The News Service of Florida reported Monday about some apparent inconsistencies in a list of supporters recently rolled out by Attorney General hopeful Jay Fant.
It seems that not all of those listed as supporters actually support Fant, a Jacksonville Republican.
Carolyn Otworth, the Clay County chair of the Trump Club, told NSF’s Dara Kam her name was included on the list without her approval.
“I was just shocked that anyone would say I endorsed them when I did not,” Otworth said.
Kam points out that “Florida law makes it a crime for ‘any candidate or person on behalf of a candidate to represent that any person or organization supports such candidate unless the person or organization so represented has given specific approval in writing to the candidate to make such representation’.”
Not a good look for an AG candidate, especially one running as a law-and-order Republican.
And unfortunately for Fant, this kind of screw-up has happened before.
In 2014, when Fant was running for the House District 15 seat he is now ready to leave, Fant claimed endorsements he didn’t actually have from “the NRA and the Florida Right to Life.”
In the endorsement war, Fant is losing “bigly,” (to quote Donald Trump).
Ashley Moody has collected myriad endorsements from county sheriffs thus far; Rep. Frank White, meanwhile, has been endorsed by two prominent Republicans in Fant’s home base: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and U.S. Rep. John Rutherford.
Fant has gotten support from fellow members of the Florida House.
So far, Fant has collected over a dozen House endorsements — a combination of locals, such as Paul Renner, Bobby Payne, Clay Yarborough and Jason Fischer, and other colleagues, such as Mike Miller.
The Fant campaign commented on Tuesday, sending us a news release that indicates Fant support from a “Trump coalition.”
Joe Gruters, co-chair of the Florida Trump campaign, said, “Ever since the first release last week, my fellow Trump patriots have been calling me asking how to get involved with Fant campaign because they see his efforts to shake up the status quo and get things done.”
On Friday, Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel motioned to dismiss a lawsuit from Sleiman Enterprises, the owners of the beleaguered Jacksonville Landing.
In November, Sleiman filed a lawsuit against the city; as WJCTreported, various breaches of contract made it impossible — per the Sleiman narrative — to run the thirty-year-old riverfront mall.
Friday brought the city’s response in “Jacksonville Landing Investment, LLC v. City of Jacksonville.”
The city asserted that the JLI filing was a “shotgun pleading,” replete with assertions that don’t jibe with the facts.
Among the assertions:
The city noted that in mid-October it gave JLI 30 days to remedy the “depressing state of the Landing” to remedy what the city asserted was a breach of contract. Instead, the ownership group launched a “media blitz” pushing a complaint: “little more than a laundry list of stale grievances, false and incomplete assertions, and gratuitous and self-serving statements.”
That complaint, asserts the city, should be dismissed, as the “relationship between the City and JLI is that of a landlord and tenant” and that certain claims — such as the city allegedly being required to provide parking and security — aren’t borne out by the facts.
The 17-page filing makes the case, repeatedly, that the JLI position isn’t borne out with specifics, including specific causes of action.
And provides another piece of evidence that the gap between the city and the current owners and operators of the Landing is perhaps beyond bridging.
The Jacksonville City Council approved six members of the Kids Hope Alliance board on Tuesday, including Joe Peppers.
Peppers, in fact, was approved unanimously — but by no means does that mean his nomination process went smoothly, specifically with regard to one particular Councilman: Garrett Dennis.
In fact, the process was characterized in an email by Jessica Laird — a liaison from the mayor’s office who sat in on the meeting between Peppers and Dennis — as one in which Dennis showed “aggression” to her during a Nov. 20 meeting between Laird, Dennis, and the nominee, worrying her that there may be “blowback” against Peppers’ nomination.
Peppers, for his part, emailed Laird on the evening of Nov. 20, describing Dennis’ behavior as “bullying.”
Councilman Dennis, meanwhile, had his own version of events — saying that the mayor’s office’s involvement in the process was unusual and raised questions about the “independence” of the nominees.
Dennis also noted that he felt the mayor was trying to intimidate him with follow-up communications, including a phone call and an invitation to an in-person discussion of the matter.
A former chair of the rules committee, Dennis met with what he estimates to be hundreds of nominees, and in all that time he had “never had the mayor’s office babysitting nominees.”
Dennis did not want Laird in the meeting, though he maintains that he was “not aggressive to her.”
“I don’t usually let people sit there,” Dennis said, noting that Laird was attempting to defend Curry.
“If I allow you to speak,” Dennis said he said to Laird, “it will be your last time. I told her to sit and listen, but it was not her place to defend the mayor.”
Dennis, when asked, said his attitude had nothing to do with Laird being female, noting that a meeting between him, Ali Korman Shelton of the mayor’s office, and another nominee reflected no such issues.
Curry and Dennis soon enough had words, Dennis related.
A tense elevator ride, in which Curry was “not a happy camper,” gave way to a very “abrasive” phone call from Curry, which Dennis described as confrontational.
Dennis claims Curry invited him to his office for a follow-up conversation, but Dennis did not walk over.
Dennis also claims that Peppers talked to him on Nov. 21, and said that “the mayor shouldn’t have sent a cub into the lion’s den.”
