Jacksonville Bold for 4.19.23: Debate eve
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With the race so close, Thursday night's Jax mayoral debate is pivotal.

With polling of Donna Deegan and Daniel Davis showing the 2023 mayoral race is too close to call, the debate at the University of North Florida will be pivotal.

We caught up with the man responsible for much of the planning for the hourlong event, Bob Longo of Action News Jax, who told us what to expect Thursday night.

Debate night takes on a special significance this week.

“Just got back from a site survey at UNF and am really happy with where we are, preparing for the debate. And so is UNF. As partners, UNF has been terrific. They, like us, want a world-class worthy debate — in looks and substance — and I believe the primary debate was a disappointment in that regard,” Longo said, referring to the WJXT event in March with seven candidates.

“This is a critical moment for our community as we grow and tackle all the issues that are around us today. It’s important to give our citizens a deep, clear impression of the candidates and their vision of how they see our city and how they will govern and lead and I’m proud that Action News Jax and UNF have teamed up to make this moment happen,” Longo added.

Expect major topics to include crime and public safety, where Davis no doubt will try to press his advantage with endorsements from the Sheriff and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Economic development and infrastructure will also be featured, as will “community concerns,” and will likely include questions suggested by Action News viewers.

The candidates will not ask each other questions, Longo confirmed. And Davis and Deegan won’t know who’s going first until just minutes before the 7 p.m. start.

“We will do a coin flip backstage at 6:35 p.m. Thursday to determine who goes first and second for openings and closings. The winner of the coin flip can decide his/her position in either the openings or closings; then the other candidate will choose the remaining option, be it openings or closings. A UNF official will conduct the coin toss at 6:35 p.m. sharp,” Longo said.

From there, “UNF staffers will escort the candidates from their green rooms to opposite sides of the stage at 6:50 p.m. so they are prepared to be introduced and walk out onto the stage to their respective podiums. (The introductions will occur before the ANJ broadcast begins.)”

The campaign has been contentious, but you wouldn’t know that from the planning process. Longo noted, “there really haven’t been any dust-ups.”

“Both campaigns have been civil and professional and logistics have been smooth. I know there are those who believe Ms. Deegan will have an advantage because of her speaking history and TV experience, but they’re both pros, have been in the public eye for years, and I feel they’ll both be bringing their ‘A’ game. Looking forward to it.”

We reached out to the Davis and Deegan camps for insights into debate prep, including how they may be practicing and who is playing the opponent’s role, but they aren’t showing their hands.

“Daniel continues to knock on doors every day and talk to folks about the issues that matter most to them,” asserted Davis spox Erin Isaac.

We got even less from Team Deegan, meanwhile.

DeSantis’ folly

Did Ron DeSantis drop the ball when he dropped Susie Wiles from his political orbit? An article in The New York Times makes a strong case that the Governor fumbled the bag when he sidelined the legendary Jacksonville political consultant.

“Wiles helped Ron DeSantis become Governor of Florida, but he turned against her and banished her from his orbit. Donald Trump was all too happy to bring her in from the cold,” the piece notes.

Did DeSantis drop the ball on Susie Wiles?

It is replete with anecdotes about DeSantis’ decision to drop Wiles after she masterminded his upset win over Andrew Gillum in 2018, a move that is having reverberations in the 2024 race for the presidency.

The piece describes Trump as trying to broker a handshake between DeSantis and Wiles in 2020, with neither of them biting … understandable, given the Governor’s attempt to “blackball” her from Republican politics.

Fast forward to now: “She and the rampaging former President suddenly have more in common: They both helped make Ron DeSantis. They would both like to unmake him.”

“The only person who ever really had a problem with her is Ron DeSantis,” Trump is quoted as saying.

“Those who know Ms. Wiles say she is motivated less by money or fame than by behind-the-scenes recognition that she has sway with the people who matter,” the piece notes, quoting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as saying she is “comfortable being staff,” a contrast to many of the braying self-promoters who orbited Trump in 2016 and 2020.

