Jacksonville Bold for 9.6.23: Curry/Deegan feud
Jacksonville, Florida, USA downtown city skyline at dusk.

Jacksonville, Florida, USA downtown city skyline
History doesn't repeat, but there is a remix every few years.

History may not repeat. But like a dance tune from a previous era, it keeps getting remixed every few years.

When Lenny Curry was Mayor of Jacksonville, historic problems could be blamed on Alvin Brown.

Now that Donna Deegan is Mayor, it’s clear (even if she doesn’t say the man’s name) that the Curry legacy is a reliable punching bag.

Blaming the former guy is a long-standing tradition in Jacksonville.

We see it most prominently regarding the nomination of Republican Randy DeFoor to be the city’s General Counsel. Deegan blames consultants Tim Baker and Brian Hughes for the City Council’s unwillingness to confirm her.

“The same forces who tried to sell JEA and are now actively working against Randy’s nomination are putting pressure on our Council people,” Deegan said at a news conference last month. “They’re using their typical playbook, dividing our community with scorched earth tactics, whisper campaigns, and outright lies that impugn Randy’s good character. False and, frankly, sexist accusations that Randy allegedly doesn’t have the right temperament to lead this office.”

The implication is that people like Council President Ron Salem, who thus far has presented with a sort of quiet authority not seen with the gavel since the Greg Anderson or Lori Boyer years, is a tool of political consultants. Salem calls DeFoor a “friend” but he doesn’t want to work with her as the city’s chief lawyer.

That’s his prerogative. And that of the other 18 people on the Council. The General Counsel has to meet with the approval of both.

Deegan deems the rejection of DeFoor as a sexist play by the resoundingly male legislative branch.

“What I’m hearing from some of the council people is that they don’t believe she has the temperament to be the general counsel based on some conversations they’ve had with her,” Deegan said on WJXT Sunday. “I can’t even tell you how many times I have been told to calm down or that you know that I was too shrill or that I was angry. Sometimes you’ve got to be angry, and heaven knows plenty of men have shown anger without being called words that we can’t say on television.”

That argument only goes so far, however. Lawsikia Hodges, a Black woman currently with OGC who has been tasked with unenviable jobs like handling pension issues, was in the group of attorneys being considered before the Mayor short-circuited the process.

Hodges may have received a single no vote, and that’s because she roiled the fire union — which backs DeFoor.

Sexism can’t be blamed for the Council’s rejection of another Republican, Al Ferraro, to head the neighborhoods department.

As reported first last week, Ferraro wrote a letter withdrawing his nomination, after weeks of getting frozen out for meetings with his former colleagues, who never put him on Finance or Rules in eight years — a measure of their lack of respect for him.

It was known he was dead in the water for weeks. Yet the Mayor’s Office left his nomination open like there was a path forward. Now it appears he’ll take Denise Lee’s old role as head of Blight Initiatives, which does not require Council confirmation.

More on both these controversies later in this edition.

Deegan also trumpeted her administration’s diversity in a recent news conference, claiming her team is “15% more diverse in Jacksonville’s city administration than we were in the previous administration,” which seems like an unnecessary flex … unless you’re looking to make a statement about the previous team.

There are those who say the Mayor’s Office has been talking to certain companies about Ballard Partners, which employs Curry and former senior staffer Jordan Elsbury, urging them to truncate contracts, like the Mayor’s Office did with the firm this summer. There are those on the outside who lay the blame at the feet of Karen Bowling, Deegan’s chief administrative officer.

Whoever is to blame, it doesn’t matter. The insurgency has already begun.

The Good Ol’ Boy network has a lot of time on its hands right now.

It’s a given Deegan faces an establishment Republican opponent in March 2027. It wouldn’t be surprising if she doesn’t face a Black Democrat challenging her either. Meanwhile, what’s clear here, just two months and change after this Mayor took office, is she’s already being forced to spend political capital on ancillary battles.

One has been lost, and another L is in process.

