More toxic than the disused industrial sands on the Northbank, those vacant lots and husks of bygone eras: Jacksonville’s political culture.
In recent years, there has been no shortage of scandals.
From Trumpian party fractures and schisms with Republicans to Democrats not being able to get out of their own way for more than two news cycles at a time, things have been rougher than a Riverside sidewalk.
However, nothing prepared the city for a vehicular assault on a Donald Trump registration event last weekend.
A 27-year-old driver is charged with driving an old van toward a booth where mostly elderly volunteers were trying to bring in voters.
Gregory William Loel Timm is charged with two counts of aggravated assault on a person 65 years old or older, one count of criminal mischief and another for driving with a suspended license.
Four names, four counts, and the police report said Timm felt he had to “take a stand.”
Back in 2016, a Trump HQ was ritually defaced; prominent on Park St., it represented a soft target for the bar crawl crowd on King St.
There have been few brawls in local politics of late; it’s easy to think back to the multiple times Ku Klux Klan flyers have circulated in recent years, or to threats and invective around the Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance, or any number of other manifestations of “the crazies” having a disproportionate impact on the local political discourse.
Others were probably less shocked.
Jacksonville has always been a hotbed of violence and discontent. However, what happened last weekend was both singular and indicative of a city full of people who simmer existentially with a brooding rage, which (every so often) surfaces under the aegis of politics.
Neighbors for Nelson
State Attorney Melissa Nelson launched her second run for office last week.
In 2016, her campaign was run by two Curry operatives at the time. Brian Hughes is now Curry’s chief administrative officer; Tim Baker is no longer in contract with Curry.
2020 is a different animal, with Tallahassee operative James Blair running the show, and Nelson going in a different direction as the JEA saga unfolds.
Nelson’s political committee and fundraisers are coming soon, we understand.
In 2016, her “First Coast Values” committee raised $836,000 in five months.
While she faced no general election competition (Democrats were happy enough to see incumbent Angela Corey bounced), Nelson continued to raise money in September after the primary, allowing the committee to retire debt.
Florida’s 4th Judicial Circuit covers Clay, Duval and Nassau Counties.
Nelson, a Republican, was first elected State Attorney in 2016 after earning more than two-thirds of the vote in a three-way GOP primary. She was unopposed in the general.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Rep. Paul Renner, slated to be House Speaker in 2022, saw robust committee fundraising and spending in January that gives a window into how some money will be deployed in the 2020 election cycle.
The significant action was in the Palm Coast Rep/Jacksonville lawyer’s political committee.
Conservatives for Principled Leadership doled out $164,000 to five political committees, as part of a $210,000 spend.
Taking advantage of the short window before the 2020 Legislative Session began, Rep. Jason Fischer continued to raise bank for his reelection.
The principal action was in his Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville political committee, which piled up over $46,000, pushing it to $190,000 on hand.
Fischer’s campaign account brought in another $19,100 and now has roughly $77,000 on hand.
Fischer has no primary challenger. He will face a Democrat, Ben Marcus, in November.
Marcus raised $6,686 in January, but has just over $3,400 on hand, with a high burn rate thus far. He has no political committee.
Compared to Fischer, who fundraises like a real challenge is right around the corner, HD 15 incumbent Wyman Duggan is taking things a bit more slowly.
Duggan raised $7,500 in January, pushing him to $95,000 on hand.
The first-termer has another $30,000 in his political committee, which raised no January money but spent $5,000 with Data Targeting.
HD 15 has a slight Democratic plurality but has performed Republican historically. Duggan withstood the famed Blue Wave of 2018, defeating Tracye Polson in an expensive and close race.
2020 will not see Polson, who couldn’t get traction in some African American precincts, on the ballot.
Democrat Tammyette Thomas filed, however.
She raised $1,247 in January, giving her over $1,600 on hand.
Facing the toughest stretch of his administration, with multiple investigations and a cascade of unfavorable stories about the JEA sale debacle, Curry raised no money for his political committee last month.
Though state Legislators cannot fundraise during Session, Curry’s Securing Florida’s Future committee is not. But he raised no cash anyway.
Curry’s committee spent roughly $20,000 in January, with $8,000 of that going to the Duval County Republican Party and just over $12,000 going to consultant Kevin Hoffmann and accounting fees.
Curry rolled out a list of community leaders to replace the last JEA Board he picked.
