Jacksonville Bold for 10.13.21: Later than you think.

Too early? For some, it's right on time.

Later than you think.

It’s too early for this.

It’s early for 2023 election positioning; early to talk 2022.

But as this edition reveals to those outside the game of politics, it’s later than you think.

People assume, for example, that there is plenty of time left to decide between the current two major Democratic candidates for Governor.

Nevertheless, big-name endorsers have already decided.

That holds in other races also. Consider the early support of TK Waters in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s race by Rep. John Rutherford and current Sheriff Mike Williams.

Seventeen months from the March 2023 First Election, why push out those major endorsements early? We asked Waters.

“I feel like there’s no better time than right now,” he said.

TK Waters, an early beneficiary of endorsements.

And for any serious 2023 candidate, right now is all there is. The Sheriff’s race will cost millions of dollars by the time it’s through, just like it did in 2015, even if the field stays at “only” four candidates. The mayoral race will, we predict, be a $15 million affair by the time it is done.

All the players know that’s the way it’s got to be. Even the 2022 Special Election felt like too compressed a time frame to fill the Tommy Hazouri vacancy on the City Council to some folks.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry effectively cleared the field before running in 2015, though one Republican didn’t take the hint. People bristled at the strong-arm tactics at the time.

But out of these dozens of candidates looking for the next gig, it is guaranteed that any and all of them would be just as ruthless in winnowing the field as the Curry political operation did … if only they could figure out how to pull it off.

Algae agonies

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried was in the Empire Point neighborhood Tuesday, spotlighting algae issues on the St. Johns River.

The algae had largely dissipated from the river’s surface, and Fried was a half-hour late. But once she showed, she delivered remarks about her department’s Clean Water Initiative.

Of course, the algae weren’t the only thing absent: Not to be found were any Democratic officeholders. Democrats in the legislature and on the Jacksonville City Council alike did not make it.

Alone again: Nikki Fried has no local endorsers of note. Image via A.G. Gancarski

Fried deflected the question when we asked, saying it was a policy event, but locals who care about policy would seemingly be there.

“Listen,” Fried said. “I get to work. I get things accomplished. And that’s what my focus is on.”

However, the reality is this: The only statewide elected Democrat in Florida came to Jacksonville. And no Democrat showed up to meet her.

Perhaps they had other plans.

Fish and grits

The campaign collaboration continues this week between Rep. Charlie Crist and Jacksonville City Council member Reggie Gaffney.

Gaffney will host Crist at a Meet and Greet Thursday morning in Northwest Jacksonville. The event at Annie Lee’s Bakery and Diner (203 W. 48th St.) kicks off at 8:30 a.m.

This is not the first time Gaffney has shown up for Crist.

Last spring, Gaffney introduced Crist to a crowd at a Jacksonville barbecue place on the Northside. Not that Crist needed an introduction: for Gaffney and other veteran pols, Crist seems to be more palatable than others in the field.

At the Thursday event, for example, Sen. Audrey Gibson will also be on hand. The significance of that can’t be missed. Gaffney is running in 2022 to replace termed-out Gibson.

Gaffney is running against Rep. Tracie Davis. Davis has worked well with Gibson throughout her tenure in Tallahassee and would seem to be the Senator’s logical choice to replace her. But when it comes to the invite for the Fish and Grits Meet and Greet, Davis is nowhere to be found.

Crist has effectively monopolized major endorsements in Northeast Florida, leaving little room to move in Duval for his Democratic opponents, Fried and (potentially) state Sen. Annette Taddeo.

Double play

The two Senate races in play in Northeast Florida continue to track in different directions, with September fundraising offering the latest evidence.

Divergent paths for Reggie Gaffney, Clay Yarborough in ‘22.

In SD 4, Rep. Clay Yarborough continued to cement his seeming inevitability, raising $90,000 between his campaign account and his Floridians for Conservative Values political committee. Senate leadership cleared the field for him this summer, and now donors know where to go. Yarborough has roughly $560,000 cash on hand.

