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Jose Mallea raises $50K in three weeks in HD 116 race

Jose Mallea is starting off his state House run strong, raising more than $50,000 in three weeks his campaign announced Wednesday.

The Miami Republican announced in March he was running to replace Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in House District 116. According to Mallea’s campaign, he raised $50,000 since filing to run for office on March 9. Campaign finance records weren’t immediately available on the state’s Division of Elections website.

“We are off to a strong start,” said Mallea. “I’m so grateful for the friends and community members who are excited about partnering with us in this campaign. I’m looking forward to continuing to work hard to get our conservative message of fiscal responsibility and job creation out to the hardworking families of District 116.”

Mallea, the owner of JM Global consulting, ran Sen. Marco Rubio’s successful U.S. Senate campaign in 2010. Prior to that, he served as chief of staff to former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. He’s also served stints with the federal government, working at the U.S. Department of State and the White House.

State records show Republican Daniel Anthony Perez has also filed to run for the seat.

Marco Rubio decries Vladimir Putin as tyrant, calls on White House to push human rights

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio painted Russia President Vladimir Putin Thursday as a tyrant who runs a brutal, corrupt, and repressive regime that murders opponents, seeks to destabilize western countries including the United States, perpetuates war crimes, and does not represent the Russian people.

In doing so, Rubio called on the United States to stand up for the rights of Russians and do all it can to oppose Putin.

“It’s not Putin’s Russia, it’s Russians’ Russia,” Rubio said in a speech Thursday to the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan, mostly moderate, international affairs think tank.

“Vladimir Putin happens to have control of the government there today, but Russia is not Vladimir Putin. Russia is an ancient, proud culture and tradition embedded in its people. Vladimir Putin is a tyrant that just happens to control its government.”

Rubio, Florida’s Republican U.S. senator, was one of three keynote speakers addressing the Atlantic Council Thursday morning on the topic of “The State of Human Rights in Putin’s Russia.” He was joined by a fellow member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Maryland’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin; and Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza, who has survived two apparent assassination attempts by poisoning.

Rubio made no overt criticisms of President Donald Trump or his administration for their friendly overtures and statements toward Putin; nor did he make any comments associated with the investigations into whether Putin and Trump’s election campaign may have conspired in any way to influence last year’s American elections.

However, Rubio did state matter-of-factly that Putin sought to interfere in the American elections. And he called on “the new administration” to adopt policies encouraging human rights and democracy abroad.

“We all have read and have heard and will continue to hear n the weeks and months to come Putin’s efforts to meddle in the democratic elections in Europe, just as he attempted to influence our own elections here in the United States last year,” Rubio said.

“As the new administration now continues to shape its foreign policy and national security strategy, I truly believe it is critical for them to include human rights and democracy as elements of any broader engagement of any country in the world. And Russia is a perfect example of why this is true,” Rubio added.

Ironically, both Rubio and Cardin cut their remarks a little short and left early to catch a meeting of the Foreign Relations Committee, and then the Senate Intelligence Committee, where such matters were at hand.

“The state of human rights in Russia under Vladimir Putin has of course long been on a severe decline. This deterioration has only accelerated in recent years as Putin, and his cronies have cracked down on civil society, the media, anyone critical of the Russian government.”

Rubio drew attention to Putin’s critics, “mysteriously poisoned on multiple occasions, thrown out of windows, murdered, all this just this year alone, and we’re only in March.” He also drew attention to last weekend’s large opposition rallies, made up largely of young Russians, which ended with crackdowns and hundreds of arrests.

“This reminds us of how critical it is that the United States stands with the Russian people in their fight against a brutal, corrupt and repressive regime.”

Feds say ‘stay the course’ with Everglades, rejecting Joe Negron’s land buy

Joe Negron’s controversial plan to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges is not going over well with federal officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Last week, many of those involved in Everglades restoration called for Florida to stay the course on federal restoration projects; many were critical of the Senate President’s plan to build a reservoir south of Lake O.

At least two of them suggested using taxpayer money to buy land is not a priority.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Negron’s plan would probably not get federal support “anytime soon.” Buying up land could devastate farming communities, the Florida senator added, possibly turning them into “ghost towns.”

“It’s not that I’m for or against it, it’s that there’s no federal money for it,” Rubio said to a conservative blogger Wednesday. “We’re going to end up with nothing. And that’s been my argument from the beginning, and that’s my message to him, and he understood it.”

