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Jacksonville Bold for 8.13.20 — Swingers

Duval County — the swingiest region in the swingiest of swing states.

Swingers

Duval County is the swingiest swing county to have ever swung.

That’s the takeaway, at least, from an NPR story that looks at the country, a bellwether region in a bellwether state, a tipping point one way or another in the 2020 election.

“Duval County, a traditionally conservative area in Florida’s northeast corner along the Atlantic Ocean, hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since Jimmy Carter in 1976. But in recent presidential elections, it’s begun tilting more toward the Democratic Party. In 2016, [Donald] Trump won Duval County by 1.5 percentage points — one of his slimmest margins in the state,” writes reporter Asma Khalid.

In 2018, meanwhile, Democrats Nikki Fried, Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson won the county … even though the latter two couldn’t get over statewide.

In 2016, Donald Trump won by less than two points in the swingiest region of the swingiest state.

In the wake of that election, the finger-pointing was epic, with a now-former chair of the Duval County Republican Party blaming Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis for running uninspiring campaigns.

The current chair, in the article, had his own take.

“The party did not do its job,” said Dean Black.

Even if the party does its job this year, the county may have already tipped, though.

Several factors play there, well beyond the President.

But for those considering not just 2020 and 2022 but the next big prize in local elections, which is 2023, it is an open question whether Jacksonville will have many more Republican Mayors.

Lenny Curry bluffed the Democrats into not opposing him in 2019. But in 2023, when many expect Daniel Davis to make a run at the top job, there will be no such stand down.

Nor will there be a coronation.

At the very time Jacksonville is looking to flip, for good, we are seeing the eclipse of a political machine that defined this era.

What replaces it?

That answer is to be determined.

Show your books

While it’s uncertain how much media interest remains in the campaign of Albert Chester, one of two challengers to U.S. Rep. Al Lawson in the primary in Congressional District 5, there is one group with outstanding questions.

That group: The Federal Elections Commission.

Their questions? Sadly, for Chester, they have to do with his failure to report fundraising since the end of March, with two deadlines blown in the interim.

Albert Chester needs to report his fundraising, the feds say. Image via the campaign.

The FEC’s Reports Compliance Division sent Chester two letters in recent days, pointing out that he had not filed numbers for the second quarter or for the July “pre-primary” report.

Chester’s campaign is fully functional, with ads and all the rest. But the lack of documentation of campaign finance presents a concern for the feds.

Interestingly, a third candidate (LaShonda Holloway) also stopped reporting her campaign finance after the first quarter, suggesting compliance questions are not limited to one primary challenger.

Lawson, meanwhile, has continued to raise money aggressively. He had roughly $200,000 in his pre-primary report and has kept adding to his war chest.

Got five on it

A Republican Senate primary in North Central Florida seemed to be a sure bet for candidate Jennifer Bradley after her first few months of strong fundraising and endorsements, but before she can be assured of the District 5 Republican nomination, she has a primary to clear.

A sure bet, but is Jennifer Bradley assured the SD 5 seat? Image via Lake City Reporter.

Cross City’s Jason Holifield has put $60,000 of his own money into what is, at best, a long shot challenge. And he’s spending it.

As of July 31, Holifield has spent over $64,000 on his campaign, having raised just $13,662. As opposed to Bradley, the wife of the outgoing Senate budget chair, most of those donations are from inside the district, which sprawls through several largely rural counties.

Meanwhile, Bradley has raised nearly $490,000, with much of that fundraising completed before the 2020 Legislative Session began in January … a prescient move, given how coronavirus changed the contours of politics this spring and summer. The candidate retains over a quarter-million dollars in hard money.

Regardless of who prevails in the primary, a Democrat awaits in November: Melina Barrett, a trans activist who will have an uphill climb in the deep-red district that includes Orange Park and a lot of farmland to its southwest. Barrett ended July with under $1,200 to spend.

Big spender

In the race for Duval County Clerk of Courts, one candidate continues to put his money where his mouth is.

For the second time in two weeks, Jacksonville City Councilman Scott Wilson put $25,000 into his race, bringing him to $50,000 … or more than a year of a Councilman’s salary.

Jacksonville City Councilman Scott Wilson cuts himself some big checks. Image via News4Jax.

Big bet? Sure, but it’s worth it for Wilson, who is looking to finish his career with the clerk of courts office that gave him his first governmental job decades ago.

Do voters want him? That’s an open question. Wilson, who was Council President through June, is running behind establishment-backed Jody Phillips, according to a survey of the race from St. Pete Polls.

