From Moncrief to Mandarin (and all points in between), what we hear right now: Fear is pervasive in the #jaxpol landscape.
Specifically, operatives and surrogates say their opponents either fear a loss, are running scared, or some variation on that theme.
Pushing these narratives are everything from the potboiler of a mayor’s race down to the City Council heats.
As for Lenny Curry, he has already spent and deployed a lot of resources (you’ll see examples below).
Nevertheless, skeptics say it isn’t helping him in the polls.
History shows that the more the Mayor spends (especially without a counter-message on air), the better he does.
With polling, everyone is tight right now. No one is offering any guarantees — either that it goes past March to a May runoff or it won’t.
Campaigns are a nasty business, especially in Duval and particularly this year.
We don’t smell the pulp mills anymore. We only get the coffee plant when a Nor’easter comes in.
But the smell of fear? It’s in the air, they say.
Real polls — and actual votes — will soon flesh out what is right now only a speculative (and evolving) narrative.
Casey at the bat
As February begins, Curry is not letting up on his fundraising.
If there were any doubt that Florida’s Republican establishment is backing Curry over his intraparty challenger, this event might retire (or at least quiet) it.
The Feb. 4 funder is a lunch confab at the San Jose Country Club. Event co-chair Susie Wiles is deeply connected to both Curry and DeSantis’ respective operations.
Curry is facing an argument from his principal opponent, City Councilwoman Anna Brosche, accusing the administration of a lack of inclusivity. Brosche’s backers call it a “boys’ club.”
Mrs. DeSantis is uniquely positioned to offer a counternarrative.
Ryan Wiggins, on behalf of the Brosche campaign, sees the move as borne of desperation: “When you are calling in the first lady, it doesn’t make you look strong or confident, it makes you look scared.”
Curry is picking up the fundraising pace. He is slated to report $750,000 in new money on his fundraising report this week, and by all indications, he is pressing the finance team to push harder.
The claim from Curry’s Jacksonville On the Rise political committee has been that Councilwoman Anna Brosche has not shown up for work … and when she has, it’s because she’s in business for herself.
This week, WJCT fact-checked that claim, giving a considerable run to Brosche campaign consultant Ryan Wiggins.
“It is … important to set the record straight about the claim that she voted against term limits. If anyone went back and checked that vote, they would see that the claim being made by Lenny Curry’s political committee is intentionally deceptive. What Anna voted for was for that issue to be placed on the ballot for the voters to decide,” Wiggins said, taking issue with a claim that Brosche opposes term limits in two Curry ads.
Regarding meetings that Brosche missed (we compiled a list of 33, including special committees and standing committees), Wiggins noted that Brosche was “serving the City of Jacksonville in a different capacity” when she was not in attendance.
The Jacksonville Daily Record reported this week that JEA would pick its new headquarters location in April … notably after the city’s first elections in March.
The rationale, via internal email, is it “will allow for a public review period of the Public Information Package, sufficient time to vet each proposal and fully negotiate a Best and Final Offer in the best interest of JEA and the public, and accommodation of JEA’s Board scheduling needs.”
Three locations are under consideration, with Lot J at the Jaguars’ stadium (in collaboration with owner and Curry donor Khan) being the most provocative option.
Chartrand talks school choice
In the Florida Times-Union this week, Gary Chartrand signaled a familiar theme: “Parents want the opportunity to choose the best schools for their kids.”
No surprise there.
Chartrand notes that he was the first in his family to go to college, before remembering his children’s educational offerings.
“Attending a great school required moving to the right school zone,” Chartrand wrote. “For children stuck in underperforming schools, their parents’ promise of a brighter future were painfully out of reach.”
Chartrand, an active donor (and charter-school booster), hopes “state and local leaders will work together to ensure that a great education is within reach for each and every child in the state of Florida.”
So far, so good under the DeSantis administration.
Fees, shorty, fees
Clay County is booming, but property tax collections in the county seat are not.
And, as WJXT reports, the City Council is working on fixes.
At issue: Changes in homestead exemptions that have Green Cove Springs city leaders looking at fees instead of millage rates.
“This is the second one (proposal) in a number of years and our thought process was that we would prefer to look at raising revenues on fees for services rather than just relying solely on ad valorem taxes,” one Councilman said.
It was a non-starter with much of the Council, and with at least one apartment dweller quoted in the article; expect this issue to recur.