Congressman Tom Rooney, himself a longtime representative Treasure Coast representative, told USA TODAY he resists Negron’s plan, which is opposed by Florida Sugarcane Farmers, a group of Everglades Agricultural Area landowners refusing to sell approximately 60,000 acres in the scheme.

“Costly land buys from unwilling sellers have been unsuccessful,” said Rooney, who prefers the government fund projects with proven success.

As for a proposed task force to consider the feasibility of Negron’s plan, U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney also believes that a non-starter, at least right now.

Rooney, whose 19th Congressional District includes much of the Everglades, declined to sign a letter urging Donald Trump to act quickly on Everglades restoration.

What the Naples Republican most disagreed about the bipartisan letter — signed by Reps. Brian Mast, Charlie Crist and others in Florida’s Legislative Delegation — was a call for the president to appoint a federal Everglades task force to make the plan a priority.

Although Rooney is a member of the bipartisan Congressional Everglades Caucus, which works to educate Congress and staff on issues affecting the Everglades, he believes another governmental task force would distract from the current federal plans for wetlands restoration.

“I certainly applaud and am thankful for the work that Brian Mast and Gov. Crist are doing to help advance the ball, getting funding for the Everglades project. There’s no doubt about that,” Rooney told FloridaPolitics.com. “But I didn’t sign on to the letter, and I told the same thing to Brian, because the last thing I think we need in government is more task forces, advisory commissions and things like that.

“I actually think that could be an excuse for the feds not doing what I’ve been pushing them to do,” Rooney added, “to come up with the money to fund the projects that have been authorized.”

Another call to stick with the current federal plan comes from the Army Corps of Engineers, which partners with the state of Florida to protect and preserve water resources in the Everglades, central and southern Florida.

Col. Jason Kirk, commander of the Corps’ Jacksonville district, points to successes in the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration (SFER) program, which includes the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program (CERP). SEFR represents the world’s largest ecosystem restoration program.

“I want to be clear that the South Florida Everglades restoration Integrated Delivery Schedule is the optimal sequence of projects moving forward,” Kirk said in a conference call last week, a declaration clearly countermanding Negron’s proposal and rejects buying more land for a reservoir.

A federal lawmaker who supports Negon’s proposal is Palm City Republican Brian Mast.

“One of the most important things that we can do to save our coastal waters and our coastal estuaries is making sure we find ways to move the water south,” said Mast, who represents Florida’s 18th Congressional District. “That’s why I support SB 10 and it’s why the first action I took when I got to Congress was securing a spot as Vice Chairman of the Water Resources and Environment subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In this role, I am pushing to secure the federal support and funding needed to restore our environment and protect the economy.”

More legislative hopefuls file to run in 2018

It’s never too early to start thinking about the next election cycle, and a host of legislative hopefuls are already thinking about the next election cycle.

State election records show dozens of members of the House, Senate, and other legislative hopefuls have filed to run in 2018.

Rep. Shevrin Jones filed to run for re-election in House District 101 in 2018. The 33-year-old West Park Democrat filed to run for re-election March 6. First elected to the House in 2012, Jones served as the Democratic Deputy Whip during the 2014-16 term. Rep. Roy Hardemon also filed to run for re-election in 2018.  The Miami Democrat was first elected to his District 108 seat in 2016, and filed to run for re-election on March 7.

Ray Guillory is looking for a rematch in House District 2. Guillory filed to run against Rep. Frank White, a Pensacola Republican. The Democratic activist ran against White in the solid red district in 2016. White defeated Guillory with 61 percent of the vote.

Republican George Agovino is eyeing the seat currently held by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Agovino, who retired from the FBI, filed to run in House District 37 on March 8. Corcoran can’t run for re-election again because of term limits.

Rep. Jamie Grant picked up a challenger in House District 64. State records show Democrat Christopher Smutko, a teacher from the Tampa Bay area, filed to run against Grant on March 23.  Andy Warrener, a no-party affiliation candidate, also filed to run in House District 64.

A Democrat has jumped in the House District 71 race to replace Rep. Jim Boyd. Bradenton Democrat Randy Cooper filed to run for seat on March 10. Cooper is a civil engineer with a degree from the University of South Florida. He served 11 years with the Florida National Guard and is a volunteer firefighter in Hillsborough County.

Two Republicans are also vying to replace Boyd. Sarasota Republican James Buchanan filed to run on March 2. If the name sounds familiar, there’s a reason for that: Buchanan is the son of five-term U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. The younger Buchanan founded James Buchanan Realty after graduating from Florida State University with degrees in finance and entrepreneurship.

