Lenny Curry Archives - Page 7 of 106 - Florida Politics

Americans for Prosperity issues call to action on Jacksonville pension debt

The major conflict in Jacksonville politics right now: negotiations between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and the heads of various public sector unions.

Curry wants to move the unions beyond defined benefit “dinosaur” plans, offering raises for current workers, assurances that their plans won’t change, and bonuses for the current employees.

The unions are reluctant to move toward the 401K model Curry advocates for future workers, saying there will be recruitment and retention issues.

Curry hopes to have this negotiation wrapped up in time for the next budget year. And Americans for Prosperity is trying to help, via a website that seems to misunderstand the issue being a matter of collective bargaining with seven different bargaining units.

The website says it’s “time to fix Jacksonville” and its “broken pension system,” and includes a call to action: a form email that can be sent to elected politicians in the city.

The text exhorts site visitors to let Curry “know you appreciate him working to fix Jacksonville’s pension system problems,” and to let “the city council know that they should stand with Mayor Curry and get to work fixing the broken pension system.”

“Your city council works for you,” reads the AFP webpage, “not for Unions or special interests that are trying to keep Jacksonville broke.”

AFP-Florida state director Chris Hudson says his group is putting a full-court press on Jacksonville residents.

“Our grassroots teams have been going door to door and phone banking to educate Jacksonville’s residents about the looming financial crisis. Our goal is to have thousands of face-to-face conversations across the city to encourage citizens to take action and call on their city officials to address the $2.85 billion debt brought on by the broken pension system,” Hudson asserts.

“Mayor Curry’s efforts to reform Jacksonville’s broken pension system should be commended. While we disagree with the tactic of allowing a sales tax increase to persist, we also believe that the city should be finding ways to cut spending and live within its means. Mayor Curry’s plan is a step in the right direction to give the residents of Jacksonville relief from these financial strains,” continued Hudson.

Will these efforts help with collective bargaining? That remains to be seen.

One union leader has already contacted FloridaPolitics.com with an email linking to the AFP site and the subject header: “Koch Brothers Money!”

Kerri Stewart cleared of ethics charges

Justice was delayed for an important member of Jacksonville’s city government. But on Monday, it was finally delivered, as one of the most honorable people in City Hall was cleared of what were ultimately spurious charges.

Last year, a report from the Jacksonville City Council auditor’s office implied Kerri Stewart, the chief of staff for Mayor Lenny Curry, had acted improperly years ago in a previous role with the city.

Stewart was head of the Neighborhoods department under the John Peyton administration, when a city contract was facilitated for consulting services from a company (Infinity Global Solutions) that she went on to work for.

Local media raised a ruckus about it at the time. One local outlet called it a “dubious” deal, predicated on a “no-bid contract” and the city had nothing to show for its million-dollar deal.

Meanwhile, at least one Republican council member wondered privately if there was substance to the wrongdoing, even going so far as to muse about Stewart potentially needing to resign her position.

However, after due process, the city’s ethics director concluded Stewart had done nothing wrong.

In an email to Florida Politics, Ethics Director Carla Miller summed up the current state of the case.

“This recommendation was reviewed by the Ethics Commission last night; the case was dismissed,” Miller wrote, adding that parallel cases were dismissed against two other parties: Wight Gregor and Mayor Lenny Curry.

Miller added other insights, noting “Stewart followed the procurement process that was in effect at the time.”

As well, those who wondered about the lack of clarity in the Council Auditor’s report might find this discussion of process interesting.

“I have been told that the Council Auditor’s report did not involve taking any statements from any of the interested parties,” Miller noted.

“That is typically how they do it, though — paper audits. Whereas, the IG’s office takes sworn statements.”

Miller offered a longer statement, in which she summed up the scope of the initial complaint.

“The audit issues revolved around the city’s purchase of consulting services (through a purchase order and contract) from Agency Approval & Development (now known as Infinity Global Solutions and hereinafter referred to as IGS) and the involvement of 2 City employees, Wight Gregor and Kerri Stewart in that purchase order/contract. The time period of the IGS purchase order/contract ran from March, 2007 through September 30, 2012. The total purchase order/contract with IGS went from a purchase order in March, 2007 for $85,000 to a contract with amendments that grew to $953,000. The contract ended on September 30, 2012 and the final payment was made to IGS on October 23, 2012, roughly 4 years ago,” Miller wrote.

