The most interesting primary in Jacksonville-area state House races right now may be the Democratic scrum in House District 14, which appears to be narrowing down to a two-woman contest between former Jacksonville City Councilwoman Kim Daniels and trial lawyer Leslie Jean-Bart.
There are similarities. Both have powerful backers. And both have meaningful endorsements: Daniels, who once proposed a 9 p.m. youth curfew in high-crime areas, from the Fraternal Order of Police; Jean-Bart, from the AFL-CIO.
There are contrasts, to be sure.
Daniels seems to have wrested the backing of Corrine Brown from Jean-Bart; Jean-Bart, meanwhile, was endorsed by termed-out incumbent Mia Jones.
And though all indications have been that Jean-Bart, with $70,000 cash on hand in the money race, is ahead on points, Daniels offered a counter-narrative Wednesday on Facebook.
Daniels said she got her petitions more quickly than Jean-Bart: “I collected almost 1,000 petitions in 10 days to qualify. This is no light thing. Other candidates [Read: Jean-Bart] filed in Jan 2015 and barely qualified.”
And despite having reported only $36,000 of fundraising ($20,000 of that a contribution to herself), and having $23,000 of it on hand, Daniels claims to be winning the money race.
“My campaign has over 81k. I only reported money three months. One candidate has 88k but it took 18 months to raise it. This means they raised an average of $4,888.88 a month but I raised an average of $27,000.00 per month. I am so grateful,” Daniels wrote Wednesday.
She changed the narrative Thursday, saying a “few family and friends gave donations. I am working hard and using my own money. I am not accepting public donations at this time … the Elections and Ethics Commission are doing everything the can to put false allegations … They are unethical and politically motivated.” [sic throughout]
[As of Thursday afternoon, Daniels had not reported for the P2 period, which ran through July 8. Some narratives say she is putting another $45,000 of her own money into the campaign account.]
As well, she says the FOP endorsement is big: “The unanimous FOP endorsement clearly separated me from the other candidates. The FOP endorsed the candidate with experience and knowledge on issues that relate to public health and safety,” Daniels wrote.
What’s Jean-Bart’s take? FloridaPolitics.com found out Thursday, in a wide-ranging, 90-minute conversation that covered endorsements, Daniels’ mysterious fundraising haul, Corrine Brown and her role in this race, and policy issues.
Jean-Bart, who has been in the race since January 2015, noted that for a while there was little competition. Our meeting place — at the Bold Bean coffee shop in Riverside — is in HD 14. And she sees this part of Riverside, and Murray Hill, as areas that are good for her and her positions.
That said, given her time in the race, and her methodical approach to campaigning, she is targeting voters throughout the district.
Specifically, “super voters,” who in HD 14 tend to be “over 50, African-American, typically female.”
When knocking on doors, Jean-Bart estimated women answer, “six or seven times out of 10.” And those women tend to drive the household decision on who votes, making “women’s issues very important.”
And, as the granddaughter of trailblazing Mary Singleton, the first African-American to serve on Council, Jean-Bart speaks with authority when she notes that “black women in Jacksonville broke the barrier first.”
The conversation then moved to Rep. Corrine Brown, another trailblazing black women who has been in office for 23 years and now faces 22 federal counts.
Brown backed Jean-Bart early.
“I have the congresswoman’s signed endorsement,” Jean-Bart says, signed back when Kim Daniels was running for City Council.
Of course, Daniels lost that race. And Corrine Brown went in a different direction.
“The Congresswoman and Kim Daniels have a different relationship than I have with the Congresswoman,” Jean-Bart said.
“They’re buddies and friends. In a perfect world,” Jean-Bart added, “she’d love to see both of us in office.”
Brown has been helpful to Jean-Bart even as late as May, though, including with petitions and ensuring Jean-Bart was introduced at Bethel Baptist Church.
“I’m comfortable with where things are,” Jean-Bart said.
Congresswoman Brown, of course, has 22 federal counts hanging over her head. But Jean-Bart doesn’t believe that’s an issue for voters in Northwest Jacksonville.
