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Beach blanket bingo
It was a big week for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, whose city is winning the fight against coronavirus as he scores political points statewide and nationally.
Though it seems inconceivable in light of the all-corona-all-the-time news cycle, the 2020 campaign season will happen and requires crowds at rallies at some point, and it is now a safe bet that Jacksonville will host yet another rally for Donald Trump as it did in 2016.
Curry, as you’ll see below, got a shoutout this week from the President’s coronavirus task force, whose Dr. Deborah Birx did not take the bait from a loaded question about the wisdom of opening the beaches.
He’s also been lauded by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is communicating with the Mayor regularly, a contrast to Democratic mayors of other major cities.
Whereas former Gov. Rick Scott would often make a show of bipartisan crisis response after hurricanes, the current Governor seems more comfortable acknowledging the explicit politics in the process.
All of this cues up well for Curry, who was politically dead meat just months ago, with the JEA sale push festering in Duval County headlines.
The Mayor has said he won’t be on a ballot again, and whether that holds true or not, saying that is the equivalent of loosening the belt after dinner: allows just a little more room to maneuver.
DeSantis may or may not need Curry in 2022. It’s hard to gauge a long-range strategy from this Governor.
But in 2020, the Governor clearly needs a Mayor who, for whatever reason, he hadn’t gone out of his way to co-brand with before this crisis began.
Duval County’s decision to reopen beaches was the talk of national media last weekend, irking the Mayor. Yet the theoretical last word on it was issued from a national stage early this week.
On Monday, Dr. Birx of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force gave an attaboy to Florida and Jacksonville for coronavirus response.
Birx noted that Jacksonville was well-positioned for opening the beaches.
Appreciate the recognition to our work in Jacksonville. Couldn’t happen without strong support from @realDonaldTrump ,the entire team of federal partners and his task force. pic.twitter.com/Ovf3w1VKUY
— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) April 21, 2020
“Most of the cases are in southern Florida,” Birx said. “If you look at Jacksonville, they had less than 20 cases a day.”
Birx’s position is that information, such as that provided on the website dashboard by the oft-criticized Florida Department of Health, allows locals to make decisions backed up by data.
“Appreciate the recognition to our work in Jacksonville. Couldn’t happen without strong support from @realDonaldTrump, the entire team of federal partners, and his task force.”
Bean backs beaches
One state Senator with a unique perspective on beach opening and closings is Aaron Bean, whose district encompasses Duval and Nassau counties coastlines.
He’d like to see beaches open everywhere.
“I totally commend the beaches mayors and Mayor Curry for coming together and making it happen. Americans can need exercise, fresh air, and the mental therapy that comes with being on the beach — and I believe we can do it in a safe manner,” the Senator said.
“I hope that by Duval County opening its beach, others … will follow suit. It’s a big step in getting back to normal and sends a message to our communities that we are getting closer to reopening. To those who feel it is unsafe, they should stay home,” Bean added.
Regarding whether the budget will hold up (the Governor is threatening vetoes), Bean thinks it’s too early to tell what may happen.
“As you know, the Governor has not even received the budget yet, and more economic forecasting is still coming forward of the true impact of the shutdown. I applaud the Governor for putting together the Reopening task force and doing all he can to get us back to work,” Bean said.
Not so fast
Sen. Audrey Gibson, leader of the Democratic caucus, took a less optimistic view of beaches’ reopening than others quoted herein.
“We have not done enough testing to reopen anything. Test & verify should be our mantra for the safety of Duval residents,” Gibson said.
The Senator also took issue with the omission of Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried from Gov. DeSantis’ task force to reopen Florida, noting “many impactful components of how our state runs under the Commissioner of Agriculture silo.
Gibson thinks “certainly those components must be a part of any discussion on reopening the state.”
The Senator also takes a dim view of the Governor opposing a Special Session, calling it a “shutout of the Legislature who directly represents the people of the state … an attempt to shutter the collective voices of opposition in the public arena that is the Capitol.”
