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Jacksonville Bold for 7.17.2020 — COVID Caucus?

The Mayor’s indoor mask order doesn’t exactly illustrate the rule of law.

COVID Caucus?

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s indoor mask order doesn’t exactly illustrate the rule of law.

The Mayor issued a mandate, but since then many political leaders have come to Jacksonville and flouted it.

Last week saw U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia and Gov. Ron DeSantis do a JAXPORT presser without the mask. Saturday saw VP Mike Pence speak to supporters at a thank you event for the Republican National Convention host committee.

All unmasked. Also unmasked: a lobbyist at a Florida House fundraiser in Ponte Vedra, an event that saw Rep. Cord Byrd and others attend before going to the VP event.

Among those in attendance in Ponte Vedra were House Speaker-designate Chris Sprowls and future House Speaker Paul Renner, along with a handful of other present and potential future legislators. Reps. Elizabeth Fetterhoff and Tom Leek are from the Daytona area, while Reps. Cord Byrd, Wyman Duggan, Clay Yarborough and Jason Fischer are all Jacksonville Republicans.

Worth noting: at least one lawmaker at the fundraiser, Yarborough, already tested negative, meaning that perhaps the PVB event didn’t spawn community spread.

Even if no one at these events tests positive, the disease has already struck the region.

In St. Johns County, where commissioner Paul Waldron is hospitalized for COVID-19 complications, the commission again rejected a mandatory mask proposal.

And in Jacksonville, Democratic House candidate Angie Nixon is recovering from the disease.

The matter will be closely watched, especially with the RNC approaching quickly …

No cash troubles

Rumors of Republican National Convention insolvency are overblown, said Curry this week.

Curry said fundraising for the event was “strong … definitely in the tens of millions.”

The national press had reported fundraising troubles, and it will remain to be seen if Curry’s assurances tamp down those reports.

Mayor Lenny Curry says money on track for RNC.

Questions also emerged about whether the RNC itself could happen, with the Mayor noting that there are “many weeks until the date of the convention.”

“We continue to monitor community spread,” Curry said.

With President Donald Trump taking a “we’ll have to see” attitude about the event, it is incumbent on Curry and Gov. Ron DeSantis to flatten the curve … before the convention dream is dashed for good.”

Sheriff wins round

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford faces elections in August and, if he wins there, November. He will have the money to compete.

In fundraising through the end of June, the second-term Republican was able to claim $701,000 on hand, after raising nearly $191,000 through 2020s second quarter.

Rep. John Rutherford. Image via The Associated Press.

He outraised Democrat Donna Deegan, who raised just over $144,000 during the quarter, breaking her streak of outperforming the incumbent for two straight quarters previously.

Rutherford represents Florida’s 4th Congressional District, which centers around Jacksonville, including Nassau County and parts of Duval and St. Johns counties.

CD 4 has historically been a safe Republican seat, but Deegan, a former broadcast journalist, has a higher profile than any Democratic candidate since former Rep. Charlie Bennett.

However, the seat has a strong Republican plurality.

Big trouble

“America is in trouble right now.”

That’s the sobering message from one of the first reelection ads from HD 12 incumbent Republican Rep. Yarborough, who faces a primary.

To watch, click on the image below:

The ad, narrated by Yarborough, described a pandemic, an “economic meltdown” and “riots in the streets.”

“You can be sure when the Defund the Police crowd show up at my office, I’ll show them the door … because America’s in trouble right now and we’re running out of time.”

The second-term Republican will be on the ballot this August and (more than likely) in November also.

He faces political newcomer Colin McArthur in August. The winner of that contest will face one of two Democrats: Spyros (Speed) Chialtas or Emmanuel Blimie.

Local fundraising watch

Campaigns are (hopefully) in fifth gear now, with August elections just weeks away. Here’s a look at campaign finance in a few of the more high-profile races.

In the race for Duval County Clerk of Court, the money and momentum appear to be with Republican Jody Philips, the assistant to the current clerk.

Philips, who has roughly $100,000 to deploy as of fundraising through June 26, has raised and retained more money than his two opponents in August, City Council member Scott Wilson and Leon Jackson, have combined. The winner will face Democrat Jimmy Midyette in November.

Meanwhile, the political comeback of former City Council member Matt Schellenberg continues apace. Schellenberg has raised nearly $50,000 for his challenge to Duval County School Board member Lori Hershey, who has raised just over $29,000. Hershey has already spent over half that, while Schellenberg has roughly $30,000 to spend.

Matt Schellenberg builds money momentum. Image via A.G. Gancarski

If Schellenberg wins, it could create an interesting dynamic with Curry. Schellenberg called for the Mayor’s resignation earlier this year over the JEA sales push and related scandals.

Disney down

Your last visit to the Disney Store at the St. Johns Town Center was in fact the last visit.

WJCT reports of a posted sign: “This Disney store location will not reopen.”

Adios Town Center Disney Store. Image via Heather Schatz/WJCT News.

The store opened in 2014; it was a much more optimistic time for retail. The location closed earlier this year along with the rest of the chain, notes the Jacksonville Daily Record.

This continues a shuttling of storefronts at Jacksonville’s marquee mall.

Microsoft has already said it is headed out.

However, Tommy Bahama opened its “Marlin Bar” recently and a new Peloton shop is moving in.

With the commercial sector still struggling to figure out how long COVID-19 will change business as usual, 3Q commercial rental movement may be a bit more lively than usual, at the Town Center and elsewhere.

