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Jacksonville is known for its homicide rate, so much so that even former President Donald Trump clowned the city in a recent attack on Ron DeSantis.
And while history may not repeat, it does rhyme.
Despite local law enforcement’s undistinguished record in stemming the blood tide, every election returns to the same theme: Law, order, and public safety.
Winners in mayoral races usually hug cops as closely as they can, expecting that they will make a difference.
But it’s never a straight-on debate, of course.
In 2015, Lenny Curry and John Rutherford joined forces to accuse Alvin Brown of defunding the police (before it was even a thing).
Four years later, Anna Brosche ran against the “Curry Crime Wave.” That didn’t work out; then-Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams took Curry’s side.
This time around? For the first time since 2011, the mayoral office is open, but it’s a handicap match that looks a lot like 2015: TK Waters and Daniel Davis against Donna Deegan.
Deegan, of course, was guilty of doing what Curry and Williams did three years ago. In 2020, she attended Black Lives Matter protests, when the George Floyd murder brought violence by law enforcement in marginalized communities into sharp relief.
Deegan said as much, as an ad from the Duval County Republican Party makes clear.
“I went to every one of those Black Lives Matter protests,” Deegan said, in a heavily rotated spot, juxtaposed against scenes of violence from those events.
The Davis campaign hasn’t had particularly exciting messaging or presentation, but the “law and order” issue clearly is the wedge they will play to paint Deegan as extreme. A WJXT story Monday saw Davis and Waters both essentially saying as much.
“You can’t speak out of both sides of your mouth,” Davis said, suggesting that Deegan’s position in seeking police reform is incompatible with supporting law enforcement.
Waters, who Democrats (in their infinite wisdom) didn’t bother to oppose in this cycle, played the heavy:
“These riots posed a serious threat not only to our officers but also to our citizens. Protesters vandalized patrol vehicles, victimized small-business owners, and even hospitalized an officer with neck wounds. This type of criminal behavior cannot and will not be tolerated in the City of Jacksonville, and it’s important that our next Mayor feels the same way.”
Yes I’ve seen the ads. No he still doesn’t get it. This is about us. All of us. pic.twitter.com/yHHpU1HDGE
— Donna Deegan (@DonnaDeegan) April 3, 2023
Expect this narrative to be played up, repeatedly, with GOP political committees knocking Deegan into defense mode.
We’ve seen it before. It’s a game Democrats struggle to win, especially when the other side has more resources.
Can Deegan flip the script? The March election saw her up 15 points. But new polling may tell a different story.
For now, Deegan is going to keep running her race; this includes town hall events, like tonight at 5:30 p.m. at the Pablo Creek Regional Library, 13295 Beach Blvd.
But the reality is this: Republicans, including DeSantis, will lean heavily into the law-and-order messaging.
It’s also not out of the question that former broadcaster Casey DeSantis, who, like Deegan, is a First Coast News alum, could get involved.
If Democrats are serious about counterpunching Republicans, the state (and even national) party needs to throw their mayoral candidate some help. And soon.
Otherwise, it may be too late.
In case you’ve been in a cave, Deegan and Davis are facing off in a debate this month.
And this time, Kent Justice will not be moderating.
Hosting the action is the University of North Florida, with the Action News Jax debate on April 20 co-moderated by anchors John Bachman and Tennika Hughes.
The event will be at the Lazarra Performance Hall on campus.
“The University of North Florida is proud to host this debate in partnership with Action News Jax,” said UNF President Moez Limayem. “This is an important race for our city’s future, and UNF is pleased to provide a forum for mayoral candidates to discuss the issues that matter most to Jacksonville’s voters.”
So far, the only televised debate of the campaign was before the First Election, with seven candidates onstage. The focus was on big-picture questions, including crime, downtown development, and other issues.
Of the two candidates, Davis has (arguably) the most room for improvement from that faceoff last month. At times, he came off as stiff.
Deegan, perhaps confident in her first-place polling position — which was borne out when votes were counted — delivered a surprisingly low-key performance given her decades on Jacksonville television.
Business is picking up in the mayoral race. And the UNF debate will be a proving ground for both candidates; neither showed all that much during the previous battle royale.
The Duval County Republican Party is really, really hoping that DeSantis’ endorsement of Davis unifies its fractured base.
Conferred last week, which was reported by Florida Politics and others, the Duval GOP led with the endorsement in an email Tuesday, likely for good reason.
