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On Monday, supporters and opponents submitted briefs to the Florida Supreme Court to ask justices to weigh in on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed congressional redistricting map.
A brief by the Governor’s Office reiterated DeSantis’ desire for an opinion on the impact of Florida’s “minority-voting-protection provision, including whether it requires a district in northern Florida that stretches hundreds of miles to connect a Black population in Jacksonville with a Black population in Gadsden and Leon counties so that they can elect a candidate of their choice, even though not a majority.”
DeSantis wasn’t alone in making that argument.
Among those supporting the map: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who previously refrained from commenting on the proposal that eliminates the current 5th Congressional District in favor of a new district combining Jacksonville’s Northside and Westside with Clay and Nassau County.
The district would lean Republican, likely closing the book not only on the Al Lawson era but also on Democratic representation from Jacksonville. The proposed district would have performed Republican in 2018 and 2020.
Curry’s position has nothing to do with that; it’s a familiar argument about how the district is too far-flung to offer real representation to Duval County, demographics aside, and that the district is vulnerable to legal challenge as it is.
“Indeed, given its ‘unique history,’ District 5 very well may face such a challenge in the absence of clear constitutional standards,” wrote an attorney for Curry.
Is Curry right? Or DeSantis? Time will tell. But those who believe that the Governor’s map may not come to pass are foolish. It is very much in the game.
Some criticize DeSantis for aiming for this district, including local Democrats like Rep. Tracie Davis.
“Clearly, Republicans at every level aren’t ashamed to steal fair & equitable representation from the Black community. Voters should choose their leaders, not the other way around. Last I checked, it’s 2022, not 1962, so these tactics need to stay in the past where they belong,” Davis tweeted.
It’s worth noting that up until 1992, Jacksonville had one congressional seat for most of the period, controlled by Rep. Charles Bennett, a Blue Dog Democrat. (In the 1980s, a second seat included some portions of the county.)
In 1992, a second Jacksonville district was created in earnest, with Democrat Corrine Brown the beneficiary; Republican Tillie Fowler ended up in the Bennett seat.
Brown’s seat was the de facto Jacksonville seat, until 2016 when her political career ended amid scandal, indictment, and the decision to draw the district east/west that played into Lawson’s hands. Once a Jacksonville sinecure, the district became a Tallahassee seat, with the remote likelihood of any Jacksonville Democrat defeating Lawson under the current map.
Jacksonville Democrats here face a no-win situation.
They can advocate for a perpetual Lawson seat, which effectively takes an old Jacksonville seat and leverages it for Leon County. Or they can deal with a DeSantis map that ends the Lawson era but forecloses any Jacksonville Democrat from a legitimate pickup opportunity.
Rep. Jason Fischer knows that his bill offering post-traumatic stress disorder treatment to correctional and probation workers is a heavy lift. It still has three committee stops ahead, and it’s already Week 5 of the Legislative Session.
But Fischer, in his last Session before returning to Jacksonville to run for Duval County Property Appraiser, is optimistic after some good news Monday.
The Insurance and Banking Subcommittee unanimously approved Fischer’s bill that could make nearly 19,000 such employees eligible for the same kind of help afforded other first responders. The committee substitute given the green light Monday has a requirement that the agency employing the affected employee document the incident that spurred the PTSD diagnosis by a licensed psychiatrist.
The bill analysis anticipates an “indeterminate” but “significant” fiscal impact on local jurisdictions.
“The cost of providing PTSD benefits to correctional officers, correctional probation officers, (and) part-time and auxiliary law enforcement officers who did not suffer a physical injury likely will be significant, as the average cost of providing such benefits to law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics covered by the state’s Risk Management Trust Fund has been $42,326 per claim,” contends the committee’s bill analysis.
Police unions back the bill, and Sen. Jennifer Bradley carries a Senate version, so there’s still life for this legislation yet. But time is running out for the bill, the House sponsor, and the affected class of state employees.
The Jacksonville City Council has a Special Committee on deck to deal with a recurring problem — trash pickup (or the lack thereof).