That’s real money in any field. Especially an unopposed one. And it’s easy enough to pencil Yarborough in for a move to the Senate side in 2023.

But what about Reggie Gaffney? That and the SD 6 race are a more open question.

On the positive side: he raised just over $44,000 in September between his campaign account and political committee, Friends of Reggie Gaffney — roughly $330,000 raised after just under three months as an active candidate.

On the downside: Gaffney has an opponent in next year’s 2022 Democratic primary. And despite solid fundraising thus far, Senate leadership on the Democratic side won’t part the waters for him.

Rep. Tracie Davis starts her campaign in a big hole, but she will be backed by a cross section of Democrats from around the state. Will that translate into the kind of money she will need to match Gaffney between now and August? That question won’t be answered until her first fundraising report, due in November.

Baker backers

Endorsements continue to fly in the nascent primary in Jacksonville’s House District 12.

On Monday, two state legislators were the latest to officially back Jessica Baker, an assistant state attorney in Florida’s 7th Judicial Circuit, running for the open seat in 2022.

More endorsements for Jessica Baker in the first campaign.

Reps. Wyman Duggan of HD 15 and Jason Fischer of HD 16 offered strong statements of support for Baker, a first-time candidate who is quickly amassing a stack of prominent endorsements.

“Jessica Baker is a constitutional conservative and strong leader who will serve with honor. Her fresh perspective and passion to serve will be a welcome addition to our legislative delegation,” said Duggan. “As a prosecutor, she defends the rule of law. As a conservative leader, she led the charge to maintain term limits in Jacksonville. I’m proud to endorse her and look forward to serving with her.”

“Jessica Baker is the conservative choice for state Rep., and I am proud to endorse her campaign,” said Fischer. “As a prosecutor, charter revision commissioner and military wife, service is at the forefront of her life. She will be a great representative for our community and bring a much-needed new perspective in serving our state.”

“Representatives Duggan and Fischer have fought hard for Northeast Florida’s shared conservative values in Tallahassee, and I am honored to have their support,” said Baker. “As a prosecutor, I understand the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make each and every day and, like Wyman and Jason, am committed to ensuring they have the resources and support they need to keep our families and our communities safe.”

Curry, Duval County Sheriff Williams, and Congressmen Rutherford and Michael Waltz endorsed Baker.

Baker is running against former Rep. Lake Ray, who represented HD 12 through 2016 and wants a return bid to Tallahassee. The current Representative from HD 12, political ally Clay Yarborough, preemptively endorsed Ray earlier this month ahead of Baker’s filing. Sen. Aaron Bean and State Reps. Chuck Brannan, Cord Byrd, and Chris Latvala also back Ray, who has rolled out well over a dozen endorsements.

Miami nice

The 2023 Jacksonville mayoral race is a subject of interest in South Florida if a “save the date” from a potential candidate’s political committee is worth noting.

The state-level JAX First political committee, chaired by Jacksonville City Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber, plans a fundraiser Thursday, Oct. 21. The event at The Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove kicks off at 6 p.m.

Cumber’s major Miami event comes with a major fundraiser attached. Brian Goldmeier has worked both sides of the street, fundraising for everyone from former Democratic candidate for Gov. Alex Sink to the bygone mayoral campaigns of current U.S. Rep. Carlos Gimenez, a Republican.

The money has piled into this Jacksonville mayoral race, as we have written and keep writing. The leading fundraiser is another Republican who isn’t actually in the field: Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce CEO is well over $2.5 million cash on hand in his state-level Building a Better Economy political committee.

Cumber’s political committee raised $960,000 in its first month. While that isn’t at Davis’ level, it puts her close to the leading fundraiser of the filed candidates. Council member Matt Carlucci has raised more than a million dollars for the race between his campaign account and political committee. But he doesn’t have all that on hand.

We still have a long way to go and a lot of fundraisers. But we are closing in on $5 million raised for a mayoral race where qualifying doesn’t end until mid-January 2023.