Like many northeastern Florida cities, Nassau County’s American Beach is struggling with septic tank phaseout.
The county, per WJCT, has lobbied up, with Mark Anderson “retained by the Board of County Commissioners to assist with working with our legislative delegation and with our legislature, with the governor’s office and the Department of Environmental Protection to see what we could do to help locate some opportunities to help finance and to help pay for the septic tank to sewer conversion project at American Beach.”
Septic phaseout looks to be among the environmental priorities of the Ron DeSantis administration.
WJCT notes: “There are more than 2.6 million septic tanks in Florida … the conversion project in American Beach would target about 300 units, and that alone could cost more than $7 million.”
Anderson adds that the goal is cost-sharing between different levels of government and that state Sen. Aaron Bean and Rep. Cord Byrd, who represent Nassau, will help to carry the ask.
According to the St. Augustine Record, the North Florida TPO is bullish on the future of traffic management in fast-growing St. Johns County.
“The amount of funding that’s found its way into Northeast Florida is well above what you would consider our share,” TPO head Jeff Sheffield said.
“Sheffield pointed to several road improvements on the horizon … S.R. 313, the First Coast Expressway [in St. Johns] … the widening of I-95 to create speed lanes beginning at International Golf Parkway through to Duval and into downtown Jacksonville.”
Also on tap: smarter parking management, which will allow drivers to see where capacity might be in St. Augustine’s packed garages.
The St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce meets Friday morning; expect to discuss these topics when Sheffield takes the mike.
WJXT reports that Jacksonville streets still present untold dangers for pedestrians.
The city ranks sixth in the nation in pedestrian fatalities, continuing a recent trend of high rankings in that grisly metric.
“The truly jarring numbers come from the Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) … pedestrian deaths relative to the number of people who walk to work in the area. Florida’s PDI is 182.0 in 2019, with Alabama coming closest at 145.0. Jacksonville recorded more than 400 deaths in the nine-year survey period. Jacksonville’s PDI for 2018 stands at 226.2,” WJXT reports.
Local politicians have tried to call attention to these issues, and some state funding has been provided, including for crosswalk signal heads. However, it will take some time (and likely more physical toll) before we know if the trend is reversing.
Capital Soup reports that for the 10th straight year, the University of North Florida is being praised as military-friendly.
By the numbers: UNF’s veteran population using the Post-9/11 GI Bill has grown at an average of 6 percent per year for the last five years and now numbers more than 1,350 veterans or military-affiliated students, representing 8 percent of the University’s student body. UNF currently has 97 active-duty students, 545 veteran students, and 730 military dependents.
Roughly 10 percent of all colleges achieve this designation.
“For a decade now, UNF has been a special place for veterans and military-affiliated students, and each year we work to expand our services,” said Bob Buehn, director of UNF’s Military and Veterans Resource Center (MVRC). “During each step of the college experience, from admissions to alumni, our staff is ready to help, support and encourage those who have served our country.”
Swisher International, a Jacksonville tobacco marketer, is known for budget-friendly stogies and big donations to politicians.
However, they currently are dealing with some human resources issues also, as Action News Jax reports.
“A Florida couple aiming to prepare for the ‘fall of the U.S. government’ swindled more than $5 million from the tobacco company where the wife worked as an accountant so they could buy land, weapons, ammunition, gold and silver,” AN reports.
The wife was the accountant.
“Gretchen Camp worked at Swisher International, the Jacksonville-based tobacco company that makes Swisher Sweets cigars. Prosecutors allege Camp created fake invoices in late 2017 for a Macon, Georgia, company called Lodge and Anchor, which is owned by a friend of her husband,” per AN.
“The suspect’s wife advised that the money had been used by her and her husband to buy a 460-acre farm in Metter, Georgia, build a cabin and several outbuildings on the farm … [and] buy significant sums of gold and silver by her husband, this suspect, due to the fact that her husband is preparing for the fall of the U.S. government,” asserted the husband’s arrest report.
JTA nabs Amazon exec
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has hired Bernard Schmidt, a former general manager of Amazon’s Pecan Park Road fulfillment center, as vice president of automation, the Jacksonville Business Journal reports.
Schmidt will oversee the Ultimate Urban Circulator, JTA’s proposed 10-mile autonomous shuttle network that will operate in the downtown area, as well as on the Skyway’s elevated infrastructure.
