Six November nominees to the Jacksonville Kids Hope Alliance board were up in committee Tuesday.
All of them sailed through with nary a no vote, putting them on the Consent Agenda at next week’s City Council meeting. Most of them were completely uncontroversial.
And the one who was controversial going in wasn’t controversial at all in the end, proving yet again that — in the case of Jacksonville City Hall — what Mayor Lenny Curry says pretty much goes.
Rebekah Davis, a former member of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission board of directors; Kevin Gay, a previous 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, an senior vice president at The Adecco Group North America.
The controversial (to some) choice: Marvin Wells, the first African-American graduate of the U.F. College of Dentistry. But not for reasons of qualifications.
Wells, who owns an oral surgery practice, lives outside of the Duval County limits.
The ordinance establishing the KHA as the replacement for the Jax Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission required Duval County residency — one of a number of changes City Council negotiated with the administration.
And some Council members, such as Garrett Dennis, made it clear they weren’t happy. The ordinance, passed this fall, was intended to have a binding residency requirement.
They saw the out-of-county pick as an attempt to undermine Council authority and create a “test case” for future appointments that contravened the residency requirement.
Davis, Gay, Glover, Peppers, and Tutor moved through quickly, with convivial Q&As that reflected their unique skill sets.
Wells, a Raines High School graduate who grew up in the Northwest Quadrant, was a different matter, as he has lived outside the county for 11 years.
Councilors — committee members and otherwise — spoke up.
Council President Anna Brosche weighed in as a visitor to the committee, saying she has not decided yet on Wells, and will let her conscience drive her vote Tuesday.
Councilman Garrett Dennis — a frequent sparring partner of the Mayor’s Office, and a visitor to the committee –noted that Council members have to live in the area that they represent.
“We could find sharp, dedicated individuals … out of the 850,000 in the city,” Dennis said, noting that he’d pushed for the “permanent resident” requirement.
“I will not be able to support your appointment,” Dennis said, brandishing a list of dentists in Jacksonville who actually fulfill the residency requirement.
Dennis also worried that Wells was a “test case” for another nominee who lives outside the county.
Councilwoman Joyce Morgan likewise said the felt “uncomfortable with the Mayor’s Office throwing that at us right away to test” the residency requirement.
“We should never have had to have the debate about his residency at all,” Morgan said, depicting that this was “almost a situation of ‘who’s next’ … from St. Johns County.”
“Really, nobody else in Duval County can do this? Nobody?,” Morgan said. “I do not want to open the gate. I don’t think we need to go there. It’s just not necessary.”
Morgan went along with consensus in the end, of course.
Other Council members were eager to work around the residency requirement they voted into being.
Al Ferraro noted that a meeting with Wells overcame his objections to supporting someone who lives “out of town.”
“Talking to you, you talk softly … seem very sincere … with a moral drive,” Ferraro asserted. “Sometimes this place can be a snake pit where people try to get you to do things that you know are wrong.”
Katrina Brown said that, while Duval residency was a “big important key because we didn’t want to have a lot of people who lived outside the community … sometimes there are exceptions.”
“I’d hate to pass up on a person with your caliber of experience,” Brown said.
“He kind of reminds me of myself,” Brown said later in the discussion.
Councilman Reggie Brown told Wells that “the residency issue is bigger than you” and that he would support Wells.
“It was about paid employees,” Brown said, alluding to out-of-county hires during the John Peyton administration.
Councilmen Sam Newby and Scott Wilson likewise backed the Mayor’s pick.
And Wells, like the others, cleared the committee with nary a no vote.
As is so often the case when Mayor Lenny Curry proposes something to the Jacksonville City Council, they may grouse, but fall in line in the end.
Fant asserted that case “should make small businesses in Florida and everywhere worry about just how far government is allowed to go to regulate the free speech of private industry. I filed the ‘Free Enterprise Protection Act’ today to ensure that Florida business owners are protected from government sanctions and penalties when they are exercising their first amendment rights, whether through their speech or their work as an artisan, as in the case of the wedding cake baker.”
“The government simply should not force business owners to create things they do not want to create. The more and more regulations that are handed down from government, the less and less freedom we have,” Fant added.
Fant said the bill would “guarantee government cannot act in a discriminatory way toward a business by using their force through the assessment of taxes, penalties or any other means to bankrupt or harm a business when they are exercising their First Amendment rights.”
He also 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 LGBT 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 Lenny Curry could have done more to stop that bill, which was approved by 2/3 of the City Council, from becoming law.
Worth noting: Curry endorsed Rep. Frank White over Fant for Attorney General.
Both White and Curry employ Tim Baker and Brian Hughes as political consultants.
In this issue of Bold, there’s not a lot of unwelcome news.
— Travis Hutson potentially ascending to Senate leadership.
— The local paper’s editorial board finally noticed Hutson’s Senate colleague, Rob Bradley.
— A popular local politician — Sheriff Mike Williams — is (finally) officially running for re-election.
— If you read far enough, you’ll find the latest “big idea” in Jacksonville politics — a potential privatization of the local utility.
— And two new Sumatran tiger cubs — a “critically endangered” species — were born at the Jacksonville Zoo.
Some issues of Bold — and undoubtedly many future ones — will be packed with scandal and drama.
This one, luckily for the local political class, is not.
6th Congressional District race has Duval flavor
Though Duval County is now comfortably north of Congressional District 6, it’s worth watching as — at least by proxy — it could be argued to be a Jacksonville seat.
Incumbent Ron DeSantis has not decided whether to run for re-election or run statewide, yet wife Casey Black DeSantis is and presumably will continue to be a fixture on Jacksonville television.
The likely Democratic nominee — Ambassador Nancy Soderberg — has been a longtime professor at the University of North Florida.
And a potential GOP candidate — former Green Beret Mike Waltz — was an alumnus of Stanton High School (Go Blue Devils!)
At a time when Congressional District 5 (a seat currently held by Tallahassee’s Al Lawson) may or may not be in play for a Jacksonville politician such as former Mayor Alvin Brown, it’s worth watching to see if CD 6 will end up as a Jacksonville seat by proxy.
St. Johns County Sen. Hutson may be on the Senate Leadership track.
But it’s going to take some time to find out, as Florida Politics reported this week.
The two front-runners to be potential Senate Majority Leader in 2022 are Hutson and Tampa’s Dana Young, according to more than a dozen sources, including several members. Beyond Hutson and Young, sources say Dennis Baxley and Greg Steube should be seen as dark horses.
There’s a lot of time between now and the 2020 vote. However, Hutson atop the Senate and Renner atop the House would make for a unique and welcome convergence for Northeast Florida.
Paul Renner previews Legislative Session, talks harassment
Palm Coast Rep. Renner — a Jacksonville lawyer who chairs Ways and Means and is on track to be Speaker in 2022 — spoke to a crowd on the Southside Wednesday.
While Florida has “the right policies,” is headed in “the right direction” and has a “bright future,” the state nonetheless faces challenges.
Among those challenges: population growth, including a near-term influx from storm-ravaged Puerto Rico and long-term expectations that Florida could add 6 to 8 million people in the coming years. And roads and other infrastructural issues.
“Two points: one is that human beings being are who they are, in any organization you’re going to have five to 10 percent who can’t help themselves in their personal conduct. We need to identify that and ask them to return home because they’ve lost the trust of the people who elected them,” Renner said.
Renner’s second point: term limits.
“You see some of these problems. You look at John Conyers in Congress: he’s 88 years old and has had some serious allegations against him,” Renner added. “Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, there’s a period of time after which people become co-opted, happier to be there than to do what the people sent them there to do.