With five formally filed candidates (Carlucci and Jacksonville City Councilman Al Ferraro, in addition to independent candidates Omega Allen, Richard Danford, and Darcy Richardson) and others, including Democrat Donna Deegan, nearing a run, the race is as crowded as it will be expensive.

Ferraro and Deegan have less than $200,000 on hand apiece, but Deegan would likely be the consensus Democratic candidate, which confers an advantage in the First Election.

To that end, expect opposing campaigns to try to make an issue of the Miami fundraiser potentially. We’ve seen it before. In 2015, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown got heat for a similar South Florida fundraiser from an opponent.

Hot property

The Duval County Property Appraiser race is already starting to heat up, with two Republicans who currently hold other offices in the mix and fundraising.

State Rep. Fischer entered the race in late summer after abandoning his bid for state Senate. And no matter who jumps in, the third-term legislator from Mandarin is well-positioned.

Fischer has $155,828 in his campaign account, a number bolstered by $17,000 in new money in September. Many of those donations came from Tallahassee.

Political committees and campaign accounts associated with Senators Ben Albritton, Dennis Baxley, Jason Brodeur, Danny Burgess, Manny Diaz Jr., Ileana Garcia, Ed Hooper, Travis Hutson, Debbie Mayfield, Kathleen Passidomo, Kelli Stargel, and Rep. Bryan Avila all donated to Fischer’s campaign account.

Jason Fischer is well-positioned for Property Appraiser. Image via Facebook.

The candidate’s central political committee, Friends of Jason Fischer, has $800,000 on hand … with just $5,000 raised in September; the bulk of the money was there already.

Fischer has $60,000 in his secondary political committee, Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville. It raised $8,500 in September, including an interesting $3,000 donation from Zillow, one of the companies playing a role in transforming Jacksonville’s housing market by aggressively seeking to buy homes in the latest property price surge.

Jacksonville City Councilman Danny Becton, a Republican from the Southside, has raised more than $108,000 in the five months he’s been in the race. But fundraising has fallen off. He raised a little more than $11,000 in August and September combined.

Other names continue to circulate regarding this seat, and given that it’s a 2023 election, there is plenty of time for chatter. Qualifying isn’t until January of that year.

Helping hand

Yarborough filed a pair of bills late last week that would reup funding for The ARC Jacksonville and a program that helps children with hearing loss.

The ARC bill (HB 2111) would set aside $300,000 for the organization, which assists the unemployed in finding a job through skills training and job search programs.

According to the appropriations project request, the funding would “implement best practices of community employment models that address new federal mandates to transition individuals with developmental disabilities and mental illness from facility-based programs to inclusive settings, while providing enriching educational inclusion opportunities to enhance connectedness and integration within the community.”

Most of the money — $264,000 — would pay salaries and benefits at The ARC Jacksonville. The balance was for best practices employment models and to compile project data for the final report.

Yarborough also filed a bill (HB 2109) that would send $875,000 to the Sertoma Speech & Hearing Foundation of Florida, which would use the money on early intervention for infants and toddlers with hearing loss throughout the state.

According to the appropriations project request, the money will allow the organization to provide “highly specialized intense direct early intervention services in the community and center-based facilities, which provide an auditory-oral approach to listening and spoken language development.”

Of the total, $815,000 will be used to pay salaries and benefits for a range of professionals, including OAE screeners, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and teachers of the deaf.

Both appropriations bills would fund the programs at the same level they received in the current-year budget.


Remember the fallen

The Jacksonville COVID-19 Taskforce will host an event in remembrance of the Jacksonville residents who died of COVID-19.

Billed as a “Day of Remembrance, Hope and Unity,” the event kicks off at 2 p.m. Sunday at James P. Smalls Park, 1701 Myrtle Avenue in Jacksonville.

