Jacksonville Bold for 5.25.22: The long goodbye

Students say goodbye to the school. Pupils waving their hands against the backdrop of the setting sun.
Resign-to-run could be devastating for Democrats on the Jacksonville City Council.

Time to qualify for state House and Senate races is fast approaching; with that deadline in mind, this week, two of five Democrats on the 19-member Jacksonville City Council formalized plans to resign in November.

District 7’s Reggie Gaffney is running for state Senate this year, hoping to replace term-limited Audrey Gibson.

Garrett Dennis, who represents City Council District 9 in western Duval County, will leave office for his campaign in House District 14.

Both moves were expected and (probably) coordinated by city lawyers to ensure the paperwork was in order.

Reggie Gaffney and Garrett Dennis make it officially official. Not great news for Jacksonville Democrats. 

Dennis noted that he’d heard — correctly, it turns out — both candidates had sent intentions Monday to resign.

Both Gaffney and Dennis are good bets in their respective Primaries.

Gaffney holds a strong cash-on-hand lead over Rep. Tracie Davis, seen as more of a (capital D) Democrat by many. His “Team Gaffney” approach to campaigning is a proven model.

Though well-regarded in the Democratic House caucus, Davis only came to hold the seat because Rep. Reggie Fullwood was dealing with legal issues in 2016. She has yet to prove she can run and win against peer competition.

A state Senate race can be a great proving ground.

Likewise, Dennis holds a cash-on-hand edge over Mincy Pollock for the HD 14 Primary.

And while, realistically, both campaigns are over in August, as the two districts are Democratic vote sinks, it’s hard not to notice that all this leaves a weak Democratic position on the City Council even more vulnerable.

Not that there is a real Gaffney/Dennis coalition. Far from it.

Dennis is among that group of Democrats who is not a fan of Gaffney historically, and he is a close ally of Davis. But for a Democratic Party with no real presence on the Council, two lame ducks out of five members hampers them even further in months to come.

There is little expectation that Democrats will be better positioned after city elections in 2023. Ken Amaro appears likely to flip Joyce Morgan’s Arlington seat to a Republican hold, and it’s hard to imagine a Democrat winning an at-large race (as it stands right now).

That means there could be just four Democrats elected to the Council in next year’s elections.

That’s neither Gaffney’s nor Dennis’ problem, but it is reality.

Even if a Democrat were elected Mayor, Republicans will have a firm grip on the levers of power in Jacksonville City Hall with a 15-4 majority to potentially override vetoes (if necessary) for the next decade.

Faux pox

How thirsty are the Republican candidates in Florida’s new 4th Congressional District?

The other day, one of them used a story about a dread disease to promote his campaign.

Responding to a First Coast News story about monkeypox, state Rep. Jason Fischer commented from his political account on Facebook, offering red meat boilerplate about fighting the Joe Biden agenda.

Blame Biden for monkeypox? Jason Fischer seems to think so.

“If you want to stop the radical Biden agenda of open borders,” Fischer urged, “then send a conservative fighter to Congress!”

The new CD 4 was arguably the most controversial district on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ map now in play for at least the 2022 election cycle.

Northern and western Duval was part of an east/west Minority Access District that extended to the Tallahassee area.

This new district mixes that area with Nassau and Clay, a more compact map drawn to elect a Republican, which explains the early shift to the right from Fischer and Erick Aguilar.

Democrats, including former state Sen. Tony Hill and repeat candidate LaShonda Holloway, are also running, but the Primary messaging suggests Republicans aren’t too worried about the General.

Name game

A push to remove the name of a former Congresswoman from a Gainesville transit station appears to have stalled.

What becomes of Corrine Brown’s legacy?

The Gainesville Sun reports that efforts to rescind the honor of the Corrine Brown Transit Facility won’t go anywhere on the local City Council.

As has been the case for years, even when Brown’s legal fate was uncertain, Democratic allies have been reluctant to change the name of the facility Brown secured funding for while serving in Congress.

Gainesville was in later iterations of her one-time Minority Access District.

“If we want to remove her name,” said Gainesville City Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut, “then I think then we need to look at how we can return the money, the appropriation to Congress that she fought for.”

Last week, Brown pleaded guilty to one count of tax fraud relative to her former One Door for Education charity. It was supposed to buy computers for underprivileged Jacksonville children, but the charity became a slush fund for Brown and her associates.

