President Donald Trump is coming back to Jacksonville Thursday, with the Great American Comeback tour set for an evening stopover at Cecil Field.
If you want to go, be sure to sign your COVID-19 waiver. Catch the virus, and you’re on your own.
But those who are schlepping to the Westside in rush hour traffic are probably not worried about COVID-19. They are, for better or worse, the true believers, especially this Thursday, when the President decided to counterprogram the Jacksonville Jaguars hosting the Miami Dolphins with a red meat speech.
You can expect, perhaps, a tease about Barbara Lagoa. The President hasn’t ruled out the federal appeals court judge for the Supreme Court opening, and to him, Florida is Florida, so even though he’s a few hundred miles from Hialeah, it’s close enough for talking points.
In the end, the President didn’t get his convention here, and the city never got to enjoy the pitched $100 million in economic impact. A speech on the tarmac will have to do, and locals can only hope the famously temperamental late summer weather holds up.
The Congressional Black Caucus PAC organized a “get out the vote” event billed as a “virtual bus tour” that, in reality, was a Zoom presser.
The goal, as U.S. Rep. Al Lawson said, was to demonstrate that even though North Florida had been “overlooked” in the past, it wouldn’t be in 2020.
“We can win in Duval. Duval turned blue for Andrew Gillum for the first time in 30 years. We can do it again,” Lawson added.
Sen. Audrey Gibson said, “Duval will turn up and turn out” and “do whatever it needs to do” to secure Joe Biden’s election.
The stakes are high, the Senator said.
“I don’t know what we will do, particularly as a minority community, if Donald Trump is reelected. The soul of America will die, and we cannot have that,” Gibson said.
Rep. Tracie Davis, a close ally of Gibson’s, made her case for the Biden/Harris ticket.
“Trump … has relentlessly attacked women’s health and economic security,” the legislator, elected to her third term in August, said.
National suicide hotline
Americans are familiar with three-digit numbers used to obtain quick action. Callers know that 911 will bring rapid emergency assistance, while 411 is a frequently-used source to find telephone numbers of all types.
Thanks to a recently-passed bill in the House of Representatives, “988” is destined to be a lifeline for people contemplating suicide. The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, with Reps. John Rutherford of Jacksonville and Michael Waltz of St. Augustine serving as original co-sponsors, requires telephone providers to route all calls using the number to the Lifeline by July 2022.
“This soon-to-be law creates quicker and simpler access to lifesaving help, because when a person is in crisis, every second matters,” Rutherford said via social media.
The legislation, which is now on the President’s desk for signature, will also enable states to provide resources to the mental health line and make specialized services for vulnerable populations, such as LGBTQ, youth, minorities, veterans, and those living in rural areas.
Waltz praised the bill, adding: “Reaching out for help shouldn’t come with obstacles.” In a speech on the House floor, Waltz pointed out the hazards of loneliness, especially for combat veterans, caused by COVID-19 isolation.
“We are forced to distance ourselves and to change our entire way of life,” he said. “This isolation is causing anxiety, depression, and sometimes takes us to even darker places with suicidal thoughts.
“September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and I’m teaming up with veteran group Mission Roll Call to raise awareness about suicide prevention, especially the 22 veterans per day we are currently losing.”
The House District 14 race seemed to be decided in August when Angie Nixon capsized incumbent Rep. Kim Daniels in the Democratic primary.
But a write-in candidate was on the ballot for November, meaning there still was formally a contest.
The write-in is now written out.
“Just received a call that my opponent withdrew. I’m slowly realizing that all of those years of organizing, was God preparing me for these upcoming legislative fights. The future of our children depends on these next few years. I don’t take this responsibility lightly,” Nixon tweeted. “Happy to be able to represent the district I grew up in. Let’s Flourish and fight back against systemic racism.”
The defeat of Daniels was a major local story, with Duval Democrats trying and failing to end her legislative aspirations in both 2016 and 2018. Nixon, however, succeeded where others fell short, drawing support from a broad coalition ranging from the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce to the left-wing of the state Party.
Up for grabs
POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon, formerly of the Florida Times-Union, made the case this week that Duval County very well could flip to the Democrats in November.
“The president must win Florida to return to the White House, but Republicans’ loosened grip on Jacksonville, the party’s only urban foothold in the battleground state, is complicating that political math. And it’s given Joe Biden a shot of confidence even as state and local Republicans vow to defend what long has been considered their political home turf,” Dixon writes.
The quotes are exactly what you would expect, with everyone from Trump campaign strategist Susie Wiles to Democratic state Sen. Gibson giving their takes on how things might go this year.
The trend, ultimately, will be democratic. Demographic destiny dictates that.
But even if Biden beats Trump, questions remain about down-ballot, specifically whether Democratic gains at the top of the ticket translate to citywide races, such as the R vs. D Duval County Clerk of Courts race.
It doesn’t take a long memory to remember how Duval Democrats punted on the 2019 mayoral race.
Jacksonville’s Inspector General took its time with its deep dive into the Kids Hope Alliance and the denouement of the ill-fated Joe Peppers era.
WJXT was among several local outlets to look at the report, which included everything from a relationship gone wrong with a subordinate to attempts to steer grant money to friends.
In a statement provided by attorney Hank Coxe, Peppers discussed his PTSD diagnosis and noted that during his KHA tenure, he “was in a very dark place and made some poor decisions.”
The KHA was one of the more ballyhooed first-term reforms of the Lenny Curry administration, which sought to bring together the Jacksonville Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission under one umbrella. Peppers, new to government, was put in place to lead the re-org.