Peppers confirmed via email that the meeting was tense: “for various reasons, most of which I am not privy. From my perspective, we have resolved the issue and I look forward to working with CM Dennis and Ms. Laird going forward.”
“My hope is that all parties show each other grace as we move forward and we focus on making KHA great for the children of Jacksonville,” Peppers added.
The mayor’s office — via Spokeswoman Marsha Oliver — offered a statement Friday morning.
Their take: the email speaks for itself.
“The email speaks for itself as it relates to whose actions were described as ‘bullying.’ It is not a practice of the mayor or his administration to discuss one-on-one interactions with council members. Mayor Curry did, in fact, contact Council member Dennis to request a meeting,” Oliver wrote Friday morning.
“Mayor Curry is committed to ensuring that all City of Jacksonville employees thrive in a workplace where they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. As for the KHA board appointments,” Oliver added, “we are delighted that Board member Peppers and the other nominees received overwhelming support for the experiences and contributions they will bring in serving Jacksonville’s children.”
Tensions between the Curry administration and Councilman Dennis have surfaced before, of course, both in the Kids Hope Alliance legislative process and the budget process that preceded this.
But this opens up a new chapter, a new level of tension — and the feeling among many close to the mayor’s office was that Dennis crossed a line, one with particular provenance in this era when men intimidating women in the workplace has become an issue of unprecedented visibility and urgency to resolve.
The real work began soon after Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry took office. There was the “heavy lift” in Tallahassee, one that required Curry and allies to make the sale to the Senate and the House.
From there, a referendum in 2016 — passed with 65 percent of the vote.
After that, the unions had to agree to terms — that was done, more or less, before winter 2017 ended.
Then, council approval — a fait accompli … after all, it wasn’t like those deals were going to be sent back to the table.
As CFO Mike Weinstein said, the savings add up to “$1.4B less out of the general fund over the next 15 years,” and “without that revenue” from the half-cent sales tax, the city would have “difficulty matching revenue to expenses.”
So that’s the reality.
Worth watching: how the city handles the out years, as savings from the pension reform are consumed by workforce raises.
Corrine Brown goes down
Former Rep. Brown had the worst year of her life. She was convicted on 18 counts related to the One Door for Education scheme. And then she received five years in prison — though she is fighting that sentence.
The sentencing essentially gave voice to the jury’s verdict, with Judge Timothy Corrigan noting that Brown’s comments were “reprehensible” at times, such as when she said the Pulse massacre happened because the FBI was too busy investigating her.
Brown got a sentence that reflected a spirit of “general deterrence,” a sentence “in the mainstream” of public corruption cases in recent years. In other words, the judge did not go easy on her.
“A sentence of probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts would not be sufficient,” Corrigan said.
“The public had a right to expect,” Judge Corrigan said, that Brown would not “abuse public trust and responsibility … this was a crime borne of entitlement and greed … bad business.”
We shall see where the appeal leads, but the odds are good Brown will be in orange in a matter of weeks.
Audrey Gibson ascendant
In November, State Sen. Gibson won a narrow 8-7 vote of Senate Democrats to become Senate Democratic Leader Designate for the 2018-2020 legislative term.
Gibson will succeed current Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II when his term ends next November.
“I look forward to working with Caucus members on their priorities and ensuring their voices are heard on legislation impacting all Floridians. I am also excited about bringing in new Democrat Senators to the Florida Senate to create a legislative balance in the Chamber,” said Gibson.
Gibson, meanwhile, may face a primary challenge from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown.
We asked Brown what the case would be for running against a caucus leader, assuming Gibson doesn’t run against Lawson. And how he would match her fundraising and endorsements.
“All actions will be taken under consideration,” Brown said.
Time will tell if this challenge happens.
Rob Bradley helms appropriations
November also saw state Sen. Bradley move into the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“I’m just focused on getting the job done with as little drama as possible. There’s been enough drama in politics lately. It’s time to just roll up our sleeves and get the job done,” Bradley said, noting that he’s not new to the appropriations game.
“I’ve spent a lot of my Senate career working in the Appropriations arena,” Bradley noted, “having chaired three different budget subcommittees.”
Bradley is already reaping specific benefits of his role; his political committee raised $124,000 in November — a record high for him.
As well, the region is poised to reap benefits this session, via priority environmental bills headed to Appropriations.
SB 204 approves spending at least $75 million a year on springs projects and $50 million annually on projects related to the restoration of the St. Johns River and its tributaries, as well as the Keystone Heights Lake Region.
Along with Sens. Bradley and Gibson, Northeast Florida has hope in the House in the form of state Rep. Renner.
For the Palm Coast Republican, the path to winning June’s 2022 Florida House Speaker election in Orlando — with 16 votes in the first round — was not a sure thing.
But it’s a good thing.
State Rep. Clay Yarborough, the former Jacksonville City Council President who was one of those 16 Renner votes, noted that the outcome lined up with his count.
Yarborough saw “tremendous positives” for the region and the city both — positives that will be seen before 2022, as in the years leading up to Renner’s Speakership, he will be in “conversations with leadership,” and his “place at the table” will help him advocate for regional priorities.