“They’d rather spend time drinking scotch at the club or doing things that they don’t have any business doing than to do the people’s business,” Renner added. “Do I think that’s widespread among elected members? I do not. But it is an issue, it is a problem, and it’s something we have to take seriously. And as these things arise, it’s something we have to address.”
Staff boosts for Jay Fant AG campaign
When it comes to the GOP race for Attorney General, Fant is in it to win it.
Fant faces former circuit court judge Ashley Moody and fellow Republican Reps. Frank White and Ross Spano in the GOP primary for AG, and has seen his campaign lag in recent months as his rivals, particularly Moody and White, have picked up steam.
The Jacksonville Republican’s revamp effort includes bringing in Randy Enwright and Jim Rimes of Enwright Consulting Group to lead his political team and turning to The Tarrance Group for polling. Former Rick Scott communications chief Melissa Stone is also coming on board via Cavalry Strategies.
Fant is also going all in on advertising with the Strategy Group, which helped President Donald Trump last election cycle and have worked on 11 other Attorney General campaigns nationwide.
Josh Cooper’s Strategic Information Consultants will be handling opposition research, while Strategic Digital Services, founded by Matthew Farrar and Joe Clements, will handle the digital media operations.
Fant has messaged to the right of the field, but has seen his credibility hamstrung by a shoestring operation. Now that problem has been solved.
Fant wants Franken gone
Rep. Fant — as is often the case — is holding forth on issues beyond the state Legislature in which he serves, and the Attorney General’s office in which he would like to serve.
Fant’s latest rhetorical broadside: a full-throttle smackdown on Sen. Franken, accused of letting his hands wander during photo ops.
Fant wants Franken gone.
“Senator Marco Rubio said yesterday that Senator Al Franken should resign, and I fully agree with him on this. Senator Franken has already admitted to mistreating women in a way that would be offensive to come from any person, but is completely out-of-bounds for an elected official representing our public trust. He must go,” Fant said.
“As the father of two daughters, I am sickened by public officials misusing the power of their office for harassment. Sexual harassment is wrong in any workplace,” Fant added, “but is especially disgusting when it involves someone who represents the public trust.”
Fant is embroiled in a crowded four-way race for the GOP nomination for Attorney General. Two of his opponents — White and Spano — are House colleagues. A third competitor, Moody, is a retired Hillsborough County judge.
Times-Union gives props to Bradley
Sen. Bradley was lauded by the Florida Times-Union editorial board last month, and — as it ran during the Thanksgiving holiday — some of our readers may have missed it.
Bradley, the current Senate Appropriations Chair, was celebrated for sponsoring a bill that would earmark $100 million for the state’s “Florida Forever” conservation program.
If this sounds like déjà vu, it’s probably because Florida Politics wrote about the bill two months ago.
“This ought to be easy. Florida voters approved that funding by a whopping 75 percent vote three years ago. But the Legislature has a maddening habit of ignoring the will of the voters,” the T-U ed board remarked.
With the Times-Union yet to announce a replacement for the respected Tia Mitchell, it will be interesting to see how the Jacksonville paper covers Bradley — and the Florida Legislature — in 2018.
Kim Daniels settles disputed election spending
Rep. Daniels cut a deal this week with the Florida Elections Commission. She will spend $1,500 to settle claims that she paid campaign money from her 2015 Jacksonville City Council re-election bid on promoting her book, “The Demon Dictionary.”
As Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly reported in February 2015, Daniels spent $4,000 of campaign funds to promote her book, The DemonDictionary, in a religious magazine called Shofar.
Daniels also offered editorials in the magazine, and no disclaimers marking the communiqué as campaign communications were included.
A local activist/journalist, David Vandygriff of JaxGay.com, filed an FEC complaint, and in March 2016, staff recommended to the commission that there was probable cause to believe that an election code violation might have occurred.
Daniels faces no opposition thus far in her 2018 bid for re-election.
Second Democrat jumps into HD 15 fight
Many connected Jacksonville Democrats are solidly behind Tracye Polson in her bid to replace Fant in House District 15.
But to get to the general election against a Republican (Wyman Duggan is the only one to have filed yet), Polson must fend off a primary challenge.
Jacksonville Democrat Matt McAllister filed last month for the seat.
Jacksonville Sheriff Williams filed for re-election Tuesday, opening a campaign account and launching an operation well ahead of the 2019 vote.
Despite the formal filing for re-election, it’s clear that Williams has been working in that direction for months.
Williams’ political committee, “A Safe Jacksonville,” has raised $154,000, and has $131,000 on hand.
The committee’s spending in September and October reflected a nascent re-election campaign, with a $10,000 October spend with Jacksonville consultant Bruce Barcelo on constituent polling, after a September spend of $8,900 with Data Targeting Research for the same.
While we don’t have access to the internal polls, the most recent public poll shows that Sheriff Williams is popular, with 67 percent approval countywide … including 60 percent of Democrats.
Bad trip? Or hit piece?
The Florida Times-Union offered a long-form look at the political symbiosis between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan.
The subtext may be more interesting than the text.
Historically, there has been a pattern when the T-U would go in on Curry’s administration on one issue or another; a Cold War of some length, followed by rapprochement.
“Curry’s current travel practices have blown up the old system,” writes the T-U’s Nate Monroe, who adds that “Curry considers himself a reform mayor who championed hard-won changes to the old ways of doing business, often touting his interest in increased transparency and accountability for the massive consolidated government he oversees. But Curry might be sidestepping that goal when it comes to his own office.”
In a media market like this, with a few dedicated City Hall reporters between print and television, the relationship between Curry and the local paper is worth watching. While the T-U editorial board is pretty much on lock, the news side is more skeptical — as Monroe’s article suggests.
Curry faces no imminent challenges to re-election, and — as compared to Alvin Brown, who attempted to stay above politics — is exceedingly well prepared for a re-election campaign.
But the path forward can get more treacherous if articles like this one occlude the larger narrative.
Tree canopy tango
Jacksonville City Councilman John Crescimbeni introduced legislation this week that opposes a state bill (HB 521/SB 574) that would cut the heart out of the city’s protections of its tree canopy.
The state bill, filed by Republican Greg Steube in the Senate and Democrat Katie Edwards in the House, would prohibit cities such as Jacksonville from stopping landowners from removing trees located on their own private property.
Crescimbeni’s Jacksonville City Council bill (2017-822) contends that the legislation is “harmful to the environment and contrary to the overwhelming wishes of Jacksonville citizens,” and that the state legislation is an “assault on home rule.”
The Crescimbeni bill, if it moves through committee, will be voted up or down by the full Council in 2018.
Price of sex discrimination to be paid by Jax taxpayers
WJXT reported on the city of Jacksonville getting ready to dole out almost half a million dollars to settle two sex discrimination cases.
“The city tried unsuccessfully to get both lawsuits dismissed, and in each case, the city’s general counsel said the agreed upon settlement would be far less than what the city might have to pay after a jury trial and lengthy court battle,” reports WJXT’s Jim Piggott.
For a taste of what these women had to endure, consider the example of 65-year-old Deborah Jones, a jail employee.
Jones claimed her boss called her an “old, demented, worthless whore” and who “didn’t need to worry about inmates hanging around a dark parking lot because ‘they don’t rape old, ugly women.’”
Reggie Gaffneyraises $10K in re-election bid
It appears that, despite issues during his first two years in office, that Jacksonville City Councilman Gaffney will have the resources he needs to best lightly-funded opponents.