Will Robinson, a Bradenton Republican, also filed to run for the seat. Robinson is an attorney at Blalock Walters law firm.

Michelle Graham, a Fort Myers businesswoman, is throwing her hat in the race to replace Rep. Matt Caldwell in House District 79. Caldwell, a North Fort Myers Republican, can’t run again in 2018 because of term limits.

Graham is the president and owner of Siesta Pebble, a family-owned business launched in 1995, and is the only woman-owned company of all 60 licensed and certified Pebble Tec installers throughout the country.

There will be another rematch in House District 112. Republican Rosa “Rosy” Palomino has filed to run against Rep. Nick Duran in the South Florida House District. Palomino is president of Tropical Nostalgia, Inc. and a producer of a late night radio program on WZAB 880 AM. Duran won the seat with 53 percent of the vote.

Three Republicans are vying for the seat being vacated by Rep. Michael Bileca.

The Miami Republican can’t run for re-election again because of term limits. Republican Vance Arthur Aloupis filed to run for the House District 115 seat on March 1. Aloupis is the CEO of the Children’s Movement of Florida. The University of Miami alumnus, spent several years practicing law before joining the Children’s Movement.

Carlos Gobel filed to run for the seat on March 21. The Miami Republican is the executive director for real estate firm GRE Group, Inc. He ran for property appraiser in 2014, and has an MBA from the University of Florida and a bachelor’s of business administration from Florida International University. Republican Carmen Sotomayor has also filed to run.

Three Republicans are eyeing the House District 116 seat being vacated by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in 2018. He can’t run for re-election because of term limits.

Jose Miguel Mallea filed to run for the seat on March 7. Mallea, the owner of JM Global consulting, ran Sen. Marco Rubio’s successful U.S. Senate campaign in 2010. Prior to that, he served as chief of staff to former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. He’s also served stints with the federal government, working at the U.S. Department of State and the White House.

Republican Daniel Perez, an associate at Cole Scott & Kissane’s Miami office, filed to run for the seat on Feb. 23; while Ana Maria Rodriguez filed to run in December.

Republican Enrique Lopez has thrown his hat in the House District 119 race to replace Rep. Jeanette Nunez in 2018. The Miami native served on the Residential Board of Governors of the Miami Association of Realtors. He’ll face Andrew Vargas, a partner at Trujillo Vargas Gonzalez Hevia, in the Republican primary. Nunez can’t run again because of term limits.

Rubin Anderson is looking to give it another try, challenging Sen. Bobby Powell in Senate District 30 in 2018. The Democrat made headlines when he failed to qualify for his seat because of a bounced check, filing a lawsuit with Republican Ron Berman to have a primary-race do-over. The suit was eventually dropped after Powell was sworn into office.

Despite pushback on Lake Okeechobee plan, Rob Bradley remains confident

It’s been a rough couple of news cycles for Senate Bill 10, with a Republican U.S. Senator and the St. Johns Riverkeeper mounting opposition to the Lake Okeechobee reservoir measure.

The bill filed by Fleming Island Republican Sen. Rob Bradley would bond money backed with Amendment 1 funds to purchase land south of the lake for water storage.

The Bradley bill adds a new section to the Florida Statute: “Reservoir project in the Everglades Agricultural Area,” with the hope of creating 360,000 acre-feet of storage capacity, a goal that requires acquiring 60,000 acres of land.

$1.2 billion in bond proceeds would be used for the purchase of the land. The project is subject to congressional approval, and if that is granted as expected, the feds would offer a 50/50 match of that $1.2 billion.

The section declares an “emergency” in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, due to “harmful freshwater discharges” east and west of the lake that have created algae blooms and other issues.

However, Sen. Marco Rubio cautions against any expectation that this will get federal funding.

Rubio said “there’s no federal money” for the project, adding that if the state buys all the land “that means there’s no farming, that means these cities collapse, they basically turn into ghost towns.”

The St. Johns Riverkeeper, meanwhile, had its own take: the “legislation that would acquire land south of Lake Okeechobee for a reservoir and provide dedicated funding for the St. Johns has been dramatically amended for the worse.”

“Senator Rob Bradley and the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources have amended SB 10 to shift state funds for acquiring land for conservation toward acquiring land for water supply development. The amended bill would encourage surface and groundwater withdrawal projects and unsustainable growth. It does not encourage water conservation. This would open up the St. Johns River and other waterways to surface water withdrawals and more threats from sprawl, while providing fewer funds to acquire critical conservation lands,” read a statement from the Riverkeeper.

