as one would expect, violent crime is also an issue. From the police shooting of Vernell Bing, Jr. to the drive by shooting of toddler Aiden McClendon, the Eastside is wracked with outcomes closer to the Third World than the First World.

This, despite city money going into EverBank Field, the Jacksonville Veterans’ Memorial Arena, and the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

These projects, expected to bring economic benefit to the neighborhoods that house them, have yet to.

Despite the Eastside’s seemingly perennial struggles, there may be hope for a turnaround in the next few years, if an ambitious redevelopment plan gets traction and buy-in from civic leaders.

LISC Jacksonville – the Local Initiatives Support Corporation – presented the mayor’s office with as “Eastside Initiative” plan on Thursday.

Billed by Executive Director Janet Owens as a “redevelopment strategy that incorporates the rich heritage and culture of this neighborhood,” Owens expects detailed discussions with senior staff for Mayor Lenny Curry in the coming weeks.

The Eastside Initiative has five areas of focus: the Business Association/District; coordinated rehabilitation and infill development; “strategic site acquisitions”; multi-family development; and jobs/workforce development.

The plan currently calls for 285 multi-family rental units and “36,000 square feet of commercial/training space for workforce development,” via a training/education center on Albert Street.

The expectation: that the plan would “catalyze” additional housing projects “leading to the preservation and/or creation of 700-800 additional units of housing.”

All of this, however, is contingent on the city “acquiring, assembling, and transferring strategic parcels” in the area on and around A. Philip Randolph Blvd.

Development would impact both Springfield and the Eastside both.

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Broadly speaking, the plan has three initial development phases.

The first: redevelopment of the lower part of A. Philip Randolph Blvd. This includes “large scale, mixed income multi-family development” and rehabilitation and redevelopment of vacant lots and extant housing stock.

The northern part of A. Philip Randolph is next, including revitalization of existing green space, adaptive reuse of a vacant warehouse site, and single-family and multi-family infill.

From there, more in-fill housing on arterial streets would follow.

The first part of 2016 would be devoted to site assessment and environmental testing, project design, and community engagement.

If all goes as planned, total capital investment in the project would reach $21.705 million by the end of 2020.

To put this number in perspective, the city plans to invest $6.8 million for a Lower Eastside drainage project, remedying a long-term infrastructural problem.

And the city’s big ask this legislative session: $50 million to remove the Hart Bridge offramps by the stadium, routing traffic instead onto the underutilized Bay Street to service the sports complex and expected development at Metropolitan Park and the Shipyards.

If all these plans come together, the Eastside may look different when Lenny Curry leaves office than when he took control of City Hall’s fourth floor.

Alvin Brown, Lenny Curry meet, putting election behind them

For the first time since the acrimonious election of 2015, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and his predecessor, Alvin Brown, met in the mayor’s suite.

Curry and Brown, in a brief appearance in the lobby of the mayor’s office, smiled for the camera, with Curry saying they were “just catching up.”

Curry’s spokeswoman, Marsha Oliver, noted that “Mr. Brown requested the meeting, and the mayor was happy to [meet]. Former Mayor Brown was visiting with folks and meeting with new staff.”

Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart noted that Brown was interested in posing for the ceremonial painting that all former mayors get; currently, a photograph of Brown hangs in the mayor’s suite, in lieu of the picture.

Stewart noted that Brown “wanted to give the new mayor breathing room” before meeting Curry in the mayor’s suite.

The former mayor and the current one interacted Thursday at a groundbreaking event at Jacksonville University, from where Brown was an alumnus.

“All of the former mayors have good experience to draw from,” Stewart said, though there are no definite plans for Brown to collaborate with the Curry Administration on anything yet.

We are in the mayor’s office and will update this piece if Brown or Curry wish to offer further comment.

What is clear, though: the acrimony of the campaign is a memory, as Brown’s booming laugh was audible in the lobby of the mayor’s office, coming from behind the walls of the inner sanctum.

JSO ‘violence reduction strategy’ working in hot zones, but not everywhere

On Thursday, Patrol and Enforcement Director Michelle Cook of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, presented a “good news/bad news” scenario.

As she told the Jacksonville Journey Oversight Committee, the good news is that the JSO “violence reduction strategy” is working in some of the city’s more crime-plagued areas.

The bad news: violent crime is spiking elsewhere in the city.

Cook, a new ex officio member of the board along with Public Defender-elect Charles Cofer, noted there is a “slight uptick” in violent crime citywide, based on homicide, abduction, rape, battery, home invasion, and other robberies and batteries, but not in areas where the Journey is focusing its resources.

The slight uptick: 1.2 percent, with variance from one part of the city to another.

Violent crime in Zone 1, which includes Downtown and Springfield, is down 9 percent year over year; on the Westside, down 4 percent; on the Northside, down 3 percent.

But in Arlington and the core areas of the Southside, it is up 9 percent. In the Baymeadows/Mandarin area, violent crime is up 7.5 percent. And in the Trout River area, violent crime is up 8 percent.

“The uptick in Arlington,” Cook said, could include “displacement” or released criminals who are back in the game, an “individual or two or three who get out there and commit a crime spree,” such as “juveniles or young adults” practicing a volume strategy.

“This tells me we need to look at Arlington more closely,” JJOC Chairman W.C. Gentry said, rather than the “west side of the River.”

Cook noted that the JSO focuses on ten neighborhoods, in terms of reduction of “non-domestic violence related shootings,” and is getting results in those neighborhoods, primarily located in the Urban Core and Northwest Jacksonville.

Cook asserted that “if you’re not engaged in criminal activity, your chances of being shot are pretty low.”

She added that given the abatement efforts in some areas, the “bad guys” may move operations into other areas.

The violence reduction efforts include “getting down deep in neighborhoods” and “engaging” the worst miscreants.

“It’s pretty intensive. It does take a lot of manpower,” Cook said, describing neighborhood walks and Sheriff’s Watch meetings as part of the strategy.

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Discussion included modes of intervention (a key part of the Journey mission), with Charles Cofer wanting to know what officers were doing with at-risk youth that they apprehended.

The options, said Cook, are limited.

“The officer’s out there because they want to help. We tend to find people at their very worst,” Cook said.

Gentry urged Cofer, in his capacity as the public defender, to look at recidivist defendants and when they got into the system.

“Knowing that data,” said Gentry, “would give us a lot of information where we might be doing a better job of interdicting that process.”

Jacksonville’s “diversionary programs,” said Gentry, have lagged behind the rest of the state, and he would like some “local data.”

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