The charge: “that Kerri Stewart and Wight Gregor had substantial involvement in the purchase order/contract with IGS and subsequently went to work with IGS (Kerri Stewart as Senior Vice President and Wight Gregor had IGS as a client) after they left City employment (Kerri Stewart on 9/3/2011 and Wight Gregor on 10/11/2011). To be clear, all funds expended were approved through the City’s procurement process.”

If this had been valid, Stewart and Gregor would have been on the hook for a panoply of charges, including misuse of position, soliciting future employment or compensation, and post-employment restrictions.

However, Miller wrote, it was not valid.

For starters, there was no evidence Stewart or Gregor were involved in the purchase order. Even if they had been, Miller writes, the two-year statute of limitations had elapsed. And even if it hadn’t elapsed, Miller notes the initial purchase order in 2007 preceded the ethics code of 2008.

“This is an old matter,” Miller notes, “happening between 2007 and 2012. The Commission does not have jurisdiction in these cases because of the statute of limitations. Therefore, the recommendation of the Ethics Director is that these cases should be dismissed.”

Miller also advises that the Office of Inspector General is more appropriate for reviews such as this.

Stewart’s attorney, former Jacksonville City Council President Jack Webb, notes the procurement process was followed to the letter of the law, and that the document authorizing the contract with IGS was signed by a deputy chief administrative officer to Mayor Peyton. Moreover, three other city officials signed off on contract extensions.

Thus, “the question of whether Ms. Stewart’s independence or judgement was compromised is implausible at best,” Webb wrote in his formal statement addressing the ethics inquiry.

As well, Webb notes that upon leaving city employment, she sought legal advice from the office of general counsel. Stewart adhered to the guidelines put forth in the letter, Webb wrote, avoiding any conflicts of interest such as representing IGS in a “conflict” with the city, or taking a role in the project in question.

Webb also rejected the contention that funds were somehow illegally diverted from the capital project accounts in question for consulting from IGS. Webb also added that the district councilman, Reggie Brown, had “full knowledge and total involvement” in the use of the funds, including monthly updates.

The “displaced ethical scrutiny” of this audit, as Webb put it, came later.

We talked to Stewart Tuesday afternoon, who appreciated the “vindication” of how this matter was resolved after a “horrendous six months.”

“I knew all along that I had done nothing wrong,” Stewart said, “so I wasn’t worried.”

For Stewart, who continued to work through the entire process, including through high-profile and high-intensity tasks as helping to finalize the current budget and helping the city to move forward toward the pension reform referendum, this period was a test.

However, she said, “I know better than to let other people’s political agendas distract from the mayor’s agenda.”

How Jacksonville can benefit from Donald Trump

Last Saturday, I checked out a protest against President-elect Donald Trump — the Jacksonville iteration of the #NotMyPresident movement.

As protests go, it was as Shakespeare wrote: “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Those in attendance – 150, maybe 200 – were peaceful, by and large.

The signs and speakers were all earnest, in that young, leftish, dissident way. And with an exception or two, they were obscenity free.

It was a legitimate, organic, if quixotic protest.

fullsizerender-7Apparently, they were supposed to go to the Florida Times-Union to make their displeasure known at the paper that endorsed Trump as a “change agent.”

They didn’t quite make it there; they did get to the Times-Union Center, however, a performance art space sponsored by the local paper.

Presumably, they cleared out before the evening performance of “A Dream of Gerontius” by Edward Elgar.

Since the election of Trump, which few reporters saw coming, there has been a restive mood locally … perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not.

There was a wave of weekend violence low-lighted by the cold-blooded murder of an 11-month-old baby, a horrible act that finds context in other heinous acts in the last week, including the placement of “whites-only” and “colored” signs over water fountains at a local high school, and a whiteboard at the University of North Florida filled with hateful graffiti and a slogan: “make America white again.”

And, as is the case everywhere, there are people locally — specifically women and members of the LGBT community — who have legitimate reason to wonder how drastically the legal landscape for them will change with Mike Pence as VP-elect and Steve Bannon of Breitbart.com in a policymaking role.

