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Jacksonville Bold for 8.6.20 — Desperation takes hold

It’s political crunch time, and tensions are high.

Desperation takes hold

These are the times in campaign season when it’s all on the line and all the rules are junked.

We are amid early voting and money is being spent, including the so-called “dark money,” to push dirt on one candidate or another.

Is your mailbox full of glossy mailers? You’re not alone.

Nope. You are not alone.

Soon enough, though, these campaigns will be forgotten.

The mailers, so vital just weeks before, will hit the landfills, covered up soon by other refuse and discards.

This campaign season has had special challenges of course, with candidates largely hamstrung when it’s come to in-person campaigning during a pandemic.

As a result, low-information voters will have even lower information.

In the grand scheme of things, that likely won’t matter much. Yet, for those campaigns that excel at marketing, this unique environment confers a real advantage in an era where not every door knock will be greeted warmly.

Quick picks redux

Sen. Audrey Gibson picked up where former Congresswoman Corrine Brown left off, offering an early voting primer designed to help people decide who to support.

However, “Audrey’s Answers” reads more like a “who to avoid.”

‘Audrey’s Answers’ is more like ‘who to avoid.’

In Florida’s 5th Congressional District, Gibson advised voters to back either Rep. Al Lawson or challenger LaShonda Holloway. A third candidate, Albert Chester, didn’t make the cut.

Gibson also indicated clear preferences in two state House races.

In HD 13, the Senate Majority Leader sided with Rep. Tracie Davis, a friend and ally, over Dr. Cynthia Smith, a challenger tied to Rep. Kim Daniels.

Speaking of Daniels, in HD 14 the Senator backs Angie Nixon over the incumbent.

The Daniels campaign, as you will see next, is an atypical Democratic effort.

Follow the money

A new ad from Rep. Daniels shows a scene of innocence, with the candidate and her sons tossing a football.

Michael Jennings backs his mother’s bid for reelection.

However, while it’s easy to follow the ball in the 45-second spot from The People’s Choice PAC, following the money is a different matter.

That committee has just two donors: the Jacksonville Jaguars, which gave $5,000, and Citizens for Integrity in Government, which gave $14,000. That latter committee moved almost $2.5 million since 2013.

The Citizens for Integrity in Government committee sees most of its recent funding from two more similarly opaque committees: Florida Alliance for Better Government and Floridian’s United for Our Children’s Future [SIC].

The former committee sees, unsurprisingly, more donations from similarly opaque committees, along with checks from entities as disparate as Florida Power and Light and the Florida Education Association.

Chairing the latter committee is Ryan Tyson, vice president of Associated Industries of Florida. In its last recorded week, the committee saw donations from Florida Crystals and Anheuser Busch

So, who paid for the ad? Who knows?

Daniels has been pouring her own money into the race, and currently leads Nixon in cash on hand. But what Republicans do down the stretch may prove to be decisive in this Democratic primary.

$25,000 pyramid

As July ended, former Jacksonville City Council President Scott Wilson dropped $25,000 into his bid for higher office.

Scott Wilson wants to be clerk of courts. Can he pull it off?

Wilson, running for the Duval County Clerk of Courts position vacated by outgoing Republican Ronnie Fussell, moved $25,000 into his campaign account July 23 after a week of anemic fundraising saw him bring in under $1,000.

For Wilson, the self-funding is a last-ditch bet to try to rescue a campaign that he was confident in at the beginning. He’s raised $98,000 roughly and has about $31,000 for the stretch run.

Despite attempting to play ball with the Mayor’s Office during his year as President, the establishment candidate in the Republican lane is still Jody Phillips, the right-hand man to Fussell. Phillips raised over $131,000, with roughly $45,000 on hand.

Wilson and Phillips have a third Republican opponent, Leon Jackson, who has just $19,000 on hand. The winner faces Democrat Jimmy Midyette on the November ballot.

Last-ditch

It’s uncertain if this will be former Jacksonville City Councilman Don Redman’s last campaign, but odds are not in his favor.

For starters, he’s been lapped in the money race against Kevin Carrico ahead of August’s first election in Redman’s old District 4, having outraised Redman roughly four to one.

Redman entered the stretch run with about $15,000 on hand but a Hail Mary play — a claim that Carrico wasn’t a real Republican.

Tough draw for Don Redman, as money eludes him in a political comeback bid.

