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Jacksonville Bold for 2.15.19 — Blocking and tackling

Does all of this mean it’s over in March? Not necessarily, but it looks like it’s getting close.

Blocking and tackling

Jacksonville municipal elections are coming up next month, and there’s not a whole lot of action.

Sure, the mayoral race is contested, but the challenge by Jacksonville City Councilwoman Anna Brosche against fellow Republican Lenny Curry does not compare with how Curry targeted Alvin Brown four years prior.

The race between Republicans Lenny Curry and Anna Brosche can’t compare to the mayoral race four years ago.

Curry holds a massive financial advantage: his hard money equals what Brosche has in both hard cash and committee money.

And there is another $2.7 million in his political committee.

Can Brosche turn it around?

To put it another way: Is she 2019’s Bill Bishop?

(A St. Pete Polls survey shows that with the voters, Broche is in Bishop territory.)

Brosche is having more robust fundraising than Bishop but without the donor class buy-in. Word on the street is that Curry’s financial backers aren’t happy with his style, but given the alternative, those checks aren’t flowing there either.

Does all of this mean it’s over in March?

Not necessarily, but it looks like it’s getting close.

Curry’s side has a superior operation, as well as the biggest checks and best endorsements.

People often say that Curry is doing something politically unique in Jacksonville. While it’s possible that he could have governed from the center and bored opposition to death, what he (and his team) did was heighten the tension and drama around local politics.

Was it the right strategy? The vote in March will reveal all.

So far, it looks on point.

New Day fundraising

“A New Day,” the political committee of Jacksonville City Councilwoman Anna Brosche, raised $374,000 in January.

Brosche, a Republican, qualified for the Jacksonville mayoral campaign a month ago. Since she registered her committee on the state level, Monday’s report was the first look at soft money.

Her leading individual contributor: Delores Barr Weaver, who donated $25,000.

Delores Barr Weaver. Image via Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The bulk of Brosche’s money ($325,000) came from Floridians for Accountability and Transparency.

These checks preceded Brosche’s formal qualifying, which contradicts assertions from her campaign that she was not fundraising before she filed.

Chairing this political committee is Anthony Pedicini of Tampa. However, the cash routed in this direction is Jacksonville money.

Former CSX CEO Michael Ward, having given $160,000, is the most active donor. CPA Jack Meeks and Associates gave another $50,000.

In addition to the money on the committee level, Brosche also has roughly $60,000 in hard cash in her campaign account.

Curry has roughly $408,000 in hard money, essentially matching Brosche’s two accounts combined, and an additional $2.71 million in his Jacksonville on the Rise political committee account.

Budget props

The St. Augustine Record says Northeast Florida legislators are “comfortable” with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ first budget.

“It seemed to me that it was a thoughtful budget proposal,” Rep. Cyndi Stevenson said. “To me, it reflected the priorities he talked about when he was on the campaign trail.”

Rep. Cyndi Stevenson is comfortable with the Ron DeSantis budget.

Sen. Travis Hutson likewise lauded the concept.

“I am especially excited to work with the governor on our shared budget focus of infrastructure and education,” Hutson said in a message to The Record. “With these aligned budget priorities, I am hopeful we can pass a budget that offers Floridians the best opportunity for good jobs and economic security.”

Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, and caucus leader, was also encouraged.

“I am encouraged to see the governor’s commitment to priorities Democrats have long embraced, especially the cleanup of our water and increased funding for public education,” Gibson said.

Garrison fortified

Sam Garrison, a Republican lawyer from Orange Park, appears to be on track to be the next state Rep. from House District 18.

Sam Garrison got it done in January fundraising.

Garrison, the law partner of Senate budget chair Rob Bradley, will pursue the HD 18 nomination in 2020, with incumbent Travis Cummings (the House budget chair) seeking Bradley’s seat.

Garrison’s fundraising efforts, if January’s haul of almost $70,000 from 100 donations is any indication, suggest that the barrister won the so-called “establishment primary” long before filing for office.

Lobbyists, such as the Mayernick Group and the Fiorentino Group, invested. So too did political committees of Bradley and Cummings, and a cross section of the Clay County power structure.

Garrison thus far is alone in the race.

Sunshine stall

On Monday, 4th Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson announced findings in a Sunshine Law investigation involving members of the Jacksonville City Council.

While Nelson stopped short of filing formal charges against any Council members, a 19-page report from Nelson’s office depicted a pattern of communications that seemed to go beyond normal Council business.

Anna Brosche and Garrett Dennis talk Sunshine Law. Image via WJCT.