JCTF comprises several heads of civic, community and faith organizations, and many of them will be at the park alongside medical experts to offer “inspiration, information and on-site vaccinations” as the names of area COVID-19 victims fly high on flags strewn about a historic baseball park.

Jacksonville will host its own COVID-19 memorial. Image via AP.

Organizers said attendees would also enjoy a word from speakers, activities and music.

JCTF said the event aims to remember those lost to the virus and remind families their loved ones are not forgotten. Their names will be displayed on banners throughout the park. Those who want to submit a deceased person’s name may email [email protected].

The task force’s overarching goal is to increase vaccination rates among Black residents through community education and engagement.

The outdoor event is open to the public, and there is no cost to attend. Masks will be required, and social distancing will be observed.

Freedom fried

Imagine the undercard of a Donald Trump rally. Then imagine it two days long, with no promise that Trump would ever show up. The closest thing to star power? Donald Trump, Jr.

And you had to wait two days to hear him.

That was the nightmare scenario depicted by local journalist Claire Goforth in the Daily Dot.

It turns out that the first day of the two-day affair was a pitch for stock market investment schemes and other “get rich quick” ephemera, with the advertised speakers not showing, and the itinerary kept under wraps, frustrating those who wanted to experience Dan Bongino or Dinesh D’Souza on the first day of the event.

Read it all at The Daily Dot.

Temp to perm

It didn’t take long for Flagler College to realize it wanted to lock John Delaney into its presidency permanently.

“During this time, the board has had an opportunity to meet with him both in individual meetings and in scheduled board meetings. Through those discussions, it has become clear that he has the experience and vision that is needed to move the college forward at this pivotal point in time,” a statement from the college to the St. Augustine Record went this week.

John Delaney gets a permanent gig. Image via Jacksonville Business Journal.

Delaney was chosen temporarily this summer. He spent the bulk of his career after being Mayor of Jacksonville as the president of the University of North Florida, where he saw major student population growth during his 15 years.

The official vote of the Board of Trustees is Oct. 21.

Welcome aboard

Last week, the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce elected a new slate of board members, including Jim Bush as chair.

Bush, who works at Florida Power & Light, had held the vice-chair position on the Chamber’s Board of Directors during the 2020-21 fiscal year.

St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Isabelle Renault also announced that Beth Sweeny of Flagler College will succeed Bush as vice-chair while Berta Odom of RE/MAX 100 was elected treasurer Orville Dothage of Northrop Grumman is now secretary.

Jim Bush is the new chair of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce

“The St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce is the leading business organization in St. Johns County with 1,100 members from many different industries. Our unified influence allows us to be a strong voice for commerce,” Renault said.

“With our new slate of vibrant board leaders, the Chamber delivers continuous value-added service to its members and the community with expertise, talent and knowledge. We consistently work to improve the region’s professional environment and quality of life where existing companies have the opportunity to prosper, and new businesses find it attractive to locate in St. Johns County.”

Returning members include Renault, Mike Koppenhafer of Fisher Koppenhafer Architecture and Interior Design, and Dr. Erika Hamer, the immediate past Chair.

The new additions include Matt Price of Regions Bank as chair of the Ponte Vedra Beach Division Board and Richard Goldman of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau. Goldman is rejoining the board as a nonvoting ex officio member.

Their addition comes alongside the exit of Kathy Fleming of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, Darnell Smith of Florida Blue and Gary Wheeler of Constangy Brooks Smith and Prophete LLP.

Fond farewell

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens announced this week that executive director Tony Vecchio will retire in early 2022 and the search for a replacement is underway.

“Leaving after more than 12 years is bittersweet for me. I love coming to work every day. Working for a committed Board of Directors and alongside a dedicated, passionate staff has made this job more fun and rewarding than I would have ever dreamed possible,” Vecchio said.“ But, after spending my entire life working to save wildlife and wild places, I am eager to travel the world to see and experience the nature that I love so much and worked so hard to save.”

