Jax Archives - Florida Politics

Jacksonville City Council panel to investigate short-term rentals issue

Unlike the majority of Florida counties, Duval County has yet to figure out a way forward regarding regulation of short-term rentals.

Zoning doesn’t accommodate them currently, and as a result, Jacksonville is missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue.

A Jacksonville City Council committee looks to change that with findings due by the end of April.

Rolled out this week, the Special Committee on Short-Term Vacation Rentals is charged with making “recommendations on the City’s zoning and other laws to determine whether there are limitations on the ability of short-term vacation rental uses to operate in the City and to ensure their compatibility with other adjacent or nearby uses if they were allowed.”

As well, the committee will look at issues of taxation, regulation, and “leasing strategies” used to circumvent long-term leases.

Danny Becton. is leading the committee. He will be joined on the panel by newly appointed Ju’Coby Pittman and second-termer Jim Love.

Of the three, Love is the only one with on-the-record comments on short-term rentals thus far.

“Maybe it would be better to forgive them and collect the money,” said Love, calling the matter a “sticky wicket” in his district, which includes touristy areas in Riverside and Avondale.

Jacksonville’s code has struggled to keep up with certain aspects of the 21st-century economy.

The city has a similar stalemate on vehicles for hire that has lasted years through a fragmented special committee paralyzed into inertia by competing advocates for Uber/Lyft and traditional cabs.

The city continues to suspend medallion fees for vehicles, and suffers fiscal loss, according to the bill summary for the latest extension of the medallion-fee moratorium: “Revenue loss from medallion renewals payments and late fees; when the moratorium was enacted in December 2015 there were 1,146 vehicle-for-hire medallions renewable at a cost of $100 per year; the late renewal fee is $10 per month after the deadline.”

The math on that, just as is the case with short-term rental collections, runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Debate on: Al Lawson and Alvin Brown agree to ‘electronic town hall’ on Jacksonville radio

The Democratic primary campaign in Florida’s 5th Congressional District continues between incumbent U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and challenger Alvin Brown.

With a recent poll showing Brown 22 points down, and endorsements from everyone from over three dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus to the Florida Times-Union going Lawson’s way, Brown opted on Wednesday to re-up a debate challenge made over a month ago.

“The contrast could not be starker between myself and my opponent, and the voters in Florida’s 5th Congressional District deserve to hear directly from both of us about our very different visions for the future,” Brown asserted in a statement.

And apparently, there will be a debate of sorts. Monday’s episode of First Coast Connect on WJCT-FM will see the two Democrats square off in what will be an “electronic town hall.”

This is remarkable, given that earlier Wednesday, Lawson’s campaign manager Philip Singleton shot down discussion of a debate.

“Over the last eight months, we could have organized a debate but people in this district and throughout Florida have already started voting. Early voting started this week in Duval, Gadsden, and Jefferson [counties]. With well over 6,000 ballots already cast, we feel it would be unfair to those voters to have a debate less than 14 days before an election,” Singleton concluded.

We have yet to hear back from Singleton or Lawson regarding the change in plans; however, this appears to be Brown’s chance to make up some ground in polls.

Jacksonville City Council panel begins budget deep dive Thursday

The annual review of the city of Jacksonville’s proposed budget by the City Council’s Finance Committee sees its first in a series of all-day sessions begin Aug. 16.

As compared with the $1.19 billion general fund budget in FY 16-17, and the $1.27 billion budget last year, the general fund budget is up this year to $1.31 billion.

The reamortization of what is now over $3 billion of pension debt from Jacksonville’s costly defined benefit plans, closed as of 2016 to new applicants, is allowing city leaders to spend in ways not possible otherwise.

Savings realized from pension reform, $331 million over two fiscal years per Mayor Lenny Curry, are allowing the spending.

“Without pension reform,” Curry said, “millions and millions of dollars would be diverted away from making our city better.”

According to the just-released quarterly report from the Jacksonville City Council auditor, the city is well-positioned.

The city is poised to achieve a $12 million favorable variance on the current budget, which should be helpful as Jacksonville awaits reimbursements for over $87 million of hurricane-inflicted costs in the last two years. (The city is eligible for 87.5 percent of that money eventually being reimbursed).

Public safety spending, boosted again in this budget, will be discussed Aug. 16.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office would get $30 million in new money, facilitating 180 new officers (even as the total employee cap goes down), and a new data center for crime fighting. Fire and Rescue would receive an additional $17 million.

Children’s program spending will be reviewed Aug. 22. The newly formed Kids Hope Alliance would get $41 million, a big boost from previous spending on the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission. Sixty new therapists would be funded for public schools, Curry said, with a 10 percent bump in children accessing KHA services.

A big part of the spend, to be discussed on Aug. 28, capital improvements.