The region, Yarborough said, can be “lining stuff up” that takes years to realize — a generational opportunity for Northeast Florida.
Considering state Sen. Travis Hutson — whose territory overlaps with part of Renner’s House district — is also in the leadership discussion, the region may be positioned to score wins, necessary as legacy costs and infrastructure burdens pile up.
HRO, at last
Valentine’s Day was especially happy for Jacksonville’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, for that was the day the Jacksonville City Council passed the Human Rights Ordinance.
The expansion would add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the list of protected categories under the ordinance, which ensures that people aren’t discriminated against in the workplace, the housing market, or public accommodations (restrooms, locker rooms, and so on).
Curry returned the bill to the city council without his signature; the bill is now law.
“As your Mayor, I promised to convene community conversations about discrimination. At the conclusion of those conversations, I exercised an executive action to implement a clear policy for City of Jacksonville employees and contractors. I said then and continue to believe additional legislation was unnecessary. But this evening, a supermajority of the City Council decided otherwise. This supermajority, representatives of the people from both parties and every corner of the city, made their will clear,” Curry said in a statement.
Despite all the drama leading up to it, there have been just two claims — housing discrimination — made since it passed.
There is, meanwhile, a movement toward a citizen referendum to repeal it. Time will tell if that goes anywhere.
There was a certain irony in the unanimous vote, given the fractiousness of the Finance Committee during August budget hearings — when members said they felt “targeted” by a poll from Sheriff Mike Williams’ political committee that said people wanted more cops on the street.
Curry built a political machine to get into office, and he did so even with many GOP officeholders backing his Democratic opponent’s re-election effort.
In the office are some of the best operators working the room — and he has become increasingly adept at giving Council members photo opportunities, the kind that allows them to take credit for something tangible happening in their districts.
And it is by no means clear that he will even face a challenge in 2019 — not bad, especially given the Democratic registration advantage in Dirty Duval.
Kids Hope, not Kids Hype
Jacksonville Children’s programs were reformed this year, with the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission being rolled up into a new board — Kids Hope Alliance.
The City Council debate was fractious, of course, with objections from Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis to the pace of pushing the legislation through and the need for a new organization at all.
Six of the seven board picks sailed through Council this week, with Brosche and Dennis voting against one who violated the in-county residency requirement that was part of the ordinance.
However, look for Brosche to be a factor going forward — she is slated to become the Council liaison to the board.
Brosche vs. Curry
The most interesting power play of the year has been the battle between Council President Brosche and Mayor Curry.
Recall that Brosche beat administration ally, John Crescimbeni, in a pitched battle for the presidency in the spring.
Much of the noise from Crescimbeni supporters came back to the Council veteran being more “ready to lead” than third-year member Brosche, given his experience on the Council and in the VP role.
One interesting wrinkle in the race: what seemed to be a certain commonality among many of Crescimbeni’s supporters — primarily older, white males.
Did issues of youth, gender, and other demographic demarcations sway their positions?
“I certainly picked up on what you said … I had not picked up on it until you pointed it out,” Brosche added. “You pointed it out well in terms of the picture that was made. I didn’t necessarily reach that conclusion … at the outset.”
Brosche and Curry have clashed, both on her insufficiently optimistic read on pension reform, and her skepticism on the Kids Hope Alliance.
Expect that friction to be constant as long as both are in City Hall.
JAXPORT Puerto Rico relief update
A new message from JAXPORT Executive Vice President Roy Schleicher gives a December update on Puerto Rico relief efforts.
Thanks to the generous Northeast Florida donors, Schleicher says JAXPORT relief partners distributed 500,000 pounds of goods to more than 20 towns and municipalities throughout the island territory devastated by Hurricane Maria.
With roads and bridges still washed out or in disrepair, making moving large trucks difficult, many of these goods needed to be moved inland by small trucks and cars, going directly to those in need.
Donations also helped with transportation costs to send 13 full-sized shipping containers full of basics such as food, water, batteries and hygiene items from Jacksonville to San Juan. The JAXPORT shipment was over and above those from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government agencies, and did not include other relief containers organized and transported by groups outside of the JAXPORT-related network.
Residents of Northeast Florida and other areas gathered supplies in the containers, which were then sent to JAXPORT for shipment to Puerto Rico. All the supplies collected traveled to Puerto Rico via the Port of Jacksonville, the No. 1 commercial trade partner with the island.
Going forward, JAXPORT has begun discussions on the best way to continue Puerto Rican hurricane relief during the next stages of their recovery, seeing a need for support remains as the island rebuilds.
Again, Schleicher gives thanks for the donations, which put Jacksonville’s “unrivaled transportation and logistics know-how to work, quickly and efficiently,” to provide emergency aid when it was needed most.
“Along with my heartfelt thanks to all of you,” he says “I would like to specifically send my deep appreciation to [Haskell Co. CEO] Steve Halverson, who did not hesitate for a moment when asked if he could organize help for those suffering after the hurricane … Aqua Gulf Transport, Inc., Todos con Puerto Rico, TOTE Maritime and Trailer Bridge worked together to deliver hurricane relief supplies to Comerio, Puerto Rico. The town’s Mayor, Josian Santiago, and his wife received the container.”