Months back, the city canceled curbside recycling collection, citing a shortage of truck drivers amid the pandemic and associated economic turbulence. Per Council President Sam Newby, this committee will “perform an in-depth and comprehensive examination” of these issues.
The committee report is expected in June. But we could see action before then, notes WJCT, with rate reviews scheduled with the city’s haulers in the coming weeks.
But issues are still ongoing, notes the NPR affiliate.
“Incensed residents at community and city council meetings have described incidents of garbage trucks driving right by houses with piles of garbage out front and not stopping to pick it up. The reason isn’t that drivers are jerks or don’t see the trash. The problem is there’s no room in their truck.”
Jacksonville City Council special committees have had mixed results over the years. Those with long memories will recall the shambolic “Blight” committee from the mid-2010s, which saw instances of Council members threatening to leave the committee because they weren’t doing anything.
The fundraising continues for Jacksonville City Council member LeAnna Cumber ahead of a potential campaign for Mayor in 2023.
For January, Cumber will report just over $165,000 in new money raised to her state-level JAX First political committee. That will put the committee at over $1.8 million raised since its inception in September 2021 and continues a trend of robust fundraising for the committee. The slowest month was December when the committee raised just over $147,000.
Cumber’s committee fundraising is good for second place in the field of potential candidates, though she is closing ground on the front-runner at last check. Building a Better Economy, Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Chair Daniel Davis‘ political committee raised only $20,000 in December. January totals are pending, but the Davis committee closed 2021 with nearly $3.2 million on hand.
Official candidates in the race have struggled to match these pre-candidates.
Democrat Donna Deegan closed 2021 with roughly $310,000 between her state-level Donna for Duval political committee and her campaign account.
Republican Al Ferraro, a City Council member, ended the year with a little less than $170,000 on hand.
And independent candidate Omega Allen, who has run in the last two mayoral elections, had about $5,000 on hand at the end of January; $1,700 of that raised the previous month.
One of Jacksonville’s most respected leaders started February by launching a campaign for Duval County Judge this November.
Audrey Moran, who ran for Mayor as a Republican in 2011 and since became a reliable voice of social conscience, is turning her talents to the bench.
Moran will run for Group 5; she is currently unopposed. Because she launched her candidacy this month, Moran’s first fundraising report will not come until around March 10. Two candidates running for other judge positions already raised over $100,000, though, so fundraising will be worth watching.
Moran’s 2011 campaign for Mayor led to unintended consequences. In the First Election, she and former Jacksonville General Counsel Rick Mullaney essentially knocked each other out, allowing social conservative Mike Hogan and Democrat Alvin Brown to advance to the General.
Brown became Jacksonville’s first Black Mayor, with members of the business establishment crossing party lines to keep Hogan out of City Hall.
Jacksonville Republican Lindsey Brock has amassed nearly $100,000 in the four months since he launched his campaign for City Council,
Brock’s January finance report shows the candidate tacked on another $32,500 last month between his campaign and political committee,
His collection of notable donors also grew, with checks coming in from City Councilmember Kevin Carrico, civic leader Edward Burr, attorney Daniel Bean, Hart Resources, and Keystone.
The Brock campaign had previously deposited checks from Jacksonville City Councilmembers Aaron Bowman, Terrance Freeman, Rory Diamond and Randy White, and political committees affiliated with Sen. Aaron Bean and House Speaker-Designate Paul Renner.
In early October, Brock entered the contest to replace term-limited Councilmember Al Ferraro in District 2, including parts of Arlington and the Northside. He currently faces fellow Republicans Mike Gay and Jennifer Casey, and Libertarian Eric Parker.
Casey and Parker have shown little in the way of fundraising so far. Gay has collected $83,300 for his campaign, though much of it has come from his bank account.
The District 2 race will be on the March 2023 ballot.
Though Republicans do not have a clear-cut majority, they have handily won District 2 in recent elections. That is not expected to change much as a result of redistricting.
Brigety’s new assignment
Sandalwood High School graduate Reuben Brigety continues to make a global impact. Last week, the Joe Biden administration selected the longtime diplomat ambassador to South Africa.
