Jacksonville Bold for 1.5.22: 10 people to watch in 2022

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Digging a little deeper for the people to watch in the new year.

This year promises to be the most compelling political cycle in some years. Redistricting, statewide races, and a lot of politicians in “win or go home” mode will dominate the political storylines, which are augmented by a very live 2023 municipal elections slate as well.

What happens next? A lot depends on what a few people do, and this list enumerated some of the movers and shakers.

We went beyond the obvious: You won’t see eventual mayoral candidate Daniel Davis or Mayor Lenny Curry or Speaker-Designate Paul Renner.

Anyone paying attention knows not to tune them out.

People you won’t find on the list; everyone is already watching them.

Our goal is to highlight names that you might otherwise forget, even as they stand poised to play significant roles in how the next year goes.

Jessica Baker

So far, there’s a lot of uncertainty about the legislative redistricting process, but of all first-time Duval County candidates for the state House this cycle, attorney Baker is the standout.

Jessica Baker is gearing up for whatever the new map holds.

Baker has nearly $270,000 on hand for her run between her campaign account and her political committee, money raised in two filing periods. She’s currently filed in House District 12, but that district probably won’t exist when the campaign starts in earnest later this year. So, it looks like she will be in a new HD 16 instead.

Baker currently is an assistant state attorney in the 7th Judicial Circuit, but she is better known locally for stints on the Jacksonville Charter Review Commission and in the city’s intergovernmental affairs department. She is also the wife of political consultant Tim Baker.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams, U.S. Reps. John Rutherford and Michael Waltz, state Reps. Wyman Duggan and Jason Fischer, as well as former House Speaker John Thrasher are among her big-name endorsers.

Baker’s candidacy is somewhat reminiscent of the Senate bid of Jennifer Bradley, who has quickly become an important, singular voice in Tallahassee after running to succeed her husband. Jessica Baker has the same potential for transformative yet pragmatic leadership. And she certainly has the resources and the connections to get to the House.

Cord Byrd

What’s the next move for the Jacksonville Beach legislator? While he’s keeping his own counsel for now, he has one of the most pivotal positions in the House in the meantime.

Cord Byrd is in a pivotal position. Image via Colin Hackley.

Byrd chairs the House committee dealing with legislative redistricting, which has given him a unique perspective on the new maps coming next year.

The HD 11 seat Byrd has represented since 2016? That doesn’t look likely to exist in the same way. One of the two maps under consideration cleaves Jacksonville Beach from Nassau County, moving Nassau into a new district with western Duval.

Byrd isn’t saying much about this process or his intentions for 2022. We assume we will find out more about his political future after the hankie drops in March.

Kim Daniels

The “Demonbuster” is back, filed as of this moment in City Council District 10, where incumbent Brenda Priestly Jackson is leaving to run for an at-large City Council seat.

If Daniels wants back on the Council dais for the first time since her 2015 loss to Anna Brosche, she likely has a path. Her competition is not well funded, and Daniels, who has been running for office since the 2011 cycle, launched her campaign with $45,000 of her own money.

The return of the ‘Demonbuster?’ Image via Kim Daniels.

Daniels is most interesting in 2022, not as a potential future member of the Council but as a campaign antagonist.

In the 2020 Legislative Session, her last year in the state House, she repeatedly talked about how Democrats were trying to sabotage her and daring the party to take her out. Angie Nixon accomplished that much, but the problem here is no equivalent candidate is waiting in the wings.

The best-case scenario for Duval Democrats is that Daniels keeps her own counsel and does not weigh in on campaigns such as the 2021 Special Election between Republican Nick Howland and Democrat Tracye Polson. Recall that in 2018, when Polson ran for office last, there were grumblings that Daniels sandbagged Polson in some precincts by telling people to undervote. Who knows if that is true, but the December election showed problems for Polson continued in Democratic areas.

Daniels lost by roughly 20 points in 2020, an embarrassing defeat. Payback is imminent, and Daniels, as a 2023 front-runner, is poised to deliver it at a time of her choosing. Democratic endorsements of Republicans were a big play in the 2015 cycle, and Daniels and other like-minded politicians may be able to repeat that narrative arc eight years later.

Audrey Gibson

Time is running out on the Jacksonville Democrat’s Senate career. 2022 is her last Legislative Session. But she’s not ruling out a future campaign, as we have noted.

Audrey Gibson holds forth. Image via Mark Wallheiser.

Rumors swirled weeks back that she was looking for an opportunity to run for something again, and she didn’t shoot them down.

“At this time, I am focused on my legislative work and continuing service to my constituents for the upcoming Session,” the Senator said in late November.

We asked about “after this time,” and Gibson just laughed.