Political preview Jacksonville: Media’s view of the 2018 Session
Members of the Jacksonville and Capitol Press Corps will offer a special preview of the upcoming 2018 Florida Legislative Session hosted by the Fiorentino Group, Tucker/Hall, and Rogers Towers.
Scheduled Friday, January 5 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. at The River Club, 1 Independent Dr., the exclusive, invitation-only luncheon will provide an opportunity to hear top Florida political journalists on what they see on the legislative horizon, with a chance for the audience to ‘turn the table’ and ask questions.
Panelists include Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times; Mike Clark of the Florida Times-Union; Matt Dixon of POLITICO; our own A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics and Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.
Attendees will join Jacksonville business and community leaders for a complimentary lunch and insightful preview of the upcoming Legislative Session. Complimentary parking is available. Registration is at events.r20.constantcontact.com.
To close, some good news …
The Jacksonville Jaguars are a] guaranteed a winning season and b] are playoff bound.
As someone who covered the team on game day for close to a decade of futility, it’s incredible to see one of the best defenses ever assembled in teal and black.
And Blake Bortles — who has taken his share of static — conquered the learning curve and has excelled, even with his top two wideouts on the shelf.
And Leonard Fournette — a little bit Jerome Bettis, a little bit Todd Gurley. The kind of sledgehammer that breaks opposing defenses’ wills.
This year, for the first time in too long, the Jaguars matter in December. And beyond.
To quote the great Jackie Gleason … “How sweet it is!”
On Thursday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced the chairman of the board for the Kids Hope Alliance will be Kevin Gay.
Gay, founder and CEO of Operation New Hope-Ready4Work (an organization that helps ex-offenders re-acclimate to society), will helm a board that includes Rebekah Davis, Nat Glover, Joe Peppers, Tyra Tutor and Dr. Marvin Wells.
All six were confirmed Tuesday by Council. One more slot is left to be filled on the board.
The Kids Hope Alliance is preparing to handle oversight over Jacksonville’s $35 million portfolio of children’s programs, taking over from the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and Jacksonville Journey.
“Kevin is an outstanding leader and advocate in our community,” said Mayor Curry. “He has dedicated his life to ensuring that our most vulnerable citizens have the tools, resources and skills they need to be productive in our community. He will be a wonderful champion of hope for our children and our city. “
Like many cities, Jacksonville is making a pitch for Amazon’s HQ2. The value add locally per a video from Burdette Ketchum: land on the old Shipyards site downtown.
The video, which was first reported by Jenna Bourne of Action News Jax, begins with sprightly acoustic guitars leading into a backing track reminiscent of the Postal Service circa 2003.
It touts Jacksonville as “Amazon-centric,” with a “one-of-a-kind urban core campus and transit,” and an “inspired year-round coastal lifestyle.”
The video also touts Jacksonville’s “leading educational institutions and regional partnerships,” and Jacksonville itself as an “emerging city inviting your partnership and social impact.”
“Just like you, we’re customer-centric. So our proposal is built around your team members,” asserts a millennial-male voiceover in a crisp tone devoid of a traditional Jacksonville accent.
“Our job will be to attract them here, inspire them, and keep them productive. Like everyone in Jacksonville, they’ll love living here,” the voiceover adds.
And, asserts the voiceover, they’ll love working here: on a “200 acre live, work, and play campus at the heart of our waterfront city, in our urban core.”
This relationship, the video continues, is one that no other city can offer. It will allow Amazon to “impact the culture and the social responsibility of our city.”
“Shovel-ready land nestled between our established office district and our NFL stadium and amphitheater will be conveyed to Amazon at no cost,” the video continues. “We will shape it together as we grow.”
The video also promises “innovative public transportation” for “Amazonians,” allowing the campus and the city’s “upstart downtown” to grow in tandem.
As well, the video pitch promises “aggressive” pursuit of the project, with the most “competitive costs in Florida.”
Mayor Lenny Curry offered a statement: “I greatly appreciate and value the work City staff and the Chamber have led on the development of this proposal. Proposals are a first step that communicate our genuine interest, commitment, and vision for a project.”
“This Amazon project, like any other project we pursue, will be negotiated against a scorecard to ensure it provides a return to taxpayers and contributes to job growth and economic development. We will continue to work hard on this deal that would result in over 50,000 jobs for Jacksonville,” Curry added.
After winning her election for chair of the Duval County Democrats earlier this week, Lisa King issued a statement that read more like a call to arms.
“The stakes have never been higher for our country. The ideals that we hold so dear seem to be under attack every day. While we are currently the minority in the federal and state government, there are proportionally more registered Democrats than Republicans. It is our duty as an organized party to not only engage our voters,” King wrote, “but to also fight for their rights and well being every step of the way.”
“We will not sit back and watch the rights of our citizens be challenged at every turn. We can and will bring the fight for human rights, health care, equality, and justice to the front steps of our Republican Legislators. We will be a force to be reckoned with on the public stage where these battles are fought. We will exude strength and grace – fighting for our values and pushing back against any individual or group who decides to challenge them. We are Democrats and we are ready to fight for American values,” King added.