FY 18-19 will see $161.4 million allocated to improvements, with big spends on Hart Bridge off-ramp removal ($12.5 million from the city matching the same sum from the state), a new fire station ($5 million), road resurfacing ($12 million), money for infrastructure at U.F. Health ($15 million, part of a $120 million commitment) and sidewalk projects (many of them delayed for years).

Curry’s budget should have an easier time than it did last year when a Finance Committee stacked with Democrats (thanks to the previous council president) went beyond the numbers to ask epistemological questions about tactics in local policing.

This year sees Curry allies abound on the committee: Greg AndersonLori Boyer, and Bill Gulliford (all former Council Presidents) will dominate the proceedings.

Anderson and Council President Aaron Bowman both want a focus on the numbers, a more than tacit acknowledgment that the priorities of the Mayor and his allies largely overlap.

After the August deliberations, the full City Council will vote on the budget in September, with the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

February trial set for Jacksonville Councilmembers Katrina, Reggie Brown

The cases of suspended Jacksonville City Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown were back in federal court Tuesday afternoon for a status hearing ahead of what is now a February trial, though the defendants were no-shows.

The two Browns, who are unrelated, are accused of a 38-count conspiracy to defraud, say federal prosecutors. The pair is accused of extracting hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal use from a Small Business Administration-backed loan provided for Katrina Brown’s family’s barbecue sauce plant.

The total list of charges: 13 counts of wire fraud, another 13 of mail fraud, five counts of money laundering, and charges of attempted bank fraud for Ms. Brown and failure to file a 1040 from Mr. Brown.

U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva noted that the case has “every indication of being a trial case,” with Duva requesting a February trial date.

“If we set it off about six months,” Duva said, there would be a “realistic trial term.”

The longer time frame is required given 28,000 pages of discovery, all requiring the review of the defendants’ court-appointed attorneys.

The longer gap between the current hearing and the trial date, which was originally slated for September, will allow one or both co-defendants to consider their legal position over a length of time.

Reggie Brown’s attorney said that, while he is “anxious to clear his name,” he is prepared to waive his rights to a speedy trial.

The proposed new dates: a motions deadline would be set for Oct. 9, with a response deadline Oct 25, then status conference in November, with a plea deadline Dec. 24 and another status conference on Jan. 7 — the next time the defendants are required to be in court.

Duva expects to make the case in five trial days.

Attorney Duva noted that jury selection may take some days, given the notoriety of the defendants, citing a recent analogous fraud case, that of former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and her former chief-of-staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons.

If that case offers any insights, the duo of Reggie Brown and Katrina Brown may yet separate.

It’s worth watching whether or not Mr. Brown files a motion to separate, as Simmons did a couple of months before striking a plea deal and cooperating with U.S. Attorneys.

Simmons struck a plea deal with the feds in February, pleading guilty on two counts, with his sentencing contingent on substantial cooperation with the feds.

As part of that cooperation, Simmons had to testify against his old boss.

Simmons’ attorney expected a plea deal well before proceedings began, given that federal indictments are rarely filed without the evidence required to convict.

So, while discovery will be worth watching this week and beyond, so too will whether or not the co-defendants maintain a united front.

In the case of Reggie Brown’s former seat on the City Council, yet more legal action is underway regarding when Terrance Freeman, the Republican who Gov. Rick Scott appointed to fill the vacancy, established residency.

The matter will come down to the judge deciding which of two days Freeman was actually appointed. And deciding that, even if Freeman wasn’t technically a resident, if a potential “cure” of a re-appointment wouldn’t satisfy requirements.

Plaintiff Brenda Priestly-Jackson, a Democrat, says Republican Freeman, who established residency in District 10 by renting rooms in a private home the day he was appointed (July 10), was circumventing residency requirements.

Freeman’s private attorney, as well as lawyers representing the city of Jacksonville and the state of Florida, contend that since Freeman was sworn in July 12, he had established residency before becoming a Council member.

Of course, if Reggie Brown were to plead out and resign, a special election would be required, because Freeman’s appointment was only intended to fill in for the absent Councilman.

However, with Brown maintaining innocence, Councilman Freeman isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

New endorsements signal Al Lawson momentum in re-election bid

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson continues to demonstrate momentum as early voting continues in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 5th Congressional District, with two key endorsements conferred upon him Tuesday.

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund endorsed Lawson, calling him a “strong supporter of women’s health and … a dedicated advocate for Planned Parenthood health centers and the people they serve.”

“This endorsement means so much to me,” Lawson said. “I pride myself in standing tall for the rights of women. Sometimes, that means facing backlash from people with opposing viewpoints, but this endorsement means that my efforts are being appreciated where it counts.”

Another endorsement that signals appreciation: backing from the Florida Times-Union, the hometown paper of Lawson’s primary opponent, former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

The paper lauded Lawson’s “no-drama approach,” saying there’s “no compelling reason” for Jacksonville voters to “abandon the incumbent.”