“Brigety currently serves as an Adjunct Senior Fellow for African Peace and Security at the Council on Foreign Relations, and as a Member of the Board of Counselors of McLarty Associates in Washington, D.C. Brigety previously served as the vice chancellor and president of the University of the South and the Mayor of Sewanee, Tennessee. During the Obama-Biden Administration, Brigety held several roles in the State Department,” read a weekend release from the White House.
South Africans eagerly await the new ambassador, meanwhile. The South African website contrasts Brigety with the previous Donald Trump appointee.
“Once confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Brigety will replace Lana Marks. Marks had no diplomatic experience before being hand-picked for the job by former President Donald Trump. Marks was originally born in East London in the Eastern Cape. She moved to the U.S. in the 1970s and found success with high-end fashion handbags. She met Trump in Florida after emigrating. She served just 14 months as SA’s ambassador before calling it quits after Trump was voted out.”
Also, on the move this week: veteran political strategist Susie Wiles.
Wiles, who has been assisting in Trump’s communications efforts, is the new co-chair of Mercury.
“I am excited to join the bipartisan team of experts and established public strategists at Mercury,” Wiles said. “I look forward to working hard to provide successful outcomes on behalf of our world-class roster of clients in both Florida and D.C.”
Wiles will serve as co-chair of the firm’s Florida and Washington offices in her new role. Wiles will also launch Public Strategy Advisors, a new company focused on electing Republicans nationwide.
“Susie is a veteran campaign strategist with an expert ability to put her finger on the pulse of any issue and effectively use her insight and perception to yield winning results,” said Ashley Walker, a partner at Mercury.
“We are thrilled for Susie to join the Mercury family, as she will undoubtedly be an invaluable leader to those working alongside her at the firm and will elevate the work we deliver to our clients.”
Mercury CEO Kieran Mahoney added, “Susie, and her ability to successfully navigate any political landscape, is an extraordinary addition to our team.”
Despite the new portfolio of responsibilities, Wiles intends to continue in her role as a Trump adviser.
Jacksonville residents will have two more opportunities this month to bemoan a City Council redistricting map, one that makes no one but incumbents happy.
The Rules Committee will hold two more town halls. One is Thursday, Feb. 10, at the First Coast High School auditorium. Then the final one is a week later, Feb. 17, at William Raines High School auditorium. Both hearings run from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Two town halls have happened already, and comments have been critical.
LaShonda Holloway, a former candidate for Congress, said the city “has suffered from the effects of poor redistricting plans for decades” that affect minority-access districts 7 through 10. These districts are “packed” with Black voters at the expense of districts like District 12, which currently is 33% Black and has a safe Republican hold.
“We need more competitive districts in this city,” Holloway said.
The lack of competitive districts in the current map seemed to be less a partisan move and more one of protecting the status quo they understand better than anyone else.
Council members exercised wide latitude in getting the map through the redistricting subcommittee. Reggie Gaffney, running for state Senate, was especially exacting in ensuring his District 7 maintained its current demographics as it added territory from the Republican District 2.
Perhaps coincidentally, Reggie Gaffney Jr. is running for his father’s Council seat, the sole candidate with name recognition in a six-person field.
Ahead of public comment at last Thursday’s meeting, a city lawyer expressed confidence in the work product.
“The courts will say so long as the intent was non-discriminatory … then the map would be considered constitutional,” the attorney said.
St. Johns County School Board members wanted the greater Jacksonville region to know they recently lobbied their lawmakers.
WJXT reports that Bev Slough and Kelly Barrera went to the Capitol, where they reminded Sen. Travis Hutson and Speaker-designate Renner of the district’s fiscal needs amid continued rapid growth.
“There have been a couple of years when we’ve gotten a high growth allocation to help us with the stresses of the very rapid growth. This year, our growth rate is 7.26%, so we are really bursting,” Slough said.
Renner got a similar pitch, and he also seemed receptive.
Time is of the essence, Slough notes, with restive parents at schools suffering overcrowding amid growth.
The “houses came faster than anybody anticipated in this hot housing market,” Slough said.