Duval Democrats performed well for Hillary Clinton in 2016. She got more votes in Jacksonville than Donald Trump. King was instrumental in that effort as the regional lead for the Clinton campaign.
Next year is bearing down on Duval Democrats, and they are fielding interesting candidates, such as Tracye Polson in House District 15 (where one-half of the political team for the likely Republican nominee, Wyman Duggan, is headed to City Hall to work as Lenny Curry‘s chief of staff).
Polson, of course, is aggressively campaigning — canvassing every weekend, and offering social media commentary on news stories. As of this moment, she is the best chance Northeast Florida Democrats have to flip a seat.
Still, there are holes in the field. Mayor Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams have no 2019 ballot competition. State Reps. Cord Byrd and Jason Fischer lack even nominal opposition in next year’s general election. Are Dems going to concede these opportunities?
Time will tell on that.
“I can tell you that we are aggressively organizing so as to turn out Dems and dem leaning NPAs in every precinct in this County. I’ve talked to most of our statewide candidates and they all know how well we did for HRC in 2016 so I expect we’ll see all of them here. We have a lot of work to do but we’ve never been more unified and committed to doing it,” King asserted.
King understands better than many how partisanship works.
Despite raising more money and getting more endorsements than Al Ferraro in her 2015 race for Jacksonville City Council, King was unable to beat him.
Her polling had her up two weeks before the election; however, King noted that the “top down partisan messaging from either team,” which drove party identification voting as the Lenny Curry team wanted.
In her hyper-Republican Council district, King was washed out.
Curry, once in place, looked to revamp the city’s boards and commissions — and in his sights was the Planning Commission.
King, who was by then chair, and fellow Democrat Joey McKinnon were targeted for removal, and by a 13-5 City Council vote, they were yanked.
The vote was especially notable because many Democrats, such as Garrett Dennis, Katrina Brown and Reggie Gaffney, went against King.
King asserted then that “nothing teaches you who your friends are quicker than who is on your side when they have something to lose.” [Worth noting: since that 2015 vote, Dennis may have learned the same lesson at the hands of Council].
King was said to have been too partisan for the comfort of Curry and his inner circle.
Now, in what could be construed as an irony, she takes the helm of the local party in the same week that Mayor Curry’s chief political strategist, Brian Hughes, became chief of staff (effective Jan. 2).
For King, that hire is an example of “blurred lines” between politics and policy in the administration.
“Mayor Curry has stated that Hughes has played a significant role in key issues of his administration such as pension reform and the [Kids Hope Alliance]. He played that role while on the payroll of the Mayor’s PAC. Have open government norms been violated?”
“This is a disturbing question that taxpayers have a right to have clarified. I served on the Planning Commission as a volunteer from 2012-2015. Before even my first meeting,” King said, “Jason Gabriel of the General Counsel’s Office briefed me on the requirements of the Sunshine Law and continued to remind me and my colleagues of its requirements. Our leaders owe us real transparency.”
Will the Democratic Party finally serve as a bulwark against what King and other Dems see as the Curry administration’s blurring of policy and politics?
Time will tell.
But their new chair is aware of the ineluctable partisanship of the game being played.
Reporters in the Jacksonville market got to know Brian Hughes in late 2014 and early 2015 when the Republican PR pro was handling the messaging for mayoral candidate Lenny Curry.
Soon those reporters — or those who replaced the ones who moved on — will get to know Hughes in a new capacity as Curry’s chief of staff.
On Friday, Curry discussed the hire, the latest and most prominent example of someone moving from the campaign side to City Hall.
Hughes’ hire wasn’t a surprise to everyone; rumors had circulated that it might be in the offing, and Council President Anna Brosche quipped that the hire was “just formalizing how things had been for some time.”
Curry described the evolution from campaign spokesman to chief of staff as relatively seamless.
“I met Brian in the fall of 2011 when I became state party chairman, and he’s been a trusted adviser for many years,” Curry said. “Obviously through the campaign and then after I got into office we’ve had a number of very public policy issues that we’ve worked on and successfully won, and he’s been a part of that.”
“I’ve been without a chief of staff since May and I felt like it was time to bring someone in, and he’s my guy,” Curry said about Hughes.
Curry’s previous chief of staff, Kerri Stewart, was described by some close to the mayor as not being completely in line with the agenda. Toward the end of her tenure, there was talk of a power struggle behind the scenes— talk that no one refuted when it was reported.
Stewart was perceived as invisible, so much so that one veteran Republican Councilmember, when asked to appraise Stewart’s performance, joked, “Kerri who?”
The Hughes era will most likely be characterized by message discipline and visibility for the new chief of staff, who is expected to have a “roving” profile that transcends the strict hierarchies of the organizational chart.
Those close to Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa have noted that he looks forward to working with Hughes; Mousa and Hughes, in their bluntness especially, seem to be cut from the same cloth.
Some Jacksonville City Councilmembers wondered to us, on and off the record, if Hughes fit in better in the bare knuckles world of campaigning than in the policy sphere.