Despite federal and environmental wariness, Sen. Bradley told us Friday in Keystone Heights that he still feels confident that SB 10 isn’t dead in the water.

“Not at all. We’ve made progress in the last week on moving that legislation forward,” Bradley said.

“The St. Johns Riverkeeper objection is a head-scratcher, considering that included in SB 10 in its current structure is a dedicated revenue stream to the St. Johns River and the Keystone Lakes,” Bradley added.

“I challenge some of these environmental groups to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. They may not like every single part of SB 10, but if you’re an environmental group and you are against SB 10, then you need to question whether you are truly representing the interest of the environmental community,” Bradley concluded.

Carlos Beruff already playing calendar games with Constitution Revision Commission

(This post has been updated, below.)

What’s wrong with this picture?

Carlos Beruff, chair of the Constitution Revision Commission, the panel that will undertake rewrites of the state’s governing document, says the first hearings for public input will be next Wednesday in Orange County, April 6 in Miami-Dade County, and April 7 in Palm Beach County.

Did you catch it? 

Let me give you a hint: Five of the commission’s members, including the House Speaker Pro Tempore, are current members of the Legislature. Many others are intricately involved in The Process. 

And, well, we’re in the middle of the 2017 Legislative Session, which doesn’t end until May 5th. 

So, does Beruff – the Manatee homebuilder who lost a U.S. Senate bid to Marco Rubio last year – expect the lawmaker members not to attend those early CRC hearings? 

Or conversely, does he expect them to miss important meetings at the Capitol during session?

Here’s the more realistic answer: He hasn’t even considered any of that before he rushed to start setting up hearings. 

Indeed, why the rush? Why not take the time to give ample notice to members of the public in those areas who might want to attend the hearings?

As one person told me, “Beruff is trying to run a railroad when he’s never even been a passenger on a public policy train.”

Bottom line for now: This kind of ignorance doesn’t bode well for a process that will affect the live of Floridians for years to come.

*          *          *

Updated Thursday — House Speaker Richard Corcoran said he had not spoken to Beruff about the public hearing schedule.

His next comment suggested that the three commission members who belong to the House GOP caucus won’t be asking for excused absences during session.

“When you have a once-every-20-years, august body, dealing with something of the highest impact as our constitution, and you only have a limited number of members – 37 – and immediately the first action is to disenfranchise one-sixth (of them), I don’t think that’s a good start,” Corcoran said.

The others are Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, and Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican; all five were appointed by the speaker.

Jim Rosica, Tallahassee correspondent

*          *          *

Updated Friday — CRC spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice issued a response to Corcoran:

“As a commission which meets just once every 20 years, commissioners have a responsibility to be accountable to the people of Florida and accomplish as much as we can in the short time we have. The work before this commission is incredibly important. We will be working with all commissioners on additional public hearings to ensure the best possible outcome for families in our state. It is very important commissioners participate and hear from the public. That is why we only released a few dates, more will be scheduled soon. Videos of the meetings will also be posted online.”

Marco Rubio, bipartisan Senate group call for U.S. help for starving North Africa

After a hearing on a humanitarian crisis with millions of lives at stake in northeast Africa, U.S. Rep. Marco Rubio joined a bipartisan group of senators Thursday asking Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to intervene by leading an “urgent and comprehensive” diplomatic effort.

Rubio and eight other senators signed a letter Thursday to President Donald Trump‘s secretary of state saying that political obstacles in northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are significantly to blame for humanitarian aid from getting in, and consequently millions of people now are starving to death.

“The scale and complexity of these crises might lead some to say the situation is hopeless,” states the senators’ letter to Tillerson. “We reject such a response as U.S. leadership can make an enormous difference, and we believe the Department of State can and should lead a diplomatic effort now to reduce the political barriers that are hindering the delivery of food to millions of starving people. The U.S. government has a strategic and moral imperative to do nothing less.”

Rubio was joined by Republicans Todd Young of Indiana, Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Jeff Flake of Arizona; and Democrats Ben Cardin of Maryland, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Chris Coons of Delaware.

All of them including Rubio serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which held a hearing on the situation Wednesday. Rubio stated that he also received a briefing on the crisis from billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates earlier this week.

The senators’ letter suggests up to 20 million people are at risk of starving to death.

“The testimony of the witnesses underscored the urgent need for a ‘diplomatic surge’ in the next couple weeks to prevent millions of people from dying unnecessarily from starvation,” the letter opens. “Consistent with the national security interests of the United States and the compassion of the American people, we write to ask that the Department of State implement an urgent and comprehensive diplomatic effort to address political obstacles in each of these regions that are preventing humanitarian aid from being delivered to people who desperately need it.