After a bitter run-up to the First Election that saw Davis’ political committee flood LeAnna Gutierrez Cumber and Al Ferraro with negative ads, the candidate only took about half the Republican vote.
“Daniel Davis is the proven law and order conservative Jacksonville needs to tackle the city’s greatest challenges and seize its biggest opportunities. I am proud to endorse Daniel Davis for Mayor because I trust him to fight for Jacksonville’s hardworking families, and I know he will stand with the city’s brave men and women in law enforcement,” the Governor said.
“The choice before all Duval voters is now clear,” notes Vice Chair Steve Adams. “Will they support an avowed leftist like ‘Defund’ Donna Deegan, who is determined to undermine law & order in favor of a ‘woke’ agenda, or will they support our Governor and VOTE for Daniel Davis?”
No, it was not the most subtle appeal.
It reinforces the message that Davis is the “law and order” candidate but also raises the question of why such a known commodity, someone who has chaired the Chamber for close to a decade — spending years in elected office before that — relies so much on external validators as the campaign approaches the stretch run.
Don’t talk about it
A local archconservative who has been sitting on the Board of Education for a year is finding smooth sailing through Senate confirmations.
It didn’t matter; the committee didn’t bother to discuss her nomination, nor that of Miami-area anti-trans radiologist Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie.
Byrd, the wife of appointed Secretary of State Cord Byrd, made national news with her staunch defense of Capitol insurrectionists in 2021. She offered a justification for those “peacefully protesting” the certification of the 2020 Presidential Election while alluding to “coming civil wars.”
“ANTIFA and BLM can burn and loot buildings and violently attack police and citizens,” Esther Byrd wrote. “But when Trump supporters peacefully protest, suddenly ‘Law and Order’ is all they can talk about! I can’t even listen to these idiots bellyaching about solving our differences without violence.”
“In the coming civil wars (We the People vs the Radical Left and We the People cleaning up the Republican Party), team rosters are being filled … Every elected official in D.C. will pick one. There are only two teams … With Us [or] Against Us,” Byrd added.
Before that, she offered a defense of the Proud Boys on her Facebook page. This came months after Byrd made comments supportive of QAnon after the Byrds were photographed on a boat flying a QAnon flag.
Byrd will be on the Board until 2025 unless something radically different happens between now and full Senate confirmation.
Shortly after the 2018 Election, Susie Wiles was getting credit for DeSantis’ upset over Andrew Gillum.
A bit too much credit, it seems.
It wasn’t long after Wiles found herself excommunicated from DeSantisworld.
But Wiles is a survivor, and what’s clear is that with DeSantis down in the polls and her client Trump up, she is reveling in the moment.
Exhibit A: A co-authored strategy memo to supporters.
“An avalanche of recent polling shows President Trump surging to his largest-ever lead over Ron DeSantis. A Yahoo News/YouGov survey released Saturday finds President Trump commands a 26-point lead over DeSantis — 57% to 31% — a net swing of 30 points toward Trump since February,” the memo reads.
“A Fox News poll released Wednesday indicates a majority of Republican primary voters support President Trump over DeSantis — 54% to 24% — doubling his lead, from 15 to 30 points, since February,” the Sunday memo continued.
From there, it spotlights a third poll commissioned by the Trump campaign.
“A survey by pollster John McLaughlin released Saturday found President Trump leads DeSantis by 33% — 63% to 30% — more than tripling the margin between him and DeSantis since January. The survey also found President Trump leading Joe Biden 47% to 43%.”
The memo also suggests Team Trump has no intentions of resting on these laurels: “We are a small, disciplined team that runs every play like we are 10 points behind.”
It’s still early in the GOP Primary calendar, of course. And while DeSantis didn’t need Wiles to get over Charlie Crist, it’s becoming clear that he may have been too quick to burn that bridge four years ago.
Salem for President
Jacksonville City Council Vice President Ron Salem is well on his way to becoming Council President.
A meeting Monday at City Hall saw Salem score new pledges, including Council members-elect Ken Amaro, Joe Carlucci, and Will Lahnen, all Republicans. Democratic Council member Tyrona Clark-Murray faces a runoff in District 9, but she’s on board too.
All told, Salem has 11 pledges, including current President Terrance Freeman, Republicans Kevin Carrico, Rory Diamond, Nick Howland, and Democrat Ju’Coby Pittman.
Pittman nominated Salem last year during the official vote; clearly, she’s on board.
