Politics in Northeast Florida — except when hot-button social issues like lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights or Confederate monuments are in play — is often a matter of mechanics.
Much of what we see in this week’s Bold: a matter of fundamentals, blocking and tackling.
We see it with our region’s two congressmen, raising money for the re-election and working together on a veterans’ bill.
We see it with a House Speaker of the future, who looks to use state law to take on “rogue” liberal cities run by “Bernie Sanders” types.
And we see it in City Hall, where the Mayor essentially is Ric Flair, his team The Four Horsemen, and everyone who gets in their way is grist for the mill.
While chaos and drama are typically what get the TV cameras to City Hall, the real action is far more quotidian and subtle: behind-the-scenes conversations, allegations and counter-allegations, and a well-timed forearm shiver for a pol who may have gotten ambitious at the expense of a larger agenda.
And just outside of City Hall, what bears watching is a rapidly developing 2019 field of Council candidates — men and women who could prove to be a dispositive, influential bloc of voters after those elections.
The idea behind Jacksonville Bold: to provide actionable, meaningful insight into the process.
Anyone can tell you who wins after the fact. We generally tell you before a lot of observers even know a game is being played.
House incumbents bank cash during third quarter
Republican John Rutherford of Congressional District 4 and Democrat Al Lawson of CD 5 continue to sock money away for 2018 re-election bids.
Of the two, Rutherford had the more active third quarter of 2017.
Rutherford’s total receipts are now up to $241,484, with $146,044 cash on hand.
Rutherford hauled in over $155,000 of that $241,000 total from January to June 2017, meaning he raised over $85,000 during the last three months.
Lawson has $190,126 raised (all but $51,000 of that from committees), with $97,876 cash on hand.
As of the last quarterly report filed in July, Lawson had brought in over $158,000, doing even better than Rutherford. However, it’s clear that fundraising momentum slowed down, with roughly $32,000 delivered in this quarter.
Rutherford, Lawson collaborate on veterans’ bill
Rutherford and Lawson, meanwhile, have joined forces for a new piece of veteran-friendly legislation.
HR 3965 — the “Veterans Armed for Success Act” — would appropriate $5M for job-related training and “transition assistance” for military veterans.
That $5M would go to eligible organizations in the form of federal matching funds, defraying up to 50 percent of costs.
In Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon at “Operation New Uniform,” Rutherford — who introduced the legislation — addressed local media, explaining how the bill would work in helping military veterans with “transitioning into stable-long term employment.”
“Veterans get the job done and get the job done right,” Rutherford said, adding that his bill would help “set up veterans for success.”
Paul Renner takes on ‘rogue’ local governments
Rep. Renner foreshadowed some of what his speakership may look like in a recent interview noticed by Flagler Live.
Urban values — more “liberal” than the rest of the state — look likely to be challenged.
“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,” Renner added.
He continued: “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.”
“So there is that ideological struggle that I think may become more and more prevalent,” Renner added, “where you see battles nationwide, more battles between states as a whole that tend to be more as a whole, center-right and cities, again as a whole more big cities than Palm Coast, tend to be more to the left.”
Sanctuary cities were an example spotlighted in the article. But some fear an expansion of discussion parameters to matters like Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance as well, expanded in 2016 to include protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in public accommodations, housing and employment areas.
Business as usual
Florida Times-Union writer David Bauerlein has been routinely frustrated in his attempts to get an interview with Councilwoman Katrina Brown regarding $590,000 of city money that went to her family business for a BBQ sauce plant that ended up flatlining.
Fifty-six jobs were supposed to be created in the 2011 deal, but none were.
Bauerlein’s piece amply documents a slipshod review and oversight process that spanned two mayoral administrations, while avoiding editorial comments.
It would be interesting if city officials were willing to review the incongruity of Brown sitting on the Council’s Finance Committee even as she deals with these issues. However, the reality is that is not going to happen. There will never be moves to remove Brown from Finance.
The Council lacks a willingness to police its members. And the head of the Ethics Commission is subject to Council approval in an upcoming legislative cycle.
Opioid lawsuit from Jax seems inevitable
On Monday and Tuesday, Jacksonville City Council panels OK’d a resolution (2017-674) to allow the city’s general counsel to “investigate and pursue” a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers.
Full Council approval will be a formality and will almost certainly be conferred next week.
The resolution calls out “pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors” as potential lawsuit targets, yet does not rule out other targets.