Involved in those communications: former Council President Brosche, Brosche’s former Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, Brosche aide Jeneen Sanders, and Council members Reggie Gaffney, Reggie Brown, Katrina Brown and Sam Newby.

The timing of the release of this report likely will set tongues wagging. Jacksonville’s First Election is in five weeks.

… [E]vidence of “substantial telephonic contact” between Brosche and Dennis, and Dennis and Sanders.

Between Oct. 1, 2017, and Sept. 28, 2018, Dennis and Sanders called each other 3,128 times, for 402 hours total (over an hour a day).

Dennis and Brosche called each other 454 times in that time frame. Once the first Sunshine Law complaint was filed in late February 2018, they only called each other four times though.

Brosche denied having regular “contact” with Council members for “matters unrelated to Council business” when the State Attorney’s Office asked her about the calls in August 2018. Further investigatory attempts in January 2019 were shut down, and the SAO could not “question her further about the frequency and duration” of calls between her and Dennis or Sanders and Dennis …

“Common sense dictates that Council members do not spend [this much time] on the phone with other Council members discussing simple scheduling matters or irregular personal matters,” the report reads.

However, the threshold for action ultimately was not met.

For Brosche and Dennis, each of whom has active campaigns, the end of the Sunshine Law investigation without formal charges allows them to concentrate on the path forward. Dennis seeks re-election. Broche is running for Mayor.

Safe at home?

Violent crime dominates Jacksonville headlines, but a new mailpiece from the re-election campaign of Sheriff Mike Williams tells a different story.

The message: “Jacksonville IS a safer city!”

The mailer promotes an inclusive, modern and safe brand for re-election.

The mailpiece trumpets statistical declines in citywide crime, violent crime, homicides, shootings, residential burglary, robbery and rape.

Though Republican voters were the audience for this piece, it did not mention Williams’ ally in City Hall, Mayor Curry.

Rather, the piece asserts that Williams “transformed” the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office into a “diverse department of young men and women who are smart, well-trained and innovative.”

“Mike Williams has put 180 new officers on the street and replaced 600 officers. He has introduced new, high-tech, crime-fighting systems that Jacksonville has never seen before,” the mailer adds.

Williams endorsed Curry as soon as qualifying wrapped in January, calling him “a strong partner in the fight against violent crime [who has] gone above and beyond in his commitment to the men and women of law enforcement.”

Williams has one opponent on the March ballot: Democrat Tony Cummings.

The Republican has a massive cash-on-hand advantage (~$342,000 to ~$1,500), per state and local fundraising reports.

District 8 heats up

The Florida Star was on hand for a forum last week involving Jacksonville City Council District 8 candidates.

Diallo Sekou, a candidate in District 8, organized … [and] sat on the panel alongside his fellow candidates Tameka Gaines Holly, Albert H Wilcox Jr. and Ju’Coby Pittman. … All candidates were at the forum except Katrina Brown.”

Diallo Sekou and Katrina Brown engage Lenny Curry.

Things apparently got interesting when “Wilcox insinuated that the current person in the council seat from the district was working for the Mayor.”

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Pittman after Katrina Brown was indicted and suspended.

She “shot straight back saying, “I don’t work for the Mayor, I work for the people.” She also looked Wilcox in the eyes and told him that this was not her first rodeo.”

Holly and Pittman are the leading fundraisers at this writing.

The lodgers

Jacksonville residents recall Philips Highway’s Gator Lodge in different ways depending on the era. In recent decades, that stretch of road has fallen far from its previous position as Jacksonville’s major North/South corridor.

To watch the video, click on the image below:

Lisa King, a Democrat running at-large for City Council, grew up there; it was her family business, she related in a launch video for her campaign this week.

King, a recent former chair of the Duval Democrats, ran for and lost an election for a district seat in 2015. This year, she faces current District 10 Councilman Terrance Freeman on the at-large ballot, along with other opponents.

Freeman has the financial advantage over King and the field combined, but with five names on the ballot, this likely goes to May.

Mass transit ‘future relationships’

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao visited Jacksonville last week to highlight $25 million in federal grants.

These funds represent real capital that could bring together some of the Curry administration’s most significant priority projects, including revitalizing downtown and the stadium area.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao visits Jacksonville to tout ‘relationship building’ for future transit projects, bolstered by $25 million in federal funds.

And the rollout, in the midst of a pitched re-election campaign, couldn’t be better timed for these two high-profile projects.

The Bay Street Innovation Corridor: a three-mile stretch of road downtown using autonomous vehicles and smart city technology, tying together rapid transit buses and a new multimodal transportation center. Jacksonville will get $12.5 million for this project, which is estimated to cost $62 million.

