Jacksonville Bold for 10.6.21 — Prayers for Casey

casey desantis
Our best wishes to Florida's First Lady, a one-time staple of Jacksonville airwaves.

Prayers for Casey

The First Lady of Florida’s breast cancer diagnosis was announced Monday, and given the status of Gov. Ron DeSantis as a figure of global political import, coverage went far and wide.

Here in Jacksonville, where First Lady Casey DeSantis became known and loved by local television viewers as Casey Black, there is a deeper connection.

Casey DeSantis has the state behind her. Image via Governor’s Office.

Before she was First Lady, she was often among the first faces we saw in our homes. Her stint on WJXT’s Morning Show began nearly two decades ago.

Black, returning to Jacksonville after college, was one of five finalists for the traffic reporter position at the time.

My biggest pet peeve would be rubbernecking, cellphones,” Black said in 2003. “If you’re going to go somewhere, go there.”

She landed the gig, obviously, and turned that into a foothold. She worked in various capacities as an associate producer, a reporter, and an anchor.

Casey would have yet another television gig that overlapped with the political career of her husband, hosting First Coast Living and the Chat last decade on First Coast News.

As the then-Congressman’s star rose, Casey was mainly doing soft segments. However, she sometimes managed a slight subversion, including sneaking a Club for Growth coffee mug onto the set.

As DeSantis became a candidate for Governor, Casey Black DeSantis’ time on local television ended. Balancing the roles became untenable.

But here in Jacksonville, we got a front-row seat to the evolution and development of who is already one of the most transformative First Ladies in our state’s history.

And from Jacksonville, we offer prayers and support for her healing on the long road ahead for the First Lady, her family, and the state of Florida.

Senate races set

Two Senate seats come open in Duval County next year. One is all but spoken for, but the other will be a brawl through the August 2022 Primary.

On Friday, House District 13 Rep. Tracie Davis finally filed to succeed term-limited political mentor Sen. Audrey Gibson in Senate District 6. She has a long road ahead to even the nomination, however. Democratic Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney is in the race, and he is aggressively fundraising, with support from Republicans close to DeSantis early.

She finally filed. Image via Tracie Davis for Senate campaign.

Gaffney is one of several elected Jacksonville Democrats who work well with Republicans. He and Mayor Lenny Curry are allies, and for a Mayor’s Office that did not work well with Gibson, Gaffney in the Senate could be a welcome shift. He’s no pushover either: Gaffney won reelection in 2019 with 60% of the vote against three opponents and has a durable brand.

Davis is running as the only “real Democrat” in the race. She will find statewide support, earned from years of being a reliable player in the House, pushing back last Session on DeSantis, particularly on SB 90, a new law that curbs absentee voting by requiring specifically requested ballots and targets ballot harvesting by requiring monitored drop boxes.

It’s going to be a wild Primary, and ultimately an expensive one. In contrast to Republicans, who settled the race to replace Sen. Aaron Bean mostly without drama or incident, slotting in Rep. Clay Yarborough well before the first Committee Week, Democrats will give Duval a show.

Days until

‘Hamilton’ last show in Jacksonville — 11; Jacksonville Icemen vs. Florida Everblades — 17; Duval delegation meets — 23; Georgia vs. Florida football — 24; Jacksonville Fair begins — 29; Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board 2021 Environmental Excellence Awards announced — 42; 2021 Special Unitary Election for City Council at-large Group 3 — 62; Jacksonville BBQ Festival (Session 1) — 65; Gator Bowl — 86; Jaguars last game of Regular Season — 95; Jacksonville Icemen All-Star Classic — 103; City Council At-Large Group 3 General Election — 139; TPC Sawgrass begins — 155; Jacksonville Monster Jam — 164; Jacksonville First Election — 531; Jacksonville General Election — 587.

Tag time

Bean filed a bill last week to make it easier for your ride to say “Roll Tide.”

SB 364 is a follow-up to his and former Rep. James Grant’s overhaul of specialty license plate rules a couple of Sessions ago.

Last year, the Legislature and DeSantis greenlit rules setting a uniform $25 fee for specialty plates and added a bundle of new options such as Walt Disney World, the Blue Angels, and the Divine Nine. But the legislation also allowed the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to issue, for the first time, a set of license plates for out-of-state universities.