The bill allows for general counsel to consider outside representation. Each firm’s financial capability to pursue the matter is among criteria reviewed by general counsel, and no out-of-pocket costs would be absorbed by the city.
The city would need its own legal action to secure its own potential recovery. This would not be a class action suit, as each city has its individual impacts.
Jax poised to move forward on Hart Bridge study
$1.5M looks poised to be earmarked for a “design criteria study” or changes to the Hart Bridge in Jacksonville — a priority of the Lenny Curry administration, albeit one with shifting rationales.
Curry first floated the project last year, telling the Duval Legislative Delegation that the idea was to route traffic onto Bay Street to drive traffic toward the Sports Complex and related attractions.
Now the rationale is different: the goal is to help semi-trucks drive freight.
The project, supported by FDOT, would provide for “free-flowing truck traffic,” with a T intersection at Gator Bowl Boulevard to route traffic onto Talleyrand Avenue, to help improve freight transport.
This $1.5 million is important because the city is pursuing a federal infrastructure grant of $25 million, with $12.5 million from the state of Florida in matching money and $12.5 million from the city.
Stakes are high: if the federal money falls through, so does matching money from the state.
Jacksonville has one of three similar grant applications pending with the federal government, currently, though there is no timetable on when a grant may be approved.
Curry wins another pension argument
To the surprise of few, Councilman Danny Becton’s latest attempt to sock away more money for pension liability went bust in Council.
Becton sought increases in general fund revenue earmarked toward pension obligations. The Mayor’s Office doesn’t support the bill, yet it has been around for months.
It was killed again this week in Finance Committee, where Becton is a Vice-Chair, and co-sponsor Garrett Dennis is the Chair.
Another co-sponsor — Council President Anna Brosche — was in committee but didn’t speak up.
CFO Mike Weinstein threw cold water on the bill early on, saying “we thought pension was basically finished,” noting that changes to the bill haven’t changed the Mayor’s Office’s position on the bill.
Weinstein also noted that, even when growth abates, the compounding of interest hikes will demand higher payments regardless — creating a potential unfunded mandate.
“If we’re neutral one year, we still have to make a compound increase to the pension fund,” Weinstein said.
Another win for Curry. Another political lesson for those who stand in the way of the machine. In the words of Rocky Horror Picture Show, let’s do the time warp again.
Ron Salem gears up for race against Bill Bishop
A Jacksonville City Council race worth watching in 2019 features two Republicans: former Councilman Bill Bishop against Ron Salem, a well-connected 61-year-old making his first run for office.
Salem had the same reaction as many did when Bishop announced he was running for Council.
Given that Bishop declared his intentions to run again for mayor after the 2015 race, Salem wondered why Bishop had deviated from his confident declaration.
“[Bishop] decided to run for Council for reasons that were unclear to me,” Salem said.
In what has to be seen as an irony, Bishop may not be running for mayor again — but he will get a second chance at Curry’s political team, as Tim Baker and Brian Hughes are running Salem’s campaign also.
Currently, Salem has banked $101K.
In 2015’s mayoral race, Bishop garnered roughly 17 percent of the vote. He endorsed then-incumbent Mayor Alvin Brown, a Democrat, after his loss in the “First Election.”
LeAnna Cumber, Rose Conry launch Council runs
Cumber, a well-connected Republican, will be running to replace termed-out Lori Boyer in District 5. Conry, a likewise well-connected Republican who will be a Jax Chamber favorite, is running to replace Matt Schellenberg in District 6.
These campaigns — like those of District 13 candidate Rory Diamond, District 14 hopeful Randy DeFoor, and at-large candidate Ron Salem — will be run by Tim Baker and Brian Hughes, Curry’s political advisers who seem to be cornering the market on pragmatic Republican candidates.
There are those who wonder how Baker and Hughes are able to shape narratives. Spoiler alert: they outwork their competitors in this market, as insiders and those who cover the game know better than those who watch from a safe remove.
RIP, Jim Tullis
Jacksonville lost a former City Councilman this week; Jim Tullis died at the age of 75.
Former Council colleague Eric Smith was quoted remembering Tullis in the Florida Times-Union.
“He was all about what was best for his constituents and the city of Jacksonville,” Smith told the T-U. “He was a very fair council president, fair with the public and worked very well with his colleagues.
“Jim always embraced the tough assignments and relished a hard task,” Smith said.
“ … He spent months on working out the comprehensive plan, which included zoning and other issues.”