Tony Vecchio taps out from the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

Vecchio has worked in the zoo industry for 45 years. He started as a food service worker during his teenage years at the Pittsburgh Zoo and has worked in various capacities at the Riverbanks Zoo, Zoo Atlanta, Roger Williams Park Zoo. Before coming to Jax in 2009, he was the Executive Director at Oregon Zoo for 11 years and led the attraction to record attendance levels in nine of them.

Vecchio’s most significant challenge came last year when the COVID-19 pandemic closed the zoo and threatened the industry’s future worldwide. Under his leadership, the zoo worked to secure the federal support needed to save zoo jobs.

“On behalf of the Board of Directors, the leadership team, and employees, we want to thank Tony for his leadership and impact during his tenure. Most recently, Tony has been instrumental in guiding Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens through the COVID-19 closure in 2020 and the recovery since reopening,” said William Rowe, who chairs the zoo’s board.

“Tony has been a mentor to many, and his influence leaves an indelible mark on Zoo employees. We admire him not only for his strategic leadership but also for his devotion to animal and plant health, protection, and conservation at the zoo and around the world.”

DHR International will lead the search for a new director. Vecchio has agreed to remain on the job until his successor is identified and on-boarded.

World leader

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority landed the Local Government Award for the Americas at Hamburg, Germany’s 2021 ITS World Congress.

Autonomous Florida, a program of the Florida Chamber of Commerce aimed at preparing the state for autonomous vehicles, announced that JTA won the award, which recognizes local governments worldwide for mobility innovation and collaboration.

Autonomous Florida also noted that the award winner has been from the Sunshine State three years in a row — the Florida Department of Transportation won in 2018, followed by the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority in 2019. There was no award in 2020 due to the pandemic.

JTA gets major props in Hamburg this year.

“Now is the time to prepare Florida for the next generation of transportation, and Florida’s business community is at the forefront of autonomous mobility advocacy and action,” said Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson.

“To grow Florida’s economy from the 15th largest to the 10th largest in the world, we must unite the business community to connect all of Florida for the 21st century, and a vital part of that is mobility innovation. With an additional 3 million drivers expected on our roads by 2030, partners like Nat Ford and his team at JTA are assuring that growth is an opportunity, not a challenge.”

HNTB Corporation Vice President and Autonomous Florida Chair Beth Kigel added, “As we work toward becoming the mobility innovation capital of the world, it is encouraging that Florida’s local government agencies are being recognized on the global stage. JTA’s innovative work such as the Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) program and testing ‘airless’ tires on autonomous vehicles have helped move the needle forward and provide exposure for Florida in the mobility innovation space.”

Construction zone

Construction is underway on the tag! Children’s Museum of St. Augustine, which aspires to serve as a community resource, local destination, educational laboratory, and advocate for children.

Launching phase one construction was made possible thanks to a lead gift from The Newman Family Foundation, tag! said.

“We are thrilled that tag! Children’s Museum will soon begin construction of one of the most unique museums in the country. tag! will become a critical part of arts and sciences enrichment and allow children, students, and adults to recapture the pure joy of discovery,” said Chuck and Diane Newman of the Newman Family Foundation of St. Johns County.

tag! You’re it.

“It also makes good business sense. tag! will become another destination drawing more people into Northeast Florida and boosting our economy.”

Phase one of tag! will include a playful collection of indoor and outdoor spaces, including the Lastinger Big Backyard, the Florida Blue Healthy Gardens, The Cofrin Family Tree Story Garden, and The PLAYERS Championship STEM programming.

tag!s architectural firms Place Alliance and Studio 407 are working alongside construction partner Urban Partners to bring the immersive, indoor-outdoor experience to life. A construction loan has been granted USDA Community Facility Loan Program and First Federal Bank.

Phase two will include additional buildings with more indoor exhibits, learning labs, and outdoor learning adventures.

“Our mission calls on us to inspire play, discovery, exploration, and innovation through science and creativity, and to be a partner and resource for those who work with or on behalf of children, youth, and families,” tag! Executive Director Kim MacEwan said.