Mayor Brown’s candidacy was intended to bring the seat back to Jacksonville; however, that’s not a priority of the local paper’s editorial page.

The endorsement of the Times-Union may not have done much to change the race, which increasingly looks like a comfortable win for Lawson, per a St. Pete Polls survey of the race released Monday that shows him with a 22-point lead.

Lawson has strong leads of 15 percent and up among all surveyed demographics with appreciable data: whites and blacks, men and women, and every age cohort.

Lawson vowed to “retire” Brown, a “failed Mayor,” early in the campaign. The rhetoric has been less combative in recent days, and perhaps that’s another sign the race is closing.

The Democratic primary is Aug. 28. The winner of it will face Republican Virginia Fuller, a first-time candidate without an appreciable campaign infrastructure.

Voter registrations numbers show that it’s still a tale of two congressional districts in NE Fla.

For nearly three decades, the city of Jacksonville has been split between two congressional districts.

One of them, what is now the 4th Congressional District, was represented for years by reliable and, by today’s standard, moderate Republicans: Tillie Fowler and Ander Crenshaw.

The other district, currently the 5th Congressional District, was Democrat Corrine Brown‘s sinecure. The maps on that district changed periodically, seemingly always under legal challenge, a process that ended in 2016 with Brown’s district being moved from its south/southwest jog toward the Orlando area to a straight east-west configuration.

Brown’s political career, wrecked by indictment and conviction for rainmaking and profiteering for and off a fake charity, ended soon after the ink on the new map dried.

Jacksonville, as of yet, doesn’t have the population to house two districts within Duval County — and given the cartographical challenges of minority access districts, that may not be the case after the next apportionment either.

However, a look at book closing data for CD 4 and CD 5 reveals two districts that ultimately will be decided in primary elections, proving that some things really don’t change in the 904.

CD 4 is still heavily Republican, though the trend in the last two years has been an uptick in NPA voters.

In 2016, there were 547,011 voters; that number is up to 564,794 in 2018.

Republicans are up 6,000 votes, just over 281,000, or 49.8 percent of the district’s voters. There are now 150,237 Democratic voters, an uptick of 4,500, or 26.6 percent of district voters. NPAs, however, moved from 107,797 in 2016 to 128,057 this year.

That gain of more than 20,000 voters represents 3.6 percent of the electorate, and it’s telling that NPA growth is outpacing even the growth of the voter rolls in the district.

Much of the change came from a decrease in registrants to the “Independent Party” and the Independence Party. In 2016, those two parties accounted for nearly 14,500 votes; in 2018, the Independence Party was gone, and the Independent Party had just 2,260 registrants.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats had a competitive primary this year. Incumbent U.S. Rep. John Rutherford is the prohibitive favorite against electoral politics newcomer Ges Selmont, the Democratic nominee.

CD 5, meanwhile, is a different story. The district winds through eight counties along Interstate 10, and was designed to be won by a Democrat. The last two years, meanwhile, have made it marginally less friendly for a Dem.

The district now has 442,303 voters, up nearly 2,000 from 2016. Republican registrations have stayed mostly flat in the district: 103,170, just 47 more than in 2016, making up 23.3 percent of voters.

The real changes have been a decrease in Democrats over the last two years, and an expansion of NPA voters.

In 2016, 259,116 Democrats called CD 5 home; that number is down to 255,673 in 2018, but is still a strong 58 percent majority. Conversely, 69,208 was the total number of NPA voters in 2016. In 2018, that number is 80,885.

Likewise, in CD 5 it was a bad cycle for the Independence and Independent parties, which lost all but 1,052 of their more 6,600 registrants in two years, speaking to a lack of intentionality in those registrations.

The ongoing drama since Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson took the seat from Corrine Brown has been whether or not Duval Democrats could take back the seat in the primary.

With 141,305 of the district’s 255,673 Democrats, that could have been the case if voters moved in geographic lockstep. However, despite a well-known Jacksonville challenger in former Mayor Alvin Brown, polling suggests that won’t happen, with Lawson leading Alvin Brown 50 percent to 28 percent.

The winner of Brown/Lawson gets Republican Virginia Fuller in the general election.

Fuller, an idiosyncratic candidate who has yet to report any campaign finance activity, memorably attacked the two Democrats at a recent Jacksonville forum.

Fuller noted that both Democrats are getting Republican money. To reassure attendees of her independence, Fuller said she wasn’t getting any money at all.

As campaign gets ugly, Philip Levine makes early vote push

Jacksonville was the fourth and final stop on Philip Levine‘s barnstorming tour of early voting locations Monday.

The tour happened as tensions have boiled over between Levine and another contender, Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene.