Aaron Bean says slap a plate on it.

The initial set includes the University of Alabama, the University of Georgia and Auburn University. Grant is an Auburn graduate and had sponsored bills that would have authorized a War Eagle plate many times before his and Bean’s successful effort in the 2020 Legislative Session.

The 2020 bill created 32 new tags, and it required most tags to get 3,000 sales during a two-year window before they could go into production.

For out-of-state universities, however, the presale threshold was set at 4,000.

So far, that’s proved a tall order.

Auburn University has sold the most of the three, and it’s not even halfway there. Alabama’s presold 1,216 tags and the Georgia tag attracted a measly 382 buyers.

Bean’s new bill would nudge them along by lowering the presale threshold to 3,000 tags.

Crucially, it would also reset the clock on the presale window. To those holding out for a Ducks Unlimited or Jumbo Shrimp plate, don’t lose hope — that provision would apply to any tag that’s currently accepting preorders but has not yet hit the mark.

Equity push

Legislation refiled last week in the House by Davis would create a Chief Diversity Officer and make equity concerns central to planning and policy going forward.

HB 221 would set up an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. It parallels an identical bill introduced in the Senate.

That office, according to bill language, would “work to end systemic racism.” And the person helming the office would have experience in that endeavor, with a minimum of “three years of professional experience involving the advancement of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Tracie Davis seeks to create a Chief Diversity Officer Image via Colin Hackley.

The legislation contemplates this project will move forward quickly, with the chief diversity officer working as a liaison with executive agencies to “remove systemic barriers and provide equal access to opportunities and benefits and to identify underserved communities and policies designed to advance their standing.”

A strategic plan to that effect would be due by Oct. 2022. By the end of Jan. 2023, the CDO is expected to have helped agencies hone in on “systemic barriers in accessing benefits and opportunities associated with those policies and programs.”

Meanwhile, the Chief Diversity Officer would be a valuable part of the Governor’s budgetary process, as contemplated by the bill’s language. The CDO would find “opportunities to promote the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Governor’s recommended budget.”

Special attention would be paid to the needs of underserved communities in that process.

Additionally, the CDO would work to “identify existing laws that were intended to promote or enable racial discrimination or inequity or that include racist language and to make recommendations to the Legislature for repealing any such laws.”

Finally, the CDO would be charged with helping to guide “implicit bias training” for employees of state agencies.

According to a spokesperson, the Governor’s Office is “aware that the bill was filed, and like all legislation, we will be monitoring it as it moves through the legislative process in the coming months.”

Good eats

The Northeast Florida Area Agency on Aging wants $500,000 to improve the nutritional health status of low-income, older adults in poor physical health.

The funding request for the state’s fiscal year 2022-23 budget was filed Monday by Rep. Wyman Duggan, a Republican from Jacksonville.

Wyman Duggan helps older adults get a healthy meal. Image via Florida House.

Budget documents filed with the House of Representatives show the Northeast Florida Area Agency on Aging, which operates as Eldersource, will use the money to help improve the nutritional health of more than 800 elderly, low-income people in Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, St. Johns, and Volusia counties.

Nutrition services include meals, nutrition counseling, and nutrition education, and assistive eating devices. Eldersource CEO Linda Levin told Florida Politics her agency would contract with providers in the organization’s seven-county area.

Levin said $450,000 would be toward contracts with providers at the county level and that $50,000 would be for Eldersource staff charged with programmatic and fiscal oversight of the arrangements.

Read more here.

Save the date

Sen. Jennifer Bradley and Duggan are getting some fundraising help from top legislative Republicans when they head to Tallahassee next week.

Bradley, in her first term representing Senate District 5, will hold a fundraiser Tuesday evening. The host committee includes Senate President Wilton Simpson and Sens. Kathleen Passidomo and Ben Albritton, the following two Senators in line to lead the chamber.

The event starts at 6 p.m. in the Capital Room of the Governor’s Club.

Bradley hasn’t drawn a challenger yet. She has about $267,000 in the bank between her campaign account and affiliated political committee, Women Building the Future.

Duggan’s fundraiser starts a half-hour earlier at the Republican Party of Florida’s House Majority headquarters on Monroe Street.