“The base is not moved by the indictment,” Jean-Bart said, and Brown “needs to be elected.”
Jean-Bart prefers even the worst case scenario — a special election, if Brown were to go to prison —over the election of Al Lawson.
“Jacksonville people didn’t get into the race,” Jean-Bart notes, adding a hope that “everything works out for her.”
Time will tell, of course.
The conversation shifted to Kim Daniels’ statement on the speed with which she got petitions.
“It amazes me that the person who brings up religion and Christianity the most seems to be throwing the most negativity into the campaign,” said Jean-Bart. “I never realized that getting petitions was a competition. The first person who gets petitions doesn’t necessarily win.”
Jean-Bart adds she was getting petitions by herself, unlike Daniels, who had “people helping her — whether they were paid or not, I don’t know if everything was disclosed.”
Financial disclosures, for Daniels, have been an issue — and Jean-Bart was incredulous at Daniels’ claim she has $81,000 banked, given that her last report shows $36,000 raised and $23,000 on hand.
Referring to Daniels’ Facebook post as “so many lies,” Jean-Bart points out the “stark difference” between herself and the reverend.
Jean-Bart, who served on the state elections commission and ethics commission, notes her knowledge of the need to follow the ethics code and election law.
Daniels, she said, “needs to disclose her money and her sources. There’s no way to hide the money and have it be in compliance.”
Noting that $20,000 of the $36,000 Daniels reported raising through June 24 was a contribution from herself to her campaign, Jean-Bart noted that “she never changed that. Goodness.”
That indictment of the sloppiness and the lack of factual accuracy from Daniels was a leitmotif in the interview at large.
“Who knows what she’s doing? [People talk about] Daniels spending money in the community. Is that like giving [someone] $10 or $20?”
Jean-Bart, meanwhile, is “just trying to run the campaign the way we know it needs to run.”
She leans on experienced hands — Angie Nixon, who recently completed a stint with the Bernie Sanders campaign, and Campbell Communications, whose Bernie Campbell once was over the House Victory operation.
“We are looking at numbers, and we know who our super voter is,” Jean-Bart said.
Meanwhile, returning to Daniels, Jean-Bart spoke of her questionable spending in her previous race for the Jacksonville City Council, noting she spent money on “a lot of food, a lot of gas … not typically what you spend on to win.”
“I’m not going to Longhorn and charging it to my campaign,” Jean-Bart said, noting that “we’re not done fundraising,” and that she’s gotten a lot of traction with various community and constituent groups.
Fundraising started slowly, Jean-Bart says, because of city races that were “more contentious than usual,” with donors taking a step back once they were done and through the summer.
The conversation turned to the endorsement by Mia Jones, which was actually secured months ago.
“Mia and I go way back. She’s been a real mentor, but we’re different people. I’m not Mia Jones 2.0,” Jean-Bart said.
Still, “we’re similar in that we’re both approachable, prepared, and follow a path to leadership.”
The conversation then moved to the endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police, which went Daniels’ way.
To hear Jean-Bart tell it, the fix was in.
“I interviewed with them in late June,” she said, “and I knocked it out of the park.”
“They were sitting there practically with their mouths open, impressed that I knew so much about the issues,” Jean-Bart added.
There were some notable omissions from the union’s questions, however. She expected questions about how law enforcement could interface better with the African-American community.
Those questions didn’t come.
Regardless, Jean-Bart sees herself as qualified to build a bridge: “I have a relationship with Sheriff Williams, and also out at 9th and Liberty,” she said, before pivoting into deconstructing Daniels’ language regarding the endorsement.
“I understand words. When she said it was ‘official,’ I knew something was going on.”
“She says it’s ‘official,’” Jean-Bart said, “which implies it was ‘unofficial’ at some point. They knew weeks ahead of time that they were going to endorse Kim Daniels. They have a relationship with her … [maybe] someone in particular [in the FOP] has a relationship with her.”
“For a group with issues with transparency and accountability,” Jean-Bart continued, “that was the wrong thing to do with the wrong person.”
She said the process was a “ruse” and makes her dubious if she can give the FOP the benefit of the doubt on other matters.