October revealed fundraising that, while slow compared to many other candidates in the city, dwarfs opponents in Council District 7, which includes Downtown, Springfield and points north.
Gaffney brought in $9,100 in October, pushing him to $10,100 raised — with all but $228 of that cash on hand.
Gaffney’s money came in chunks: $2,500 in three checks from local dog track interests; $2,000 from three property management entities housed at the same address (437 E Monroe St. Ste 100); and $2,000 more from two property management companies with the same post office box in Yulee.
One opponent has $1,800 banked; the other has $0 in reserve.
Privatize JEA? Tom Petway says yes.
The big news out of Tuesday’s meeting of Jacksonville’s JEA Board wasn’t on the agenda.
Board member Petway — one of the earliest supporters of the candidacy of Jacksonville Mayor Curry — announced his intention to leave the board Dec. 31. And he revived a major conceptual proposal on his way out.
Petway suggested that perhaps the time has come for the municipal utility to move into a “private sector marketplace” model.
“The majority of people in Florida are served by a private-sector marketplace,” Petway said, asking the board to consider where JEA “fits” in that emergent paradigm.
At a press availability Wednesday, Curry further discussed the audacious proposal by one of his staunchest political supporters.
“[Petway and] I’ve had abstract conversations about challenging the utility to think big,” Curry said. “Numerous times.”
“I’ve been about reform, challenge, changing the status quo,” Curry added. “And he certainly challenged the organization to think big yesterday.”
This concept has been floated twice in the last decade, and couldn’t get traction.
However, some City Councilors — notably, Council liaison to JEA Matt Schellenberg and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — are receptive, even as Council President Anna Brosche wants to know more.
Two candidates have emerged in the hopes of replacing Gibson.
The names: Lisa King, the county party committeewoman who lost a race for state chair to freshly-resigned Stephen Bittel; andHazel Gillis, VP of the Duval Dems’ Black Caucus.
“Democrats can win elections in Jacksonville. To do so,” King said, “we must be brave, build trust and be ready to work.”
Gillis, in an email announcing her bid, noted that she will “work diligently to unify our party and work for inclusion.”
The party will choose Monday evening.
Scott reappoints two to Jacksonville Aviation Authority
Gov. Rick Scott announced the reappointment of Patrick Kilbane and Giselle Carson to the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.
Kilbane, 38, of Jacksonville, is a financial adviser with Ullmann Brown Wealth Advisors. He received his law degree from the University of Notre Dame. Kilbane is reappointed for a term beginning ending Sept. 30, 2021.
Carson, 49, of Jacksonville, is an attorney and shareholder with Marks Gray PA. Carson received her bachelor’s degree from McGill University and her law degree from the Florida Coastal School of Law. Carson is reappointed for a term ending Sept. 30, 2021.
Wildlight UF Health facility plans filed
Wildlight LLC has filed plans with the St. Johns River Water Management District this week for a proposed University of Florida health and fitness complex at Wildlight, the master-planned community in Nassau County.
Karen Mathis of the Jacksonville Daily Record reports that Wildlight developer Raydient Places + Properties and UF is seeking to construct two medical office buildings, with parking facilities, on 6.38 acres in Yulee at Florida A1A and William Burgess Boulevard.
In August, Raydient — Rayonier Inc.’s real estate subsidiary — and UF announced groundbreaking would begin in 2018.
Plans include a 23,331-square-foot medical office building and a 5,888-square-foot building. GAI Consultants of Jacksonville is serving as the project agent.
Wildlight is a 2,900-acre development with 7 million square feet of office, commercial, medical, industrial and residential space. The project will include 3,200 residential units.
Originally in downtown Jacksonville, Rayonier moved its headquarters to Wildlight, a new town that it refers to as “Florida Lowcountry.”
In all, Wildlight will offer homes, townhomes and rental apartments along with shops, restaurants, parks, gardens, playgrounds, a new elementary school that opened and a trail and pathway system to connect it.
JTA holiday bus offers free rides, candy canes, music
Weekdays through December 22, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) is offering a special holiday bus, located on any one of its routes during the holiday season.
If you find the holiday bus, you can ride for free.
JTA says riders on this holiday bus will also get holiday music, candy canes, and decorations.
For more information on the holiday bus, contact JTA customer service at (904) 630-3100.
Jacksonville Zoo celebrates birth of endangered Sumatran tiger cubs
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is celebrating the healthy birth of two critically endangered Sumatran tiger cubs. The cubs’ mother, 6-year-old Dorcas, gave birth at 11:40 a.m. November 20. The tigers’ keepers were able to keep an eye on the process using a closed-circuit camera system.
Both cubs are male; they are the second litter for Dorcas and father, Berani. The Zoo’s first Sumatran tiger birth in its 102-year history is big sister Kinleigh Rose, born on November 19, 2015 — two years and a day before the arrival of her little brothers.
“One of the biggest pleasures as the Zoo’s tiger-management program evolves, is watching the effect that it has on the wellness of our animals,” said Dan Dembiec, Supervisor of Mammals. “Dorcas started out as a skittish and shy tigress, but she is now a confident and skilled mother. She is a natural at providing her cubs with the necessary care to help them develop, and this is reflective of the care that she has received from the staff at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.”
The cubs received their first medical exam on November 28. Zoo Animal Health staff were able to quickly and efficiently examine the cubs because of the exceptional bonding and training the keeper staff has conducted with the mother. Dorcas was willing and trusting to be separated from the cubs at the request of the keepers.
Not even three months after Hurricane Irma comes an indication, via Moody’s, that a storm may be brewing in municipal credit markets.
Via Bloomberg: “If cities and states don’t deal with risks from surging seas or intense storms, they are at greater risk of default.”
Moody’s considers six indicators to measure exposure, like how many homes are in a flood plain — an issue for Jacksonville.
During Hurricane Matthew, Jacksonville issued mandatory evacuations in Flood Zones A, B, and C; these encompassed 450,000 people.
During Irma, Jacksonville evacuated zones A and B, which encompassed 256,000 people.
Despite those evacuation orders, life was imperiled: 350 residents had to be rescued in the hours after the storm churned out of the area. Downtown Jacksonville suffered historic flooding, as did neighborhoods on the river, such as Avondale, Riverside and San Marco.
While Moody’s has yet to actually downgrade a city for not addressing climate change, Jacksonville has physical vulnerability.
As well, the city has backed away from nationwide initiatives — such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s “100 Resilient Cities,” which offered $1 million a year to participating municipalities.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry — who created a media kerfuffle earlier this year in backing President Donald Trump‘s intention to leave the Paris Accord, an international agreement to curb emissions and other environmental impacts, is not worried about potential future credit downgrades, he told us Wednesday.
“Sea levels are rising, in Jacksonville and the state. We certainly experience catastrophic storms … and we in Jacksonville are doing everything we can to invest in proper infrastructure on the front end, and [working] to keep our people safe on the back end,” Curry said.
“Our Public Works Department has a comprehensive plan they are currently re-evaluating and have been prior to these storms. So I would say we face the reality in front of us and those rising sea levels and those storms are a reality in front of us, and we will adjust accordingly,” Curry added.
But will that convince the bond ratings agencies?
“Budgets — real budgets and real investments speak to bond rating agencies. Not a bunch of feel-good talk that a lot of elected officials like to do that result in no real investments and no real budgets,” Curry said.
“I stand by my budgets. I stand by my work with City Council. I stand by our investments in neighborhoods and infrastructure,” Curry added.
