Jacksonville Bold for 8.18.21: What really matters

Jacksonville, FL—March 19, 2018; mix of modern and historic architecture along palm tree lines streets downtown
Showing leadership, when it counts.

What really matters

Our leadoff is Sen. Marco Rubio — visiting Jacksonville Tuesday to augur some good news: The completion of renovations at four Section 8 properties recently acquired.

Rubio does his share of provocative Fox News hits and the like, but Tuesday, we saw the flip side: A leader who worked across party lines often throughout the years, including on this issue.

Joining Rubio at the event were two Democrats: Rep. Angie Nixon, who served as a community organizer in the complex in previous years; Council member Garrett Dennis, who worked with Rubio and Mayor Lenny Curry to bring awareness to the situation.

Marco Rubio speaks, showing leadership for Jacksonville. Image via A.G. Gancarski.

When the complex was under different ownership and was called Eureka Gardens, it was infamous for rundown conditions, which posed threats to health and safety for occupants. A riled Rubio agitated for action. Eventually, the ownership sold, and the rehab began in earnest for the Section 8 complex off Cassat Avenue.

The Senator discussed the journey to renovations for the units, saying it was the “beginning of the beginning.”

He noted that in 2015, he was largely absent when concerns were first raised.

“I was running for President, so I wasn’t around much,” Rubio said. “I didn’t win.”

While Rubio lost the Primary battle, he was in a position, he said, to find new meaning in his Senate role after having read through staff memos documenting the deterioration.

“I couldn’t believe Americans were living in these conditions. I couldn’t believe the federal government was paying for it,” Rubio said. “We were getting played. We were getting scammed.”

New ownership and renovations solved the problems, but Rubio noted that other “forgotten places” are even worse.”

Though the work is primarily done at Valencia Way, other complexes present pressing problems still.

Some will scoff, saying this is an election year gambit from Rubio and the like. But if Rubio does better in Jacksonville than some might expect, as he did in 2016, consider the benefit of work like this, beyond party lines and the rhetoric of the cable news hit.

Poll position

On Monday, Duval County Democrats heard from a 2022 candidate for Governor, who told them that at least one poll has him up over Gov. Ron DeSantis.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, running for a second time as a Democratic candidate for the state’s top job, told the Duval County Democratic Executive Committee that he was ahead in one poll, despite DeSantis’s national platform.

Charlie Crist meets, greets. Image via A.G. Gancarski.

“Recently we polled ahead of the Governor,” Crist told over 100 people on the monthly call, referring to a survey from St. Pete Polls that showed Crist up 45-44, inside the poll’s margin of error.

“It’s a long time away, but it’s encouraging,” Crist added, noting DeSantis has been on “national TV, statewide TV, the front page of every newspaper.”

“I haven’t been on a statewide ballot in seven years,” Crist said, but I’m polling ahead of him.”

Crist fared better in the head-to-head against DeSantis than the other viable Democratic candidate, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. However, other polling shows Fried ahead of Crist in the Primary. And a Florida Chamber poll showed DeSantis ahead of Crist 51-43%, so there is polling for everyone in the early stages of this race.

In terms of local backing, Crist is on point. U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, state Sen. Audrey Gibson, Rep. Tracie Davis, and City Council member Reggie Gaffney have made their preferences known early.

HD 13 heats up

Rep. Davis plans to run against Council member Gaffney in next year’s SD 6 primary, and that sets up what will be a competitive primary to succeed her.

“I’m definitely running,” said Council member Dennis Tuesday. And he’s not alone.

Garrett Dennis speaks at Valencia Way. Image via A.G. Gancarski

Iris Hinton already filed in the Democratic primary, but that is not dissuading Dennis, who won a second term in 2019 against nominal competition.

Expect that Dennis, an ally of Reps. Davis and Nixon, will be the choice of most currently elected Democrats.

Property push

A Jacksonville legislator who had been a candidate for state Senate is now coming home to run for Duval County Property Appraiser.

Duval property won’t appraise itself. Image via Jason Fischer.

Rep. Jason Fischer, who currently represents House District 16 in the southern part of Duval County, filed Monday for the constitutional office.

Fischer folded his Senate campaign last week, endorsing Rep. Clay Yarborough after Senate Republicans coalesced around the incumbent from HD 12.

Fischer was elected in 2016, meaning he could have run for reelection. Though the word was that some Tallahassee types were advised last week that he might seek reelection, after all, he followed through on the Property Appraiser path.

One Republican already filed. In his second term representing much of southern Duval County, Jacksonville City Council member Danny Becton filed months ago; he has close to $100,000 on hand.