The Legislative Session ends in March, of course, and that time will pass quickly. Then these questions will recur more seriously.

What could Gibson run for, meanwhile? Why not Jacksonville Mayor?

Democrat Donna Deegan has not found a way to translate goodwill from the community into fundraising, and she’s been defensive about that, claiming her finance reports would look “different” from other candidates. While that makes for a compelling sound bite, it sidesteps the reality that without fundraising, a campaign simply doesn’t go.

Of course, people donate to Democrats even if they aren’t in the Mayor’s race. Reggie Gaffney and Tracie Davis already raised more than half a million dollars in the race to succeed Gibson.

Whether Gibson runs for Mayor or something else, she’s probably not going to take too much time off before making a move. If Deegan continues to stumble, that may create an opening.

LeeAnn Krieg

Curry is finishing up his second term, and arguably the most demanding job in City Hall for the rest of his tenure will be that of Chief of Staff Krieg.

The challenges before her are numerous. Local elections in 2023. It is a City Council with many members looking for new gigs, whether in Jacksonville or Tallahassee. How long will Krieg be able to keep an increasingly ambitious collection of politicians in line?

Political veteran LeeAnn Krieg helps Lenny Curry close his second term.

Krieg has had a unique perspective on the Curry administration. Before moving to the Mayor’s Office, she was executive council assistant to former Council President Greg Anderson. Anderson was an exceptionally cooperative president for Curry, new to the Mayor’s Office and presenting a change in tone from predecessor Alvin Brown.

She may get a certain amount of help from Council President Sam Newby and Vice President Terrance Freeman; each is a Republican who worked well with Curry. But a lame-duck mayor has no real leverage, so this will be a situation to watch.

Sam Newby

Newby, the third Black President of the Jacksonville City Council and the first Republican in the role, relinquishes the top job in June, and speculation is swirling about what’s next.

What will 2023 look like for Sam Newby?

Some have suggested Newby will run for Duval County Property Appraiser. He would be the third Republican in that crowded field, joining Council colleague Danny Becton and state Rep. Fischer in that field.

Fischer, of course, has real money at his disposal, with over a million dollars between two political committees and his campaign account. He had amassed resources for a Senate campaign that didn’t happen, and the result is a lot of money to pour into this run.

Newby has a great story, and a history of winning on shoestring budgets. The second-term Council member was first elected to his at-large Group 5 seat in 2015, winning narrowly over Democrat Ju’Coby Pittman with about $10,000 to fund his citywide campaign. From those modest beginnings, he cruised to reelection in 2019.

Whatever Newby does next, he doesn’t have to rush to decide if it’s a local office. Qualifying for the next round of countywide elections starts Jan. 9, 2023.

Alexander Pantinakis

Pantinakis, billed as the in-house “strategist” for the Republican Party of Duval County, is positioned to be a big part of the future of right-of-center political messaging in the city.

Alexander Pantinakis spreads the center-right word. Image via Alexander Pantinakis.

The founder of On Target Messaging, Pantinakis’ most prominent roles in the short-term, will include work on the City Council campaign of Nick Howland and running the House campaign of Adam Brandon, one currently in flux given redistricting. He will also be teaming up with veteran strategist Tim Baker on several City Council races next year.

A decade ago, Jacksonville’s dearth of strong political consultants created a vacuum that allowed Curry to win the Mayor’s race with imported talent driving the campaign and then policy after his win. In 2023, the dynamics will likely be different. We’re not expecting operatives from Louisiana and Tallahassee to play the role they did in 2015. The people working that cycle by and large are here already. And Pantinakis will be one to watch.

Mincy Pollock

The Democratic House races in this region are in flux until the new maps are finalized. Consider the case of HD 13 candidate Pollock.

Pollock would be outside the district in new maps under consideration in the Florida House. One map has him in a new HD 16, the other HD 17. Both are Republican-dominated. It doesn’t matter, he has said. He’ll move to fit whatever district Angie Nixon isn’t in. He expects Garrett Dennis, the Jacksonville City Council member who is also filed in HD 13, to do the same.

Mincy Pollock is in flux. Image via A.G. Gancarski.

Pollock is positioned to do unique damage to Dennis. He ran a performance art style campaign against Tommy Hazouri in 2015, frustrating the former Mayor but still losing the election. Expect that Dennis’ many political enemies could work on behalf of Pollock here.

Susie Wiles

The veteran political operative stays busy for the 2022 cycle, though local involvement is relatively minor. Wiles‘ primary focus is the continuing political operation of former President Donald Trump, who acts like he is running for office again in 2024.

Donald Trump with the queen of Florida Republican politics.

