A cottage industry among Northeast Florida political observers this year has revolved around the same question it did in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
Did Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry go too far?
In 2015, he capsized a popular Mayor. In 2016, he stumped for President Donald Trump and got pension reform through (which ticked off the left). In 2017, he allowed LGBT rights to become law (which ticked off the hard right).
And in 2018? Curry brought the political operation inside the building, with Brian Hughes taking over as chief of staff.
Critics, as Curry might say, chirped. But a year into it, there has been little in the way of meaningful pushback against his administration’s agenda.
There are fewer than 60 days remaining until the end of qualifying. If a serious candidate does not file, one wonders how credible complaints about the administration will be going forward.
Given the realities of Curry’s political operation, a full-spectrum dominance machine that includes enforcement of the City Council, an outside political machine of the sort previously unseen locally, and opposition that hasn’t marshaled visible support, as of yet, one wonders why the opposition campaign hasn’t been launched yet.
How Waltz beat the national left
Florida elections saw in many respects a blue wave, as witnessed by three of the five state-level races on the ballot triggering recounts.
However, a 50/50 tendency doesn’t extend to every contested race. Exhibit A: Florida’s 6th Congressional District, the former fiefdom of soon-to-be Governor-elect Ron DeSantis.
Republican Mike Waltz, a Trump-endorsed former Green Beret and counterterrorism adviser to then-Vice President Dick Cheney, defeated Democrat Nancy Soderberg, a Clinton-era Ambassador to the United Nations.
Despite Soderberg spending over $3 million directly and having even more than that come in from Michael Bloomberg and other national Democrats, despite all of the talk of a blue wave, Soderberg wasn’t able to close the deal. She went down 56 percent to 44 percent, losing in all four counties in the district.
And her campaign didn’t seem to see it coming.
Soderberg ran as a moderate Democrat in a district that the previous Democratic candidate and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton each lost by 15+ points in 2016.
Bloomberg‘s Independence USA PAC spent $3 million of its own. Fundraising was a definite prerequisite in this Daytona-centered district, which abuts the Jacksonville media market to the north and the Orlando market to the west.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before …
Per the News Service of Florida: “A federal appeals court has rescheduled a hearing in a challenge filed by former Congresswoman Corrine Brown after she was convicted in a charity scam. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week scheduled the arguments Feb. 1 in Atlanta, according to an online docket.”
This was pushed back from December and rehashes what may seem to be an esoteric claim from the original trial: “In the appeal, Brown contends that a juror was improperly dismissed from her trial. The dismissal came after the juror made statements such as the ‘Holy Ghost’ told him Brown was not guilty. Prosecutors, however, argue a district judge acted properly in replacing the juror with an alternate and disputed that the decision violated religious rights.”
Brown’s defense tried and failed to make the discharged juror an issue during her original trial. Her strategy seems to be doubling down, though it’s uncertain what has changed but the venue.
Smooth sailing for NE FL
For a second straight Legislative Session, a Clay County Republican will be key to the budget process.
Cummings replaces former House budget chair Carlos Trujillo, who left the Legislature after being appointed Ambassador to the Organization of American States.
Like incoming Speaker Jose Oliva, a Republican from Hialeah, Cummings was an early supporter of presumed Governor-elect DeSantis.
For DeSantis loyalists and Northeast Florida partisans both, the Cummings appointment is good news.
He told us Friday that he was “excited and fortunate” to be chosen, noting that while Northeast Florida is “well-positioned,” he has a holistic view regarding money for school safety and the environment in what otherwise will be a “pretty tight budget year.”
Baker turnout boom
For those inside Jacksonville who wonder why DeSantis won and Andrew Gillum did not, it may be useful to look to the Baker County Press for insights.
The county had a 70 percent turnout for the 2018 election … the best midterm turnout in Baker history, a strong sign that the GOP campaign against “corruption” and “socialism” made a dent.
Baker also was able to get a favorite son to the state House: MacClenny’s Chuck Brannan, who will replace Elizabeth Porter in House District 10.
Baker trends deeply conservative. The GOP ticket won by 68 points or so, in race after race.
Even if the candidate wasn’t remotely competitive.
“GOP candidate for Congressional District 5 Virginia Fuller, a recent California transplant to Florida, won the county with 81.1 percent, though her opponent, Democratic incumbent Al Lawson, held a 34-point lead in the district stretching from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, 67 percent to 33 percent.”