Jacksonville City Council President Scott Wilson is now running for Duval County Clerk of Court and will leave the Council, although not before the end of his presidency in June.
“Yes, I will submit my resignation prior to qualifying. It will take effect when my successor assumes office,” Wilson said. “It will not have any impact on my presidency as I will leave office in Aug. or Nov..”
Wilson faces an uphill battle, even with the relative name identification he has as the presiding officer of the Council.
Current Chief Operating Officer Jody Phillips awaits Wilson in the Aug. primary, with over $72,000 cash on hand and strong establishment support.
Among his donors: former Mayor John Peyton’s Gate Petroleum; Florida Foundation for Liberty, the political committee of future House Speaker Paul Renner; incumbent clerk Ronnie Fussell; and Jacksonville Chamber CEO (and likely 2023 mayoral candidate) Daniel Davis.
Wilson has struggled, relatively speaking, with fundraising. Even in his 2019 bid for reelection, he raised just over $60,000.
The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Jimmy Midyette, a Westside attorney who may be best known for LGBT activism that included advocating for the expansion of the city’s Human Rights Ordinance to offer protections in housing, employment and public accommodations.
One has to appreciate the perseverance of former Jacksonville City Councilman Don Redman. Since he was termed out in 2015, he has continually run for offices.
2020 may be his year, as he seeks to return to the Jacksonville City Council district seat he held for eight years.
Redman is the only announced candidate to replace Scott Wilson, who was Redman’s former aide before running himself in 2015.
The candidate has just over $6,000 on hand, suggesting that he may be vulnerable to a challenge.
He’s on a losing streak.
He ran citywide in 2019 for an at-large Council seat, getting under 20% of the vote in a three-way race against Matt Carlucci, who got over 71%.
Previously, Redman ran in the 2016 Republican primary in House District 12, a seat won by Clay Yarborough. Redman raised less than $30,000 in the 17-month duration of his campaign. He garnered less than 13% of the vote for a seat that encompasses his old City Council district.
Guess who’s back
Redman is not the only political retread in the 2020 mix.
Matt Schellenberg, whose eight years on the Council ended last year, is running for Duval County School Board.
Schellenberg had aligned with Curry for the first part of Curry’s first term. But the relationship frayed when Ali Korman Shelton left the Mayor’s Office.
It frayed further when Schellenberg’s wife got into a personal back and forth with Curry team members in 2019.
And by 2020, Schellenberg was calling for Curry’s resignation over the failed attempt to sell the local utility.
Schellenberg is challenging an established incumbent: former School Board Chair Lori Hershey, who clashed with the administration in 2019 over the school sales tax referendum for not including provisions for charter schools.
However, with the state having required charters to get their cut (incorporating that provision initially backed by Rep. Jason Fischer, into the tax package passed by the House), Hershey and Curry don’t seem to have a reason for conflict.
Hershey is up in fundraising, with $22,200 raised and over $18,000 on hand in three months in the race. Schellenberg, with just one month of fundraising, has $13,000 in hand.
While coronavirus is dominating health care demands in the public’s eye, a Jacksonville children’s hospital is making sure kids aren’t overlooked in the shuffle.
Nemours Children’s Health System in Jacksonville launched a new clinic specifically for injuries to kids. Young family members are not taking a break from being young because of coronavirus. They are still getting injured as children usually do in bicycle accidents, playing around the house, or seeking adventure in the yard.
The Nemours Children’s Specialty Care, Jacksonville South Walk-in Injury Clinic is located at 14785 Old St. Augustine Road in the Professional shopping center’s south building. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The clinic handles injuries in kids from newborns to 18-year-olds.
Many parents are afraid to take their children to the hospital if they get injured for fear of contracting COVID-19, a Nemours news release said. The children’s orthopedic option at Nemours was opened as an alternative for parents instead of taking their kids to a regular hospital emergency room.