In this context of social unrest and uncertainty, however, there is a paradox. And that paradox is that Jacksonville is positioned to do well under a Trump administration.

For one thing, Jacksonville is unique: a big city with a mayor who delivered what he called “strong support” of Trump.

Whereas the mayor’s office (and the governor’s office) were out of step with the Barack Obama White House, the support Mayor Lenny Curry offered to Trump will be acknowledged by the president-elect, who values “loyalty” to such a degree that three of his adult children and his son-in-law are integral to the presidential transition.

Jacksonville, meanwhile, has a laundry list of projects for which it could use federal help.

The deepening of the harbor for JAXPORT, which could be a billion-dollar project in the end. Funds to fix or replace failing bridges. Money for whatever the Jacksonville Transportation Authority decides to do with the Skyway people mover. New or refurbished cars are essential to maintain the integrity of the current system; however, expansion of the system has been on the wish list of many for a while.

In a Trump White House, where infrastructural renewal, including for transportation projects such as mass transit and commuter rail expansion, is expected to be financed via deficit spending, such asks are more plausible than they might have been in a Democratic White House.

Even Jacksonville’s septic tank phaseout project — ultimately at least a $300 million project — may find a more receptive federal audience than it would have if Clinton had won the election.

History tells us that domestic spending bubbles don’t last very long. Even the New Deal sputtered out as the U.S. entered World War II.

Would it be paradoxical for Jacksonville, a rare major city with a GOP city council and conservative mayor, to come out well from a flurry of federal spending?

Perhaps. But in a year of paradoxes and affronts to the conventional wisdom, what’s one more?

Murder of Jacksonville infant illustrates a larger struggle

Jacksonville’s epidemic of gun violence in 2016 (106 homicides thus far) has been bookended in 2016 by the deaths of two of the youngest, most innocent victims imaginable.

In January on Jacksonville’s Eastside, 22-month-old Aiden McClendon was gunned down as the toddler sat in a car with relatives.

Another car drove by, and bullets sprayed the car the child was in, as well as a house.

Little Aiden was the only one hit, and died soon after. Lenny Curry, who couldn’t hide his raw emotion in talking about the scene, has said that was the toughest thing he had to deal with thus far as Jacksonville mayor.

Now, incredibly, there is even a younger victim of violent crime for the city to mourn: Tedashi Williams, an 11-month-old baby shot near a hotbed of violent crime — the Cleveland Arms apartments — Sunday night.

Two adult victims, including the baby’s mother, also were killed in the shooting. Two more were wounded. But the killing of a child under the age of one was what made this murder, in one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city, go from local to national news.

On Monday afternoon, Mayor Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams, and district Councilman Reggie Brown came together to discuss Jacksonville’s youngest homicide victim this year — a crime that shocked the collective conscience, and raised other questions as well.

Curry referred to the act of “senseless violence,” describing an “11-month-old who was killed at a time when there were a bunch of other shootings.”

“I’m mad as hell,” Curry said, and “this has to stop.”

To that end, Curry cited the crime-prevention and crime-fighting techniques that have been part of his public safety platform: added and improved equipment, additional manpower, and the Jacksonville Journey.

“We are going to fight this together,” Curry said.

Curry was asked about this wave of weekend violence in the light of other heinous acts in the last week, including the placement of “whites-only” and “colored” signs over water fountains at a local high school, and a whiteboard at the University of North Florida filled with hateful graffiti and a slogan: “make America white again.”

Curry said that “what you describe is not the city I lead,” before pivoting back to the discussion of gun violence and a “police force decimated from previous budgets.”

“The point today,” said the mayor, is “this is not acceptable.”

“I go to bed thinking about this, I wake up thinking about this, I’m not going to stop until justice is served in the city,” Curry said.

When asked about the murder of Tedashi Williams in the context of the murder of Aiden McClendon earlier this year, Curry noted he’s “remained in the neighborhoods before the election [and] since the election.”

“There is no overnight solution,” Curry added, “but I’m not going away.”

“When you have a child shot and killed,” Curry said, that “wakes the community up.”

“We are dealing with these issues every single day,” Curry added.

“When this happened,” Curry continues, “there were other shootings happening in the city … and the night before, and the night before that.”

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Sheriff Williams said “the goal today is to bring justice to this case … peace back to these communities.”