Brown’s plea short-circuited what would have been a second trial on the same charges after an appeals court vacated the earlier decision due to judicial error.

Baker on air

On Monday, Jessica Baker launched the first ad of the 2022 cycle in Jacksonville’s House District 17, a Southside district including the University of North Florida.

The 30-second cable spot “The trusted conservative we need” depicts Baker, a prosecutor in the 7th Judicial Circuit, a “military wife,” and a mom, as a Republican stalwart who will stand shoulder to shoulder with DeSantis in legislative battles to come.

The ad touts endorsements from Jacksonville’s last two sheriffs, incumbent Mike Williams and his predecessor, Rep. John Rutherford, relying on trusted commodities to introduce Baker, a first-time candidate for office.

“Gov. DeSantis needs reinforcements in Tallahassee. Jessica Baker will have his back,” claimed the male voice-over.

Before that, Baker, a former member of the Jacksonville Charter Commission and a staffer in the Lenny Curry administration, is dominating fundraising in the early going of the race. Baker had nearly $475,000 on hand as of the end of April.

To watch the spot, click on the image below:

Akers ‘24?

While many candidates have the 2022 Primaries on their minds, one veteran returning home from an overseas deployment is thinking about 2024 — and a run for a Duval County NPA School Board seat.

Travis Akers announced his intention to run in District 7, a Southside sinecure currently represented by Lori Hershey, a termed-out moderate Republican.

Travis Akers sets his sights on a School Board seat in 2024.

Per a release:

“While the DCPS School Board election for District 7 is over two years away, Akers’ decision to run was made during his recent tour of duty in the Middle East while he watched and read news reports of the school board’s battle with overreach from Tallahassee over the past two years. Akers is making his intentions public at this time to begin dialogue with teachers, administrators, parents, students, and community and faith leaders regarding specific concerns about Duval County’s public school system.”

Akers has two kids in Duval County Public Schools. His wife Anna currently serves as the vice president for Greenland Pines Elementary PTA.

Survey says

The WBOB Straw Poll always leans to the right, so the results from last weekend’s event can be taken with a grain of salt.

Nonetheless, they’re worth a look, even with the caveat that some results couldn’t be replicated at the ballot box.

Exhibit A?

“With Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry facing term limits in 2023, Al Ferraro won the straw poll to replace him, taking 56% of the vote.”

Next Mayor? WBOB straw poll says so.

Probably not likely this will happen in March.

However, while the poll is pretty useless in forecasting citywide races, it offers some insights into where the conservative base is on intraparty squabbles.

Two of note: “Gov. Ron DeSantis beat former President Donald Trump … (taking) 53% while Trump got 47%.”

This jibes with other polling we see, where DeSantis seems to be supplanting Trump in the eyes of GOP partisans as 2024 comes into focus.

The other big one?

“With an open congressional seat currently headed to the First Coast as part of redistricting, state Sen. Aaron Bean led the field with 61%.”

Bean, of course, is not even in the race yet. This could be unwelcome news for Fischer, who is already on TV in the district, and repeat candidate Aguilar.

So, sure, consider the source of the poll. But Republicans may be reading the tea leaves, nonetheless.

JAXPORT goes to 47

At Blount Island, JAXPORT is now officially a 47-feet-deep port, able to service the largest cargo ships that transit the seas. Dozens of people showed up to the Marine Terminal this week to celebrate the culmination of this yearslong, major multimillion-dollar project.

“JAXPORT’s mission is to create jobs,” Port CEO Eric Green said Monday. “A deeper harbor creates and protects 15,000 (combined) jobs in our region. A 47-foot channel connects U.S. consumers and businesses to the global economy and provides an efficient option for our state’s exports to send their ‘Made in Florida’ goods to the global marketplace.”

Party on Blount Island. Image via JAXPORT.

The Blount Island Marine Terminal was 40 feet before the deepening project. To get to where it is now, the project received around $419.5 million in funding overall, with around $195.6 million from federal sources and close to $223.9 million from non-federal sources.

In several ways, the project celebration isn’t so much an end, but a mile marker on a continuing path.

“I am proud to share the news, first with all of you, we have just completed $100 million in work upgrades,” Green said, “to allow us to accommodate two post-Panamax ships at the same time.”

Tweet, tweet:

Rates up?