Nemours is also coordinating with other caregivers on the First Coast to alert them to the new facility and that orthopedic injuries among kids can be referred to it.
Also, Nemours is offering an educational platform to help parents talk to children about the coronavirus. The instructional videos are on Facebook, and they even provide additional educational media about the basics during the coronavirus outbreak for things as simple as how to wash hands.
The North Florida Land Trust received $9.4 million in federal funds to help the organization protect a large tract of conservation land in the North Florida area.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Resources Conservation Service awarded the funding this month to pay for the protection of the Ocala-to-Osceola Wildlife Corridor, nicknamed O2O. The tract of land encompasses 1.6 million acres of land that connects the Ocala and Osceola National Forests.
The federal funding will help pay for protected public and private land conservation through 2025, a North Florida Land Trust news release said.
“It [the funding] is a clear recognition of the efforts of the partnership to protect an incredibly important and nationally recognized wildlife corridor,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “ … The O2O is our most mature conservation initiative, thanks to the NRCS and the O2O partnership. The [federal] program is foundational to our ability to coalesce and leverage large scale conservation.”
The Wildlife Corridor is not only home to two national forests, but it also hosts Camp Blanding outside of Jacksonville. Other governmental and conservation entities that have land interests in the corridor include Army National Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Forest Service, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Putnam Land Conservancy.
“Through collaboration and aligning our resources toward a common goal, we’re making an impact for natural resource conservation that could never have been realized on our own,” said Matthew Lohr, chief of the National Resources Conservation Service.
One of the most notable crossroads in Florida is undergoing some traffic changes through May 4.
The Florida Department of Transportation announced that the intersection of Interstate 10 and Interstate 95 in Jacksonville this week started some substantial lane closures and modifications. Eastbound I-10 heading into the I-95 interchange will see lane closures and detours every night between 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. the next morning.
An FDOT news release said the lane changes and modifications are to augment a new traffic pattern in the area and will stretch for about a quarter-mile along eastbound I-10 just before I-95.
FDOT crews are installing new sign foundations in the area during the work period. FDOT advises motorists can expect traffic slowdowns during the work period over the next two weeks.
It’s a $126-million project being carried out by Archer Weston contractors and additional work will take place at the site through spring 2021.
Rutherford seeks FEMA cost relief
While the federal government goes trillions of dollars deeper in debt to fight COVID-19, states face daunting budget holes as well. Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville and several House colleagues believe one way to help states is for the federal government to pick up all of the costs from FEMA assistance.
Rutherford and New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell wrote to Trump, asking him to waive the 25% state cost share of FEMA reimbursements to states triggered by declarations of state emergencies. They said waiving the state costs would provide states with even greater ability to fight the pandemic.
“Our nation now leads the world in confirmed COVID-19 cases. We worry the worst has yet to come,” they wrote. “It is vital the federal government leverage the full weight of its resources to allow state, local, tribal and territorial governments to dedicate their limited resources to outbreak response efforts in their fight against the spread of COVID-19.”
They point to recent precedents for adjusting the cost share following disasters. Similar action was undertaken during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the devastating flooding in Louisiana in 2016, Hurricane Irma in 2017, and Hurricane Michael in 2018.
“Increasing the federal cost-share of FEMA public assistance provides much-needed relief in additional federal assistance for state, local, tribal and territorial governments,” they wrote.
Also signing the letter were 175 bipartisan House colleagues. The message has the support of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Fire Fighters, International City/County Management Association, National Association of Counties, National Governors Association, National League of Cities, National Volunteer Fire Council and U.S. Conference of Mayors.
With students across North Florida home from school amid closures related to COVID-19, Girl Scouts of Gateway Council (GSGC) is making programming available online through interactive webinars to keep Girl Scouts and families engaged at home.
