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Jacksonville Bold for 10.7.20 — Nonstop

The ads just keep coming.

Nonstop

With the election less than a month away, there are more stories to cover than we can fit in this week’s edition.

We’ve focused, at least at the top, on some state House elections with a modicum of drama.

Yet there are things that didn’t make the cut also.

This is the issue that voters are dealing with in their own way.

The ads don’t stop. TV, YouTube, Snapchat, Tinder … whatever your diversion, you’re probably going to have to look at Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

And the mailpieces. More than you could ever want also. Put on your reading glasses, however, if you’re interested in seeing the footnotes.

And it will all get quicker, for sure. Last-minute money moves to produce explosive mailpieces in tight races. 

We probably haven’t seen the last October Surprise yet either.

But that, and other issues besides, will undoubtedly be grist for future editions

Here’s this week’s roundup.

Q queue

State Rep. Cord Byrd’s HD 11 is more than half Republican and he has the large fundraising lead over Democrat Joshua Hicks.

That’s the good news for those with an interest in a GOP-favorable outcome.

The bad news? That Byrd playing footsie with Q Anon and the Proud Boys doesn’t exactly help with the swing voters.

The latest Trumptilla. Image via Esther Byrd.

Esther Byrd, the candidate’s wife who narrowly lost in a local race earlier this year, offered an unsolicited defense of the Proud Boys, a group of youngish men who bill themselves as “Western chauvinists.”

“Why do you think Facebook is throwing people in FB Jail who share information about Proud Boys? (Side note: I must really have great friends cause a whole bunch have been locked up!) I think it’s because they’ve seen a drastic spike in searches and they are worried that people are educating themselves rather than blindly believing what MSM narrative. Anyone have a better theory?”

The comments come months after Mrs. Byrd made comments supportive of Q Anon after the couple was photographed on a boat flying a Q Anon flag. 

Ironically, a day before Mrs. Byrd made her “FB jail” comments, the Hicks campaign called on Byrd to denounce both the Proud Boys and the Q Anon movement.

Thus far, neither the legislator nor his wife offered comments on the record.

‘Who did I lose to?’

The frustrations of any political loss are obvious to anyone who has ever experienced one. But for Spyros ‘Speed’ Chialtas, the question is particularly existential after his August loss to Emmanuel Blimie in the House District 12 primary.

“Who did I lose to,” Chialtas wondered, after a 20 point defeat to a candidate who didn’t seem to have much of a presence in the district ahead of the August vote. 

“Speed” Chialtas’ loss was more existential. Photo via Spyros Chialtas.

Chialtas contends, among other charges, that Blimie didn’t vote in his own primary. Bold reached out Monday to Blimie to get his response, but he has yet to get back to us. 

Blimie lists Elite Parking Services as a local employer, but his presence during the campaign was light, at least as far as Chialtas saw it.

A party unity endorsement event doesn’t seem in the cards here, and the resource war between veteran politician Clay Yarborough and the rookie candidate is one-sided. 

The incumbent has raised more than $190,000 this cycle and has nearly $55,000 for the stretch run against Blimie, who has raised a total of $27 of outside money, largely self-financing his effort with $10,000 in personal money. 

Danger?

The Republican Party of Florida continues to target white Democrats in HD 15 with mail about Democrat Tammyette Thomas.

It took nearly half a million dollars for Wyman Duggan to best Democrat Tracye Polson in 2018. This year Republicans are attempting to deliver a law and order message lambasting Thomas’ “dangerous ideas putting us in danger.”

A little fearmongering in the HD 15 race. Image via Florida GOP.

The laundry list of accusations includes support of “radical groups,” advocacy for closing “numerous Florida prisons” and opposition to the policeman’s bill of rights, legislation that protects law enforcement. 

Duggan meanwhile is drawing support from Democrats on the Jacksonville City Council, two of whom endorsed him this week.

Reggie Gaffney and Ju’Coby Pittman both broke with their party and endorsed Duggan, who is well known in Jacksonville’s City Hall. Duggan frequently lobbies the Council on local issues and is well-regarded.

Duggan is playing to win, having raised almost $60,000 in hard money in the last four weeks. Duggan, in a swing district and facing a challenge from Democrat Tammyette Thomas, is already running broadcast ads. 

Thomas has raised just over $10,000 in the same period and has roughly that on hand.

J will cost a Lot

Once more with feeling: for the second time in the last couple of years, the city of Jacksonville and the Jaguars rolled out terms for a partnership that could turn the Lot J parking lot by the football stadium into the kind of destination live/work/play neighborhood people clamored for before the pandemic.

Mayor Lenny Curry, Jaguars owner Shad Khan, and team president Mark Lamping presented a united front at the team’s flex field, a product of the latest collaborative spend between the football-loving city government and the team’s billionaire owner.

Developing Lot J comes with a hefty price tag. Image via Jacksonville Jaguars.

The development, to be raised atop part of the “Lot J” parking lot at the city’s municipal stadium, was framed Monday as the silver bullet to solve myriad community woes.