“Mr. Yves Daccord, the director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, yesterday called the crisis ‘one of the most critical humanitarian issues to face mankind since the end of the Second World War.’ He warned that ‘we are at the brink of a humanitarian mega-crisis unprecedented in recent history,'” the letter states.

The senators’ letter details how governmental or nongovernmental actors in each of the regions have blocked or hindered humanitarian access, depriving people of food. But it suggests the U.S. Department of State can potentially address the man-made obstacles and spells out steps that should be taken to convince each country to open the flows of food.

Orlando activists urge Republicans to reform, not replace ACA

Calling attention to the potential of lost health insurance benefits to disabled, young, low-income and other people under the proposed American Health Care Act, a coalition of mostly progressive political activists asked Central Floridians to urge members of Congress to reform, not replace the Affordable Care Act.

Their call, outside the Orlando offices of Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, was explicitly aimed at Rubio and at Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge, whose Congressional District 8 includes a portion of east Orange County.

Their message included acknowledgment that the Affordable Care Act has problems, but they called for Republicans to consider fixing the problems, rather than throwing it out and replacing it with the American Health Care Act.

“Today marks the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, the day we made history,” said Anna Eskamani, director of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. “We know the Affordable Care Act needs improvements. We also understand it has expanded care for millions of Americans, and Floridians. Florida, despite political opposition, being one of the most successful states in enrollment numbers.”

Sara Isaac, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Orange County urged lawmakers “to think about the impact this will have on all of us, especially those with the least resources among us.

“The league, while acknowledging that ObamaCare is not perfect, it has improved the lives of many Americans who have more access to health care, and this legislation is not an improvement but it is a huge step back,” she said.

Besides arguing for the needs of disabled people for affordable health insurance, Tiffany Namey, chair of the Orange County Democratic Disability Caucus, also cited numbers for the increased in coverage for minorities, people with HIV.

“Your quality of your health care is likely to go down,” she predicted. “Emergency rooms will go back to playing a critical role in America’s health care system by serving low-income and uninsured regardless of their ability to pay. However, our government will no longer reimburse the hospitals through Low-Income Pool funding. This will inevitably bring wide-spread layoffs, cause cuts in outpatient services and services for the mentally ill, and cause hospital closings.”

Report: Marco Rubio says ‘there’s no federal money’ for reservoir south of Lake O

A top priority of Senate President Joe Negron’s took a hit this week, after Sen. Marco Rubio said a plan to build reservoirs wouldn’t get federal money and would wipe out farming communities.

According to POLITICO Florida, Rubio said “there’s no federal money” for Negron’s proposed reservoirs.

“We’re going to end up with nothing,” he said according to the report. “And that’s been my argument from the beginning and that’s my message to him and he understood it.”

Sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, the Negron-backed proposal would authorize the state to buy 60,000 acres of land and build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. The reservoir could hold 120 billion gallons of water, about as much water that was discharged into the St. Lucie Estuary between January and May of 2016.

Supporters say the reservoir would add significant storage capacity south of the lake, which would help to manage lake levels during periods of high rainfall.

The bill gives the South Florida Water Management District until the end of the year to find a willing seller. But in February, a group of landowners in the Everglades Agriculture Area said they are “not willing sellers of their property to the government.”

Under the proposal, the state can choose to buy 153,000 acres of land from U.S. Sugar under an existing contract signed by the state and company in 2010.

While Rubio has warned about what could happen if the state changes the timetable for Everglades projects, POLITICO Florida noted Rubio’s warning about the economic impact to farming communities around Lake Okeechobee is new. Rubio, according to POLITICO Florida, said if the state buys all the land “that means there’s no farming, that means these cities collapse, they basically turn into ghost towns.”

Negron met with constituents last week at Pahokee High School to talk about the plan, but there have been concerns about the economic impact of his proposal in the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon has said he was concerned about lost job; he was the only member to vote against the bill in the Senate Appropriations Environment and Natural Resources Subcommittee Committee earlier this month.

A bill (HB 761) by Rep. Thad Altman has been referred to three committees, but has not received its first committee hearing.

Failed Eureka Garden HUD inspection: whose fault is it?

The Eureka Garden complex has been a focus of politicians in the last couple of years, with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Sen. Marco Rubio, Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, and Rep. Al Lawson all demanding rehab of the facility and reform of the HUD process.