Vigil ripples

Speaking of Deegan, she has interesting thoughts on the reaction Gov. Ron DeSantis got at last month’s vigil for three Black people killed by a White shooter with swastikas on his rifle and hatred in his heart.

On Sunday, she said that the experience should have been a lesson for the Governor, who made a rare trip to speak to a crowd that doesn’t lap up his every word like spring water in the desert.

Ron DeSantis gives a speech to a not-so-supportive crowd.

“I don’t think it is helpful to have policies that allow a rewriting of Black history. I think there has already been a lot of anguish and anger over that and over some of the policies that have come out of Tallahassee that divide as opposed to bringing together,” Deegan said.

“So, I was personally pleased that the governor took the time to come to that memorial because if we are ever going to come together if we are ever going to have unity, we’ve got to see each other’s pain. And I think the fact that he was there to see that reaction to feel, to see the tears out there, to see the anger and the frustration and the exhaustion of this community. I hope it was instructional for him.”

The Governor was told by some members of the crowd that he was “not welcome” at the event in a predominantly Black area of Jacksonville, one where state-level appropriations have been scant and which has borne the brunt of everything from DeSantis’ anti-‘woke’ policies to a congressional redistricting scheme that left them represented by a white Republican from Fernandina Beach.

Biden speaks out

Meanwhile, though President Joe Biden was an hour’s drive away from Jacksonville Saturday in Live Oak, he issued a sharp denunciation of the “domestic terrorism” in Duval last month.

Biden said the “terrorist act” was “driven by hatred and animus.”

While in Florida, Joe Biden denounces domestic terrorism in Jacksonville.

“Ladies and gentlemen, let me say this clearly, hate will not prevail in America. Hate will not prevail in America. Racism will not prevail in America. Domestic terrorism will not prevail in America. And to make it real clear, silence on this issue, both public and private and the private sector, silence is complicity,” Biden said.

The President made the comments after he toured storm damage in the city, and after a briefing with Sen. Rick Scott about recovery efforts in Columbia County.

Buffalo stance

Far away from Duval County, meanwhile, people are lending their prayers to the troubled situation in Northeast Florida.

In upstate New York, for example, Delaine Waring AME parishioners prayed for healing in Jacksonville after the racist murders last month.

“We made a decision some time ago that this church was going to stand for justice,” pastor Leonard Williams said.

Buffalo mourns in solidarity with Jacksonville over the racist shootings. Image via AP.

“We will let them know; we will send a transcript of this service down to them. Let them know that the political community, the social community, as well as the religious community came together and said we know what you’re going through and we’re on your side.”

WIVB of Buffalo notes that New Yorkers are drawing parallels between “the racist shooting in Jacksonville and the 5/14 Tops shooting that claimed 10 innocent lives and injured three others.”

Teach the speech?

Meanwhile, one national publication wonders if DeSantis’ speech last month at the vigil in Jacksonville could be taught in the state’s classrooms.

The Atlantic poses the question, given Florida bans on “classroom instruction that might lead students to conclude that racial discrimination, against Black Americans in particular, persists into the present.”

Ron DeSantis’ Jacksonville speech would not be teachable in Florida schools. Image via AP.

“If Florida teachers allowed their students to read DeSantis’s speech, they might ask about the motive for the attack. A teacher who explained that the shooter was motivated by White-supremacist hatred would risk making a white student feel discomfort, ‘guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress,’ as the law itself puts it. If the teacher tried to put the speech in context and attempted to explain the ideological tenets, origins, and history of White supremacy in the United States, they would increase that risk. A teacher could not explain why someone would, as DeSantis put it, target people ‘based on their race,’ because it would lead to answers about the history of Florida and America that the governor and other Republicans would prefer students not learn, lest they have nonconservative thoughts.”

‘That a Florida Governor might have made it illegal for an educator to explain the context of his own speech may sound ridiculous, but these are legal considerations that educators have to take into account when laws ban certain ideas from being discussed,” the argument continues.