“This is a disgrace,” Redman thundered, producing voter records that showed Carrico a Democrat through 2016.

Party-hopping is nothing new, of course. Current City Councilman Reggie Gaffney became a Democrat because he wouldn’t win his district as a Republican.

Redman is on a bit of a rough stretch with voters.

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%. Carlucci was an establishment pick and the election wasn’t as close as the result made it look.

But before that, in 2016, Redman was an also-ran in his race for state House also.

A third candidate, Nicole Hamm, is a Democrat. Expect Hamm to make the runoff against one of these candidates in November.

Hemming canceled

Jacksonville’s Hemming Park is frequently referred to as the front door to City Hall, but the name of that door has been in doubt of late.

In recent weeks, with pushes to remove iconography of the Jim Crow South from the city, the park has come to be seen as anachronistic, just like the Confederate memorials on their way out.

Yet the question of what to rename the park loomed large. Many wanted Jacksonville native James Weldon Johnson to be honored. Others wanted veterans to be memorialized

James Weldon Johnson was known for ‘Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.’

After a contentious City Council committee meeting and some negotiations with veterans’ groups, Councilman Rory Diamond rolled out an accord Tuesday that potentially hashes out the dilemma.

The park would be named after Johnson. But with a Veterans Memorial Plaza.

Hemming Park already had its Confederate memorial removed from the park earlier this summer. And now the controversial name will go the same way as the statue, at least if the Council buys in Tuesday

Bipartisanship for kids

When a progressive Democrat introduces legislation, conservative Republicans are not usually the first to step forward to co-sponsor the bill. But that is what happened when Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro introduced the Strengthening America’s Families Act and was joined by three Florida Republicans, including Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville, as co-sponsors, along with two Democrats.

The bill intends to use research and the science of child development to transform the child welfare system. The sponsors point to a link between child abuse and a negative impact on physical and emotional development.

John Rutherford is one of three Florida Republicans who signed onto a Democrat-sponsored bill. Image via Getty.

“As a former sheriff, I’ve seen far too many children affected by abuse and neglect,” Rutherford said in a joint news release. “That is why I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Strengthening America’s Families Act, which would improve the child welfare system by better coordinating support services and enhancing Infant-Toddler Court Teams (ITCTs).

The ITCTs, led by judges, work collaboratively to prevent child abuse and address the physical and emotional needs of young children who have experienced trauma. The teams also endeavor to strengthen family support and prevent future abuse.

Currently, ITCTs operate 101 sites in 30 states but only serve a fraction of children and families in need. SAFA would address that shortfall and expand capacity throughout the country. DeLauro points to the lockdowns due to COVID-19 as having negative effects on children.

“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to add stress and pressure on families and keep infants and young children in their homes, abuse and neglect intensify in both severity and number of cases,” she said.

Also joining as original co-sponsors are Republicans Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and Greg Steube of Sarasota, along with Democrats Darren Soto of Kissimmee and Thomas Suozzi of New York.

Duval teachers

The Duval County teacher’s union managed to negotiate a new COVD-19-specific health benefit for educators returning to the classroom during the pandemic.

Duval Teachers United announced Tuesday Duval County Public Schools administrators agreed to stipulations that will not require employees to pay out-of-pocket medical expenses if they are diagnosed with coronavirus during the school year. Five other school district employee groups were also part of the negotiated settlement.

The deal also authorizes the school district to purchase rapid tests to determine if employees have the illness and providing results within 24 hours.

“We are very pleased that the district has come to an agreement with us and the other employee representative groups on this issue,” said Terrie Brady, president of DTU. “We are all operating in new and unpredictable conditions, and it will be a great relief to educators knowing that the personal financial impacts of COVID-19 are covered”

Duval County Public Schools headquarters in Jacksonville.

The agreement still has to be approved by the full school board. Board members are set to vote on the deal next month.

Warren Jones, chairman of the school board, said he likes the deal.

“Our school district and our educators have always provided extraordinary service to students and families in our community,” said Jones. “We are moving forward now within the significant constraints and impact of a worldwide pandemic. To work in partnership with DTU and our other employee groups to help our employees manage the potential financial implications is very rewarding.”

Duval County pushed back its start of the school year for Jacksonville students until Aug. 20; kids also had the option to keep stay-at-home instruction

CSX innovation

Progressive Railroading and RailTrends® are naming CSX President and Chief Executive Officer James Foote as the 2020 recipient of the Railroad Innovator Award, which honors outstanding achievement in the rail industry.