“Admirers say navigating Mr. Trump’s volatile impulses is part of the bargain for anyone in Ms. Wiles’ seat — or at least anyone hoping to hang on to it. And adversaries know enough to fear Mr. Trump’s chances more with Ms. Wiles at his side.”

Read more here.

Trump bump

A Jacksonville Republican is the sixth of Florida’s congressional delegation to endorse Donald Trump over DeSantis, a one-time U.S. House member.

“As a former Sheriff, I understand the importance of a fair and impartial system of justice. The systemic targeting of Americans with conservative ideals, especially our 45th President of the United States, disgraces our nation’s legacy,” asserted U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, a four-term legislator and former chief lawman in Duval County.

John Rutherford jumps on the Trump Train.

“As strong Republicans, we must restore law, order, and justice to our country, and President Donald Trump is the right person to do it. Under President Donald Trump’s leadership, America was more safe, more secure, and more prosperous, and as the 47th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump will Make America Great Again!”

This is the second time Rutherford crossed DeSantis in an endorsement process. In 2018, the Congressman picked Adam Putnam over DeSantis in the Primary, despite DeSantis representing an adjacent district that included neighboring St. Johns County.

Rutherford joins U.S. Reps. Byron Donalds, Matt Gaetz, Anna Paulina Luna, Cory Mills and Greg Steube in endorsing Trump, whose campaign says to expect even more endorsements to follow. Rutherford and Steube announced his support after DeSantis started calling members of the delegation asking them not to announce Trump endorsements, according to reporting by NBC News’ Matt Dixon.

Getting Luckey

Rutherford isn’t likely to face serious competition in 2024, but he’s still fundraising and spending, nonetheless.

In the first quarter of 2023, the Jacksonville Republican raised $72,690, while spending $43,110. He closed the quarter with $275,201 cash on hand.

Among the interesting donor names: Ginger Luckey, the fiancee of Rep. Matt Gaetz. It’s worth mentioning that Gaetz backs Trump for President. Ms. Luckey donated $3,300 on March 23.

Most of his spending went on fundraising consulting in the quarter, with $7,500 spent with the Archmann Group and $23,463 to Rose Consulting.

Rutherford gets Luckey in fundraising.

Perennial candidate Gary Koniz has filed with the state of Florida to run again. Koniz has yet to get traction as a candidate despite many attempts, and it’s unlikely that Rutherford will draw a serious opponent. The Gaetz adjacency would suggest that any challenge from the right would not have backing from that wing of the party.

In 2020, Rutherford didn’t have a General Election opponent, and cruised to a Primary win with 65% support against two opponents.

Rutherford’s colleague from Jacksonville, Rep. Aaron Bean, ended Q1 with $89,289 on hand, even after transferring $35,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee. He raised $91,550 in the same period, spending $94,724.

Bean’s new Congressional District 4 is designed to elect a Republican, as his comfortable win last year over Democrat L.J. Holloway showed.

Money isn’t everything

Democratic legislation filed in the Senate and House to potentially raise pay for members from just below $30,000 a year was a non-starter.

SB 1530 from Sen. Tracie Davis and HB 1183 from Rep. Bruce Antone would have compelled the state’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) to conduct research, analyze data, and prepare a report on the issue.

But the bill did not get committee hearings in either chamber of the Florida Legislature, meaning that pay will remain $29,694 per year, plus per diems.

Tracie Davis wants to see if legislators deserve a pay raise.

If the bill had passed, OPPAGA would have been compelled to “submit to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives by Dec. 1, 2023, a report containing its findings and recommendations on whether the Legislature should be considered full-time, part-time, or a hybrid thereof, and whether salary increases for the members of the Legislature are appropriate.”

The bill sought a report comparing Florida legislative pay to the pay for legislative bodies in other states, as well as an indication of how many days each legislature meets to “conduct official business.” The same data was requested for County Commissions, City Councils and School Boards as well.

Trinity tribute

Former United Nations Ambassador Nancy Soderberg was honored this month for her work on Irish peace accords late last century.

“I’m deeply honored that Trinity has decided to provide me with an honorary doctorate for my work on the Northern Irish peace process. I’m very proud of the Good Friday Agreement. I had the honor to work with President Bill Clinton and saw firsthand the difficulties of negotiating that agreement that brought all sides, and particularly youth, women, grassroots, so it reflects the work of all people.”