Curry has no such worries.
“Brian’s been in and around politics and policy for many years. He has a full and deep understanding of all of government and how to successfully implement policy,” Curry said.
Hughes joins others who were instrumental to Curry’s campaign victory on the mayor’s senior staff, such as Jordan Elsbury and Jessica Laird.
Jessica Baker, meanwhile, is the wife of Tim Baker, who has handled much of the polling and other functions that not only drove Curry’s victory, but also helped with such initiatives as 2016’s pension reform referendum.
Some have noted such convergences; the timely example being in a recent Florida Times-Union article. But for Curry, it’s pretty simple.
“I just bring the right people in for the right jobs at the right time,” Curry said.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry took a victory lap on Facebook this week.
“2.5 years in office. Much done- pension reform, public safety investments, board reforms, reforms on how we serve kids, storm prep & relief, infrastructure, etc. The list goes on. However, that’s yesterday. I’m focused on winning today. Big things ahead. Love y’all Duval. We are just getting started.”
None of this was a given.
Pension reform was a heavy lift both in Tallahassee and locally, with unions and the city council.
Board reforms saw Curry castigated by former Alvin Brown supporters, who charged him with politicizing the boards.
Public safety — the new hires are being trained up and integrated into the force. However, that is still clearly a work in progress.
But still, Curry can take credit for a lot in just over half a term.
In a time when Tallahassee is mired in the Jack Latvala drama and Washington D.C. struggles to get what passes for tax “reform” through, it’s telling that Jacksonville’s Mayor is positioned to take a victory lap.
Though there are rivals to the Mayor who say that perhaps he gets too much credit — both in Jacksonville and Tallahassee — thus far he hasn’t had many missteps.
Could JEA privatization be a bridge too far? Or the proposed $18M+ purchase of land for a Peter Rummell development.
Time will tell. And so will Jacksonville Bold.
One Door to the slammer
After a legal ordeal lasting the better part of two years, Corrine Brown and her two co-conspirators in the One Door for Education case — former chief of staff RonnieSimmons and the former CEO of the charity, Carla Wiley — were sentenced.
No one got off easy.
“A sentence of probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts would not be sufficient,” Judge Timothy Corrigan said.
Brown got 60 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $62,650 to the IRS, and $452,000 of additional restitution, and $664,000 of forfeiture.
Brown will appeal, though attorney James Smith has yet to determine if he will see that appeal through.
Simmons and Wiley, meanwhile, got lesser sentences.
Wiley got 21 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $452,515 in restitution is also owed, along with a $654,000 forfeiture judgment.
Simmons, meanwhile, got 48 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $452,000 of restitution and an additional $91,000 to the House of Representatives for pay for a phony employee of Brown’s staff. An additional $721,000 of forfeiture is due.
Travis Hutson on Jack Latvala: ‘Napalm and matches’
It was inevitable that Republican senators would have to weigh in on the ongoing war between Republican Sen. Latvala and Rachel Perrin Rogers, a Senate aide accusing him of serial sexual harassment.
Via POLITICO, one of the first was from Northeast Florida: Sen. Hutson of St. Johns County.
“This highly respected and regarded establishment is being burnt to the ground, and I feel Senator Latvala is running around with the Napalm and the matches,” Hutson told POLITICO.
“This is only going to get worse. And the best thing for everyone — every senator, every staffer, every accuser and/or accused — would be a resignation so that we do not have to deal with this problem anymore,” Hutson said.
Hutson also told POLITICO that donors to Latvala’s political committee should ask for refunds.
There is a school of thought that Latvala may use his committee to exact revenge against clients of Brian Hughes — Perrin Rogers’ husband. Hutson’s comments seem to indicate that strategy could be undermined by a wave of refunds and a bipartisan condemnation of Latvala.
Meanwhile, Sen. Audrey Gibson — a Democrat — was somewhat more circumspect than Latvala.
“First,” Gibson said, “I have continually maintained my sensitivity and support of women who believe they have been harassed in any way by anyone, being able to come forward and file a complaint. Secondly, Senator Latvala and/or Republican Leadership are the determinants on resignation matters.”
Cord Byrd’s fix for a ‘broken system’
A new bill in the Florida House would offer a vehicle for people with “legal disabilities” a road via circuit courts to the restoration of civil rights.
HB 903, filed by Jacksonville Beach Rep. Byrd, would offer remedies for those whose civil rights were suspended after felony convictions.
“Currently,” Byrd wrote on Facebook, “the average wait time for Restoration of Rights is over nine years, with some as long as 11 years. Over 22,000 applications are pending, with only a few hundred being processed each year. Clearly, the system is broken.”
The Byrd bill allows those seeking restoration of rights to petition their county’s circuit court; exceptions to this rule would be registered sexual predators or sexual offenders.
Appeals are possible, and those petitioners who find their bids rejected have the right to file anew a year after said rejection.
Some people wait decades to get their rights back, long after they have proved that the threat they once posed to society has been removed.
Byrd’s bill would be a potential corrective to these onerous delays.
Jay Fant challenge to HRO?