‘Dangerous’ school openings

Reopening schools is a major topic dominating the conversations of local, state and national officials. Single parents and families where both parents work outside of the home cannot get back to work if they must care for young children learning through virtual classes.

That is the message of Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Gov. DeSantis and his administration. Trump upped the ante by pledging to withhold federal education funds for those schools, causing Democrats such as Rep. Al Lawson, as well as some Republicans, to question his authority and the wisdom to carry out such a policy.

The Trump administration is pressuring the CDC to issue ‘less restrictive’ guidelines for schools to reopen & is threatening to withhold funds from states that do not reopen,” Lawson said via social media. “This is not only incredibly irresponsible, it is dangerous.”

Al Lawson is questioning the wisdom of reopening schools for the fall. Image via Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call.

Florida is requiring public schools to open in August, and to provide “the full array of services that are required by law so that families who wish to educate their children in a brick and mortar school have the opportunity to do so.” Teachers’ unions and PTA groups are speaking out against the move.

Those sharing Lawson’s view express concern not only of infecting children, who are less affected than adults, but the children would expose each other and take the virus home to parents and grandparents. Others are concerned about the health of teachers and school administrators

Go Tuk’n

Jacksonville is seeing the entry of a local private transportation company into mass transit in downtown and surrounding urban neighborhoods.

Jacksonville Transportation Authority officials announced GoTuk’n Inc. is partnering with the public authority to offer a pay shuttle service that will run from downtown through the historic Riverside and Avondale neighborhoods. Those urban residential areas run along the north shore of the St Johns River just west of downtown.

A new shuttle service enters urban neighborhoods in Jacksonville. Image via Jacksonville Transportation Authority.

The rides on the European-style shuttle vehicles start at $2 per trip and began July 10. Riders can reserve trip slots on the vehicles using a new mobile app called Tuk’n Ride that will take riders to designated JTA stops in those neighborhoods and shopping areas.

“We are passionate about supporting the urban core areas of Jacksonville and believe the Tuk’n Ride program will be one way to help our community grow and thrive,” said Stephanie Dale, on of the managers of Go Tuk’n Inc.

“Supporting area restaurants and other businesses is a starting point and we expect to expand services to other neighborhoods in the near future,” Dale said.

Nat Ford, JTA CEO, said the shuttle service will also go through Lavilla and Brooklyn areas of downtown.

“Not only does this partnership benefit our customers, it furthers our commitment to working with small, minority and women-owned businesses,” Ford said.

Clay park

The North Florida Land Trust is beginning the process of creating a public access park in Clay County.

More than 575 acres of conservation land was acquired by the NFLT in January as part of a partnership with the St. Johns River Water Management District in the Rideout Point Preserve along Black Creek. The land trust wants to develop parking lots, trails, boardwalks, pavilions and restrooms in hopes of creating a park that will encourage public use.

A new park is proposed in Clay County. Image via North Florida Land Trust.

Development of the park will require two phases with the first involving the parking lot construction along with new trails in the wildlife area. The second phase will involve the creation of the remaining features which Clay County officials will assist in building.

“We are working closely with the [county] to put together a plan on how we can open up this beautiful property for passive recreation,” said Jim McCarthy, president of the NFLT.

McCarthy said the project will involve some significant effort before it’s ready for public access; however, they already have some advantages.

“The conservation land we typically acquire is not suitable for public access, but the already existing trails on this property and access to Black Creek make it perfect for a public park. We are still in the very early stages of this process and look forward to working with the county to create a place that all can enjoy,” McCarthy said.

Get your tickets

NFL training camps are scheduled to open in the next two weeks with the first regular-season game scheduled for September 13 when the Indianapolis Colts visit TIAA Bank Field. With COVID-19 on the attack again in the area and other parts of the state, the status of the NFL season could be revisited.

A question among fans and NFL watchers centered around the opportunity for any fans to attend home games. Would the teams play without fans as NASCAR and golf have done, and the NBA is poised to do?

Apparently not entirely, according to Jaguars management. The team recently updated season ticket holders telling them what to expect for 2020 home games.

Would the Jaguars play without fans as NASCAR and golf have done, and the NBA is poised to do?

While telling ticket holders “it is our sincere hope to welcome a capacity crowd to TIAA Bank Field this fall,” management informed their fans of the current plan. A reduced capacity will likely prevail for most, if not all, of the 2020 season.

“In compliance with state and local authorities and following CDC social distancing guidelines, TIAA Bank Field will be able to seat approximately 25% of its capacity at each Jaguars home game in 2020,” the statement reads. “Once the season begins, any future increase in capacity will depend on developments on the health and safety front.”

This poses other questions such as how will fans be spaced in the stadium and will season ticket holders get their money back? The first question will be answered soon and the other is yes.

A new seating diagram is under construction by the Jaguars and Ticketmaster and is expected to be released in August. Fans can have funds already paid deposited into an account from which they can purchase tickets to games this season or for 2021. Cash refunds are possible if requested.

The Jaguars made it clear that attendance at 2020 games will have no effect on season ticket holder status. Those attending will be required to wear masks.

Some critics offered snide comments that 25% would be normal for the stadium that seats 67,164. In reality, the team averaged 59,987 in attendance (or tickets sold) in 2019, indicating there will be a market for the 25%, which would amount to approximately 16,791 seats to fill.

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