In a statement, JTA CEO Nat Ford said: “With the hiring of Bernard, the JTA has successfully reached the next milestone of implementing an autonomous vehicle transportation system in Northeast Florida. His unique industry knowledge and results-oriented leadership will help us develop and advance these complex, high-tech transportation solutions.”
While at Amazon, Schmidt oversaw more than 3,000 employees, a robot-equipped fulfillment center and more than $3.5 billion in annual sales revenue. Before that, he worked for United Technologies Corporation, General Dynamics Inc. and Dominion Nuclear Energy Co.
“I am honored and excited to take on this role with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority,” Schmidt said in a statement. “I look forward to working on a long-range, innovative program that will increase mobility options and usher in a new wave of opportunity for autonomous transportation.”
JAA breaks records, expands services
With a 16 percent increase over the previous year, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority saw a record-breaking 6.46 million passengers last year, reports the Jacksonville Business Journal.
Those numbers beat the previous record of 6.3 million passengers in 2007. JAA also set monthly passenger records seven out of 12 months in 2018. It is nearly 900,000 passengers more than 2017, attributed to new carriers, a broader range of destinations and increased frequency of flights.
JAA CEO Mark VanLoh said in a statement: “This is an excellent milestone for our organization and Jacksonville as a whole. It’s reflective of the quality work done by the entire JAA team as well as Jacksonville’s status as a dynamic and attractive city.”
And the momentum is expected to continue for 2019: Southwest Airlines launched daily service to Dallas; Spirit Airlines will offer regular service to Baltimore and Ft. Lauderdale in February, and Frontier Airlines will service Raleigh-Durham in April. This summer, JAA will also open a VIP lounge.
Shannan Dunaway Schuessler joins Fiorentino Group
Schuessler comes to the Jacksonville-based firm from the Florida Department of Transportation, where she served as Chief of Staff and Director of Legislative Affairs. In that role, she assisted with the supervision and operation of all department activities, including policy development, and was responsible for 6,200 employees and a $10 billion annual budget.
“We are looking forward to Shannan becoming part of our team,” said TFG founder and president Marty Fiorentino. “With technology changing the transportation landscape almost daily, Shannan’s experience and knowledge of state transportation issues will be invaluable to our clients.”
TFG said Schuessler’s legislative affairs and policy development expertise would be a significant asset for its clients in the transportation industry. Among the Bold City firm’s extensive client roster is a handful of major players in the industry: CSX Transportation, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and Uber.
Ramsey hauls in TD pass as Pro Bowl wide receiver
For the most part, the 2019 Pro Bowl in Orlando was an unwatchable touch football game. In the game won by the AFC 26-7, players were often deemed as down by contact when a defender laid either hand on them.
Only two Jaguars were chosen to play in the game, and both were from the defensive unit. The irrepressible cornerback Jalen Ramsey joined defensive end Calais Campbell.
Ramsey wore a microphone during the game and those wanting to hear his comments throughout the game were not disappointed. At one point during the game played through a steady rain, Ramsey can be heard calling for a raincoat while in the defensive backfield.
The flamboyant former Florida State star had a reason to crow late in the game with his AFC team firmly in control. With the ball on the NFC 6-yard line in the closing minute, Ramsey found himself with the offensive unit led by his friend and former Clemson opponent Deshaun Watson at quarterback.
To the surprise of nearly everyone remaining in soggy Camping World Stadium Watson hit Ramsey on a slant pass for a touchdown to provide the final margin. The all-pro cornerback was very pleased, demonstrated by dunking the ball over the crossbar.
“Man, me and Deshaun, that’s my brother from another mother,” Ramsey said after the game. “We’ve been plotting and scheming all week, manifesting and it just came about.”
In a later interview, Ramsey offered his humbler side. While some of the Pro Bowl players go through the motions, he seemed glad to be there.
“This is a blessing,” Ramsey told Jaguars.com. “It’s an honor to be voted by your peers, coaches and some fans to be back in the pro bowl and try to put on a show for the people.”
Ramsey and Campbell were part of an AFC defense that showed up to play, while the NFC seemed at times to be involved in a practice walk-through. It was also more rewarding to be on the winning team, as the two Jaguars and their teammates each pocketed $67,000 while the NFC team settled for $39,000.