Barrister battle

The President of the Jacksonville City Council is weighing in on a controversial nominee for General Counsel.

And in doing so, he signals a showdown between the executive and legislative branches regarding the city’s prospective lead lawyer.

On Tuesday morning, Republican Ron Salem addressed the nomination of Randy DeFoor, a former Republican Council member who has met opposition from her former colleagues since Deegan advanced the nomination last year.

Ron Salem gets pushback for the nomination of Randy DeFoor as general counsel. Image via A.G. Gancarski.

Salem said that he expected the Deegan administration to sidestep the nomination process by appointing DeFoor as the interim General Counsel this month, and to that end he is keeping the nomination on a normal cycle and setting it up for a vote Sept. 26.

“It has become clear to me that appointing DeFoor as the acting General Counsel effect of Oct. 1 is under serious consideration, if not already decided, after discussions with the Office of General Counsel including the present Acting General Counsel on Friday,” Salem said.

The President added that he believes “this places the General Counsel’s office in a situation where decisions could be made between Oct. 1 and when we receive the decision on Oct. 20, that could be challenged or reversed,” he said, referring to a request for a ruling on DeFoor’s eligibility to serve from the state Ethics Commission.

“Therefore, I want to provide the City Council (with) the opportunity to express themselves prior to Oct. 1. If the nomination fails, the mayor is then completely responsible for any decisions that are made.”

Deegan and the City Council both seek opinions from the Ethics Commission regarding whether DeFoor, who left the Council at the end of June, is legally able to be the city’s lead lawyer without a two-year cooling-off period banning recent officeholders from lobbying the Council.

Ruth’s raves

Deegan is set to be honored this weekend by a group that endorsed her ahead of her election in May.

Ruth’s List will present Deegan with an award in Orlando on Saturday at the “She’s the Change” Leadership Conference.

Ruth’s List is set to award Donna Deegan at the “She’s the Change’ conference in Orlando. Image via Instagram.

That honor will be bestowed at a luncheon at the Orlando Hilton, located at 6001 Destination Parkway. The event kicks off at 11:45 a.m.

Ruth’s List endorsed Deegan in October 2022. “Early support is the key to victory and with Donna’s experience, resilience and tenacity, we have the opportunity to elect the first woman Mayor of Jacksonville and flip this seat blue,” the group contended at the time.

Map flap

A Circuit Court judge in Leon County has ruled in favor of plaintiffs in a redistricting case, which means that pending appeal, the Legislature may be tasked with drawing a non-deficient congressional map.

The ruling from Judge J. Lee Marsh, first reported by the @MappingFL account on X, “declares the enacted map unconstitutional and enjoin(s) the Secretary of State from using that map in future congressional elections. This Court will return the matter to the Legislature to enact a new map which complies with the Florida Constitution.”

Secretary of State Cord Byrd will appeal: “We disagree with the trial court’s decision. This is why the stipulation contemplates an appeal with pass-through jurisdiction to the Florida Supreme Court which we will be pursuing.”

Cord Byrd is all-in for a redistricting appeal.

At issue: the elimination of the 5th Congressional District, which once went from Jacksonville to the Tallahassee area along Interstate 10, one of the most controversial parts of last year’s redistricting saga.

Once a district that allowed Black Democrats Corrine Brown and Al Lawson to compete, with the latter holding the seat from 2016 to 2022, the redistricting efforts signed off on by DeSantis eliminated that seat and all Black representation in North Florida.

The judge rules that “plaintiffs have shown that the Enacted Plan results in the diminishment of Black voters’ ability to elect their candidate of choice in violation of the Florida Constitution,” and that “all of the districts that replaced Benchmark CD-5 (Enacted CD-2, CD-3, CD-4 and CD-5) are majority white in voter registration, that white voters cast the majority of votes in both primary and general elections.”

The judge also rejects the idea that a Black-performing district is “gerrymandering,” writing that “not only is there no specific district under which this Court could evaluate whether racial gerrymandering occurred, but Defendants also lack standing to raise a racial gerrymandering challenge in the first place.”