Fundraising efforts for the museum are ongoing, with tag! $2 million away from raising the $7 million needed to complete the facility.

Lifetime achievement

GreenePointe Holdings announced this week that its President and CEO, Ed Burr, received the 2021 Hearthstone BUILDER Humanitarian Award, which recognizes builders who have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to public service.

Burr, the founder and board chair of the Monique Burr Foundation for Children, is this year’s Private Builder Honoree. MBF received a $138,000 donation from the Hearthstone Foundation in Burr’s honor.

“Ed is a true leader in the homebuilding and development industry, and his contributions to public service exemplify the core values of this award,” said Rick Beckwitt, co-CEO, and co-President of Lennar. “The prevention education programs that MBF has provided to over 5 million children and teens throughout Florida and the United States are truly inspiring.”

Ed Burr is an exemplary home builder and philanthropist.

Founded in 1997 by Burr in honor of his late wife, Monique Burr, a devoted child advocate, MBF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the best prevention education programs to protect children and teens from victimization.

MBF Prevention Education Programs are evidence-based, evidence-informed prevention programs that educate and empower children (and adults) with information and strategies to prevent, recognize and respond appropriately to abuse, bullying, cyberbullying, digital dangers, exploitation and human trafficking.

More than 5,000 facilitators have delivered MBF Programs to over 5 million students in the U.S. and abroad.

Burr’s leadership and engagement extend to numerous civic, community, and charitable organizations. Burr was a member of the Florida State University Board of Trustees for more than a decade, serving as Chair from 2015 to 2021. Burr also served on the FSU Foundation Board of Trustees, Seminole Boosters Board of Directors, and College of Business Real Estate Education and Research Board.

“Ed cares deeply about making the world a better place and has exceeded all expectations with his efforts,” said John Thrasher, a partner at The Southern Group who recently retired as FSU President. “I admire his leadership, dedication, and commitment to advancing our community, state, and nation.”

All-time greats

The Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame will welcome four new members during an induction ceremony and luncheon inside the East Club at TIAA Bank Field on Oct. 29 as part of the Florida-Georgia Weekend and Duuuval’s Bold City Bash.

“The Florida-Georgia game is one of Jacksonville’s longest-running traditions and one of the most storied rivalries in college football,” said Curry. “Every year, the Hall of Fame Luncheon allows us the opportunity to recognize some of the most talented student-athletes and coaches and highlight the tremendous impact and strong connection this game has to our city.”

The 2021 class includes Florida Gators running back Ciatrick Fason, defensive back Keiwan Ratliff, Georgia linebacker Thomas Davis, and offensive lineman Jon Stinchcomb.

Fason was a Parade All-American and five-star recruit who played for the Gators from 2002-2004. The first-team All-SEC selection and Ray Graves Award winner went 2-1 versus Georgia during his career and was later drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He is currently serving as the head football coach of his alma mater, Fletcher High School.

It’s an all-star weekend at Duuuval’s Bold City Bash.

Ratliff was on the Gators football team from 2000-2003 and played roles on offense, defense, and special teams, though he shined brightest at defensive back. The first team All-SEC and All-American was a senior captain in 2003 when he was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He was drafted in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals and inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame as a “Gator Great” in 2013.

Davis was a versatile defensive star for the Bulldogs, playing linebacker and safety throughout his career from 2002-2004. While at Georgia, he helped the Dawgs to three consecutive 10-win seasons, including an SEC Championship in 2002. Davis was a unanimous first-team All-SEC selection in 2003 and 2004 and named a first-team All-American in 2004. In the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft, he was drafted by the Carolina Panthers and was named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2014.

Stinchcomb started his career at UGA by earning first-year All-American honors, and by the time he was a senior in 2002, he helped lead the Bulldogs to their first SEC Championship in 20 years while being named first-team All-American. Drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the second round of the 2003 NFL Draft, he was on the team when the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV.

Staff Reports


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