However, Moody’s already expressed concern about pension reform, specifically about the deferred payment model on the $3.2 billion unfunded actuarial liability from the city’s defined benefit plans.
“The Aa2 Issuer Rating reflects the city’s high fixed costs, which are elevated by weak pension funding levels. Despite a new pension reform plan, pension payments will continue to constrict the city’s financial operations. The rating also reflects the city’s rebounding, large and diverse economy, coupled with a strengthened balance sheet position, that both help buoy the rating at the current level. Moody’s will closely monitor the city’s ability to control rapidly increasing fixed costs,” the agency asserted in August.
When the Jacksonville media finally begins paying attention to 2019 City Council races, bet that the at-large contest between Bill Bishop and Ron Salem will feature.
It has to.
Though media turnover on the television side necessarily dictates many TV reporters won’t remember Bishop’s audacious play for mayor in 2015 (an underfunded run that nonetheless garnered 17 percent of the vote in a four-way race in the “first election“).
But for locals — especially certain activists — the Bishop phenomenon was real.
He carved out a unique role in the race: he was seen as the truth teller candidate. Despite being a relatively conventional conservative Republican in his eight years on City Council, Bishop brought together a unique coalition of Democrats disaffected with Alvin Brown and Republicans that, for reasons that seem esoteric in retrospect, weren’t willing to support Lenny Curry.
That race ended and Bishop vowed to run in 2019 — but not before endorsing Brown’s re-election.
From there, most reading this know what happened next: Curry won the election, and Bishop couldn’t pull the trigger on challenging Curry, opting instead for an at-large run to replace termed-out incumbent John Crescimbeni.
Bishop has moved toward a more doctrinaire Republican stance, appearing at events put on by the Duval County Republican Party (that endorsed Curry over Bishop in 2015), and showing up to a meeting of the Southside Business Men’s Club with conservative radio talk show host Ed Dean as his special guest.
While Bishop is making moves to shore up his GOP bona fides, opponent Salem is widening the gap with the former two-term district Councilman in the money race.
Bishop had a respectable first month in the race in October — bringing in $13,325 off of 24 contributions — though Salem almost matched him, with $11,125 collected in what was Salem’s best month since May.
When it comes to cash on hand, Salem is running away with it: just under $114,000, and that number looks likely to widen on the November report.
A Salem fundraiser on Wednesday night contained a veritable “who’s who” of the Jacksonville Republican power base.
Mayor Curry was special guest, and former Mayor John Peyton was just one name on an impressive host committee that also included Peter Rummell, Michael Munz, Jamie Shelton, John Rood and others who typically back winning candidates.
A source connected to the Salem campaign noted Curry’s presence reflects continued “support,” a proposition questioned by some GOP consultants in recent months.
Curry, we are told, is “for Ron, not against anyone” — a seeming allusion to the bad blood between Curry and Bishop in the wake of Bishop backing Brown in the runoff in 2015.
The total haul is yet to be determined; however, 50 people showed to the event, including Councilman Al Ferraro.
Salem also has a resource that Bishop — as of yet — does not: a political committee: “Moving Jacksonville Forward.”
Bishop has the advantage in name identification; however, one wonders if that will translate by 2019, especially when Salem has the Curry machine behind him, while Bishop is — as he was in his mayoral bid — compelled to go forward without that kind of institutional support and the stability it affords a political operation.
There is, of course, a chance that wildcards — including money from outside Northeast Florida — could come into play in this race. Salem is a candidate of Tim Baker and Brian Hughes; some are suggesting that money from Sen. Jack Latvala‘s political committee could be deployed against their clients.
Even Bishop attending events with Ed Dean could be seen as a jab at the Baker/Hughes machine, as Dean and Hughes are not aligned.
This race may be about much more than a City Council seat in the end.
The big local story this week was on Tuesday, when former JEA Board Chairman Tom Petway said customers of the 50-year-old municipal Jacksonville utility might be better off under a privatized model.
Jacksonville City Council members — such as Matt Schellenberg and Garrett Dennis — were open to the idea, while Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry framed it as a “simple request” to “explore the value” of that public asset.
“As a reform-minded mayor, I welcome this challenge and will work with City Council leadership to answer these questions,” Curry asserted Tuesday.
At a press availability Wednesday, Curry further discussed the audacious proposal by one of his staunchest political supporters.
“[Petway and] I’ve had abstract conversations about challenging the utility to think big,” Curry said. “Numerous times.”
“I’ve been about reform, challenge, changing the status quo,” Curry added. “And he certainly challenged the organization to think big yesterday.”
“What needs to happen is a fair look at that, an independent look at that,” he continued. “He challenged the organization to do just that. That’s what’s fair to taxpayers, fair to ratepayers, and we’ll see where that leads.”
As we noted yesterday, discussions of privatization have happened before. In 2007 and 2012, there wasn’t political appetite for such.
Next year may be a different story. A hallmark of Curry’s first term in office has been reform, including pension reform, as well as reform of the city’s children’s services organizations and reinstitution of the city’s Neighborhoods Department — All of which were driven by the Curry’s office.
Council members have pushed their own reform measures; the expansion of the city’s Human Rights Ordinance to include LGBT people this year was driven by Council co-sponsors, and in that case the Mayor’s Office demurred from taking an overt position on the legislation.
However, it is clear that in this instance it will be incumbent on Curry’s shop to frame the narrative and build consensus.
The city has dealt with hurricanes and power outages in each of the last two years, and both situations brought scrutiny to JEA. However, much of the state — including areas serviced by Florida Power and Light and Duke Energy — dealt with power outages that lasted weeks.
Mayor Curry noted that Petway was a “successful businessman and a civic servant long before anybody knew who [Curry] was,” adding that Petway “has served this city and community in so many ways,” including “filling the role” at JEA after Curry reconfigured the JEA Board in 2015.
While Curry hasn’t put his official imprimatur on the potential privatization of the local utility, what is clear is that he and his operation are not averse to the dialogue and a review of positives and negatives of such a move.
Renner, a Jacksonville lawyer, is in line to become House Speaker in 2022 — a long-awaited return to power in Tallahassee for the Jacksonville political class, which still yearns for the days of Jim King and John Thrasher.
Renner, a close ally of current House Speaker Richard Corcoran and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is starting to demonstrate big-league fundraising ability.
October saw $108,000 course into Renner’s political committees, “Florida Foundation for Liberty” and “Conservatives for Principled Leadership.” Defending a safe seat in a deep red district, that money isn’t needed for Renner’s own re-election; he can dole it out to allies and causes with which he accords.
Some of those causes may conflict with those of Jacksonville.
Flagler Live reported last month about a “startling avowal” from Renner, in favor of pre-emption of local ordinances over “home rule” — a concept cherished by local legislators, such as those on the Jacksonville City Council.
“Part of this, to be real blunt about it,” Renner said, “what you’re seeing and this is part of a larger conversation could have is the concentration of support for a more center-left or left-wing viewpoint, and this is again not Flagler County, but our major cities, San Francisco, New York. The Democrat Party has really become a party of dense urban areas and the rest of the country tends to be more conservative, more Republican.
“So part of the fight, part of the sub-context of this whole discussion, is the reason we think they’re going rogue is because it’s Bernie Sanders in charge of your local city government or county government in some cases, and doing things that really are sharp departures from the way the country has become so prosperous, so strong and so free, and so states are stepping in to say, look, we’re not going to let you destroy all the good work that we’re doing and all the economic growth we’re creating in the state for people by trying to ban or shut down particular industries that you don’t like,” Renner added.