Soderberg acknowledged that the agreement is “not perfect” but it’s “still standing and is the way to the future.”

As UNF notes: “Soderberg has been a major player in international relations for close to three decades. She was Former President Clinton’s chief adviser in Northern Ireland and played a crucial role in the development of the peace process in the 1990s. She worked to create the conditions for peace and then worked tirelessly on the ground — on both sides of the border — to create a lasting second cease-fire and the basis for an agreement.”

“Helping to broker peace and breaking decades of violence was the bright light of my political career,” said Ambassador Soderberg. “Thousands of people who could have been killed are now living the miracle of normal, peaceful lives.”

To watch part of the ceremony, please click on the image below:


New faces

DeSantis made four new judicial appointments earlier this week, two in Northeast Florida.

The owner of Preddy Law Firm and a former associate attorney with Anderson and Stevens, Rose Marie Karadsheh Preddy of St. Johns County will take a seat on the 7th Judicial Circuit Court.

Rose Marie Karadsheh Preddy gets a promotion to the bench.

She fills a vacancy created by Judge Margaret Hudson’s resignation.

Preddy received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and her law degree from Temple University.

Over in Palatka, Anne Marie Gennusa joins the Putnam County Court. She’s served as the proprietor of Gennusa Law and previously worked as an Assistant State Attorney in the 7th Judicial Circuit. Like Preddy, she received her law degree from Temple, but she earned her bachelor’s degree from Mercy College.

Gennusa takes the position vacated by the previous elevation of Judge Joseph Boatwright.

Hearing aid appointee

DeSantis picked a Clay County man for the state Board of Hearing Aid Specialists.

Jacob Mahan, of Fleming Island, is a Hearing Aid Specialist with Southeastern Hearing, Inc. He has been a licensed Hearing Aid Specialist for seven years. Mahan attended Valdosta State University,” the Governor’s Office announced.

Jacob Mahan will help maintain exacting standards for Florida’s hearing aid industry.

Mahan works for Southeastern Hearing and is a member of the International Hearing Society, a trade group dedicated to “promoting and maintaining the highest possible standards for its members in the best interests of the hearing impaired it serves.”

Mahan was one of three selections to the board, which had four vacancies among its nine slots, potentially creating quorum hazards. The board next meets on April 28, and Mahan likely will be able to hit the ground running.

Miller time?

Fresh polling of the Jacksonville City Council at-large Group 5 race from the University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Lab shows that Republican Chris Miller has a lead against Democrat Charles Garrison.

Per the polling memo: “45% of respondents said they would vote for Republican Chris Miller, while 38% indicated support for Democrat Charles Garrison, and 17% said they don’t know or refused.”

Chris Miller takes a lead in the race for Jacksonville City Council.

Miller is doing a better job consolidating Republicans than Garrison is Democrats in this survey. Miller has an 83% to 3% lead with GOP voters, while Garrison is up 77% to 6% with Democrats. NPA voters are also breaking Miller’s way, 40% to 37%.

The margin of error is +/- 3.8%.

Endorsement bonanza

Mike Muldoon, the Republican candidate for Jacksonville City Council District 9, consolidated his support this week among conservative groups as he seeks to defeat Democratic candidate and Council member Tyrona Clark-Murray in the runoffs.

The local Fraternal Order of Police, JAXBIZ and the Northeast Florida Builders Association all endorsed Muldoon recently. Joining them was a union, the Laborers International Union Local 630.

Mike Muldoon gets backup from local conservative leaders.

Also endorsing were Council member Sam Newby, and former Council members Garrett Dennis and Denise Lee.

“I am overwhelmed by the trust that I have earned from these civic leaders and community champions,” Muldoon said. “I am committed to working tirelessly for the residents of District 9.

“I believe that everyone is better off when strong, genuine relationships and frank, fruitful discussions are the norm. I know that we may not always agree, but I am committed to getting it right for our neighbors.”

The runoff is set for May 16.