GSGC is offering programs two to three times a week for Scouts of all ages. Girls who are not Girl Scout members can also sign up for these web-based programs.
The programs are for girls interested in activities related to STEM, financial literacy, outdoors, and life skills. Girls can choose from opportunities like becoming a Florida State Parks Junior Ranger, coding their own video meme, learning about the importance of the U.S. Census, channeling their inner superhero for a yoga session, and more.
GSGC’s program partners will help present the activities.
Virtual experiences are also available for girls to earn Girl Scout badges and patches, all while safely staying at home and working around adjusted schooling schedules.
“Although our council members can’t physically attend our programs and events, it is important that we continue to support youth and families across North Florida,” said Gateway Council CEO Mary Anne Jacobs. “These programs offer more than just an education. They will provide our members with a way to connect with staff, troop leaders, volunteers, and other girls they are used to seeing on a regular basis.”
Cookies to health
Girl Scouts of Gateway is also launching the Cookies for Health Heroes initiative to say thank you to emergency and health care personnel in North Florida, as they work to keep communities safe and healthy.
The Council has committed to donating at least 20,000 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies to the front-line workers to provide comfort and normalcy during this difficult time.
“Giving back to the community is a pillar of what it means to be a Girl Scout,” Jacobs said. “Though we may not be able to assist in the aid and care these workers are providing our community friends and family, we can at least help to show our gratitude toward them. Through the Cookies for Health Heroes initiative, we’re proud to provide thousands of boxes of Girl Scout Cookies that will bring a smile to health care workers across North Florida.”
Supporting companies include AT&T and Gulf Power Company, which are providing additional Girl Scout Cookies through this initiative to staff at the following benefiting organizations with deliveries:
- Mayo Clinic
- UF Health
- Flagler Health+
- Orange Park Medical Center
- Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville
- Putnam Community Medical Center
- Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside
- Ascension Sacred Heart
- Ascension Sacred Heart Bay
- Ascension Medical Group Sacred Heart at Destin
- Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare
These donations enable the Council to distribute additional Girl Scout Cookies to more emergency care workers, including health care professionals and first responders, pharmacists, and grocery store employees, among others. Anyone can participate by donating to the Cookies for Health Heroes initiative; 100% of donations will go toward providing cookies to these workers.
Also, the Council will match all donations given on top of the 20,000 of boxes already committed.
Draft breaks COVID-19 monotony
After being cooped up for weeks, Jaguars fans, as well as those of all NFL teams, are looking forward to breaking the boredom of being cooped up by the coronavirus. That includes team owner Shad Khan.
“With two picks in the first round, seven selections in the top 150 and 12 picks overall, this will be a big draft for the Jaguars,” Khan said in an open letter to fans. “I know your anticipation is great, and expectations are high, and I welcome both.”
“Thank you, as always, for your loyalty and support of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Wherever we may be on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, let’s come together in spirit. I hope we can see each other, in person, very soon.”
As the draft gets underway, the Jaguars are certain add to their roster, while they are almost certain to lose one of their remaining top tier players, if not two. The relationship with defensive end Yannick Ngakoue has now turned bitter, while it recently became known running back Leonard Fournette may also be traded.
One or both may be traded before the draft begins or as a draft-day trade up or down. It appears the situation with Ngakoue is unsustainable, so the sooner, the better.
Ngakoue got into a Twitter war with the senior vice president of Football Administration Tony Kahn over the demand for a trade. Khan responded to a Ngakoue tweet that a trade would happen when the team gets something comparable in return.
Another back-and-forth was further proof something needs to happen soon, but potential trading partners may be willing to wait out the Jaguars, guessing they may make a less than even deal just to end the headache.
While Ngakoue made it clear months ago he was done in Jacksonville, the rumors about Fournette just became public. Talks have apparently been going on for a month, and the tea has circled back with potential trading partners over the past few days.
No matter what happens with Ngakoue and Fournette, the Jaguars will have a different look by this time next week.