A new management group, which is looking to buy the property, promised changes. That group promised to bring capital to the complex pending transfer of title.

But delivery has proven more elusive, with politicians frustrated and hamstrung by the glacial pace of ownership transfer.

As Lynnsey Gardner of News4Jax was first to report Wednesday, Eureka Garden failed its most recent HUD inspection — with a score of 59.

Politicians describe the conditions with the strongest possible language.

And the current ownership, Global Ministries Foundation, asserts that the issue is the fault of “decades of neglect.”

Who is right?

__________

Rep. Al Lawson offered the strongest statement of the four pols who commented, decrying “atrocities” at the complex.

“Failing inspection is completely unacceptable. Like most Americans, the residents of Eureka Gardens want a clean, affordable, and safe place to raise their families and to call home. It is my firm belief that people who pay rent, regardless of their income, neighborhood, or whether they live in privately owned or public housing, have the right to expect and get routine maintenance. No one should be forced to live under conditions that threaten their health or safety,” Lawson asserted.

“I am renewing my call on federal officials at HUD to launch an investigation into how Global Ministries Foundation was not held accountable sooner for units falling into disrepair and how we plan to work together to do everything in our power to prevent these kind of atrocities in the future. The residents of Eureka Gardens deserve better,” Lawson continued.

Sen. Marco Rubio, so pivotal in starting the reform discussion on the Senate floor, brought a depth of perspective to the ongoing issues at the Jacksonville complex.

“This is more evidence of why I remain deeply concerned about the health and safety of the people living at Eureka Gardens,” Rubio asserted.

“On the one hand, it’s important that the HUD inspections process is no longer handing out passing grades to apartment facilities that clearly don’t deserve them. However, it’s been 18 months since the terrible conditions at Eureka Gardens first came to light, and we’re still not seeing the kind of progress we need to see to ensure all residents are living in a safe environment,” Rubio added, vowing to move forward on reform.

Councilman Garrett Dennis pinned the blame for the current conditions on the still-current owners.

“I’ve consistently said, even though there is an active sales contract with Millenia Corporation, Global Ministries Foundation is still the owner and the responsible party for the living conditions for the residents at Eureka Gardens,” Dennis told News4Jax.

On behalf of Mayor Curry, spokesperson Marsha Oliver had the following to say: “We are aware of the inspection results and maintain our commitment to working with HUD officials on a resolution that addresses the needs of residents.”

“Mayor Curry has been an advocate for improvements to this property,” Oliver added, “leading to a change in management.”

Meanwhile, Audrey Young, speaking on behalf of the current ownership of Global Ministries Foundation, issued the following statement that suggested a better score may be rendered yet.

“We are working closely with HUD on an appeal and fully trust that HUD will make warranted adjustments based on our appeal,” Young asserted.

Young also blamed Eureka Garden’s evolution into a “problem property” and a “burden” to the city on “decades of neglect by previous owners.”

GMF has put in $3 million since acquiring the properties in 2012, in an effort to remedy “decades of neglect and decay under previous owners.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio summed up in 2016 the profit that GMF ownership made from their 40 property portfolio.

“Where does all the money go? What are they doing with all this money that they make?”

“Well, you can look at their 990 tax forms, which are available for all 501(c)(3) organizations. Let me tell you about the 2014 tax year, which is the most recent one that’s available. In the year 2014, the Reverend Richard Hamlet paid himself $495,000 plus $40,000 in non-taxable benefits,” Rubio said

“Also in 2014, the Reverend Hamlet’s family members were paid an additional $218,000. By the way, he had previously failed to disclose his family members’ compensation on tax forms, which is in violation of IRS rules that require CEO’s to disclose the compensation of all family members who work for an organization,” Rubio added.

“The IRS reports also show that between 2011 and 2013, Global Ministries Foundation, the landlord that owns all of these units in all of these buildings that your taxpayer money is paying for, they shifted $9 million away from the low-income housing not profit to its religious affiliate,” Rubio continued.

______

A reality underneath the anticipated sale to Millennia Housing Management: HUD properties are big business.

The subsidies are generous and guaranteed, but the flip side is that capital needs for the buildings recur.

Older apartment complexes have issues — and Eureka Garden has them especially.

From mold issues and poor ventilation to appliances old enough to have midlife crises, some of the units look closer to the Third World than the First.

The city would like to accelerate the transfer of title. Congressional leadership feels the same way. And yet, the process is dragged out.

The payments come through from the Feds. Even as the tenants — the expected beneficiaries — suffer.

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