That, said the sheriff, has been a “struggle for many years.”

A major part of the struggle: “gun violence,” which Williams said has “always been a top concern,” especially “illegal guns” and guns possessed by those who shouldn’t have them because of their “criminal history.”

While the investigation is ongoing, and Williams wouldn’t confirm or deny whether this was the result of a shootout, the sheriff noted the shooting “seems to be [the result of] an insignificant issue.”

Williams, in law enforcement since 1991, has noticed a “drastic shift” in the usage of guns, which seems to have become more casual.

“Years ago,” Williams said, “what might have been a fight in the alley” is now resolved by a bullet from a gun.

Law enforcement, the sheriff added, cannot stop this by themselves.

“Today is not the day to wave a flag and declare victory,” Sheriff Williams continued.

Left unstated: that day isn’t coming in the near-term future.

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Councilman Reggie Brown, in whose district the infant was murdered, noted that a solution has to involve developing more personal responsibility, to “decide as a community that this will not be tolerated.”

“It’s going to take all of us,” Brown said, to ensure “people initiating these crimes” are compelled to change their mindset.

Brown’s insights on the mike were an extension of what he said to FloridaPolitics.com before the presser.

Before the news conference, Councilman Brown noted that while he believes “community policing” is a means to quell the violence, “self-policing” and “personal responsibility” also are essential.

“Here we are again,” the second-term Democrat from Northwest Jacksonville said. “Unfortunately for an 11-month-old victim, a life has been taken.

“We don’t know what he could have become,” Brown said.

As Councilman Brown said that, a child by the elevators behind him screamed, a happy yell from a happy kid with years and decades ahead of her.

Tedashi Williams will never know that feeling.

Rest in peace, little one.

Election turnover brings real change to Duval Delegation

A Republican lawyer with an interest in Second Amendment rights.

A GOP UPS HR manager who, when president of the Jacksonville City Council, led a quixotic effort to remove a nude photograph from the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art. And who fought against the appointment of a university professor to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission.

A Democratic candidate whose name wasn’t on the ballot.

A Democratic preacher called the “demon buster” who has claimed to cast out “gay demons,” and been quoted as saying the TV gabfest “The View” was ruled by “antichrist spirits,” and who spoke “against the witchcraft from the idolaters of foreign countries that want Sen. Obama to be president for DARK PURPOSES.”

An Republican engineer who served a support role in the Global War on Terror, and became the youngest ever member of the Duval County School Board.

Who are these people? What do they have in common?

Rep. Cord Byrd from House District 11. Rep. Clay Yarborough from House District 12. Rep. Tracie Davis from House District 13. Rep. Kim Daniels from House District 14. And Rep. Jason Fischer from House District 16.

These are the five new members of the Duval County Legislative Delegation. Due to the nature of the map in Duval County, most were essentially elected during the August primary. And people in Tallahassee will get to know them well between now and 2024.

Below, a primer.

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Byrd got the most votes (against a write-in candidate) in the general election of any of these five candidates — a function, in part, of how Donald Trump drove turnout in his conservative district that encompasses Nassau and eastern Duval counties.

We interviewed Byrd after his primary win earlier this year, an effort he attributed to ground game and bolstered by pivotal backing from the National Rifle Association.

Byrd was realistic about the pressures faced by a rookie legislator: “as a freshman, I was told ‘good luck’,” Byrd said, when discussing what he could do in his first year.

However, Byrd’s interest in the budget and ensuring that money is “spent wisely” philosophically accords with Speaker Richard Corcoran, whose agenda includes having separate bills for each spending measure, rather than hidden earmarks.

Byrd identified people in the new class with whom he is close.

Jason Fischer is one. And HD 12 rookie legislator Clay Yarborough is another.

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Yarborough may be the most misunderstood politician in Jacksonville currently.

During his tenure on the city council, the soft-spoken Christian conservative and father of three was lambasted through much of the media for being socially conservative.

While the media bubble didn’t get it, the fact was Yarborough accorded (and accords) with the values of his Southside Jacksonville district, especially of those traditionalist residents who say “sir” and “ma’am” reflexively to strangers.

The debates in the crowded HD 12 primary were about as compelling as last night’s dishwasher. However, as the dog days of August proceeded, some drama from this sedate race went statewide.