“If they’re willing to do what they did to endorse Kim Daniels,” Jean-Bart asked rhetorically, “what else are they willing to do?”
“Trust us? That’s not going to happen,” the candidate continued, describing the process as “shady beyond shady.”
Not being endorsed by the police union has its advantages. For one thing, she won’t have to address the pension-tax referendum.
“I wasn’t endorsed by the FOP, so it’s not my issue,” Jean-Bart said.
Theoretically, it will be left to Kim Daniels to carry the water for the pension tax, which many in Northwest Jacksonville see as the extension of a regressive tax to benefit public-sector unions.
Daniels, Jean-Bart continued, “created this huge narrative about the process being fair” and the endorsement being a manifestation of “God’s favor,” which Jean-Bart finds to be “even more offensive” than the sham interview process.
“I don’t play with God,” said Jean-Bart, a practicing Catholic.
“Knowing what I know about how the situation went down, to have placed God in the process is even more offensive than what the FOP did.”
Taking aim at Daniels’ appropriation of religious language in a political realm, Jean-Bart noted that “God doesn’t care what you’re saying. He looks at actions.
“Some people need to get right with Jesus,” Jean-Bart said.
“I am not someone who preaches. I won’t start off a House speech with scripture,” Jean-Bart said, contrasting herself with Daniels, who “said she does not believe in the separation of church and state.”
After detonating Daniels’ dubious approach to theology, Jean-Bart then lit up Daniels’ legislative record, which Daniels claimed last year was highlighted by trying to get new furniture for the new courthouse, during the first year of her term.
“Somebody else probably drafted the bill, worked it through Council,” Jean-Bart said, before taking issue with Daniels saying that, if elected, Daniels would “go to the House and sit back” and learn the process.
“Go to the office and sit back? There’s no time for that. I’m ready on Day One,” Jean-Bart said.
Jean-Bart noted that in terms of temperament, she’s in line with her grandmother, the aforementioned Mary Singleton, as well as incumbent Mia Jones.
“There’s been this picture painted. ‘You’ve got to be more down with the people,’” Jean-Bart said.
“My grandmother was a lady by all accounts, a dignified woman … Mia is the same way. She carries herself with dignity. A lady by all accounts.
“I don’t feel the need to change who I am. At the end of the day, I want people to vote for me the way I am. As Mary Singleton’s granddaughter, they don’t expect me to act any differently,” Jean-Bart said of those in the community who have known her since she was a little girl.
“I’m not going to play down my intelligence,” Jean-Bart continued, “to fit somebody’s idea of what I should be.”
From the outset, Jean-Bart has run on a record of accomplishment, which has led her down many roads. Currently a law partner with prominent Democratic donor Wayne Hogan, previously the president of the Legal Services Union of Greater Miami, Jean-Bart brings a record to the campaign that others in the field don’t readily match.
Lawyers are backing her, of course.
“A lot of them know me, [many from] earlier in my career, when I was working for [prominent Jacksonville attorney] Bill Sheppard.”
And a lot of other groups back Jean-Bart also: JAXBIZ, the AFL-CIO, Ruth’s List, the National Women’s Political Caucus of Florida, and Equality Florida.
In large part, it’s because she has been consistent on issues, with knowledge and perspective on topics ranging from workers’ comp and auto insurance to the Human Rights Ordinance and the Competitive Workplace Act that allow her to get to the “nitty-gritty” when dealing with people on those issues.
Her positions on all of those issues, are in the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Jean-Bart notes the leadership of Sen. Arthenia Joyner and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, saying, “people will not have to guess where I’m at on these issues,” which ultimately boil down to “championing equal rights.”
The question in House District 14, is whether what Jean-Bart brings to the table can overcome three other politicians who have held office before.
Even though Terry Fields has lost three elections in five years, even though Don Gaffney left the state Legislature early to don an orange jumpsuit, and even though Kim Daniels’ issues have been amply documented, there is still some question as to whether Jean-Bart, who has run the most disciplined campaign in the field, will prevail on Aug. 30.
The events of the next 47 days will, as in every other primary race, tell the tale.