The proposed expenditure is eye-popping: $152.7 million in public investment.

Included would be 75,000 square feet of retail, a hotel with between 100 and 200 rooms, multifamily housing amounting to 400 rental properties, 40,000 square feet of class A office space, and a 100,000 square foot “entertainment center” in the city-owned Live! District.

DIA investment

The Jacksonville Downtown Investment Authority is hoping to enhance business investment in the city’s core by launching an investor-focused website.

“Downtown Jacksonville continues to move forward. Despite the impact of a global pandemic, projects continue to break ground and both the public and private sectors are working hard to keep the momentum going,” said Ron Moody, chair of the DIA board. “Downtown is open for business, and we are thrilled to debut our new website which allows us to spread that message near and far.”

Jacksonville leaders hope a new website spurs downtown investment. Image via Drew Dixon.

The website (investdtjax.com) offers access to different tools and resources to various businesses and people interested in investing in downtown properties and commercial operations. Most notably, a key database on properties in the city’s core is now available for those investors considering buying or leasing buildings or lots.

Other data on the website includes statistics that show the demographics of people who live, work, or visit downtown for cultural, business or sporting events.

The business development organization for the city’s urban core, Downtown Vision Inc., helped to provide much of the data that’s being made available for those potential investors in the city’s central business district.

The latest website is part of a bigger effort by the DIA to revitalize Jacksonville’s downtown area. 

Blogger and the columnist

Florida Times-Union columnist Nate Monroe drew some incoming flak this week from the political blog The Capitolist.

The piece took issue with a recent Monroe column suggesting that FPL’s charitable contributions were driven by its bid to buy JEA, saying that the veteran correspondent was “duped” by a source: Alissa Jean Schafer’s Energy and Policy Institute (EPI).

The claim was that EPI was a dark money group, an irony noted by author Brian Burgess given that EPI targets those groups.

Monroe called the piece a “regurgitation” of FPL talking points.

Nate Monroe is getting some heat from The Capitolist. Image via Florida Times-Union.

“In not a single place in this write up does The Capitolist question or even discuss the underlying (salient) issue — that private utilities like NextEra use charitable contributions to buy support for their political and policy agenda,” he thundered in tweet form.

“FPL is clearly angry. The company would probably be better served directing that rage toward the incompetent city and (former) utility officials who bungled its long-sought prize,” Monroe added.

Long story, short: Even though the sale push is over, it’s clear the crossfire is not.

Food programs extended

Food insecurity has been an issue of concern for Florida’s 5th Congressional District Rep. Al Lawson. The Tallahassee-based Democrat who also represents a portion of Jacksonville has joined calls to extend Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits during the COVID pandemic, including co-sponsoring legislation to do that.

In July, he joined with Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge and others to co-sponsor the Emergency SNAP Flexibilities Extension Act that eliminates red tape to give states additional flexibility to process surges in SNAP application brought about by the pandemic. According to Fudge, 17 million children were not getting enough to eat during the summer.

Al Lawson takes a stab at Jacksonville’s food insecurity problem.

The bill was rolled into the stopgap spending bill which passed last week to avoid a government shutdown. Lawson, who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, worked with his colleagues to obtain the successful final result.

“I’m pleased that my efforts to extend pandemic SNAP waivers and EBT extensions to families who are struggling to put food on their tables during this difficult time was included in this bill,” said Lawson. “The pandemic is far from over, and this bill will make sure that American families continue to have access to nutritious food.” 

The Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) benefit, formerly known as food stamps, is renewed for another year and increases the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s school meal commitment through the pandemic.

INK! fundraising

The Investing in Kids program known as INK! is seeking additional donations to keep some of its programs in St. Johns County and public schools there.

The push is to support the Five Learning Years program. FLY, as it is known, prepares school-aged children for school readiness and increase graduation rates.

INK is about to make a new grant request from the USA Today Network which is part of the Gannett Foundation. That organization donated $25,000 to INK! in 2019 and the deadline for the grant request is Oct. 16.

INK! hopes to draw public donations. Image via INK!

The new USA Today grant stipulations call for public donations if an organization is going to get the funding again. INK! has set up a website to generate donations at acommunitythrives.mightycause.com.

“Children who start behind, tend to stay behind without the proper intervention, and the gap increases over time,” said Donna Lueders, INK! executive director. “It is crucial that children receive the support they need at the earliest age possible to close the literacy gap, improve confidence, and increase graduation rates.”

The number of donors can help drive up the grants issued by USA Today to St. Johns County. So the internet fundraising drive is kicking into high gear.

“If we have the most donors, we can receive a bonus of $5,000. We have donations totaling $1,945 and need $4,055 to qualify by October 16,” Lueders said. “INK! must be a top fundraiser in its classification to win either $50,000 or $100,000. For this campaign, we have been targeting donations on social media and now we ask the entire community for help.”

New Jax art

The city unveiled this month the first in a series of new public art displays in Jacksonville.