However, Fischer has fundraised much more aggressively, planning to pursue Sen. Aaron Bean‘s Senate seat for years. Between his campaign account and two political committees, Fischer has roughly $1 million on hand.

Fischer is working with consultant Tim Baker again, showing that whatever drama existed in the Senate race denouement was short-lived. Expect endorsements to show strength early for the new candidate.

On the mend

“I get tears in my eyes seeing you.”

According to the Florida Times-Union’s David Bauerlein, that was the emotional response of Jacksonville City Council member Aaron Bowman to the return of Ju’Coby Pittman to the City Council dais Monday for Committee meetings.

Pittman, of course, battled with COVID-19, including a hospital stay. She is the latest member of the Jacksonville City Council to wrestle with the disease.

And Pittman’s isn’t the only good news related to the virus this week.

As First Coast News reports, Sheriff Mike Williams is also on the mend from the virus. He should get back to work this week.

Mike Williams is on the mend. Image via A.G. Gancarski.

With the virus finally appearing to have peaked locally, in terms of the delta variant surge, perhaps these will be among the last cases for public officials. Many have wrestled with the virus, and some (including Council President Sam Newby) were in fights for their lives before recovery.

Monoclonal movement

Go to the library for your monoclonal treatment.

While that concept may not have made sense in pre-COVID-19 times, it’s the case now, with the state of Florida and the city collaborating to provide the antibody treatment at the main library starting Tuesday morning.

The Regeneron Antibody Treatment Site, now in the Main Library Conference Center, had been opened the week before on Bay Street, with DeSantis on hand.

Regeneron is the new hotness, courtesy of Ron DeSantis.

“The core group of people to benefit from this,” DeSantis said, are those with comorbidities and health challenges, and the treatment could reduce the likelihood of hospitalization by 75%.

“If you do it early, it really does help to resolve the symptoms,” DeSantis added.

Interestingly, the city news release came late Monday night, after Curry pleaded with media to be patient.

Those details were released at 9:30 p.m.

Virtual insanity.

We see encouraging signs in some COVID-19 trends, including fewer cases and a decline in positive tests. But we also notice more troubling indicators.

Amid rising school cases, especially in elementary schools, this week, the Duval County School District brings back the online option.

“We know this has been a challenging time for many of our families as they try to determine the best option for their children amid the pandemic,” said DVIA Principal Mark Ertel. “Transitioning families from brick-and-mortar to our virtual environment is a complex process, and we will continue to work hard to support our families and help students have a great launch into online learning as quickly as possible.”

Indeed, it is a measure of what is possible. Team Duval notes that “due to high demand, DVIA is experiencing delays in their enrollment processes.” And until confirmed, the student is expected to stay in the current school.

Online classes are returning to Duval schools. Image via WJCT.

“Students should continue attending their current school until they receive the orientation email mentioned above that contains next steps,” the guidance goes.

As well, magnet students who go virtual will lose their slots in brick and mortar schools. The virtual school is the school from now on this year for those choosing to opt out.

DeSantis, who allowed the mask mandate with an opt-out that allowed the school board and the state to save face, is using masks in schools as yet another in a series of wedge issues with the Joe Biden White House. He has said he likes where the COVID-19 trends are, with the “summer season” having peaked and with expectations that the pressures on hospitals will ease.

Yet students and staffers continue to get the virus, And for those seeking to sequester, here is an option, albeit one with caveats.

Meanwhile, in Nassau County, a virus precaution was also taken Tuesday night, with the school board adopting a mask mandate with a parental opt-out, essentially what Duval adopted.

Open testing

A new COVID-19 testing site is now open in downtown St. Augustine.

Flagler Health+ is partnering with the City of St. Augustine and Ivy Medical for the testing site at the bus loop of the city’s Visitor Information Center at 10 S. Castillo Drive. The site is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.

Both PCR and Rapid Antigen Tests are available.

“We know that fast and easy access to COVID-19 testing is an important component to stopping the spread of the virus and supporting area businesses’ ability to safely remain open,” Flagler Health+ President and CEO Jason Barrett said. “I commend City of St. Augustine leadership for supporting this initiative with the location and support services.”

Thanks to Flagler Health+, a new COVID-19 testing pop-up.

Antigen Rapid Tests offer results within two hours from individuals believed to have COVID-19 within five days of the first symptoms. The PCR test results come within two business days, showing active infection in all stages — early, late, or anywhere between.

“With the increased cases of COVID and the related demand for testing, we feel that it is critical to offer a convenient, safe alternative to get a COVID test,” City Manager John Regan said. “We must do whatever it takes to help offset the burden of COVID testing on our local health care system so they can stay focused on providing necessary care to the sick.”