Foote joined CSX in October 2017 as the railroad’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. As COO, the longtime railroader aligned the Class I’s operations, sales and marketing departments to advance the precision scheduled railroading (PSR) model first introduced at CSX by the late E. Hunter Harrison.

Upon taking the CSX reins in late December 2017, Foote has focused on safety and service, transitioning the railroad into the next PSR phase.

CSX President and CEO James Foote is honored as the 2020 recipient of the Railroad Innovator Award.

“In doing many of the things Jim said he would do, he has led CSX past PSR 1.0 into 2.0, what I call the Post-Hunter Railroad, or PHR,” says Tony Hatch, an independent transportation analyst who serves as a program consultant for the annual RailTrends conference. “While he follows some great rail leaders, it is Jim who has finally taken CSX to industry leadership.”

Foote began his railroad career in the mechanical department on the Soo Line Railroad, repairing locomotives and performing a variety of operations jobs. He later joined the Chicago and North Western Railroad, holding senior positions in finance, law, labor relations, and corporate communications, eventually becoming vice president of corporate development, investor relations and tax.

Foote joined CN in 1995, rising through the ranks to become EVP of sales and marketing in 1999, where he served until 2003 when the Class I named Harrison CEO and began implementing scheduled/precision railroading. During that period, Foote pursued an aggressive marketing strategy that included new intermodal and carload services that helped reduce transit times and resulted in significant traffic growth.

Before joining CSX, Foote was president and CEO of Bright Rail Energy from 2012 to 2017. The company develops and sells products that enable railroads to switch locomotives to natural gas power.

Tech company expansion

A technology firm in Jacksonville is preparing for an expansion that will add 300 jobs to the area.

Synergy Technology — which designs and develops software — is gearing up for the expansion at its Water Street location in downtown Jacksonville. The company is headquartered in Coral Springs.

But the firm’s Jacksonville site is about to add personnel to the office that provides technology services for the health care, transportation and financial services industries. A JAX Chamber news release issued Tuesday gave no completion date for the expansion.

What Synergy Technology officials did say was they liked adding the 300 workers to Jacksonville because of the city’s connection to the technology and financial industries.

“We’re excited to grow here in my hometown and be a part of the technology and innovation boom taking off here,” said James Higbe, Synergy’s chief strategy officer. “Jacksonville is becoming a hotbed for tech talent and this is the right place for us to invest.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis said he’s impressed with the expansion.

“Congratulations to Synergy Technologies on [Tuesday’s] announcement and the commitment of 300 new jobs for Jacksonville,” DeSantis said. “Florida’s impressive higher education system and growing connectivity are just a few of the reasons why high-tech companies like Synergy call Florida home.”

COVID hits Jaguars

The first full week of training camp for the Jacksonville Jaguars started poorly, health-wise. The Jaguars placed 12 players on the NFL’s COVID-19 reserve list, including quarterback Gardner Minshew. Jacksonville was the only NFL team to have more than 10 on the list.

“I don’t think anyone’s being negligent. I really don’t believe that” head coach Doug Marrone said Monday, via ESPN. “Everyone understands what’s at stake, a roster spot, or what’s going on or missing time … You’ve just got to be aware of your surroundings and where you are, and there’s a lot of different ways that you can come in contact with the virus.”

Those are the list can be in two categories: they either tested positive or were possibly exposed to the virus and are under self-quarantine. The league is prohibited from unilaterally revealing why a player is on the list.

Having so many on the list prompted obvious concern from teammates, coaches and management. If are on it as the result of a positive test, the fear of it spreading throughout the locker room is real.

A dozen Jaguars players, including QB Gardner Minshew, have tested positive for (or were exposed to) coronavirus.

The recent cases of baseball’s Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals are good examples of the devastating effects positive cases can bring. After postponing a week’s worth of games, the Marlins returned to play earlier this week, while the Cardinals called off at least eight games.

Within two days after the announcement of the reserve list, Minshew gave the good news that he had tested negative and was returning to camp. While that was pleasing to the other players and coaches, Marrone is still taking it one day at a time, especially in the COVID era.

“I don’t try to look so far ahead because I don’t know what this virus can do or pick up or however it may go,” he said. “What I look at is what we’re doing right now safety-wise.”

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