With Jacksonville’s leading Republican officeholders all in for the DeSantis campaign, October fundraising for their 2019 campaigns was on the back burner.
And why not? Though Jacksonville has a Democratic plurality, and statewide candidates Bill Nelson, Gillum, and Nikki Fried all won here, local Republicans have no reason to doubt their ability to hold serve based on campaign fundraising.
Mayor Curry raised nothing for his campaign account and a modest $75,500 for his “Jacksonville on the Rise” political committee. He has just under $3,000,000 on hand, and still awaits a candidate with any sort of fundraising traction to file (only NPA Connell Crooms has over $1,000 on hand).
Sheriff Mike Williams raised just $2,000 in October, with no money going into his political committee over the same period. It likely won’t matter: Williams, with roughly $440,000 on hand, is up against one candidate, Democrat Tony Cummings. Cummings’ campaign account is in the red.
City Council races are characterized by a mixture of well-established trends and genuine question marks.
Not taking it for granted
Ordinance 2018-813 would return that $2.775 million grant. And Ordinance 2018-790 would appropriate $2.775 million from the city’s general fund, to replace what some critics are calling “blood money” from the totalitarian Middle Eastern regime.
Back in October, the United Arab Emirates gave Jacksonville $2.775 million toward post-Irma reconstruction. City Council voted the appropriation through without a hitch in the summer, but second thoughts clouded members (and potential 2019 mayoral candidates) Anna Brosche and Garrett Dennis when they considered the UAE’s human rights record, deemed to be among the world’s worst.
The money is for various expenditures, including computer labs for Raines and Ribault High Schools, restoration of a local park, purchase of mobile medical units, with approximately $1.45 million going to projects in the Ken Knight Road area, which was among the slowest in the city to recover from Hurricane Irma.
Skilled labor shortage?
The Jacksonville Daily Record spotlights an issue years in the making, with no ready solution.
A shortage of skilled trades workers, one that started after the 2008 economic crash and has only been exacerbated in the decade since.
“The trades over the last generation have been stereotyped as a second-class occupation,” one source said. “That’s starting to catch up to us, as we don’t have as many skilled laborers anymore.”
Candidates for Governor, including apparent winner DeSantis, spotlighted the needs for people to go into skilled trades.
It needs to happen soon: delays can last up to two months, asserted Bill Garrison, the executive officer of the Northeast Florida Builders Association.
On Tuesday, the Jacksonville City Council imposed a six-month moratorium on adult arcades.
The legislation cleared committees without opposition and landed on the consent agenda, with most of the 19-person legislative body listed as sponsors even before Tuesday’s meeting.
Ordinance 2018-680 bans any new permitting for so-called internet cafes, a bane to the existence of Jacksonville lawmakers.
These establishments are predominantly in areas of town that have socioeconomic challenges already, and Council members have sought to put the brakes on what has become a flourishing industry, albeit one of dubious moral value.
Arcades often are near churches, schools, daycares and homes, and the noise, traffic, and other associated activities concern people outside the industry.
Jacksonville’s municipal code, which often seems fragmentary, lacks “performance standards or criteria pertaining to adult arcades,” offering another potential justification for the moratorium.
UNF recognized for ‘engaged’ campus
Via news release: “In recognition of the University of North Florida’s commitment to campus-community engagement and public service, Florida Campus Compact recognized UNF as the Engaged Campus of the Year for 2018 for the State University System. This is the University’s second time receiving this award.”
Ospreys give back to the community every day.
The award “recognizes institutions that advance the purposes of higher education while improving community life and educating students for civil and social responsibility. This is the highest honor for campus-community engagement in Florida.”
“UNF consistently provides remarkable service to the greater Jacksonville area and beyond through its volunteering, philanthropy and community-based teaching and research,” said UNF President David Szymanski.
A staggering 94 percent of departments offer courses with these components, leading to 1 million hours of work on projects like the Adaptive Toys Project: “UNF engineering and physical therapy faculty and students work with the Brooks Pediatric Residency Program to design, fabricate and deliver custom assistive technology, like battery-powered toy cars, for kids with developmental disabilities to aid in mobility and independence at no cost to the families.”
No benches, no homeless problem
For one Jacksonville Beach City Councilman, solving the homeless problem is as simple as removing places for them to sit.