So sorry, I said
Just as the Jacksonville Jaguars roll over on the field, their president did so in a grovel-by-numbers letter to Jacksonville City officials, apologizing for team members protesting in London during the U.S. national anthem.
The team “was remiss in not fully comprehending the effect of the national anthem demonstration on foreign soil has had on the men and women who have or continue to serve our country.”
“Similarly, we today can better appreciate how standing for God Save The Queen may have been viewed negatively by our armed forces here in Jacksonville and beyond … today we can understand how the events in London on Sept. 24 could have been viewed or misinterpreted. We owe you an apology and hope you will accept it.”
One meeting attendee has already come out saying the apology was bunk.
April Green to JEA Board
Jacksonville’s JEA Board will have a new member soon — pending City Council approval.
April Green has been selected to fill a vacancy left by Ed Burr, who stepped down from the board earlier this year.
Legislation will be introduced by Curry this week, and City Council approval will be necessary for Green to join the utility’s board.
Green, an Air Force Veteran who served in Desert Storm, brings to the table extensive experience in business and marketing, along with a deep-seated connection with the community through religious faith and philanthropy.
Currently, Green is the chief operating officer for Baxter Technology, in addition to being the CFO/chief operating officer for Bethel Baptist Institutional Church in Jacksonville.
Previously, Green served as corporate tourism director for the Jacksonville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
A member of the Board of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Green also is a 2015 Leadership Florida graduate.
Buc-ee’s to SJC; 120 gas pumps
In the world of convenience stores, bigger is better, apparently. And Texas chain Buc-ee’s will test that theorem as it brings one of its supersized one-stop-shops to St. Johns County.
This will be, reports the Jax Daily Record, a 52.6K square foot facility at the World Golf Village exit on I-95.
The board of county commissioners will mull the proposal within the next three months and could greenlight it from there.
If variances are needed, the process could take another three months, the Daily Record adds.
St. Augustine’s monumental decision
All those people gassing up in St. Johns County will need something to look at afterward. So why not Confederate monuments in St. Augustine?
First Coast News reports that the city manager is poised to recommend that the city keep its monuments — but with added verbiage offering “contextualization.”
“There are two options not being recommended by staff. First would be to do nothing, and miss an opportunity to tell the city’s complete history. The other would be to relocate it which raises a number of challenges including how to move it without physically destroying it, the cost and who would pay, and identifying a place for relocation,” a news release from St. Augustine city government said.
Staff recommendations will be discussed Monday at a city government meeting.
Debbie Buckland Chair-elect of Jax Chamber
The Jacksonville Daily Record reports that Debbie Buckland is the chair-elect of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.
“The chamber is on the forefront of what is happening in our city and leads on important issues,” Buckland said in a news release.
Buckland is the fifth female chair since 1901.
She will be the chair in 2019 after former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton wraps his tenure.
Jacksonville University highlights new downtown campus
JU is showing off its new downtown Jacksonville campus this week, a return to the neighborhood helped by a $274,000 renovation loan from the Downtown Investment Authority.
“It’s a proud moment for us,” JU President Tim Cost said in remarks reported by the Florida Times-Union. “It’s a red-letter day for Jacksonville University to re-engage its presence downtown.”
Three days a week, around 100 students will attend classes in the SunTrust Tower, which will be staffed by 30 faculty and support members full-time. With the planned executive MBA program this spring, more students, including some who will fly into the region, will be taking classes on the 18th floor.
According to the T-U: “The downtown campus is oriented to older students who don’t care as much about the traditional trappings of college life. They are more interested in being in an urban setting, and the SunTrust Tower fits that bill, university officials said.”
Burrito Gallery to open near St Johns Town Center
Local casual food chain Burrito Gallery is opening in the growing Southside area, nearby the St Johns Town Center.
Metro Jacksonville notes the restaurant’s fourth location will be at the southwest corner of Gate Parkway and Deerwood Park Boulevard, roughly between St Johns Town Center and the 335,000-square foot Ikea set to open in November at the corner of Gate Parkway and the I-295/9A East Beltway.
Burrito Gallery will be located in Gateway Village at Town Center, an 18.5-acre mixed-use development owned and developed by Cantrell & Morgan. Metro Jacksonville also reports that long-term plans for the $75 million Gateway Village at Town Center include “a 289-unit luxury apartment complex, a RaceTrac gas station/convenience store, an urgent care facility and over 38,000 square feet of retail uses.”