They will be able to fulfill “the task of rebuilding public trust and strengthening the future of this vital and valued community asset.”
The appointees: John D. Baker, II, executive chairman & CEO, FRP Holdings; Joseph P. DiSalvo, lieutenant general, U.S. Army (ret.); Dr. A. Zachary Faison, Jr., president & CEO, Edward Waters College; Dr. Leon L. Haley, Jr., CEO, UF Health Jacksonville; Marty Lanahan, executive vice president & regional president, Iberia Bank; Robert “Bobby” L. Stein, president, The Regency Group; Tom VanOsdol, senior vice president, Ascension Healthcare & ministry market executive, Ascension Florida.
“These past few weeks, I have held numerous conversations with local business & community leaders, elected officials, and City Council members about our municipal utility and the JEA Board of Directors,” Curry said.
“I am grateful for these seven well-respected and community-minded leaders who have answered the call to serve the people of our city on the JEA board. I am confident that they are up to the task of rebuilding public trust and strengthening the future of this vital and valued community asset. My team and I look forward to working with the City Council throughout the appointment process,” Curry said.
Good news for fans of river dredging: the feds are paying more of the bill.
First Coast News reported that Jacksonville would get $93 million for the project.
JAXPORT called it a “milestone for the project” that will deepen 11 miles of river from a depth of 40 feet down to 47 feet.
“This is a significant win for Jacksonville, and as I have said before, the continued support from our state and federal partners demonstrates the strength of JAXPORT’s future,” Curry said.
All but $90 million of the $484 million project has already been financed.
The St. Augustine Record reported this week on a program being used by the local police department that helps them solve crimes.
“SAPD uses FaceLogics, run by former St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Intelligence-Led Policing Unit head Vinnie Russo and his wife Amber in St. Augustine,” the Record reports, not noting whether there was a competitive bid process or not.
Competitive bids are not the focus of the story, which spotlights the program favorably, noting “objectivity” that protects officer cases and which offers 24/7 support.
“Lineups keep investigations fresh as they are developing,” St. Augustine Police Chief Barry Fox said. “In the past, we had to mine through different types of photos caches. You had to find and try to get photos that were appropriate in resemblance (to the suspect) to build a photo lineup.”
Investigation ramps up
A Jacksonville City Council select committee probing the JEA sale kicked off Monday, with some taking the long view.
Councilwoman Randy DeFoor asserted that the plan to sell JEA might go back several years.
The committee is requesting an exhaustive list of documents, including communications between Curry, Chief Administrator Hughes, and political operative Baker.
Diamond, though he ultimately ran unopposed, was a Baker client, as was DeFoor, who won a campaign that came down to her political committee going negative (a Baker specialty) despite her apparent objections.
Hughes moved inside City Hall before the 2019 campaign ramped up in earnest.
Deno goes solo
Deno Hicks will land on his feet after leaving Southern Group when news broke of his co-owned parcel with former JEA CEO Aaron Zahn.
The Jax Daily Record reports that Hicks “registered River North Strategies LLC with the Florida Division of Corporations on Jan. 22 and lists his wife, Lee-Catherine Hicks, as an authorized representative.”
Two local clients already: Chase Properties Inc. and Live Oak Contracting.
“Chase Properties President and CEO Mike Balanky said he’s known Hicks for nearly 30 years. Balanky said he supported Hicks, then 28, in a failed 2003 run for the District 5 City Council seat,” the Record asserts.
JU business names dean
Jacksonville University has a new dean of the Davis College of Business, reports the Jacksonville Daily Record.
For 16 years, Barbara Ritter served as dean of the Wall College of Business at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, teaching management and the science of decision-making.
“With more than 20 years of experience teaching and leading in higher education, Dr. Ritter is a proven leader who has an impressive history of forging transformative partnerships and delivering real results that directly benefit faculty and students,” JU President Tim Cost said in a statement.
Ritter completed the Harvard Institute for Management and Leadership in Higher Education and received a master’s and Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology from the University of Akron in Ohio. Ritter also holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.
Ritter officially takes the position in July as a dean and professor in the Department of Management at the Davis College. In her new role, she will oversee JU’s Career Resource Center, replacing Executive Director Toni Higgs, who retires in July.
Ritter succeeds Don Capener, who, as of March, has taken a position as associate dean of the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University in Ogden, Utah.