A third-party mailer from the Conservative Leadership Fund surfaced that darkened primary opponent Terrance Freeman’s features, raising the ire of Republicans across the state, including Speaker-Designate Richard Corcoran.

Yarborough told us after the primary it came from “outside of Jacksonville” and that he knew nothing about why it dropped.

Outside mailers and money came in for Freeman against Yarborough, from such disparate elements as trial lawyers, business consortia, and gambling interests.

Yarborough held on. And won by almost 10 points.

What can Tallahassee expect from Yarborough?

Continuing the legacy of Lake Ray, a “personal friend and mentor” of long standing.

Ray has led the way on port development and economic policy over the last eight years.

Yarborough told us he also wants a “cohesive delegation,” as a lack of cohesion “causes the rest of the state to laugh.”

Yarborough has found inspiration in current legislators Jay Fant and Paul Renner (the former now a senior Republican in the delegation, the latter representing Palm Coast after losing a Jacksonville race to Fant by two votes in 2014).

“Public safety, jobs and the economy, and enhancing the quality of life in District 12” motivates Yarborough, he told us this summer.

Yarborough, despite winning by double digits in August and getting over 95 percent of the November vote, almost didn’t make it to Tallahassee.

Many members of the business community backed Richard Clark, who played footsie with a run, raising $50,000 when he got in the race, only to decide this wasn’t the right time for his family.

As well, Yarborough’s interest in a job in the Lenny Curry administration was known.

Yarborough wanted to be liaison from the mayor’s office to the city council.

Though other council members who served along with him, such as Republican Robin Lumb and Democrats Johnny Gaffney and Denise Lee, were given $92,000-a-year gigs, Yarborough did not.

A story floating around: A certain Jacksonville insider connected with the shaping of Curry’s staff in the summer of 2015 had a conversation with Yarborough last summer, after he was offered a job with Mike Hogan at the Supervisor of Elections office making $60,000 a year.

“Clay, you should have taken it,” the insider said.

Clay didn’t take it. And now the mayor’s office will need to deal with him in a legislative capacity for years to come.

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Tracie Davis was not expected to go to the State House from HD 13 before April 15.

That was the day popular incumbent Reggie Fullwood was indicted on 14 federal counts, related to campaign finance fraud and malfeasance.

Davis took a lot of heat for challenging Fullwood in the primary, which she lost by fewer than four points.

Then a funny thing happened. Fullwood struck a plea deal, pleading guilty to two counts. He resigned from the House, resigned from the campaign, and the Duval Democrats quickly coalesced around Davis as the replacement candidate.

Davis was running with Fullwood’s name on the ballot.

Davis’ campaign, in the context of a different candidate’s name on the ballot, was a simple premise: “vote Fullwood to elect Davis.”

Despite running against a well-connected Republican, Mark Griffin, Davis was in a heavily Democratic district, with a campaign run by a rising star in Jacksonville politics (Garrett Dennis, a city councilman) and with the strong support of Sen. Audrey Gibson, a powerful Democrat with statewide credibility.

Davis won the race by 20 percentage points.

Her priorities in the Legislature won’t be that different from Fullwood’s. Among them: “wealth building” and bringing jobs to HD 13, including through bolstering small businesses.

In terms of social issues, on the trail she was very comfortable with the Hillary Clinton platform. She also advocated a cautious approach to phasing in medical marijuana. At a debate with Griffin, Davis said she “had some issues” with “legal marijuana,” but given medical needs, she wanted “regulations and standards” on the product.

Meanwhile, the other new Democrat from Jacksonville won’t exactly be mistaken for a Hillary Clinton Democrat. And she will be an instant hit with the Tallahassee press corps, as one of the most iconoclastic, quotable, and non-doctrinaire politicians in the entire state.

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Kim Daniels emerged from a fractious primary against Leslie Jean-Bart, the choice of then-incumbent Mia Jones.

Daniels encountered a number of interesting narratives in that campaign. Among them: a confrontation between Jean-Bart canvassers and her own over Jean-Bart’s team campaigning in Daniels’ home neighborhood, the improbably named Sherwood Forest.

Little John and Maid Marian never got around to endorsing. Daniels, despite facing a candidate running a textbook campaign, parlayed superior name ID and the kind of people skills only an evangelical preacher has, into a primary victory. From there, the victory in November over a doomed Republican was a walk in the park.