Launched in 2005, Burrito Gallery was part of a wave of new businesses opening ahead of Super Bowl XXXIX. It soon expanded to Jacksonville Beach and Jacksonville’s Brooklyn neighborhood.
Specializing in handmade tacos, burritos, quesadillas and salads, Burrito Gallery was a local leader in the ‘Jax Mex’ concept, named ‘best burrito’ by Folio Weekly as “Best of Jax” and “#1 in the 904” poll every year by Void Magazine.
Jacksonville Zoo 30th anniversary ‘Spooktacular’
In October, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens celebrates the 30th year of “Spooktacular” Halloween.
The popular fall event will be three weekends:
— Oct. 13-15
— Oct. 20-22
— Oct. 27-31
Visitors of all ages are encouraged to take part by wearing family-friendly costumes for trick-or-treating, music, dancing and special scare zones.
This year’s features include Sweet Pete’s Candy Trail, an all-new scare zone, zombies, pumpkin sculptures, and a two-way guest path.
“This is such an exciting time of year here at the zoo,” Zoo executive director Tony Vecchio tells News 4 Jax. “The entire staff pulls together to put on what has become Jacksonville’s premier Halloween event. We have been thrilling Jacksonville for 30 years and this year will be better than ever.”
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens will open each night from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Ticket sales end at 9 p.m. nightly.
‘Tons of fun’ at ZOOLights
Welcome the holiday season among sparkling lights and brilliant hues at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ Fifth Annual ZOOLights. Thousands of LED lights will transform the Zoo into a luminous winter wonderland filled with “moving sculptures, forests of lighted trees and animal silhouettes.”
The event will feature sculptures and performances by local artists — including some from UNF — a fairy village in the Range of the Jaguar courtesy of Rockaway Garden Center, and votives created by students of JU’s ceramics program. Along with thousands of lights and holiday music, guests can enjoy a unique view of ZOOLights by boarding the Zoo’s lighted train (the train only runs from the back of the Zoo to the front).
Guests can also enjoy carousel rides, the 4-D Theater featuring the Polar Express, marshmallow roasting, warm weather “ice” skating and more for an extra charge.
ZOOLights will be Dec. 9 -11 and Dec. 16 — Jan. 7. Closed Christmas Day.
— 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday — Thursday
— 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday & Saturday
The Zoo closes at 5 p.m. and will reopen for ZOOLights at 6 p.m.
Tickets are $10/Non-Members; $8/Zoo Members; save $1 when you order online. Special activities are an extra cost.
New this year: ZOOLights Value Tickets! Adults: $15/Non-Members; $12/Zoo Members.
Includes train, 4D Theater, Stingray Bay and Carousel (Children 12 and under).
Armada playoff hopes dented, tied for fourth in NASL
North Carolina FC earned a valuable point on the road Friday night at Hodges Stadium with a 1-1 draw against Jacksonville Armada FC. The draw keeps NCFC five points ahead of Jacksonville in third place and puts a dent in the Armada’s playoff hopes. The top four teams in the NASL table qualify for the playoffs and Jacksonville currently sits in a fourth-place tie.
In the 21st minute, Jacksonville broke open the game with a goal from Zach Steinberger. The Jacksonville midfielder found an opening in the NCFC defense and converted a chance that ended a 380-minute shutout streak for NCFC.
NCFC responded just before the halftime whistle in the 36th minute, as Renan Gorne slotted home his sixth goal of the year. Combination play from Nazmi Albadawi and Steven Miller freed up Albadawi behind the Armada defense. The Raleigh native fed Gorne who converted the chance at the back post.
Following the break, the sides played an end-to-end game, but neither could find the back of the net in the second half and the game ended in a stalemate. The Armada had several half chances but didn’t find a breakthrough.
“That was a really high-level game of football. You could tell by the speed of the game from start to finish,” head coach Mark Lowry said. “We did enough to win. I thought the guys were fantastic, we showed tonight that we can beat anybody and play with anybody.”
The result leaves the Armada out of the final playoff position on a tiebreaker with three matches remaining. The most critical of these three matches will come Sunday at Hodges Stadium against the New York Cosmos. The teams are currently deadlocked in the NASL table in the fourth and final postseason position. First, the Armada must contend with FC Edmonton who visits Hodges Stadium Wednesday night.
Jacksonville concludes its NASL season Saturday, Oct. 28, in San Francisco against the Deltas.