“Songs of the Skin” was dedicated at Cuba Hunter Park on Bedford Road Friday. The sculpture was created by artist Matt Babcock and features depictions of skink lizards of Florida. It’s also interactive and is designed to allow children to play with the work of art created by the sculpture who is from Seattle, Wash.

It’s the first artwork that is part of a new Art in Public Places program created by the city of Jacksonville. The program is designed to increase the presence of artwork in the city’s neighborhoods.

‘Songs of the Skin’ is officially displayed at Cuba Hunter Park. Image via the city of Jacksonville.

“The sculpture is not only visual but also musical. The many pipes were created on a special machine in Japan that allows hard materials to be bent into curved shapes. Each pipe resonates with a musical note when struck with a hand or flip-flop. The interactive instrument is accessible to anyone and any age,” said a city news release.

The budget for the project was $40,800. It’s the first work of public art to be displayed east of the Mississippi River for Babcock, who is an established sculpture in the Western U.S.

In the next few months, the city plans to install other public artworks in the San Marco, Mandarin and Northwest Jacksonville areas.

Chamber leader

The St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce has selected its new leadership team.

The business booster organization named its board of directors for the 2020-2021 fiscal year this week. Most notably, Erika Hamer will be the chair of the St. Johns Chamber.

Hamer owns the Ponte Vedra Wellness Center in Ponte Vedra Beach. Hamer was already positioned for the top slot in the St. Johns Chamber as she is serving as vice-chair during the current fiscal year.

Newly named St. Johns Chamber Chair Erika Hamer. Image via St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce.

Other key appointments to the St. Johns Chamber board of directors include:

Skip Marsh was appointed vice-chair for the next fiscal year. Marsh is the executive vice president of finance at Flagler Health.

Beth Sweeney, director of community and government relations at Flagler College, was named treasurer of the Chamber.

Berta Odom, real estate agent for Re/Max, was named Chamber secretary.

Andy Jackson, of Jackson Law, is chair of the economic development council for the Chamber.

Those Chamber members appointed to those positions join several others who were appointed to three-year terms on the organization’s general board including:

Melissa Morin

Melissa Rowe

Stephen Hudson

Chris Pokrivnak

—  Carol Burns

Orville Dothage

Michael Scine

Jim Bush

Kathy Fleming

Darnell Smith

Gary Wheeler

 Golden Girl Scout 

A longtime Gateway Council Girl Scout is helping seniors become comfortable with modern technology such as smartphones, voicemail and emails.

Savannah Beeler, a 19-year-old from Neptune Beach, developed the “Golden Age Tech” program, part of her Girl Scout Gold Award — the highest recognition in the Scouts.

Beeler, who has been a Girl Scout since the first grade, began the program in early 2018.

Girl Scout Savannah Beeler, a 19-year-old from Neptune Beach, developed the “Golden Age Tech” program to help seniors navigate modern technology.

Kelsey Mancini of the Girl Scouts of Gateway Council told the Florida Times-Union the awards recognize community service projects that take on issues or needs, allowing girls to develop a problem-solving strategy.

“I had started brainstorming to know-how I wanted to make an impact and where I wanted to make an impact,” Beeler said. The senior center “was a perfect fit.”

Many seniors struggle with the latest technology and digital devices, afraid to be overwhelmed by new innovations. Beeler helps them become familiar with devices and more tech-savvy.

Consistency needed

Heading into the season, the Jaguars were not expected to win many games. Some thought an 0-16 season was possible.

Beating the Indianapolis Colts in the season opener changed the thought process. Rookie running back James Robinson is showing the potential to become a true star in the NFL and the offense has shown it can move the ball when all the parts are on the field.

Problems on the defensive side of the ball have brought that first-week euphoria down to more reasonable levels. In losses to Tennessee and Miami, the Jaguars fell behind early, but Sunday’s defeat to the previously-winless Cincinnati Bengals followed a different script with Jacksonville holding a 13-10 halftime lead before being swamped in the second half.

Rookie running back James Robinson is showing some NFL star potential.

Bengals’ running back Joe Mixon ran for 151 yards — 121 of those in the second half — to lead Cincinnati. His three touchdowns were the first he had scored all year and the rushing total nearly matched his entire output over the first three games combined.

On Sunday and throughout the still-young season, head coach Doug Marrone said the team has looked good in spurts, but that is far from sufficient.

“There are flashes of plays,” Marrone told the media. “Guys have made them, but the consistency of it is something that we have to work on. We continue to keep pushing to put ourselves in a good situation with the players. That’s on us as coaches — to get those players to where we can make those plays.”

He spoke of playing all four quarters, adding “we should be able to play more consistently.” That would be helpful for a defense that is on pace to become the worst in team history.

The Jags may have a chance to pick up a win on Sunday when they travel to Houston to play the Texans in their third division game of the season. Houston is 0-4, but will likely be playing much harder after team ownership fired coach and general manager Bill O’Brien on Monday.

A struggling defense will try to contain one of the NFL’s most mobile quarterbacks in Deshaun Watson and a defense that features All-Pro J.J. Watt. Kickoff is 1 p.m.

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