While the Peppers experience is over, now another Curry staffer is under investigation. Sports and Entertainment head Ryan Ali is on paid leave as allegations of misconduct are probed.
The hits continue in Jacksonville City Hall, with two Democratic members of the City Council at loggerheads with a Republican appointee to the Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority board.
At issue: the JHFA is looking to hire a CEO without being fully staffed. Of seven board slots, they filled four before Tuesday’s Council meeting, where two more were appointed.
Action News Jax tells the story of how JHFA Vice-Chair Jon McGowan said that enough was enough when it came to what he perceived as personal attacks from Councilors Brenda Priestly-Jackson and Garrett Dennis.
“I was painted as a rogue board member,” McGowan contended.
“I do know I am a human being, and I have feelings. I pride myself on being diligent in my work and serving the people of Jacksonville in any capacity presented. I desire the respect of the council and our city leaders. I am heartbroken that my character has come under attack simply because I am doing what we are tasked to do.”
Tops in the South
Jacksonville University is one of the top 30 schools in the South, according to the latest rankings from the U.S. News & World Report 2021 Best Regional Colleges.
First Coast News reports that JU lands on the newly released list at No. 29 out of 134 universities in the South.
JU has made this list consistently since 2004. U.S. News bases the rankings on academic quality, graduation and retention rates, and social mobility.
However, this is the first time the school cracked the Top 30.
Teacher of the year
There are now 175 teachers in the Duval County Public Schools system nominated for Teacher of the Year.
Principals in schools formally submitted their nominations this month. The Jacksonville Public Education Fund will decide the top educator of the year, and the announcement will be at the “EDDY” awards Jan. 27. That’s the unveiling of the VyStar Duval County Teacher of the Year, during an elaborate celebration that will broadcast as an hourlong television special on WJXT-TV, Channel 4.
It’s the 30th year of the Teacher of the Year awards process.
“As our community and country are seeing, like never before, the critical role our schools and teachers play in our lives and our economy, we are so proud to celebrate teachers this year,” said JPEF President Rachael Tutwiler Fortune. “We are also so proud to support them through a professional learning community as they take on new challenges.”
Those teachers named in the top honors will be eligible to participate in career enhancement programs to learn from leading education experts from across the county. The program will take place over a year and will include several research projects.
A complete list of all the educators nominated for the honor is at the school district website.
The Timucuan Parks Foundation has issued a $10,000 matching grant challenge for the Bogey Creek Preserve in the Jacksonville area.
The Foundation’s matching grant is contingent on the potential purchase of about 12 acres of land in the southeast area of the preserve. North Florida Land Trust officials say the nonprofit organization is now hoping to raise about $150,000 by the end of October to purchase the property currently owned by the McGehee family. The park’s funding challenge would help complete that purchase.
“This is a chance to turn that $100 donation into $200 or the $500 into $1000 to help us get to the $150,000 we need to raise to expand this public park,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “We are grateful for the Timucuan Parks Foundation’s match challenge. They are great partners for our local park system, and we look forward to working together on this preservation effort.”
The Timucuan Parks Foundation is also a nonprofit organization that formed in 1999 in hopes of acquiring environmentally sensitive land.
“Timucuan Parks Foundation and North Florida Land Trust have in principle supported each other’s conservation efforts for two decades, but this is the first time that TPF has made a financial commitment to assist another conservation group’s land preservation efforts,” said Bob Hays, chair of Timucuan Parks Foundation board. “We hope that this will be a model for the future.”
While the land trust purchased Bogey Creek Preserve in North Jacksonville off Cedar Point Road in 2006, it opened to the public in May 2019.
Jags exceeding expectations
With such low expectations, few would have imagined the Jaguars would be sitting at 1-1 after the season’s first two games. They came quite close to being 2-0 after a narrow loss at Tennessee, but have shown they can score points.
Second-year quarterback Gardner Minshew is tied for second in the league with six passing touchdowns behind the nine tossed by Seattle’s Russell Wilson. Rookie running back James Robinson stands eighth in rushing yards with 164, including Sunday’s 17-yard scoring run for his first NFL touchdown.
With several questions surrounding the Jags’ offensive line, the success in running the ball is a welcome development. Overall, the team ranks 20th in total offense, averaging 361 yards per game. They average 28.5 points per game thanks to their ability to score touchdowns 87.5% of the time they reach the opponent’s 20-yard line.
On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars rank 23rd in total defense, allowing 400 yards per game. Veteran linebacker Myles Jack leads the unit with 22 tackles and one of the team’s two interceptions. Linebacker Josh Allen, a player the team is counting upon with the injury problems on the defensive line, has only two assisted tackles so far but is expected to put up similar numbers he created as a rookie in 2019.
Adam Gotsis is stepping up as defensive end with seven tackles, including one for a loss.
Heading into the season, Jacksonville earned the 32nd spot on the NFL power rankings list. Two weeks into 2020, they now sit at number 26, according to ESPN, demonstrating there is much yet to prove. ESPN has them behind five teams that have begun the season at 0-2.
If the Jaguars are to go above .500 this week, they will need to defeat the Miami Dolphins Thursday night at TIAA Bank Field. The Dolphins are looking for their first win after competitive losses to the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills. Thursday games always pose challenges.
“Thursdays place a lot of anxiety into people as far as trying to get ready, trying to go,” said head coach Doug Marrone said during his weekly video conference with the media. “
The benefit of not traveling the day before the game on a short practice week can benefit the Jaguars.
“You always get a little bit of an advantage if you’re the home team,” he said. “I just think it’s a little bit less anxiety for a team to be home on a Thursday.”