Some have interpreted Renner’s rhetorical broadside against “rogue” cities as a potential assault on ordinances such as Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance, recently expanded to protect the rights of LGBT people to employment, housing, and public accommodations.
There has also been narrative divergence about how timely the support of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was for Renner as the jockeying for leadership progressed in the spring and early summer.
Curry was instrumental in a fundraiser that raised $250,000 for Renner’s committees.
“I engaged,” Curry said, “and my political operation engaged.”
Others have groused, quietly but persistently, that ‘Team Curry’ didn’t engage quickly enough.
Expect audience questions at the Southside Business Men’s Club Wednesday on these and related topics.
The meeting is members-only and takes place starting with lunch service at 11:30 a.m. at the San Jose Country Club.
A frenetic year in Jacksonville politics — including the passage of the Human Rights Ordinance expansion, pension reform, and the Kids Hope Alliance — is ending.
And not a moment too soon.
The Jacksonville City Council meeting this week had nothing on the agenda was worth covering, even by the standards of our Jacksonville correspondent.
A superbug was going through Council, anyway, and at least one member was absent while another member fought the lingering cold — so it was just as well that they didn’t discuss hot-button issues.
At Bold, we are taking full advantage of the lull in the calendar — with no new issue this Thanksgiving.
We will be with our families, as you will, and we will think of what’s important — the real bonds that give meaning to the often-surreal world of politics.
Rick Scott drops budget in Duval
Gov. Scott released his final budget this week in Jacksonville, an $87.4B proposal with “historic” funding in any number of categories.
Throughout Scott’s remarks, there was a common theme: “historic investments” in area after area, a policy justified by an economy that is booming — on the macro level at least — as his eight years in Tallahassee near a close.
“We’ll have historic investments in education, historic investments in transportation, historic investments in the environment, and historic investments in helping those with disabilities,” Scott added. “On top of that, we’re all going to reward our law enforcement officers.”
Some new announcements were made for the Jacksonville market also, including a “historic $10.8 billion for transportation, including significant funding for Jacksonville, including the deepening of JAXPORT.”
Roy Moore accusations ‘disgusting,’ Scott says
Florida Politics was the first media outlet to ask Scott about Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate under fire for dating underage women while he was district attorney decades back.
Here’s what he told us exclusively in Jacksonville Tuesday: “If any of it’s true, he’s got to get out of the race.”
“This is not partisan. This is about doing the right thing, and when I think about the things in Hollywood, I think about my daughters. And when I think about this, I think about my grandkids.”
“When my daughters were teenagers,” Scott continued, “I was worried about where they were. So, when you hear reports like this, they’re disgusting. So, if there’s any truth to any of this, he’s got to get out of the race.”
“Every voter, every citizen, every taxpayer deserves to have their elected officials live up to high standards. When you read the stories like this, whether the thing’s in Alabama or Tallahassee or D.C. or California,” Scott said, “you think about your family, and you think about how disgusting it is and you hope it would never happen to anybody.”
Audrey Gibson drops Duval Dems chair
On Monday evening, State Sen. Gibson — the next Caucus leader for Senate Democrats — resigned as chair of the Duval County Democratic Party.
“As you may know,” Gibson wrote in an email to local Democrats, “last week I was elected Leader Designate of the Senate Democrat Caucus. I am deeply honored and realize the efforts I must give to winning more Dem seats will require 100 percent plus of my focus.”
Gibson thought the year she was chair was successful, noting that having “candidates ready to run” was among the party’s successes.
Jacksonville Republican State Rep. Yarborough will carry that one to Tallahassee, via a bill filed Monday.
Per the appropriations request, the project will “accommodate the space and growth needs for the College’s STEM programs that focus on public and private sector-identified regional workforce needs.”
“The facility will help the region meet its workforce targets and will help citizens in the community get connected with affordable degree and certificate programs that will lead to employment opportunities,” the request continues.
The $12 million would allow for demolition and replacement of facilities on the college’s downtown campus, the request continues, and unspecified “major employers” in the Jacksonville region would attest to the utility of the project.
Jason Fischer files ‘Smart Cities Initiative’
A bill (“the Florida Smart City Challenge Grant Program”) filed Monday in the Florida Legislature would offer state grant money, via the Florida Department of Transportation, as an incentive for local solutions to transportation challenges.
Fischer filed the House version, HB 633; Republican Jeff Brandes is carrying the Senate version.
“Florida’s transportation system is inefficient and faces many challenges, but we can overcome them by embracing innovative technologies and thinking differently about how we plan our communities. This bill will provide cities and counties throughout Florida the opportunity to leverage technology and private investment to re-imagine mobility solutions not just for businesses but also for seniors, people with disabilities and other underserved individuals,” Fischer said.
A wide swath of agencies would qualify for funding; in particular, any governmental body responsible for the movement of goods and services in Florida, including local governments, but also TPOs and state universities.
Money, power, respect
In October fundraising for this region’s representation in Tallahassee, what was clear: correlation between stroke and checks.
Palm Coast Rep. Paul Renner in HD 24 is on track to the House Speaker post. And Northeast Florida’s brightest hope in the House is also favored by donors outside the region.
Proof positive: the impressive October hauls of Renner’s two political committees, “Florida Foundation for Liberty” and “Conservatives for Principled Leadership.” They brought in $108,000 — much more than an incumbent running in a deep-red seat against an underfunded Democrat needs for re-election.
Also doing well: Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley. While not up for re-election, his fundraising was notable.
“Working for Florida’s Families,” Bradley’s political committee, reached a milestone with a $40,000 October, clearing $500,000 cash on hand.
Sen. Aaron Bean raised $36,000 between his committee and his campaign.
Except for Kim Daniels, who raised nothing and Cord Byrd, who raised just $2,000, virtually every other incumbent in the region did well.
The single open seat — in HD 15 — is competitive so far.
HD 15 Republican Wyman Duggan had a strong month: $20,500 in October, bringing him to $84,600 raised, with nearly $77,000 on hand. Democrat Tracye Polson kept pace.
She brought in $14,090 off 64 contributions in October, bringing her total raised to $65,189, with over $64,000 of that on hand. Her committee has another $12,000 banked, giving her $76,000 raised.
Not doing well in October: Attorney General candidate Jay Fant, who brought in $12,000 between his committee and campaign accounts. Luckily, a $750,000 personal loan buys him time, but opponents Ashley Moody and Frank White are well ahead when it comes to donor and endorser interest.
Big debuts for Jax Council hopefuls
Two new Jacksonville City Council candidates made huge splashes in their first months on the trail. And one political veteran started a bit slow.
Well-connected District 5 hopeful LeAnna Cumber brought in $101,775 last month in her bid to succeed termed-out Lori Boyer. Cumber’s entry into the race has been discussed for some time, and with that kind of money, the Tim Baker/Brian Hughes team deploying it, and a Democrat opponent with $400 on hand, she’s the front-runner.
Also starting off strong: currently unopposed Beaches candidate Rory Diamond, who brought in $85,326, and retained just over $82,000 of such as cash on hand.
Off to a slow start: former Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Bishop, with less than blistering fundraising in his first month against Ron Salem in At-Large District 2.
Bishop had a respectable first month — bringing in $13,325 off 24 contributions — though Salem almost matched him, with $11,125 collected.
Salem has just under $114,000 cash on hand, and it will be worth watching to see how Bishop closes the cash gap.
Curry met with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, as well as Billy Kirkland and Justin Clark, who handle intergovernmental affairs for the White House, U.S. Reps. John Rutherford and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Sen. Marco Rubio.