The second project: Urban Core Riverfront Revitalization and Complete Streets, also known as removal of Hart Bridge offramps. Jacksonville will get $12,462,500 of federal money to augment $25 million of local and state money via a Department of Transportation Build Grant.

Seismic testing ban floated

On Monday, Rep. John Rutherford co-introduced a bill banning seismic testing in the Atlantic.

“In response to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issuing five Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) which would advance permit applications for seismic air gun blasting off the Atlantic coast, the bipartisan ‘Atlantic Coastal Economies Protection Act’ [would] prohibit these permit applications for seismic air gun testing from moving forward in the Atlantic Ocean,” asserts a release from Rutherford’s office.

Seismic ban: John Rutherford has co-introduced a bill that would ban seismic testing in Atlantic waters. Image via Getty.

“The waters off the East Coast are home to vulnerable mammal populations, military operations, tourist destinations, and a vibrant maritime economy,” he said.

“Allowing seismic testing in the Atlantic is unnecessary and potentially hazardous to the coastal communities that rely on a healthy ecosystem. The U.S. should not jeopardize our coastal economy by expanding seismic testing and offshore drilling, particularly when our energy needs continue to be met.”

U.S. Reps. Brian Mast, a Republican and Donna Shalala, a Democrat, are among the Florida co-sponsors.

Tower of power

Per the Jacksonville Daily Record, “Baptist Health announced Monday it would begin construction this spring on a $187 million, seven-story Wolfson Children’s Critical Care Tower.”

Artist’s rendering. Image via Jax Daily Record.

“The tower will become the front entrance to Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville at 800 Prudential Drive on the Downtown Southbank,” the Record reports, with construction to be done in the next couple of years.

Hospital officials note that Wolfson is increasingly a destination for children from outside the area. The expansion will make it Florida’s second largest children’s hospital.

Second chances

To close this week, a spot of good news (and a few yellow ribbons) from Kevin Gay of Operation New Hope.

Gay, writing in Folio Weekly this month, asserted that Jacksonville should aspire to become the “city of second chances.”

“Since being designated the Bold New City of the South after consolidation in 1968, Jacksonville’s character has drastically shifted. The era of segregation is over. We now live in an evolving modern city poised to make its mark. It’s time for Jacksonville’s brand to truly reflect the people and potential within,” Gay wrote.

Gay invoked the hit “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree,” a song about a reformed convict who knows he is welcomed home when he sees an oak tree festooned with yellow cloth, as a metaphor for the anxiety and opportunity wrapped up in reconciliation.

Tony Orlando’s song from half a century ago: a hook for a piece about reformed convicts.

“I love that Jacksonville lives within our stories as a city with a heart big enough to believe in redemption. I know this to be true. For 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with men and women coming back here after being incarcerated,” Gay added.

Quarterback intrigue

With the NFL Draft now two months away, speculation has centered on the Jaguars drafting Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins if they are not able to land Philadelphia’s Nick Foles via free agency. Should they be forced to draft a quarterback, some of the experts believe Haskins will not be around by the 7th pick, thereby forcing Jacksonville to trade up.

With the announcement Oklahoma’s Kyle Murray, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, is forgoing baseball to focus solely on football, perhaps a solid, franchise-type quarterback will be available without making a trade. Some of the experts believe Murray is the most talented of all coming out with NFL Network’s LaDainian Tomlinson predicting he will be the top choice overall.

Could the Heisman Trophy winner wind up in Jacksonville?

If they do trade up, Oakland is their likely partner. The Raiders have three first-round picks, including the number four selection, which gives them more flexibility to move down three slots. If Leonard Fournette’s problems in 2018 lead the front office to look toward a deal for him, Fournette could be part of any package.

All of this could be moot because multiple NFL sources point toward “mutual interest” between Foles and the Jaguars. There is no question the Jags would be a better team with Foles and Fournette together, bolstered by a healthy offensive line.

Last month, head coach Doug Marrone sat down for a heart-to-heart with Fournette.

Is he committed not only to the Jaguars but also committed to becoming the elite football player talent scouts thought he could be?

“We had a good meeting,” Marrone said shortly afterward. “I’m not going to speak for Leonard, but when he left that meeting, I think he’s in a really good place. So, that’s encouraging, and I’m excited about that.”

Jacksonville has other positions they wish to fill or fortify. Analyzing those who might fit a need will pick up when the NFL Scouting Combine begins on March 1.

It will be a hectic two months between now and draft day.

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