Rep. Fant, a Jacksonville Republican who is also running for Attorney General, filed Tuesday what he calls the “Free Enterprise Protection Act.”
HB 871 would prevent “discriminatory action” by any governmental entity in the state against businesses.
Said discriminatory action would include attempts by government to “alter the tax treatment” of businesses, which would include imposing penalties against them for crimes unlisted in the legislation as filed.
It would also include attempts to deny or revoke a business’s exemption from taxation, as well as withholding or denying a business’s “access or entitlement” to property, including “speech forums.”
The bill would also prohibit governments in Florida from discriminating against “internal policies” of businesses, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
Fant’s bill, if passed, could be used as a springboard to challenge local laws that conflict with rights enumerated in the bill, including Jacksonville’s own Human Rights Ordinance.
The HRO, as it is called locally, was expanded in 2016 to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, protecting their rights in the workplace, in the housing market, and in public accommodations, such as restrooms and locker rooms.
Fant told Jacksonville Republicans earlier this year that Mayor Curry could have done more to stop that bill, which was approved by 2/3 of the City Council, from becoming law.
Plea deals for child deaths draw scrutiny in House bill
Legislation filed in the Florida House Monday would compel state attorneys to explain why they cut plea deals in cases where children were killed.
HB 867, filed by Jacksonville Democrat Tracie Davis, would require state attorneys to explain in writing why they accepted a plea deal to lesser charges and penalties than originally filed in the case of the death of a child.
On Tuesday morning, Davis told us that there are many cases in which children die at the hands of abusers, and that drove her to file this bill.
“The number of children dying by abuse is alarming and steadily increasing through our communities. As I worked with families, it was [disturbing] to discover that many perpetrators are given a plea deal to a lesser crime in order for them to reveal the details of the crime,” Davis said.
Often families are unaware of changes to the charges. Davis added.
“I strongly feel that families have the right to know when a charge involving a child killed in an abusive situation deserve to know why the charge was decreased,” Davis noted.
JYDs roll out ‘cocktails with a candidate’ series
The Democratic race for Governor is beginning to heat up, and the Jacksonville Young Democrats are offering chances to meet with candidates via cocktail mixers in the coming months.
Democratic candidates thus far have largely concentrated their efforts south of I-4, but Jacksonville’s young Democrats are clearly looking to change that.
The “Cocktails with a Candidate” series kicks off Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at downtown’s Zodiac Bar and Grill, with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who appeared already at a JYD event in February.
Gillum — a pre-candidate at that point — discussed what his campaign would do to reach out to minority voters and young voters, as part of what he called an “18-month view of engagement” that would mobilize voters.
2018 brings — at least tentatively — two of Gillum’s opponents: Gwen Graham and Chris King to town.
Brian Hughes moves to Curry’s chief of staff
Comms specialist Hughes is — effective Jan. 2 — chief of staff for Mayor Curry, in a classic example of building something that lasts.
“To me and dozens of other elected officials, Brian Hughes has been a senior adviser on important matters of public policy and communications,” said Curry.
“Working with me, Brian has already put a powerful imprint on our city’s future. From the pension solution to restructuring how we serve Jacksonville’s children with the Kids Hope Alliance, Brian applied his strengths to benefit this great city. I am honored to have him join my administration in a leadership role to help manage this successful team as we continue to accomplish big things,” Curry added.
City Council members — who will now have to work with Hughes in a different capacity — had a reaction.
Council President Anna Brosche said that “it’s my understanding that this is just formalizing how things have functioned for quite some time.”
Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, often the sole voice of opposition to Curry’s initiatives, expected a different hire.
“I thought Ali Korman Shelton was a shoo-in for the job. She has served the mayor and our city well. As a council member, I look forward to working with Mr. Hughes,” Dennis said.
Curry is closer to the big reveal of what his proposed downtown “entertainment district” will look like, per WJXT.
“(The) riverfront. That’s where the Shipyards are. But also begin to think about an entire entertainment district moving a little bit north, between the football and baseball fields,” Curry said. “Just kind of a little teaser there. Big things could be coming.”
With a key rhetorical assist: Alan Verlander of the JaxSports Council.
“We need that fan district. We need a plug-and-play kind of place that people can go to. That’s the missing link here. You look at Nashville, look at Atlanta, you look at Dallas. Those places, they have destination points for their fans,” Verlander said. “We don’t have that here.”
“If they walk out the door and they see there’s things to do, they’re going to extend their stays for weekends around their conferences, and they’re going to have a great representation of Jacksonville,” added Visit Jacksonville VP Katie Mitura. “And when they leave, they are going to talk about the great time they had.”
Privatize, don’t criticize
The groundswell no one really predicted a month ago to privatize JEA continues to swell, per a Florida Times-Union dispatch.
Board chair Alan Howard gave CEO Paul McElroy 60-90 days to complete a report on such.
“If, after what I anticipate will be a healthy debate, a decision is ultimately made to pursue privatization, that process will be open to all bidders so that we can achieve the best result possible for the citizens of Jacksonville and JEA’s customers,” Howard wrote.