Flagler Hospital captures top honors
Health care information-resource firm Healthgrades is ranking Flagler Hospital as one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals for 2020, placing it within the top two percent of nearly 4,500 hospitals assessed nationwide
As the leading resource that connects consumers, physicians and health systems, Healthgrades rates hospitals on year-over-year superior clinical performance.
“Recognized as one of America’s Best 100 Hospitals year after year does not happen by chance,” Flagler Health+ President and CEO Jason Barrett said in a statement. “Our clinical outcomes reflect deliberate and ongoing investments in training, technology, evidence-based practice, collaboration, and empowerment of our staff. We take the trust our patients and their loved ones place in us very seriously and make delivering the highest quality care our number one priority every day.”
During the 2020 study (measuring 2016 through 2018), Flagler Health was among the hospitals that showed superior performance for patients in the Medicare population across 21 of 32 most common inpatient conditions and procedures — using objective performance data (risk-adjusted mortality and in-hospital complications).
For patients, this ranking means better health outcomes at Flagler Health. If all hospitals nationwide performed to the same degree as those on the Healthgrades America’s 100 Best Hospitals Award™, it could save as many as 170,783 lives.
An interesting local debate: should Jacksonville devote almost $200 million in resources to the Lot J project?
With the Jaguars slated to play only six games in Jacksonville, and a lot more scrutiny and checks and balances in City Hall than previously, the investment that once seemed a slam dunk may take at least a rebound, and a follow-up shot to score.
The sports media tends to support the deal, as represented on the radio this week by Ballard Partners’ lobbyist Tony Boselli.
“On the business side, from where I sit, I see an owner who is partnering with the city and investing his own money into a public stadium. [Shad Khan] is trying to make our city, that I love, better.” — @TonyBoselli on #TheDrill.
Boselli had previously led a “Team Teal” effort to fight proposed franchise relocation years back, saying, “I came from LA 15 years ago and had no idea about Jacksonville the city … 15 years later I choose to live here now. This is my home. And I’ll be damned if I let LA or any other city come in and take our franchise.”
At least one lobbyist from a competing firm was somewhat skeptical in a tweet that, like the Jaguars in Jacksonville for eight home games, was a limited-time proposition.
Leaving more of an enduring mark are skeptics like the Times-Union’s Nate Monroe.
“For the record, Shad Khan is asking the city for almost a quarter of a billion dollars in incentives — this is not nearly as risky for him as normal business ventures, which don’t get basically half subsidized by the government,” Monroe tweeted.
“City Hall should take its time vetting this ask,” he added.
The relationship between the Jaguars and citizens seems at a low ebb, ironic given that a UNF poll just months back had Khan at 65% approval.
Where is he now, though?
McAdoo joins Jaguars’ staff
This week, the Jaguars announced the hiring of new quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo. He may be familiar to some from his most recent stint with the New York Giants, where he was the offensive coordinator before becoming head coach.
He thrust himself into the spotlight while the head coach of the Giants with his highly controversial decision to bench Eli Manning in 2017. Despite an 11-5 record in his first year leading the Giants, the Manning debacle was just one part of a disastrous season that saw McAdoo fired after the team lost 12 of their first 14 games in 2018.
Before joining the Giants, he was first the tight ends coach, then the quarterbacks coach for the Green Bay Packers in 2012-2013. Being around Aaron Rodgers might have provided the opportunity for McAdoo to learn something from his quarterback as well as impart some wisdom of his own.
Jags’ owner Shad Khan believes McAdoo has something to work with in quarterbacks Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew. In an interview earlier this week, Khan declared having two competent quarterbacks means Jacksonville possesses “an embarrassment of riches.”
Head Coach Doug Marrone is counting on McAdoo, who is replacing Scott Milanovich, to further Minshew’s development as well as providing a steadying presence for Foles. Minshew clearly exceeded any expectations while the Jaguars offense struggled under Foles after returning from injury.
“Coach McAdoo brings a lot of experience and knowledge to the quarterback room, and we’re excited to add him to our offensive coaching staff,” Marrone said as the team announced McAdoo’s hiring. “He has mentored several great quarterbacks throughout his career, and his understanding of the position will be a valuable addition to our team and for the development of that group.”
McAdoo will directly work with new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who was recently hired after being fired as head coach with the Washington Redskins. Jacksonville will be one of those rare teams with two former head coaches on a coaching staff.