Joining the Jacksonville Republican: House Speaker Chris Sprowls, House Speaker-designate Paul Renner, and Rep. Danny Perez, set to take over as Speaker following the 2024 election.

Duggan is running for a third term in House District 15. He is also unopposed. He had nearly $87,000 on hand in September between his campaign account and political committee, Citizens for Building Florida’s Future.

Back in court

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown was back in court this week, and in February, she will be back on trial after prosecutors said a plea deal fell through.

Another trial looms for Corrine Brown. Image via A.G. Gancarski.

Brown, who represented Jacksonville in Congress from 1992 to 2016, was convicted of numerous counts related to a fraudulent charity. However, the conviction was vacated upon appeal after the district court was found to have erred in discharging a juror who claimed divine guidance.

The original trial was an epic show. Brown cycled through lawyers, landing on Orlando’s James Smith, but ultimately mounted little more than an anecdotal defense.

It remains to be seen what a 2022 trial will look like, given the mutability of memory and the difficulty coordinating witnesses during the original trial. But it appears we will find out.

Big guns for Baker

On Monday, two major endorsements went the way of Jessica Baker in the competitive Republican Primary in House District 12, a sign of trouble to come for opponent Lake Ray.

Prediction: Jessica Baker will have many more endorsements between now and August 2022.

Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams endorsed Baker, an Assistant State Attorney in the 7th Circuit who filed Friday for the House seat.

“I’m proud to endorse Jessica Baker for State Representative because she is a principled conservative,” Curry said. “On our charter revision commission, she led the charge to keep term limits for politicians. As a prosecutor, she upholds her oath to protect our communities from those who would do us harm and defends the Constitution. Jessica will be a State Representative we can trust.”

“Jessica Baker is a conservative leader who will serve us with honor and integrity. As a prosecutor, she stands for the rule of law, protects our community, and supports law enforcement every day,” Williams added. “I’m proud to endorse her as our next state Representative and look forward to working with her.”

Added Baker: “As a prosecutor and mother to two young children, I am honored to have the support of common-sense conservatives like Mayor Curry and Sheriff Williams. Mayor Curry and Sheriff Williams have made public safety their No. 1 priority, adding more than 100 police officers and new technologies to fight crime. As your next state Representative, I will always protect the rule of law and make public safety my top priority.”

The big endorsements send a message that Baker is playing to win (if there were any doubt). Ray has roughly $150,000 banked for his attempt to return to the House seat he helmed from 2008 to 2016, but he’s never faced an opponent like Baker on this level.

Monument on the move

Under pressure to move Confederate monuments, Curry’s office has advanced a solution for one, with a seven-figure price tag attached.

The Florida Times-Union reports that Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes emailed members of the Jacksonville City Council with a $1.3 million estimate to remove a monument from Springfield Park.

CAO Brian Hughes wants to help move Jacksonville forward from a darker history.

“The materials will be removed as carefully and efficiently as safely possible, but will require significant restoral if and when the monument would be rebuilt,” ACON Construction’s bid says.

At the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement last year, Curry appeared at a rally with now-former Jacksonville Jaguars players, saying the monuments would come down. One in James Weldon Johnson Park across from City Hall has. But the endgame for other pieces is proving to be a long and winding road.

Test over

After a steady decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases reported in St. Johns County, the coronavirus testing site sponsored by Flagler Health+ in Downtown St. Augustine, will cease operations Thursday.

Open since August, the site was a partnership of Flagler Health+, the city of St. Augustine and Ivy Medical, offering free COVID-19 testing to the community.

The party’s over.

“We are grateful to have been able to partner with the City of St. Augustine and Ivy Medical in providing this vital service to our community,” stated Flagler Health+ President and CEO Jason Barrett. “The opportunity to provide testing was an integral part in helping slow the spread of the virus over the past few weeks.”

According to the Florida Department of Health, last week saw 9.5% case positivity (607 cases) in St. Johns County, compared to 24.2% case positivity (1,740 cases) the first week in August 2021.

For more information, visit flaglerhealth.org/StAcovidtesting.

Zoo bucks

$50 million in five years: that’s the ambitious goal of the latest capital campaign from the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

New capital to revamp the Zoo? Image via Jacksonville Zoo.