The primary goal of that trip: discussing the $25 million grant from the Department of Transportation that would allow the city to reconfigure off ramps from the Hart Bridge onto surface streets, allowing for more efficient movement of goods to and from the port.
And Curry, along with his team, made the pitch.
The in-person meeting, Curry said, had invaluable advantages, as a “face to face meeting” with the right people is inherently more meaningful than just presenting a paper with project specs and scope.
Curry recounted the case he made against the current configuration.
Its age makes it a “dinosaur” regarding design, one with safety issues that mandate changes.
The FDOT Study of the bridge conducted this year revealed the benefit to the port, another key benefit to the project.
The economic development for Bay Street the new traffic pattern would spawn, Curry said, was “gravy” — not the primary purpose of the project that some have suggested.
But the trip was about more than selling the project, Curry said. It’s about “long-term relationship building” as well, on this issue but others.
Jax councilors, mayor’s office discouraged from texting
Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche revised the council’s texting policy to include official “discouragement” of texts between legislators and the Mayor’s Office during meetings.
Brosche says it’s about transparent government.
“The impetus for change is transparency, open government, and equal access. During our meetings, all Council members and, more importantly, the public should be part of the conversations taking place regarding legislation actively being debated,” Brosche said.
Brosche also noted that administration members have been texting Council members during meetings.
“While I have observed colleagues receiving texts from the administration during meetings, I am going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that such communications were not about active legislation. My revision of the policy is a proactive measure to uphold the principles of transparency and open government and allow all Council Members and the public to know they are participating in all communications happening during Council meetings.”
The Mayor’s Office is OK with this, meanwhile.
“The mayor has always said he respects the Council and Council President’s roles in conducting themselves and setting policies as they see fit. The mayor has also been a proponent of transparency and accountability, and is always encouraged to see practices that support that,” asserted a statement from his office.
The mayor’s office and Brosche have clashed on various issues since she took over the presidency in July.
MLK breakfast troubles
First Coast News reports that the local NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Conference have no interest in participating in Jacksonville’s Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast next year.
The question they are asking: “What’s in it for the SCLC? What’s in it for the NAACP?”
At issue: economic disparity and resource allocation, with the civil rights groups claiming “One City One Jacksonville” is just a slogan — not a policy.
For its part, the Mayor’s Office contends that it has been making good faith efforts to meet with the local leaders of both groups, and has included them on the event host committee.
Revealed in 2017’s breakfast is a gap in rhetoric between the Mayor’s Office and the pastoral community. After that event, a boycott was threatened, per WJCT.
Opioid lawsuit imminent
Jacksonville soon may be one of the many governments suing Big Pharma in reaction to the opiate crisis.
Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel is vetting so-called “prestigious” law firms, with a decision expected early in December.
Earlier this year, the Jacksonville City Council approved a resolution OKing legal action.
“The general counsel’s approved it, and I don’t feel like there’s any impediment,” Gulliford said.
The city has absorbed real costs from the opioid epidemic.
Overdoses, at last count, end four times as many lives as homicides in Duval County, with 2016’s number of 464 casualties more than doubling 2015’s number of 201.
Caucasians represent 86 percent of the deaths, and over half of those passing away are in their 30s and 40s.
And things could get worse: a fentanyl derivative being used to cut heroin in the Ohio Valley doesn’t respond to Narcan.
What Aaron Bean is up to in November
On Friday, Nov. 17, the Fernandina Beach Republican will speak at the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the Sertoma Speech & Hearing Foundation’s new mobile audiology services van, which will provide pediatric hearing screenings and dispense hearing aids. That event begins 1 p.m. at the Hidden Hills Learning Tree, 12160 Fort Caroline Road in Jacksonville.
On Wednesday, Nov. 22, Bean will appear at the dedication of a memorial for Nassau County Deputy Eric Oliver, on the anniversary of his death in 2016 by a hit-and-run driver. The dedication begins at 7:30 a.m., 463779 FL-200 in Yulee.
Then, on Nov. 28, Bean will give a speech to members of the Downtown Business Professional Group and offer an update on the upcoming 2018 Legislative Session. The meeting starts 7 a.m. at The River Club, 1 Independent Drive in Jacksonville.
Local veteran honored in Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame
Colonel Len Loving, United States Marine Corps (Ret.) and CEO of Five STAR Veterans Center, will be honored in the State of Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame.
The State of Florida began the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame in 2013 to recognize and honor military veterans who, through their works and lives during or after military service, have made a significant contribution to the State of Florida. In selecting its nominees, the Council has given preference to veterans who were either born in Florida or adopted Florida as their home state.
In 1986, Loving founded the Marine Corps Blount Island Command, in Jacksonville, which has become a major economic engine in Northeast Florida. He was the Commanding Officer until his retirement in 1989.
In 2011, Loving began building and opening the Five STAR Veterans Center, where he continues to serve as CEO. The center gives food, housing, assistance securing veteran benefits, financial, mental health services provided by the Delores Barr Weaver Fund, and more to 30-plus homeless veterans monthly.
Loving has been chosen for the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame due to his positive impact on Florida’s most at-risk veterans and their families by 1) opening what is now the Five STAR Veterans Center, 2) going many extra miles to keep the doors open, and 3) making a lasting, life-altering impact on those who are most significantly affected by their years in service and have nowhere else to turn.
Today, five years after opening the doors, 199 veterans have lived at and benefited from the Five STAR Veterans Center; 35 veterans currently live at the center, and by January 2018 the center expects to reach their capacity of 39 veterans.
JAXPORT to expand vehicle-handling capacity
JAXPORT is beginning construction of a new automobile processing terminal, the first part of a multiyear project to increase the port’s vehicle-handling capacity 25 percent.
Once completed, the facility will add more than 100 acres of processing and storage space on JAXPORT’s Dames Point Marine Terminal, offering vessels direct waterside access for loading and unloading with major interstates less than 1 mile away plus the potential for rail capabilities.
The expansion follows a year of highest-ever vehicle volumes at JAXPORT. In 2017, the port moved record 693,000 total units. With the port’s three auto processors and location in the heart of the nation’s fastest-growing auto consumer market, JAXPORT his responding to the increased demand for vehicle space.
“The steady growth of our auto business speaks volumes about our efficiencies,” said Roy Schleicher, JAXPORT Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer. “We are committed to supporting our auto partners with the tools they require to continue to expand their businesses in Jacksonville.”
Jacksonville Zoo Breakfast with Santa
On the weekend of Dec. 2-3, Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens members and their families can enjoy a delicious breakfast buffet, and become among the first to tell Santa their holiday wishes. New this year: Breakfast will take place at the Shaba Terrace at Main Camp.
Members Only Breakfast with Santa begins 8 a.m., and costs $8 per member, ages 3 and up.
Those with a friend, 1 adult family + 1, family + 1 or family + 2 membership may bring the corresponding number of guests. A limited number of tickets will be sold on a first come, first served basis. More information available at Jacksonvillezoo.org.
Check the scoreboard. Or read the articles in this week’s edition.
The next leader of the Senate Democrats — Jacksonville’s own Audrey Gibson.
The new budget chief in the Senate — Fleming Island’s own Rob Bradley.
And yeah, there were … things … that happened … to allow both of those to come to pass.
But lo and behold, Northeast Florida has more stroke in the Senate than has been the case for years.
The question, now: what will the region do with it?
In the House, we are waiting for Paul Renner to work his way up to Speaker — next decade.
Can the region’s Senators and House members get together and make some big pushes for Jacksonville priorities?