The JEA Board of Directors unanimously passed its Fiscal Year 2023 budget Tuesday morning, which officials say will require an electricity rate increase by around April 2023.

“This budget is intended to be supported by a midyear base rate increase on the electric side, tentatively planned to go into effect April 2023, stable water rates and a chilled water rate restructuring, all essential to lay the foundation for future growth,” said Juli Crawford, JEA Director of Financial Planning and Analysis, at the board meeting.

Non-fuel operating and maintenance expenses also increased year over year.

Bright lights, bigger bills? Image via JEA.

“This is largely driven by growing needs of the business, along with a proactive approach to workforce planning,” Crawford said. “We will be adding 111 full-time employee positions to continue to serve a growing Northeast Florida. The impact is about $3.5 million on the electric side and $3.4 million on the water side. That math equates to about $62,000 per employee.”

The increase, if it happens, should be “relatively minor,” JEA Vice President of Government Relations Kurtis Wilson said in an email to City Council member Gaffney. It would add around $1.16 to the average bill, which JEA states is between $120 and $134 a month between October 2021 and this month.

Nassau no

If you want to rile up conservationists (or folks in municipal government), bring up the ever-hanging sword of Damocles that is the Bert Harris Act.

Used often to bully municipalities into allowing developers to do what they want; Riverstone Properties invoked the Act in a lawsuit against Nassau County.

Monday night, the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 to make Riverstone go to court and try to win such a suit on the merits.

“This is in my Commission district,” Commission Chair Aaron Bell said before the vote. “I do understand the concerns of the folks who live here. I live there. I cannot and will not support the settlement, and my vote will be for option three, where the County tells Riverstone to pound sand and see you in court.”

Amelia Island’s south end currently has smaller buildings than some would like. Image via Wes Wolfe.

Riverstone wants to build 11 towers with a maximum height of 85 feet on the south end of Amelia Island, next to Amelia Island State Park. The company argued that a county ordinance limiting building heights was targeted at its development proposal.

Under Riverstone’s proposed settlement, it would get its towers, and the County would receive a small strip of land with parking and possible trails, along with beach access that opens no new beach to the public. The new access points would also be fairly close to other south-end access areas, including the State Park.

Jazz and more

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival has evolved over the years, and this weekend’s event promises more than a little bit of classic soul, with Quiet Storm icons Patti LaBelle and Stephanie Mills among the name acts, along with the genius Herbie Hancock, whose output has encompassed everything from traditional jazz and 70s style fusion to the 80s electro hit “Rock Box.”

These and many more acts will be downtown from May 26 through the 29th for this year’s event.

Where to go? Here’s the official map.

As usual, Thursday night begins with the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition. The winner gets prizes and a performance slot on Sunday.

The music continues throughout the weekend. Festival hours are Friday, May 27; Saturday, May 28, from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday, May 29, from 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

In the mood for pregame? Consider the official Jazz Festival store. The fresh-for-’22 gear is up, and historical items are available at a discount.

Hot pitching/cold bats

Joining hot bat Jerar Encarnacion from Pensacola last week was pitcher Will Stewart, who made his AAA debut with the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (23-20) during the Durham Bulls (21-22) series.

He allowed one earned run in four innings, giving up four hits and two walks while striking out eight. Two fielding errors led to two other Bulls crossing the plate before Stewart’s day was done, but he finished the game with a 2.25 earned run average (ERA).

Will Stewart, hurling heat for Pensacola. Image via the Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

Scoring, which came easier to the club earlier in the season, wasn’t so easy against Durham. The Shrimp averaged 3.3 runs a game, scoring only one run twice, losing four of six in the series. They notched six runs in both wins.

A trip to the cold North is what’s needed? Jacksonville’s on a road swing this week through Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (15-27) to Norfolk (21-22) next week.

“Today’s away game @swbrailriders will be the first official game for a Jacksonville baseball team *north* of the Mason-Dixon Line since Sept. 16, 1968,” @TheCatchBlog tweeted Tuesday morning.

The Shrimp responded, “Hoping we don’t get snowed out today.”

Jacksonville’s tied in third place in the International League East Division with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, four games out of first place and 2.5 games out of second.

After the series in Pennsylvania and Virginia, the Shrimp are returning to town on June 7 for six games with the Gwinnett Stripers (21-22).

Staff Reports


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