Testing is available for all ages, but for children under 18, a parent or guardian must be present. Insurance is accepted, and self-pay is available.

Foursome

And then there were four.

Hints that the race for Jacksonville Sheriff will be a battle royale yet again, Republican TK Waters adds his name to an increasingly crowded field of high-ranking officers seeking the ultimate promotion.

TK Waters makes his move.

“I am running to be the next Jacksonville Sheriff because I have devoted my professional life to improving this city and serving the people who call it home. I want to build on the successful initiatives our office is currently pursuing and enhance our commitment to a service and partnership mentality with the community. As your next Sheriff, I am committed to service, driven by my diverse experience in the agency, and will strive to deliver the excellence in law enforcement that our community deserves. Together, we can continue to make Jacksonville an even better place to live, work and raise a family.” Waters said Monday.

Waters is the current Chief of Investigations. He started his law enforcement career three decades ago as a corrections officer, working through the ranks.

With more than a year and a half before the first election (an open Primary) in March 2023, it’s becoming apparent the field will crowd to such a degree that this goes to a May runoff.

The leading fundraiser in the field currently is Democrat Lakesha Burton. She has close to half a million dollars on hand between hard money and her political committee, including roughly $15,000 raised in July. Democratic opponent Wayne Clark launched with just over $6,000, which doesn’t bode well for actual viability. Republican Mat Nemeth has also filed but has yet to report money raised because he filed in August.

Power station

JEA finished its leadership team hirings, according to a news release this week.

Chief External Affairs Officer Laura Schepis will be one of four direct reports to CEO Jay Stowe in what the utility’s leader calls an “unbeatable team.”

Laura Schepis gets a new leadership gig with JEA. Image via JEA.

“Since joining JEA, I’ve worked to develop an unbeatable leadership team that delivers business excellence,” Stowe said. “With Laura now completing the team, JEA is led by a solid group of executives who have legacy and institutional knowledge of our operations and are ready to lead JEA into the future. This is an exciting time for JEA and for me.”

Schepis has a legit resume, with 15 years of high-level work, including in Washington, D.C., where she was senior director of National Security Policy for Edison Electric Institute. Schepis previously held leadership roles at Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy and the American Public Power Association.

TD Jacksonville

On Tuesday, committees of reference cleared legislation allowing the city to go 50/50 with the NFL Jaguars on a new football performance center.

Finance and Rules both approved the legislation by 7-0 votes, cinching the deal ahead of a dispositive vote at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

Jaguars President Mark Lamping heralded the era of good feeling, returning to form after the Lot J adventure failed.

Taxpayers will foot half the bill for a new Jaguars performance center. Image via Jacksonville Daily Record.

“There’s been a lot of work done in advance — a lot of one-on-one communication with individual Council members, a lot of outreach into the community. And I think that we’ve seen that’s time very well spent,” Lamping said, as reported by the Jacksonville Daily Record.

Jacksonville City Councilman Michael Boylan said the deal should offer a “great deal of comfort” that the team will not relocate as so often feared.

Rubble rising

New coach.

New quarterback.

And for the Jacksonville Jaguars, it’s a new attitude as they try to rise from the rubble of a 1-15 season in 2020. Alas, the first step in that process was a continuation of the norm — a 23-13 loss to Cleveland in their first preseason game.

The good news: It doesn’t count in the standings.

Even better news: While they obviously have a long way to go, the Jaguars will improve, maybe considerably.

The Jaguars may have a long way to go, but they are getting there.

It was the NFL debut (unofficially, of course) for head coach Urban Meyer and quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The Jaguars made the former Clemson All-American the first pick in this year’s draft, a choice that made the pain of 15 consecutive losses last season a lot more palatable.

As you might expect for a rookie playing his first pro game at the most complicated position in football, Lawrence had an uneven night. He completed six of nine passes for 71 yards and no touchdowns in two series under center. Still, he showed enough to earn generally positive reviews.

“He certainly wasn’t awe-struck,” Meyer said of his start protégé. “We just have to execute better. We have to protect him better. We have to get our wideouts healthy and just play better.”

Lawrence has been called the top rookie quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck went to Indianapolis in 2012.

He won’t have the luxury of four faux tilts to prepare for the regular season. The preseason was reduced to three games this season, but the regular season increased to 17 games.

Game 2 in the preseason comes Monday, Aug. 21, when Jacksonville travels to New Orleans for an 8 p.m. kickoff on ESPN. We’ll see if the extra preparation time means a sharper performance.

Either way, though, things are looking up. It’s the dawn of a new era in Jaguars’ football, and fans would agree that it’s about time.

Staff Reports



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