Report: No worries for Al Lawson re-election
The Tallahassee Democratposted a provocative article recently, contending that Rep. Lawson doesn’t have much to worry about when it comes to his re-election bid.
Data guru Matt Isbell of MCI Maps — cited in the article — says the seat is Lawson’s to lose.
“The district gave Clinton over 60 percent of the vote … the rural red counties make up a small share of the vote,” said Isbell. “Lawson may generate a general election challenger, but it won’t a serious or threatening one.”
Indeed, Lawson is one of those Democrats that Republicans can do business with — and it is hard to imagine a serious general election challenger.
However, as Jax Dems know, Lawson could face a primary challenge from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown … which would be interesting.
While Lawson could face Alvin Brown, more certain is a primary challenge from first-time candidate Rontel Batie.
Batie, a former Corrine Brown policy director, was evasive when we asked his thoughts on Brown’s legal woes and for an idea of how much money his committee (“Rontel for Florida”) has raised.
Batie’s pitch is a millennial candidate with an inspirational personal narrative — rising from deep poverty and personal adversity (including his father getting shot when he was a kid.
It’s uncertain where the momentum comes from to push him over Lawson … yet it’s in Lawson’s interest to have Batie and as many challengers as possible in the race.
Lawson has a lock on Tallahassee, built support elsewhere in the district, and with the more candidates splitting the anti-Lawson vote, the better for him.
Batie really hurts Alvin Brown — again, should Brown get in the race.
“Immediately after being confronted by investigating agents, Ms. Wiley obtained counsel and quickly began providing truthful cooperation in the Government’s investigation,” the memo asserts, describing her cooperation as “early and significant, leading to the indictment of a then-sitting member of Congress and her chief of staff, and ultimately to the plea and cooperation of Mr. Simmons, her testimony and his testimony at trial and the conviction of Corrine Brown.”
The memo asserts that Wiley’s “significant role” in the scheme that went on for three years is outweighed by her cooperation. Also asserted: that Wiley has “no significant risk of recidivism.”
Notable: one of Wiley’s attorneys, Justin Fairfax, will be the next Attorney General of Virginia, elected in the Old Dominion’s anti-Trump wave Tuesday.
Audrey Gibson to lead Senate Democrats
Jacksonville is making moves in Tallahassee: veteran Democratic Senator Audrey Gibson will become the caucus leader for Senate Democrats after an 8-7 vote Monday.
Gibson will succeed current Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II when his term ends next November.
The split was described by observers as moderates versus progressives, a dynamic which some fear will split the caucus; our source tells us Braynon was the deciding vote.
In a “you heard it here first” moment, Florida Politics called this in the Oct. 30 edition of Sunburn.
We asked Gibson about what this would mean for North Florida — specifically, will the region finally get to sit at the adult table when it comes to appropriations?
“Equal footing comparatively speaking is definitely a goal,” Gibson asserted, “however, in one Session it may be a bit lofty.”
Rob Bradley becomes Senate Appropriations Chair
Gibson’s ascension to Democratic Caucus leader is the shot.
Here’s the chaser.
Sen. Jack Latvala’s scandals led to him stepping down — temporarily — from the Senate Appropriations Chair. And Fleming Island Sen. Bradley will take over the position — just weeks before an election year Legislative Session that will see big money spent.
“While the independent, third-party investigation regarding Senator Latvala is pending, I believe it is in the best interest of the Senate for another Senator to temporarily serve as Chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations,” Senate President Joe Negron wrote in a memo this week.
Latvala, as widely reported, is facing largely anonymous yet deeply detailed accusations of abusing his power with women in the Senate.
Bradley will be in a position to advocate for his priorities, which include more money for North Florida’s St. Johns River, tributaries and springs, as well as a $100 million appropriation for Florida Forever.
Rick Scott fumbles gun question in Jacksonville
Gov. Scott’s talking points failed him in a Jacksonville visit this week when he was asked by this outlet whether “prayers” sufficed as a response after the latest mass shooting on American soil: the killing of 26 people in a South Texas church.
Many of Scott’s Twitter followers posited that “prayers” aren’t enough to stop such things from happening. When asked for concrete policy solutions beyond prayers, Scott — a Governor entering his eighth year in office — had no solutions.
He did, however, use the word evil nine times in roughly two minutes.
“The most important thing we have to do,” Scott said, “is we need more prayer rather than less.”
“Last week, we had a terrorist attack in New York City. We need to pray for when these things happen. It’s horrible when these things happen,” Scott said.
“It’s evil when these things happen,” Scott continued. “Whether it’s a terrorist attack with a truck, somebody doing what they did in a church in the San Antonio area, I’m going to pray for them. We know it’s evil.”
“I believe in the Second Amendment. I just wish there was no evil in the world,” Scott added.
“It’s evil — whatever you want to call it. It’s evil. It’s evil what happened — the terrorism in New York, it was a terrorist inspired by ISIS in the Pulse attack. These things are evil,” Scott said.
“Evil is evil,” Scott added.
This botch led the liberal political action committee “American Bridge” to issue an email calling Scott’s handling of the gun question “abysmal” and decrying his statement as “pablum.”
Aaron Bean’s Handmaid’s Tale Moment
News Service of Florida reports that a Senate committee “narrowly approved a bill that would place into law a program that seeks to dissuade women from having abortions.”
Aaron Bean sponsored the bill … and the Fernandina Beach Republican was “surprised” that the bill was controversial with the National Organization for Women, which urged protesters to dress like the concubines in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the Margaret Atwood novel about a dystopian, anti-feminist United States.
Lawmakers approved beans bill Tuesday in a 5-3 vote by the Senate Health Policy Committee.
‘Kill shot’ for Jay Fant AG bid?
The underreported Cold War between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and State Rep. Jay Fant continues, with Curry’s political committee donating to Fant’s opponent, Rep. Frank White, in the Attorney General race.
This was followed by endorsements of White from Curry and Rep. John Rutherford, described by one Republican consultant as a “kill shot” for Fant.
Curry’s political advisers, Tim Baker and Brian Hughes, are handling White’s campaign.
Fant, the previous chair of the Duval County Legislative Delegation, was slated last Session to carry a bill that would have brought $50 million to Jacksonville to help with costs related to removing current Hart Bridge offramps and routing traffic onto surface streets.
Fant noted that he was going to carry the bill last year based on the public safety argument the mayor’s office advanced at the time.
This year, Fant says the bill would be the prototypical “heavy lift,” saying it was “up to the city to make its case,” and that case “needs to be really good.”
Fant, who was at odds with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, doesn’t appear likely to carry Curry’s priority bill this time out.
The city seeks $12.5M from the state to match a federal grant of $25 million, which would be roughly three-quarters the cost of the project.
Locals endorse Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum for governor
Two elected Jacksonville Democrats — state Rep. Tracie Davis and School Board member Warren Jones — endorsed Gwen Graham for Governor Monday.
Meanwhile, Thursday saw former state Sen. Tony Hill endorse Graham’s primary opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.
Graham had already been endorsed by former Jacksonville Mayors Jake Godbold and City Councilmen Tommy Hazouri and Garrett Dennis, and thus far is the only candidate for Governor on the Democratic side to score meaningful Jacksonville endorsements.
“I’m proud to have Representative Tracie Davis and School Board Member Warren Jones by my side fighting to restore public education in Florida,” Graham said. “With their help, we are making outreach in Jacksonville and Duval County a top priority in my campaign.”
Worth noting: Davis and Dennis are political allies of Sen. Audrey Gibson, the soon-to-be caucus leader of Senate Dems and the chair of the local Democratic Party.