Daniels, a product of the Corrine Brown political machine and a supporter of the embattled, soon-to-be-former congressional mainstay, talked to us early in her campaign about what she wanted to do in Tallahassee.

Daniels has some preferences regarding committee assignments. She’d like to be on Education, the Local/Federal Affairs Committee (as she is a Desert Storm veteran), Judiciary (as she has an interest in juvenile justice, and a degree in criminology from Florida State), and Appropriations (“to make sure Jacksonville gets its piece of the budget.”)

To ensure Jacksonville gets its piece, she stresses the importance of teamwork with the delegation.

Of all the new members of the delegation, Daniels is the one who seems like the biggest wildcard — especially to members of her own party, who abhor her opposition to expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance in Jacksonville to LGBT citizens.

That said, Daniels got key backing, especially during the run-up to the general election. Jacksonville’s public safety unions and key lobbyists, including the Fiorentino Group, offered her support.

What this indicates: the gap between the chattering classes and the stakeholders who rely on reliable votes.

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Joining these four rookies in Tallahassee: Jason Fischer, a traditional conservative and a pragmatist, who (like all the Republicans in this article) won his race in August, after a brutal primary against Jacksonville political perennial Dick Kravitz.

Fischer courted Tallahassee support months before the primary, and (as is typical with candidates associated with Tim Baker and Brian Hughes) got his campaign finance right before much competition manifested.

Kravitz, who had been in the public eye in Jacksonville since the 1970s, and winning elections since the 1980s, presented a real challenge. He had a number of key endorsements in the primary, including that of then-incumbent Charles McBurney.

Yet Fischer had his hold card too.

Meaningful support from Mayor Lenny Curry, including a robocall, helped Fischer win the primary decisively, ahead of getting over 95 percent against write-in candidates in the general.

Much of that theater happened during absentees and early voting, in a race that Fischer’s seasoned political consultant, Tim Baker, called a “brawl.”

“Lost [absentee ballots], won early close, and then slammed Kravitz with Election Day,” was how Baker characterized the race.

Baker also noted Curry “came in strong for Fischer with tens of thousands raised to his PAC [“Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville”] in the last 10 days and went against [Jacksonville City Councilman] Matt Schellenberg in Mandarin.”

And in the perpetual quest to get a speaker from Northeast Florida, of this group Fischer’s name is mentioned by some (a suggestion roundly mocked by others).

It’s easy to imagine Fischer will be Curry’s most reliable ally in the Duval Delegation.

For one thing, Fischer was the only candidate for the state House that Curry endorsed. For another thing, said Fischer after the primary, Curry and Fischer have similar policy visions.

A compelling and coherent policy vision is something Fischer believes will be essential for the local delegation going forward; namely, what Fischer calls a “commitment to unity for our region.”

“Jacksonville delivers a lot of votes for our region,” Fischer said, and the delegation needs to be “aggressive in making sure to take care of Jacksonville.”

To quote a certain political ad running in the Jacksonville market in October and November: “finally, something we all can agree on.”

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Curry, for his part, is optimistic about the upcoming legislative session, in which he expects to build strong relationships with the new members, and build on the city’s successes with strong lobbying efforts last session, which were highlighted by getting state approval for a pension reform referendum.

“I have a very productive relationship with the current Duval delegation, and I will continue to build relationships with the new members of the delegation. I have and will continue to work with a team of professionals who ensure getting the highest return for the investment of taxpayers. The successes of our team include a solution to the pension crisis and earned us state resources for infrastructure and public safety,” Curry said in a written statement earlier this month.

The players on the team changed radically Tuesday night. However, one advantage that city and regional stakeholders have is the change of that group was pretty much set in August.

Jacksonville’s military affairs department fulfills a necessary role

For the city of Jacksonville, every week is a week to honor and celebrate its military veterans.

“The people of Jacksonville pride themselves in being the most military- and veteran-friendly city in the United States,” said Mayor Lenny Curry. “Our Military Affairs and Veterans department at City Hall has a team of dedicated personnel to help veterans get access to their earned benefits, education, training, and other resources. We take our commitment to the men and women of the U.S. military seriously.”