Access granted

The internal machinations of the Jacksonville City Council may seem esoteric, but an event on Thursday may offer clarity.

Council Director Peggy Sidman will shed some light on the process in a “PegTalks” meeting Thursday morning at 10 a.m. in the City Hall’s Lynwood Roberts room with a subject matter expert: Chief of Legislative Services, Merriane Lahmeur.

The knowledgeable duo will provide insight on how to “access City Council meetings in progress from your computer, access current or past legislation, find every bill that a council member introduced, or get a copy of the vote.”

Can’t make it in person? Zoom in here.

Use Meeting ID: 917 307 6428 and Passcode: 12345 to access.

If you have a schedule conflict, fret not. The meeting will be video recorded for future access.

Taking out the trash

Litter that lines the roads in Jacksonville neighborhoods has several causes, but regardless of how it got there, a new effort by Jacksonville City Council member Ju’Coby Pittman aims to clean it up in her part of town.

The “Put Your Trash In A Can, Not On Our Land” Neighborhood Clean-Up is set to kick off Saturday, May 6, at 10 a.m. at the Clanzel Brown Community Center at 4575 Moncrief Road.

Targeted corridors include Moncrief Road, Myrtle Avenue and Golfair Boulevard.

“No experience is necessary to participate, just the willingness to make a difference,” according to the announcement. “Community service hours will be given to students that participate, and the organization with the most volunteers (who) registered and participated will be recognized.”

Ju’Coby Pittman looks to tidy up her neighborhood.

Groups already involved in the effort include the city of Jacksonville, the Duval County School Board, the Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corporation, Clean it Up, Green it Up Jax, the Jacksonville Black Chamber of Commerce, the Northside Ministerial Alliance, the Jacksonville Branch of the NAACP, Preachers in Action and Unified Community Investors.

People seeking more information can call 904-255-5208 or email Pittman at [email protected].

Pot talk

Featured at the next Cuppa Jax is Sally Kent Peebles, a leading voice on cannabis law and policy in Florida.

She works as a partner in the Jacksonville office of Vicente LLP — the top-ranked national cannabis law firm — where she focuses on corporate law, commercial real estate, and regulatory matters. Peebles expertise is helping clients navigate the patchwork of state laws controlling marijuana and handling cannabis business license acquisitions for clients in Florida, Colorado, and Oregon.

Sally Kent Peebles is an expert in cannabis law and policy in Florida.

In 2019, Peebles was appointed to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee, which provides advice and recommendations regarding policies and guidance on medical cannabis issues and patient needs and concerns.

In 2021, she co-founded the nonprofit organization, WISE Florida, which aims to build support for legalizing and regulating cannabis for adult use in Florida.

In 2022 and 2023, Peebles was named one of The Best Lawyers in America for her work in real estate law.

The Cuppa Jax event will be 8 a.m. Wednesday, April 26, in the Riverplace Tower Skyline Room, 1301 Riverplace Boulevard, Jacksonville. Tickets are $15, with breakfast provided by Village Bread Café.

For more info and tickets, please visit Eventbrite.com.

Streaking Shrimp

It was going well for the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp until it wasn’t, on their road trip to North Carolina to take on the Charlotte Knights.

The Shrimp (8-7) won their first three games against the Knights (8-8), building upon their series with the Durham Bulls (9-6) to create a five-game winning streak.

What followed was a three-game losing streak in which Jacksonville fell one run short in two of the games and lost by three runs in the other. A return home and a 3-2 victory over the Nashville Sounds (8-8) on Tuesday will hopefully portend well for the next couple of weeks. The long ball made the difference in that one as infielder Jacob Amaya’s two home runs and a third by outfielder Jerar Encarnacion provided all the Shrimp scoring.

Infielder Jacob Amaya knocked two home runs in the Shrimp’s victory Tuesday. Image via Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

Pitcher Chi Chi Gonzalez (2-1) locked down Nashville batters for the most part, throwing four strikeouts and two walks along with three hits over seven shutout innings.

The Shrimp continue their homestand for a good long while. They have five more games against the Sounds through this weekend, then play host to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (5-10) next week to close out April’s games.

Staff Reports


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