“In a recent city council meeting, Councilmember Keith Doherty said the homeless population is an issue,” reported Action News Jax. “In the meeting notes, he said Gonzales Park had become a popular hangout spot for transients.”
“Doherty suggested in the meeting removing the benches and shelters in hopes it would alleviate the homeless from sleeping on them. He also suggested moving the City’s Veterans Memorial to the park to attract more activity and keep the homeless away.”
Whether that will work or not is unknown. Jacksonville Beach’s homeless problem continues to increase.
Home prices up, lower end sees action
Despite a slight slowdown in the Northeast Florida housing market, the area continues a trend of strong sales, particularly with lower-end homes.
According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, homes spend an average of 64 days on the market year-to-date before the sale, a number 11 percent up from last year, as per a release from the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors. Properties in the $150,000 and $199,999 range are spending the least amount of time on the market — 44 days on average — 24 percent faster than this time last year.
The number of homes on the market priced less than $199,999 have decreased over the past year — with those available under $149,999 down almost 14 percent. As with homes more than $199,999, inventory has increased.
The percentage of properties sold over list price has increased for properties valued at or below $199,999, the Journal writes. The percent of properties selling over the listing price that is valued at more than $199,999 has either decreased or remained equal over the past year.
Marketwide, sales prices are increasing. The median sales price was $221,000, an 8.8 percent increase compared to last year.
“We are pleased to see new listings being added to the market, but sales are taking place so steadily that a sustained and significant influx of properties is needed to turn the tide away from lower than normal inventory,” NEFAR President Ben Bates said in a release.
ZOOLights holiday fun
Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens launches its post-Thanksgiving holiday season celebration with the Seventh Annual ZOOLights event, beginning Dec. 7.
ZOOLights will feature thousands of LED lights, transforming the zoo into a winter wonderland of moving sculptures, lighted trees and animal silhouettes.
Guests can walk among lights strung throughout the Zoo and listening to holiday music and 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). There will also be carousel rides, the 4-D Theater, marshmallow roasting, and more activities for an extra charge.
The dates are Dec. 7—9 and Dec. 14 — Jan. 5 (Closed Christmas Day) Sunday — Thursday 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The Zoo closes at 5 p.m. and will reopen for ZOOLights at 6 p.m.
Prices are $10 for Non-Members; $8 for Zoo Members, with a special of $5 for Zoo Members, Dec. 17 — 20 only.
ZOOLights Value Tickets includes train rides, 4D Theater and Carousel (children 12 and under): $15 for Non-Members, $12 for Zoo Members.
For more information, visit JacksonvilleZoo.org.
Loss to Colts exposes Jags
As the Jacksonville Jaguars season began to go South, observers wondered how they would react. Were there sufficient leaders on the team that could carry them through rough patches?
Others feared that with the number of strong personalities in the locker room, infighting might lead to making a bad situation worse. There was hope that the trade of Dante Fowler Jr. to the Rams was a step that could help bring the team together.
Alas, Sunday’s 29-26 loss in Indianapolis to the Colts officially sent the season into free fall. They have lost 5 games in a row and now sit at 3-6.
The last loss seemed especially hard to take, especially to a once-proud defensive unit. Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey must have been hearing from the fans as he lashed out on Twitter.
“When I’m gone from here, y’all gone miss me,” he tweeted. “I ain’t even trippin lol.”
He might have also reacted to some indirect criticism from Head Coach Doug Marrone very well. Marrone said after the game Ramsey (without mentioning his name) blew a coverage that led to a 53-yard touchdown play for the Colts.
Some questioned whether the entire Jaguars’ defense had already left, giving up all 29 Indianapolis points in the first half. The team made a spirited comeback, only to fall short at the end when Rashad Greene fumbled in the final two minutes with the team in field goal range.
A favorite target of the wrath of fans is quarterback Blake Bortles, but he threw for 324 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. The defense gave up similar numbers to Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck.
With the defense struggling, the last thing they need to see is the surging offense of the Pittsburgh Steelers led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers will be in town Sunday, motivated by the two losses the Jaguars hung on them last year in Pittsburgh, including one in the playoffs.
Jaguars fans can only hope that somehow the 2017 version of the defensive unit can show up. Otherwise, look for a lot of points.