The department, with 18 staffers, deals with 8,456 veterans every year, claims the city in a press release, helping with issues related to benefits, job and housing placement, and other necessary components of adjusting to civilian life after military service.

A measure of success: 79 veterans have been placed in jobs and housing by the department.

Curry prioritized the department upon becoming mayor, moving Bill Spann (who served as Curry’s spokesman early in the mayor’s term) over to the Military Affairs role.

“From Day 1,” Curry wrote in a letter last year, “Bill told us his one true passion was to serve our active duty military, Guard and Reserve, veterans, and our military families. However, I asked Bill to navigate the administration through the first few weeks of media relations due to his extensive PR background, and he did the yeoman’s work.”

Beyond the role being Spann’s passion, there was pragmatic benefit for the city and its veterans, Curry claimed, as Spann’s “background in Tallahassee and Washington D.C., allows him to collaborate with House and Senate members, staffs, and agencies at the state and federal level.”

Big local ROI for Jacksonville’s Navy/Notre Dame game

The score of last Saturday’s Navy/Notre Dame game in Jacksonville was Midshipmen 28, Fighting Irish 27.

But the big numbers for the city of Jacksonville went beyond the scoreboard.

Hotel occupancy at 90 percent. Over 50,000 people in the stands. Economic impact of $30 million.

Jacksonville has seen sports and entertainment as a major part of its economic strategy, and the strong performance of Navy/Notre Dame — on a weekend that saw everything from political activity ahead of the election to the iconic Raines/Ribault high school football game — is considered to be a major success by city leaders.

“This is a game the JAXSPORTS Council and our partners have been working on for well over a year, and we couldn’t have asked for a better-executed event,” said JAXSPORTS CEO Rick Catlett. “Our hotels were full, our restaurants and businesses were crowded and the stadium was full of so much patriotic spirit. From excited fans to military heroes, it was obvious everyone had a fantastic time, and we will continue working hard to become a regular host of this storied match-up.”

The game was landed last July, very early in the Lenny Curry administration.

Back then, positivity reigned.

Catlett called the event an “indication of the future.”

Chet Gladchuk, the Naval Academy athletic director, lauded the energy that came out of Jacksonville as “extraordinary.”

The city’s investment in the game, the mayor said in July 2015, would be capped out at $325,000, but they would “watch expenses.”

So, for a $325,000 investment of city money, $30 million of economic impact was derived.

Not a bad ROI.

Lenny Curry expresses ‘strong support’ for President-Elect Donald Trump

The election of President-elect Donald Trump offers a unique opportunity for the city of Jacksonville, the biggest city in the country with a GOP mayor.

In written responses to questions regarding the election, Mayor Lenny Curry expressed confidence his support of Trump as a candidate would help to position Jacksonville favorably going forward

Curry, who served as master of ceremonies for a Jacksonville Trump rally in August, was contemporaneously criticized for what was seen as a partisan move by observers in the media and by correspondents to his office.

However, with Trump elected and the GOP retaining control of both houses of Congress, Jacksonville’s Republican mayor believes the city is well-positioned in the upcoming federal food fights.

“I believe my strong support of President-elect Trump, like my relationship with Gov. Rick Scott, will be good for the City of Jacksonville as we move forward with bold new ideas,” Curry wrote.

Curry also expressed optimism for Jacksonville’s new U.S. Representatives-elect, Republican John Rutherford and Democrat Al Lawson, who will be serving in the 4th and 5th Congressional Districts.

“Sheriff Rutherford and I are great friends and he fully understands the priorities of Jacksonville. I expect that I will be able to have a great relationship with Congressman-elect Lawson and look forward to meeting with him very soon,” Curry noted.

Both Rutherford and Lawson have positioned themselves as pragmatists, looking to work with colleagues across the aisle. Though Lawson is from Tallahassee, he is well-regarded, especially among Jacksonville Republicans with experience in the state capital.

Jacksonville has some needs from the federal government. Two of the most immediate: securing federal funds for river dredging related to deepening the harbor for JAXPORT, and bolstering Jacksonville’s military presence by strengthening the position of NAS Mayport and NAS Jacksonville.

Clearly, the mayor is confident the city’s congressional delegation and the mayor’s own support of President-elect Trump will help Jacksonville plead its case on the federal level.