While earned media has been friendly to Wilson (a Nate Monroe column makes him out to be the latest victim of the Curry machine), the candidate has not made his case in those terms, and he’s running out of time … and probably money too.

Downtown booming?

A win’s a win, says Jacksonville’s Downtown Vision, which released this week an 18-month report ascertaining the state of play from the beginning of 2019 through the end of June.

“While the recovery timeline from COVID-19 is unknown, trends across the board are in Downtown’s favor,” said Numa Saisselin, Downtown Vision Board Chair. “And as the premier center for the arts, entertainment, business and urban living in the region, a better Downtown means a better quality of life for all of us.”

The Happy Grilled Cheese is part of Jacksonville’s urban landscape. Image via Downtown Vision.

Among the takeaways: a “continuing surge” in public-private partnerships; more residents, both corporate and individual; a rise in “cultural and entertainment” options; and a “multimodal transit renaissance.”

“Pre-pandemic, Downtown Jacksonville was growing rapidly,” said Jake Gordon, Downtown Vision CEO. “Despite the severe impact on many businesses, major construction continues, and stimulus support is helping. The public and private sectors are pulling together to keep Downtown growing. And as we recover, the more successful our Downtown is, the more competitive we are as a city, the more talent and jobs we recruit, the more our city thrives, and our tax base grows to fund even more improvements all our residents deserve.”

Is recruitment viable amid a pandemic without end? That’s the question, one supposes, for the next 18-month report.

Downtown website

A revamped Jacksonville Downtown Investment Authority website is designed to make it easier for people to find out detailed information about the city’s core.

The overhauled website, dia.coj.net, allows users to look up what properties in Jacksonville’s downtown are of interest in terms of development. The site also allows users to find out which properties are owned by the city and those that are owned by private interests.

The DIA’s main purpose is to attract investors in the city’s central business and residential areas and revitalizing the urban core through establishing community redevelopment areas.

A new website is promoting development in downtown Jacksonville.

The revamped website also provides updated information on new and developing investments in the downtown area.

The announcement of the revamped DIA website coincidentally came out at the same time as the aforementioned “state of downtown” report by Downtown Vision Inc. The urban core business development organization crowed about substantial investment in downtown Jacksonville in the past two years.

“The past 18 months have seen a surge in public-private investment. Dollars invested in completed development projects increased 152% from $210 million in the 2018-2019 Report to $530 million in the 2019-2020 Report,” the Downtown Vision announcement said Tuesday.

Greener buses

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority was awarded an $11.9 million federal grant to help pay for buses and facilities that house those buses in the city.

The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration and is part of the bus and bus facilities discretionary fund. For Jacksonville, it means the JTA will convert several buses that run on diesel fuel to compressed natural gas.

Eight JTA diesel buses will be taken out of service. Replacing those retired vehicles are CNG buses, which emit fewer pollutants.

A CNG bus in the Jacksonville Transportation Authority fleet. Image via JTA.

“Our congressional delegation fought hard on behalf of the JTA in seeking this grant funding,” said JTA CEO Nat Ford. “Thank you to Congressman John Rutherford, Congressman Al Lawson, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Scott, FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams and U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao for your continued investment in Jacksonville and the JTA.”

The JTA CNG buses that are set to go online in Jacksonville are part of a larger program designed by the transportation agency. Some of the grant money will be used to provide upgrades at the JTA’s operations facility on Myrtle Avenue. That facility is used to provide maintenance on buses from engine repairs to air conditioning repairs and other upkeep on the vehicles.

This news follows a recent announcement that the JTA is to receive a $5.2 million FTA grant for the St. Johns River Ferry. The grant, part of the FTA’s Passenger Ferry Grant Program, will continue upgrades and improvements to the ferry. The JTA has been quite successful in accessing federal funds as of late. JTA relies on local government relations firm The Fiorentino Group as one of its federal advocates.

Gone fishin’

Looking for a Confederate monument in St. Augustine?

Better head to the fish camp.

The St. Augustine City Commission voted Monday to move a Confederate monument in the Plaza de la Constitucion in downtown St. Augustine to the somewhat less-storied Trout Creek Fish Camp.

St. Augustine’s Confederate monument is about to go fishing. Image via The Hill.

Parking should be easier there, at least, but locals were unmollified, as WJXT reported.