Clay Yarborough widens money lead in re-election bid
Jacksonville’s House District 12 will see a competitive election next November between incumbent Republican Clay Yarborough and Democrat Tim Yost.
Clearly not taking re-election for granted, Yarborough posted his strongest total since June: $21,750 of new October lucre.
Democrat Yost brought in $1,208 in donations from 19 contributors, including HD 15 Democratic hopeful Tracye Polson.
He finished October with roughly $2,300 on hand.
Lenny Curry’s D.C. adventure
Jacksonville Mayor Curry was in Washington D.C. this week making the push for a federal infrastructure grant, and his itinerary was packed.
The $25 million grant from the Department of Transportation would allow the city to reconfigure off ramps from the Hart Bridge onto surface streets.
The push is supported by Sen. Marco Rubio, who is just one of the Beltway power players Curry met with.
Curry met with Billy Kirkland and Justin Clark, who handle intergovernmental affairs for the White House.
As well, the Mayor had meetings with U.S. Reps. John Rutherford and Mario Diaz-Balart.
Diaz-Balart, a senior member of the House Committee on Appropriations, is chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. He also serves on the House Committee on the Budget.
Curry followed up the Diaz-Balart meeting with meetings with senior staff from the U.S. D.O.T., and then a meeting with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
Worth noting: Marty Fiorentino of the Fiorentino Group helped Chao, an old friend and colleague, as she settled into her latest Cabinet position.
Four more years for Jax Sheriff?
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams addressed a Jacksonville City Council committee Monday — but the big news is that he is just weeks away from launching his re-election campaign.
“We’ll announce that here in the next couple of weeks,” Williams told Florida Politics. “I think we have a lot of work to do and I’m excited.”
Williams’ political committee, “A Safe Jacksonville,” had $105,000 on hand at the end of September, and raised roughly $30,000 more in October.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s race in 2015 was expensive, with over $2 million raised by the seven candidates in the field.
Williams will likely face a ballot challenger — but high approval numbers, per a recent UNF Poll, suggest that any challenger will have an uphill slog.
The first-term Republican Sheriff has 67 percent approval — and 60 percent approval among Democrats.
Williams also has broad appeal in all ethnic groups; his worst performance in the survey is 54 percent with African-American voters.
Death looms over Jax Council Parks panel
Three-year-old Amari Harley and 74-year-oldAshley Miller Kraan had very little in common — except that they both drew their last breaths in Jacksonville parks this fall.
Harley fell down a hole above a septic tank; the rubber lid was missing.
Kraan was stabbed in broad daylight by a man with mental issues.
However, that special committee had nothing to say about the deaths on the dais, instead talking around the margins, discussing maintenance and other issues.
Parks Committee Chair Scott Wilson noted, before the meeting Wednesday, that maintenance and security are among the committee’s focuses.
Calling the deaths in parks “unfortunate circumstances,” Wilson noted that he was “sorry that happened,” but there are logistical issues precluding ramping up park security.
“We have over 400 parks in the city,” Wilson said, and that requires a “careful” deployment of resources.
After the meeting, Councilwoman Lori Boyer noted that during budget discussions this summer, Sheriff Mike Williams had been “unwilling” to make commitments to station JSO officers in parks.
She suggested that park rangers, which would have arresting powers, could be an option.
“Parks need to be safe,” Boyer said,
However, a security guard in every park would be “overkill,” Boyer added.
Randy White files for Westside Jax Council seat
Jacksonville City Council District 12 is the heart of the city’s true Westside; accents are authentically local, politics are right of center, and a person’s word is his bond.
As of 2019, current Councilman Doyle Carter is term-limited out — but a candidate who filed to replace him embodies much of the straightforwardness Carter brought to the table.
Randy White — a former Jacksonville Association of Firefighters union head, and a retired deputy fire chief — has “the fire in the belly to serve,” he told Florida Politics Tuesday.
Of course, he says he wouldn’t even be running if “my good buddy wasn’t termed out.”
White’s priorities as a candidate include public safety on the macro level, and on the district level, he wants to actualize the still largely untapped potential of the Cecil Commerce Center (formerly Cecil Field).
No nukes are good nukes?
Mayport’s dream of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier may be dead, per the Florida Times-Union.
“I don’t believe the presence of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier would best suit the Jacksonville area,” Rear Admiral Sean Buck said.
But there are positives, with additional amphibious readiness ships slated to call Mayport home.
“In the next two to three years Mayport is going to grow and have a very, very big presence of brand-new Navy warships, more sailors, more families and be back to what I consider the good-old days,” Buck said.
MMJ not OK in Jax Beach
It’s unfortunate when 81 percent of voters are wrong.
That’s the message from Jacksonville Beach, where — despite that massive majority voting in favor of Amendment 2 in 2016 — city leaders are putting the kibosh on cannabis dispensaries, per Action News Jax.
“My job is to represent the people of Jacksonville Beach and as I mentioned during the council meeting, 81 percent of the people may have voted for medical marijuana. But it wasn’t 81 percent of Jacksonville Beach residents looking to put a dispensary in Jacksonville Beach,” Mayor Charlie Latham said.
Even by the standards of beach politics, this was shady. The 4-3 City Council vote on the ban’s first reading included a flipped vote and what Action News delicately called “some confusion.”
The final vote on this measure is in two weeks.
Bye Bye Hastings
The St. Johns County hamlet Hastings will be dissolved, per a resounding vote this week.
One hundred thirty-six voted for dissolution, and 29 opposed; total turnout was 41 percent.
Hastings now has somewhere around 644 people, down from 1200 at its peak. The average housing price: around $80,000. There is no in-town high school.
Dissolution will come at a cost to St. Johns County.
Among moneys owed: $237,000 to FDOT, $639,400 in water and sewer Revenue Bond debt, and $72,757 listed in the Ordinance as “Building Maintenance and Improvement Loan.”
Almost $950,000, all told.
State Rep. Cyndi Stevenson told us earlier this year that dissolution “will likely benefit the city residents and businesses because the county will be a more efficient provider of services. The County will likely incur some costs to improve water infrastructure. The County is already providing some services to unincorporated areas near Hastings, so there are some efficiencies that can be recognized.”
A familiar face in Jacksonville City Hall will helm the new Kids Hope Alliance (KHA) board.
City of Jacksonville CFO Mike Weinstein was tapped to be interim executive director of the seven-person panel last week.
This week, the board is mostly rounded out with six community stakeholders — the biggest name of which is former Sheriff Nat Glover.
Other nominees to the board, all of whom will be subject to City Council approval, include the following:
Dr. Marvin Wells, the first African-American graduate of the U.F. College of Dentistry. He owns a local oral surgery practice.
Tyra Tutor, senior vice president for Corporate Development & Social Responsibility at The Adecco Group North America. Tutor serves on the Jax Chamber Board.
Iraq War Bronze Star recipient Joe Peppers, who is currently employed with Amazon, helping to launch a local fulfillment center.
Kevin Gay, founder and CEO of Operation New Hope-Ready4Work. Gay previously served on the Jacksonville Journey board.
Rebekah Davis, a registered nurse and medical director, who has worked at local hospitals. Davis has been a member of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission board of directors, and is the wife of Jax Chamber President and CEO Daniel Davis.
The seventh appointee has not been announced.
Curry pledged to be quick with appointing people to this board, as the Kids Hope Alliance is poised to replace the Jacksonville Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission later this year.
KHA will have oversight over an approximately $35 million budget for youth services, including all children who qualify under 18, as well as slightly older young adults who are still in school.