Moreover, the ruling refers to a Black-performing Duval County district vetoed by the Governor as Congressional Plan 8019, “which included a Duval County-only district that the Chair of the House Congressional Redistricting Committee described as ‘very visually different from the benchmark district’ but ‘still a protected black-performing district.’”

DeSantis vetoed the Legislature’s maps that maintained a Black access district, telling them to “pass something that will get my signature.” The Legislature ultimately left it to the Governor’s staff to draw a “race-blind” map taken up and approved during the Special Session.

Al over for now

Deegan reached across party lines to nominate a Republican who ran against her in 2023 to head the Neighborhoods Department. But after days of rumors, Deegan ended last week withdrawing that nomination at the nominee’s request.

Democrat Deegan selected former Republican City Council member Ferraro for the role, as one of a series of theoretically unifying picks for staff jobs that seemingly could build a bridge with the supermajority GOP legislative branch.

After deferring City Council consideration of the nomination last month so he could talk to his former colleagues, however, the withdrawal moved forward just before Labor Day.

Al Ferraro drops his name from consideration for a spot in the Deegan administration.

“Al has always stood up for people and neighborhoods even when it has hurt him politically. Today is no different,” said Deegan. “I’m grateful for his willingness to serve Jacksonville, and I look forward to identifying a role where he can continue doing so.”

Ferraro would have required a waiver to serve in that director role, as he only has a high school diploma and municipal code stipulates baseline requirements of “a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited college or university and at least five years of experience in an administrative or executive position.”

While waivers were granted by the City Council for people taking other roles, that was often because they were being promoted from within to head departments they knew well. In this case, Ferraro was an outside hire with no executive experience beyond running a landscaping service for decades.

He would have needed majority support for not just the nomination but the waiver itself.

Ferraro was lightly regarded during his eight years on the Council. He only chaired one minor committee (Transportation, Energy and Utilities). Ferraro also was never backed for Council leadership, another sign he wasn’t respected even on the supermajority GOP legislative branch.

He could be selected for a position that doesn’t require Council confirmation. Some say he will oversee Blight Initiatives for the city.

National love for Jaguars

For years, Jaguars fans have bemoaned the lack of respect from the national sports media. Those complaints shouldn’t be voiced heading into this season.

The Jaguars are national darlings.

The Jaguars are national darlings. Image via AP.

After a playoff run last season, some of the most prominent NFL writers are picking the Jaguars to have a memorable season.

Peter King of NBC Sports and the author of the Football Morning in America column has picked the Jaguars to be the top seed in the AFC after a 13-4 season. King has the Jaguars finishing with the same record as the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs but earning the top spot thanks to a predicted head-to-head win over Patrick Mahomes and Co. in Week 2.

King isn’t alone in his grand expectations for the Jaguars.

At least nine CBSSports.com writers picked the Jaguars to win the division (three others picked the Titans).

Of 35 writers surveyed by NFL.com, 31 picked the Jaguars to win the division.

Pro Football Network predicted the Jaguars to have the best record in the NFL.

Talk about a tidal wave of optimism.

Bookmakers have set the Jaguars’ line for wins this season at 9.5. That would seem to be an easy pick to go over. With all of the sky-high expectations, what can hold the Jaguars back?

Injuries can change the course of any season, but the biggest potential hurdle for the Jaguars is the lack of pass rush. Facing top quarterbacks like Mahomes, Joe Burrow and Josh Allen, the Jaguars must find a way to take the quarterback down without blitzing extra pass rushers. If the Jaguars can find a way to improve their sack numbers from last year when the team totaled 35 sacks, just over two per game. Allen and Travon Walker must improve their sack numbers and rookie Yassir Abdullah needs to contribute as well.

The other concern is on the offensive line, where left Cam Robinson will miss the first four games of the season while suspended for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancers.

If the Jaguars can answer those two concerns, it could be a special season.

Staff Reports


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