“One thing you will see is a holy uprising of patriots the likes of which has never been seen before, and that’s going to happen if you try if you even put a hand to the veteran’s memorial to take it down,” a speaker said.

With tourism still down amid the pandemic, perhaps the holy uprising would offer a boost?

Military day care

For the second time in less than a month, St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz has joined with New Mexico Democrat Deb Haaland to propose action in support of military families. They recently led a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, urging the DoD to close child care gaps for military families.

The lawmakers point toward 1.2 million dependent children under the age of 13 who require child care, access to which the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted. They ask the Department of Defense (DOD) to work with state and local governments, community leaders, and veteran service organizations to develop creative solutions.

Michael Waltz has again joined New Mexico Democrat Deb Haaland to propose action in support of military families. This time it’s improved child care. Image via military.com.

“Many of these families have reached out to us asking for support in navigating this complex problem,” they wrote. “Single military parents and dual-military couples with children face added challenges given their essential roles at work and no additional help at home. Military-civilian couples fear the civilian spouse may be forced to quit their job to take care of their children, jeopardizing the financial stability of those families.”

They added this issue can impact military member retention rates and America’s national security and is a factor in military members missing duty and leaving the service.

Their effort is backed by numerous military service groups including the National Military Family Association, the Military Family Advisory Network, Blue Star Families, and the Service Women’s Action Network, among many others. Those signing the letter included 33 colleagues.

Last month, Haaland and Waltz introduced the Rent the Camo: Access to Maternity Wear Act, a bill designed to facilitate low-cost access to maternity wear for military mothers. Waltz is a former Army Green Beret officer while Haaland is the daughter of parents who served in the armed forces.

JU re-accreditation

Jacksonville University’s Davis College of Business announced this week the extension of its accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

“The Davis College of Business is proud to once again have our accreditation extended by the international accrediting body, AACSB,” said Davis College Dean Barbara Ritter in a release first reported by the Jacksonville Daily Record.

Since 2010, Davis College has been the only AACSB-accredited private business school in North Florida and South Georgia.

Jacksonville University’s Davis College of Business has extended its accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Re-accreditation is a multiyear process incorporating an association-assigned mentor and a peer-reviewed evaluation.

The process includes the development and implementation of a plan based on the association’s accreditation standards, focusing on areas of strategic management and innovation; student, faculty and staff engagement; learning and teaching; and academic and professional engagement.

Fewer than 900 institutions, about 5% of the business-focused higher education programs in 57 countries and territories, are accredited.

Concern & hope

Two weeks into training camp, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ coaching staff is looking hard at their options on the defensive line. The COVID-19 virus has made them look harder.

The NFL and the players’ union agreed earlier that players could opt out of playing in 2020 if they had health concerns over the virus. One of those who chose to take that step was defensive tackle Al Woods, who was signed in the offseason to shore up a run defense that allowed 139 rushing yards per game last year.

Woods cited the health of his family as his primary reason for opting out. With the loss of the 6-foot-4, 330-pound Woods, those remaining will have to step up, including rookie Davon Hamilton.

Also sitting out 2020 is linebacker and defensive end Lerentee McRay, who also cited family health concerns. In addition, McCray was a productive special teams player. Cornerback Rashaan Melvin is also opting out.

Jaguars defensive tackle Al Woods is the first player to opt out of the 2020 season due to health concerns. Image via Sports Illustrated.

To make matters worse, defensive tackles Dontavius Russell and Brian Price were both placed on injured reserve, while Rodney Gunter was placed on the reserve non-football illness list.

“I’m not going to say it’s not a concern; that would be ridiculous,” Head Coach Doug Marrone told the media. “It would be a lack of awareness.”

The Jaguars signed defensive tackle Adam Gotsis, who played for the Denver Broncos last season. They also signed veteran tackle Carl Davis and free-agent defensive lineman Caraun Reid to help fill some gaps.

“We’re bringing in guys that we feel have a chance,” Marrone said. “I think where you get disappointed is if you’re bringing in players just to be able to survive practice and not bringing in people who have an opportunity to make the team. We’ve got guys who have good numbers, good intangibles, and who show some flexibility.”

Another defensive lineman missing is Yannick Ngakoue, who has not reported to camp and is demanding a trade. News surfaced this week that Ngakoue has parted ways with his agent, Ari Nissim, and has reportedly spoken with general manager Dave Caldwell.

If something could be worked out where Ngakoue would return, even for one year, the team’s mood and defensive outlook would pick up precipitously. He has a $17.7 million franchise tender still on the table.

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