T-U reported Nate Monroe notes that ratepayers may see savings: “The utility’s October survey of what other utilities charge showed a JEA residential customer pays $111.76 for 1,000 kilowatt-hours compared to $103.07 for a Florida Power & Light customer.”
We will see how it goes. The Mayor’s political operation is working this story hard, as a friendly dispatch in Sunshine State News indicated this week.
Kids Hope picks all but confirmed
To quote the departed Jim Nabors, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”
The Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee did their best impression of Mayor’s Office staffers Tuesday, confirming six picks to the seven-person board of the nascent Kids Hope Alliance … with a seventh pick (Gary Chartrand?) held in abeyance.
Rebekah Davis, a former member of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission board of directors; Kevin Gay, an earlier Jacksonville Journey board member; former Jacksonville Sheriff and current Edward Waters College President Nat Glover; Iraq War Bronze Star recipient Joe Peppers; and Tyra Tutor, a senior vice president at The Adecco Group North America.
The controversial (to some) choice: Marvin Wells, the first African-American graduate of the UF College of Dentistry. But not for reasons of qualifications.
Wells doesn’t live in Duval County — a clear requirement of the ordinance.
But rules are made to be broken, and the Rules Committee was happy to accommodate. Despite protestations from Councilman Garrett Dennis, who is not on Rules but was visiting the committee, Wells joined the rest on Tuesday’s Consent Agenda.
No more room at the morgue
The opioid overdose crisis in Jacksonville has taxed city resources on a number of fronts, including those not visible to the public, such as the Medical Examiner’s office.
Numerous city hall conversations this year have spotlighted the pressures created by the unnatural and unbudgeted deaths of the overdose crisis.
Tuesday saw the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee discuss facilities, including short-term and long-term solutions.
The short-term fix would be cooling trailers, but Medical Examiner Valerie Rao is angling for a new building.
That concept has support from Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, who believes the project should be prioritized in the city’s capital improvement plan.
However, Rao nettled other Finance members by not having outlined the business case for the new building with specifics.
The building she suggested as a model — in Orlando — cost $16 million to build in 2010.
Jax Council candidate blames sexual harassment on female ‘libido’
Jacksonville City Council candidate Earl Testy may be losing the money race to fellow Republican opponent Randy DeFoor in District 14; however, he certainly is garnering earned media.
Testy took women to task, asserting “they have themselves and their libidos to blame for much of their own abuse by men.”
“Feminists have no more call to be proud of their abuse of sex than men do, albeit seemingly passive,” Testy asserted.
Testy equated the current spate of revelations with “Gay Pride logic.”
“Sin is sin,” Testy asserted, “regardless of male, female, homosexual or heterosexual orientation.”
Testy advanced his insights in reaction to an article on National Review Online by longtime conservative pundit Mona Charen, a woman who has never asserted that the female libido is “to blame.”
Terror plot foiled
In custody right now: A Filipino national who was willing to die to kill as many people as possible at the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida.
Per CBS News, 69-year-old Bernandino Gawala “Nandie” Bolatete was arrested this week for possessing an unregistered silencer, a federal crime.
Bolatete, a gun enthusiast, had a purpose in mind.
“I just want to give these freaking people a taste of their own medicine, you know,” the foreign national told an undercover detective.
“The suppressor is not really that ‘quiet’ but it can be used on the 4th of July or New Year (sic) time, it can easily blend with the sound of fireworks,” Bolatete added.
Per Action News Jax, Bolatete’s lawyer argued that this was just “talk,” but as one might expect when a foreign national travels to the states to kill a bunch of Americans, his bond request was rejected, and he’s still in lockdown.
Build Something That Lasts, the political committee linked to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry both spent and raised money robustly in November.
Checks cut were more interesting than deposits, which, by and large, came from the usual suspects.
For the first time since August, Curry’s committee cleared six-figures, raking in $112,000. The committee has just under $475,000 on hand.
Most of the money came in $25,000 checks; feeling generous was Peter Rummell, whose district development may get a little financial boost from city coffers via the Downtown Investment Authority.
Also going in for $25,000 each were former Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, John Baker and local engineering firm England-Thims and Miller, which is handling much of the area’s commercial development projects.
Of course, this being the holidays, it is better to give than to receive; the committee doled out just over $64,000.
Of that, $30,000 went to the newly hired chief of staff Brian Hughes — Curry’s political adviser who was instrumental in achieving the administration’s vision over the last two and a half years — via Meteoric Media.
Hughes assumes the CoS position Jan. 2.
An additional $25,000 went to Data Targeting.
Reflected in this report was spending on travel to Chicago — a trip first reported in the Florida Times-Union. The committee shelled out almost $1,900 to United Airlines, with an additional $801.90 to the Park Hyatt,
A five-star hotel, the Park Hyatt is where one can “savor the ultimate downtown experience in our luxury hotel” and enjoy “sweeping views of the Chicago cityscape.” Among the amenities are Simmons Beautyrest mattresses, spalike tubs and round-the-clock room service.
November’s only campaign contributions: The House re-election campaign of Clay Yarborough and the City Council campaign of LeAnna Cumber.
Cumber, who had a gangbusters first month of fundraising ($101,000 in October), was Hughes’ client.