This is not the desired result for certain in-state politicians (Gov. Ron DeSantis, specifically). DeSantis is the choice in poll after poll of Republican voters, in a field that does not include the 45th President. With Trump? It’s not close.

DeSantis could not carry Duval in 2022. But he managed to make up his margin of loss in exurban counties. That was the Wiles strategy at work. Before she took over his campaign, America’s Governor was on track to lose to Andrew Gillum.

Of course, Wiles was exiled from the DeSantis orbit not long after the inauguration. But as the Governor continues to establish himself as a big part of the future of the national Republican Party, Wiles is positioned as a unique irritant. Trump’s pro-vaccine talk of late, which contrasts favorably to DeSantis, sounds like Wiles’ handiwork. Like no one else adjacent to Trump, she can make the former President sound logical and reasoned.

Listen to Trump carefully this year and beyond. There will be times where you will hear Susie Wiles’ words. Neither Trump nor Wiles are going away, either.

Clay Yarborough

When it comes to the third-term state Representative from Jacksonville’s Southside, there isn’t a lot of drama in the 2022 cycle for him. He is the sole Republican running for a safe seat, and the odds are good he will succeed Sen. Aaron Bean next year.

Clay Yarborough’s role in 2022, but might that be? Image via Colin Hackley.

But what does he want to do in the interim? That’s the open question.

Some have suggested he could help his old political mentor, Lake Ray, in the former legislator’s attempt to return to the House. Where Ray eventually runs is an open question: one of the new maps has him in House District 12, where he is filed now, but which will be a different map after redistricting ends. The other map has him in House District 13, which won’t be designed for a Republican to win.

Yarborough has a lot of resources right now. His Floridians for Conservative Values political committee closed November with nearly $464,000 cash on hand. He also has more than $180,000 cash on hand in his campaign account.

The question now: How does he deploy that money this cycle?

In the spotlight

One of Jacksonville’s leading supporters, Marty Fiorentino, is eager about what comes next for the region and beyond.

The Fiorentino Group president recently sat down with Capital Analytics Associates to touch upon a few issues: Taking advantage of growth opportunities during COVID-19, what major initiatives he is most excited about, and why Fiorentino remains bullish about what is to come for the city.

Marty Fiorentino is bullish on Jacksonville’s future.

About managing relationships during the pandemic, Fiorentino says: “One of the big things was to stay close to our clients. We reached out to them to see what their issues were as the pandemic hit and how we could be helpful in tackling them. There was significant uncertainty involved, and we jumped right into the issues we could assist them with … we were able to connect a number of our clients with each other to take advantage of business opportunities, which helped ensure growth for our firm.”

He also sees tremendous opportunities post-pandemic: “People are motivated coming out of the pandemic, not only here at TFG, but also in other businesses that continue to grow. We see an economy that has great potential if the government does not stifle it. We have growth, people are moving here, we are increasingly diverse, not just racially but also geographically. Good things are in store for Jacksonville from that perspective, both with our economy and also with the fabric of our community.”

Read the entire discussion at capitalanalyticsassociates.com.

Good news, Jags! It’s almost over!

The best thing that can be said about the Jaguars at this moment is that only one game remains in what has been another nightmare season.

The latest indignity — a 50-10 loss at New England — only cemented the notion that the Jags should put this season behind them as quickly as possible. Fortunately, that will happen by around 4 p.m. Sunday when their home game against the Indianapolis Colts should be nearing its conclusion.

The loss at New England was the eighth consecutive setback for the Jaguars and third in a row under interim coach Darrell Bevell, who took over after Urban Meyer was fired.

Thankfully, the nightmare is almost over. Image via AP.

“It’s not an easy situation for anybody,” Bevell said. “But the thing that we are playing for is we’re all playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but also the name on our back, and everything that we do is being evaluated, and you have an opportunity to go out.”

“You need to be able to put forward your best showing, and you need to continue to play and give us everything you have.”

Jacksonville lost 35 of its last 39 games, dating to the 2019 season, including 29 of its previous 31 games.

The steep learning curve for rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence continued against the Patriots. Lawrence threw three interceptions, giving him 17 for the season and seven in the last four weeks.

The Patriots turned each interception Lawrence threw into touchdowns.

Overall, the Jaguars have turned the ball over 22 more times than forced turnovers from their opponents. That’s the worst mark in the National Football League.

“I mean, there’s a lot of circumstances and things these guys are fighting through, and I’m just asking for them to give me their best at all times,” Bevell said. “That’s what we’re hoping for. It didn’t work out for us today. We didn’t protect the ball on offense. We couldn’t get a stop on defense, and that made it a tough day.”

Staff Reports



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