Best of the best
Flagler Hospital has again won recognition as one of the country’s top hospitals by health care rating service Healthgrades — earning the 2022 America’s 50 Best Hospitals Award. This places Flagler Hospital among the top 1% of all U.S. hospitals for clinical care and patient outcomes for many common conditions and procedures.
Healthgrades is the No. 1 platform for finding a doctor and a health care transparency leader.
Flagler has been on Healthgrades America’s 250 Best Hospitals for nine years, among the 100 Best for five years in a row, and is now one of America’s 50 Best. It is the only hospital in Florida named on both the America’s 50 Best Hospital Award and One of America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Orthopedic Surgery for 2022.
“Even in the most challenging times, our board continues to ensure we are investing in our people, technology, education, and in training to achieve the very best clinical outcome for every patient, every time,” commented Flagler Hospital President and CEO Jason Barrett. “Our community should be proud of this tremendous accomplishment, just as I am proud to work among such passionate people who truly care about our mission and maintain a commitment to caring for our community year after year.”
From 2018-2020, patients in hospitals on the Healthgrades Top 50 have a 21.7% lower risk of dying than treatment in other facilities, as measured across 17 rated conditions and procedures where mortality is the outcome.
Healthgrades estimates that if all hospitals as a group performed similarly to hospitals on the 50 Best Hospitals Award, it could have potentially saved 157,292 lives from 2018 to 2020.
Crime & mental health
The Jacksonville City Council Safety and Crime Reduction Commission (SCRC) will launch a campaign to raise awareness on the impacts of violent crime, trauma and mental health next week.
The initiative aims to connect residents with available resources and services to “break the cycle of generational trauma and end the stigma of mental health,” a news release says, adding that “it’s important for everyone to know that mental health care is just as important as physical well-being.”
Commissioners will provide further details on the campaign during a news conference at the Church of Oakland, 1025 Jessie St., at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 16.
“So many people in communities all over Jacksonville, especially children, witness crime or experience trauma in our city. For some, violence is normalized. It becomes a way of life. It can also create anxiety in some and anger in others,” said Dr. Constance Hall, who chairs SCRC. “We want residents to know help is available. We want to encourage them to take advantage of the support and resources. They are not alone.”
The campaign will see Commissioners partner with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority for Community Bus Tours in various neighborhoods.
The first stop will be on the Eastside on Feb. 26 from 10 a.m. to noon at The Church of Oakland. It will be an event for the whole family. Organizers say the event will be family-friendly and feature music, refreshments and educational resources.
Experts will also be on hand to talk with parents, children and community members about the importance of mental health care to cope with the impact of violence, stress and trauma in our community.
St. Patrick’s history
Just as the first Thanksgiving wasn’t in Plymouth, the first St. Patrick Day celebration in America wasn’t in Boston — it was in St. Augustine.
The first historically documented St. Patrick procession was held in St. Augustine in 1601. A year earlier, St. Augustine’s Irish vicar, Father Ricardo Artur (Richard Arthur), led the first St. Patrick celebration in all of the Americas.
Boston held its first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in 1737, and New York City’s first came in 1762, both more than a century after the debut celebration in St. Augustine.
This year, the St. Augustine tradition continues with another edition of the St. Patrick’s Parade, produced by Romanza-St. Augustine, scheduled for March 12 at 10 a.m.
The procession will start at Francis Field and follow a three-mile route through historic downtown. Once the loop is complete, the Celtic Music & Heritage Festival will be underway at Francis Field, 25 West Castillo Dr.
Free parking and shuttle transportation will be available from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m.
The 2022 Parade Grand Marshal will be The Sisters of St. Joseph representing the Miguel O’Reilly House which has been in the care and ownership of the Sisters since 1866. The Parade Reviewing Stand will be located and hosted by Ann O’Malley’s Irish Pub at 23 Orange Street in St. Augustine. The Parade announcer will be Jessica Clark of First Coast News.
This year’s Parade judges include St. Augustine Record reporter Sheldon Gardner and award-winning acoustic solo songwriter and vocalist Amy Hendrickson. Additional judges include Michael Sullivan and Renee Unsworth.