More holistically, Mayor Curry sees the election results as a vindication of Republican and conservative values.

“As a lifelong Republican and a former chair at the local and state level, I am proud of what my party did all over the state and the nation last night. The Republican vision of less government and more opportunity is exactly what our state and nation need right now,” Curry noted.

Worth watching: how Jacksonville fares in terms of accomplishing its priorities on the federal level during Trump’s first term.

Whereas the mayors of Tallahassee, Orlando, and Tampa were well-positioned with the current president, it seems that the changing of the guard in the White House bodes well for Jacksonville — at least for the next few years.

Lenny Curry talks Election 2016 at Jacksonville Marco Rubio HQ

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has been an enthusiastic supporter and friend of Sen. Marco Rubio, dating back to a time before Rubio was in the U.S. Senate.

Evidence of that political symbiosis abounds in more recent memory.

Rubio was a prominent backer of Curry’s mayoral bid, coming into town for a rally the day before the May 2015 election that swept Curry into office over Alvin Brown, the Democratic incumbent considered unassailable by media types.

Curry backed Rubio in the Florida presidential primary, undaunted by polls headed up to the March vote that showed Trump poised to take Duval County and the rest of the state.

Beyond politics, the two have functioned well in the policy realm, with Curry and Rubio working together to offer long-delayed, meaningful redress for the residents of some of Jacksonville’s most neglected HUD properties.

During that brief period after Rubio left the presidential race, there was some question as to whether he would run for re-election after all.

Curry was one of those who publicly urged Rubio to reconsider his decision to leave the Senate, saying, “we need Marco Rubio for the skills he brings to the table.”

Rubio, of course, ran, dispatching Carlos Beruff in the primary before a more competitive general election battle against Patrick Murphy.

On Monday morning, Curry was showing support for Rubio again, thanking volunteers at a Southside Jacksonville HQ.

Rubio, Curry said, “reached out last week” to ask Curry to help “get the message out” and “get people to turn out.”

“A whole lot of us pushed him to run again,” Curry added.

“This is an important election,” Curry said, from “the top of the ticket on down,” especially the U.S. Senate.

There, Curry said, Rubio’s “strong voice” and willingness to engage on “tough issues” stand out.

Among the topics that came up with media: early voting.

“Early voting is becoming the new normal,” Curry said.

Regarding the gap of over 4,000 votes between Democrats and Republicans in Duval County, Curry emphasized the importance of “ground game” to close that gap for the GOP side.

There are a variety of opinions as to how Duval’s vote distribution ultimately will shake out.

Duval County typically goes red on Election Day.

But this is an atypical year, with changes in voting patterns and a realignment of the GOP along Trumpian lines providing meaningful wildcards that preclude precise forecasting of how the election will go, in Duval and everywhere else.

Duval Democrats win early voting by 4,200 votes, hold slender turnout lead

The Republican Party of Duval County knows now how far behind it is in the turnout battle.

With early voting wrapped up and a total of 297,616 Duval County voters having made their choices, Democratic turnout outpaced that of Republicans by a margin of 126,687 to 122,464. An additional 48,465 NPA voters have turned out thus far.

In Duval pre-Election Day voting, 42.5 percent of voters are Democrats, 41.1 percent are Republicans, and NPA voters comprise the additional 16.4 percent.

And turnout at the end of the early voting period is 50.6 percent — an unprecedented number and a signal of a shift in voting patterns among both parties.

The Democrats were aggressive in GOTV, bringing Bill Clinton through via bus to thank a small crowd of supporters, and having former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Rev. Jesse Jackson participate in GOTV efforts over the weekend.

The Democrats finally took the lead in early voting on Saturday, which (for what it’s worth) underperformed the Democratic machine in the 2015 mayoral race, which saw Democrats take the early voting lead on the last Friday of early voting.

If Republicans or other skeptics are looking for signs of depressed turnout among the Democratic base, they may find them there.

Monday sees Republican campaigns making their play for Election Day turnout, which typically swings GOP.

On Monday morning, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams and Mayor Lenny Curry will swing by the Marco Rubio office and “thank volunteers.”

On Monday afternoon, Dr. Ben Carson visits the Donald Trump HQ at 3428 Beach Blvd.

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