The effort has a catchy title: “REZOOVENATION: The Campaign to Inspire.” It will enhance habitats and conservation initiatives, as well as educational spaces and guest services. And hopes are the investment to get it to its goal is equally contagious.

Wayne Weaver and Delores Barr Weaver did their part, giving $3 million for Manatee River, a new first-impression habitat featuring the species.

“The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has been a community jewel for decades, and we believe the new Manatee River exhibit with its ‘gentle giants’ will reinforce Northeast Florida’s powerful relationship with our river-based environment,” Barr Weaver said. “Wayne and I are excited by the REZOOVENATION vision, and we encourage others who share our passion for this iconic attraction to join us in supporting this effort.”

“We have always been grateful for the Weavers’ support, especially now as we look toward the future of the Zoo. Their dedication to Jacksonville is evident, and we are proud to be a part of their investment in our community. Announcing this campaign with their lead gift is momentous, and we are confident it will inspire others to join this endeavor,” Executive Director Tony Vecchio said.

It’s the most extensive capital campaign in the Zoo’s history, and the city of Jacksonville will match $5 million per year raised.

Four is a trend?

Florida Trend has again named JAXPORT CEO Eric Green one of the state’s most influential business leaders.

The “Florida 500” highlights the executives in different economic sectors throughout the state, from Arts & Entertainment to Information Technology.

Eric Green gets a four-peat. Image via FreightWaves.

Green, who joined JAXPORT in 2005 and became CEO in 2017, was one of 21 transportation leaders and among four seaport execs making the list this year. The 2021 edition is its fourth, and Green was featured in each.

The publication highlights some impressive metrics at the nation’s largest cargo port — it supports more than 139,000 private-sector jobs and creates an annual $31 billion economic impact. It also fared well during the pandemic, achieving record container volumes for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

“This award and the successes we are experiencing are a reflection of the hard work of many people who have helped us navigate the industry challenges that have occurred over the last two years, including our Board, JAXPORT employees, and private sector port workers,” Green said.

“As we look to the future, the long-standing support of our federal, state, and local partners — combined with our close relationships with our tenants, maritime partners and customers — positions JAXPORT and Northeast Florida for continued growth and opportunity ahead.”

Currently, JAXPORT is making progress on a federal project to deepen the shipping channel to 47 feet, which is on track to be completed through Blount Island in 2022, three years ahead of its original schedule. In addition, $200 million in berth and terminal enhancements to modernize Blount Island are currently underway.

Losses pile up

The first month of the NFL season was basically a continuation of the misery that dogged the Jaguars last year. Following a tough 24-21 loss at Cincinnati, the Jaguars are 0-4, and it won’t get easier this week.

Jacksonville welcomes the Tennessee Titans to TIAA Bank Field on Sunday at 1 p.m. The Titans will be in a cranky mood following their upset loss to the lowly New York Jets.

While Tennessee represents a colossal challenge, Jaguars Coach Urban Meyer said he saw continued improvement despite the deflating loss to the Bengals.

“It’s devastating, heartbreaking,” Meyer said. “Usually, I’m not wrong about stuff like that. I just see a good team in there. I see good guys. I see good hearts. I see guys that work. I told them, ‘I’m not wrong. I’m not wrong on that stuff.’ This team’s going to win some games.”

Another devastating, heartbreaking loss. They keep piling up.

The Jags must do a better job of closing the door when they have the opportunity.

They led Cincinnati 14-0 at the half, only to be outscored 24-7 in the final 30 minutes. The Bengals scored on all four possessions in the second half and won the game with a field goal in the final seconds.

The Jaguars have been outscored 61-19 in the second half of their three games.

“I’m looking at halftime adjustments,” Meyer said. “It seems like the first part of the second half we’ve had a couple of issues. Against Arizona — as well as one last night — they went right down the field on us. We’re looking at that.”

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence had his first game with no interceptions. He also threw two touchdown passes. Still, it didn’t translate into a win for the Jags, who have now lost 19 consecutive games.

The Jaguars need to beat the Titans to avoid joining the 1942-45 Chicago Cardinals and 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the only teams with at least 20 consecutive losses.

Staff Reports


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