While pledges are generally binding, people have been known to pull switcheroos. Reggie Gaffney Sr. changed his vote during a race for Vice President a few years back, despite having pledged to a different candidate. This time around, it’s unlikely there will be any drama at the top of the ticket at least.
The Vice President’s race, meanwhile, looks like Republican Randy White’s to lose, though again nothing is certain until the final vote, which is May 25, after the General Election.
Good Friday brings a labor rally to James Weldon Johnson Park, with the Florida Times-Union NewsGuild and supporters convening to make their case for fair pay from parent corporation Gannett.
The NewsGuild was formed five years ago; since then, they have been fighting a war of attrition against cost-cutting ownership.
Per a media release, “Gannett has slashed its companywide workforce in half since 2019. In Jacksonville, the newsroom had 63 employees when Gannett bought the Times-Union in October 2017, and that is down to 22 now.”
The NewsGuild seeks what it calls a “fair contract” that keeps up with the ever-increasing cost of living.
Meanwhile, Gannett seems more focused on budgeting for severance.
“Across all of Gannett — media, digital marketing and corporate divisions — the company spent $57.6M on severance-related expenses last year, up almost 250% from the $16.5M it spent in 2021 but down from the $86.3M in severance costs it recorded in 2020,” the Washington Business Journal reported last month.
Moms for Liberty, an organization founded in Florida with deep connections to the DeSantis political apparatus, reinforced its Sunshine State ties recently as the group’s leadership selected Clay County resident Tia Bess as the new National Director of Outreach.
Bess spent two years working as a community outreach coordinator for a Jacksonville pregnancy center.
“I have been a proud member of Moms for Liberty for two years now and I am so thankful for the opportunity to join the team in an official capacity to reach the moms and dads out there that need to hear the truth about what’s happening in our schools,” Bess said.
“It is crucial that we all come together, no matter our circumstances, social status, family background, political affiliation, in order to make a better future for our kids.”
Sarasota School Board Chair Bridget Ziegler, who helped found the group and is a member of Gov. DeSantis’ new governing board for Walt Disney World, is also married to Republican Party of Florida Chair Christian Ziegler.
Moms for Liberty Co-Founders Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich said in a joint statement that Bass is a mother of three who’s overcome great obstacles.
“She has a passion for advocating for freedom and liberty and we are excited to add her to the growing team,” Justice and Descovich said. “There is no doubt moms across the country will feel the same flame ignite in their hearts after talking with Tia and hearing her own story.”
Olivia Hoblit, a regional manager for Innisfree Hotels on Amelia Island, received an appointment from DeSantis to the Board of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.
Florida Housing is a decades-old organization meant to provide affordable housing opportunities.
“If you know Olivia, you know how passionate she is about the hospitality and tourism industry, but more than that, she is passionate about all of the employees that she oversees,” the Nassau County Economic Development Board said in a social media post.
“She wants them to have the opportunity to work and live in their communities.”
Notably, Amelia Island’s hospitality and tourism industry depends on workers who rarely make enough money to live near where they work, given the availability of affordable housing in eastern Nassau County.
Hoblit, in addition to her position at Innisfree, is the immediate past chair of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, along with being a member of the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council and the Nassau County Economic Development Board.
It’s warm outside and the initial pollen bomb’s dissipated, which means it’s time for baseball.
The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp spent most of last season competing for the International League East Division lead despite sending many of the team’s best players up to the Miami Marlins for significant lengths of time. This season’s squad largely features new names with a few folks that people might remember.
The Shrimp (2-2) had to start the season off in Georgia, taking the high-scoring series two games to one from the Gwinnett Stripers. Runs continued to pour forth at the Shrimp home opener Tuesday against the Durham Bulls (1-3), who sent the home crowd away disappointed with a 14-8 win.
However, in generating those eight runs, infielder C.J. Hinojosa missed the cycle by not hitting a home run, though he drove in three runs. Shrimp pitchers managed to put together four consecutive scoreless innings and 14 straight batters retired before the Bulls broke out with nine runs in the final three innings.
It was Durham’s first win of the year and Jacksonville’s second loss. The Shrimp stay at home through the next five games before heading away for six games against the Charlotte Knights.
Tonight’s game features a fan event playing off Jacksonville’s oft-mentioned traffic problems.
“Reversible lanes (–) it’s like playing Russian roulette driving down Bay Street on my way home,” according to the cheeky summary in the Shrimp’s schedule. “You would think roundabouts were crop circles by the number of people who just stop and stare at them.
“Time to lay down some truth and teach you folks the rules of the road.”