Earlier on Monday, Levine’s campaign made cease and desist demands of television stations playing “false attacks” in a Greene ad charging the former Miami Beach Mayor with polluting Biscayne Bay.

Before that ad dropped, Levine and Greene had each charged the other one with being too close to President Donald Trump, never a good look in a Democratic primary.

As the two work to drive up each other’s negatives, polls show that U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham holds the advantage.

An internal poll released last week by Levine has him behind by 4 points. A Graham poll shows her up on Levine by 16 points. Greene was behind the top two in both cases.

Levine, greeted by a dozen supporters as storm clouds hovered over the Duval County Supervisor of Elections office, was not especially dismayed by the turn the campaign has taken.

“The bottom line is this,” Levine said. “I think the people deserve to know what someone’s track record is” in regards to Trump.

Levine estimated having been “on television … a hundred, two hundred times … during the 2016 election, warning America that this guy would be a terrible president.”

“I think that when someone pretends [he’s] fighting them while being at his country club by the ocean — we call it Kremlin-by-the-Sea — and passing the Grey Poupon across the table and thinks that’s fighting Donald Trump, the people have a right to know,” Levine added.

“You don’t want Donald Trump’s friend — you want who Donald Trump fears,” Levine said. “The people of Florida should understand who is who, and that’s why we’re doing it.”

We noted that the back and forth between Greene and Levine seemed to be driving up each candidate’s negatives while leaving Graham largely untouched; Levine disputed this interpretation.

“I’m not so sure she’s escaping the fire,” Levine said, noting that Greene has been messaging heavily against Graham on television in recent weeks. “He’s been going after her nonstop … completely.”

Uncertainty in HD 14, HD 15 primary fights as early voting begins

While the vast majority of Jacksonville-area state House and Senate races see either uncontested or nominally contested primaries, two exceptions remain.

The Democratic primary in House District 14 and the Republican race in HD 15 offer a soupçon of drama as early voting begins Monday in Jacksonville.

In HD 14’s Democratic two-way, challenger Paula Wright finally has a cash on hand lead over incumbent Kim Daniels.

Wright has continued to raise money; incumbent Daniels, not raising much ($1,100 in the last two weeks of fundraising), is spending a lot of campaign funds on consultant fees and meals. She has just over $10,000 on hand.

Between July 28 and Aug. 3, the last dates for which campaign finance numbers are available, Wright raised $7,675, with money from Realtors, AFSCME, and a sheet metal local union contributing to the till.

Wright has just over $14,000 on hand, and her campaign finance reports suggest she will spend a lot of that money on canvassers (the majority of the nearly $2,800 spent between 7/27 and 8/3 went for such purposes).

Wright has some advantages. A current chair of the Duval County School Board, she is no political neophyte. And she’s backed by Democratic elected officials, including Sen. Audrey Gibson, state Rep. Tracie Davis, and Councilman Garrett Dennis.

Daniels, who has had her share of scandals and apostasies from Democratic orthodoxy, is seen as beatable by those close to Wright. The key to victory is educating voters on Daniels’ true positions. The final count on Aug. 28 will speak to the viability of that strategy.

Key to such an information campaign: the $27,000 that went into the New Direction Now political committee, $15,000 of that from the Wright-friendly Florida Education Association

In HD 15, meanwhile, the Republican side of the ledger is where the August action is, with lobbyist Wyman Duggan trying to close the deal against primary opponents Joseph Hogan and Mark Zeigler.

Duggan has spent over $85,000 on television in July, with one ad featuring Republican incumbent Mayor Lenny Curry and another featuring the candidate vowing to stand with President Donald Trump.

He continues to raise money ($10,000 between July 27 and Aug. 3, including donations from pharmaceutical and Realtor trade group political committees), and has roughly $75,000 between hard money and committee money as he heads into the stretch run.

This gives him more cash on hand than opponents Mark Zeigler (~$28k) and Joseph Hogan (~$28k) combined.

Public polling of this race has yet to surface. However, a recent mailer from Duggan’s political committee slammed Hogan for his support for former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown in the 2015 race against Curry.

Hogan “stands with anti-Trump progressives,” the mailer charges, as Hogan said Jacksonville was “better off” with Brown.

The Duggan bet seems to be that district voters need reminding of that particular deviation from doctrine.

Regardless of which Republican emerges, a tough general election against the perpetual motion machine of the Tracye Polson campaign awaits.

Polson has roughly $150,000 in hard money and another $55,000 in the committee account.

Al Lawson leads Alvin Brown by 22 points, according to new poll

If the election in Florida’s 5th Congressional District were held today, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson would cruise to victory, according to a St. Pete Polls survey of the race released Monday.

A survey of 445 likely Democratic primary voters shows Lawson with 50 percent of the vote, with opponent Alvin Brown at 28 percent. The balance of voters are undecided. The margin of error is 4.6 percent.

Lawson has strong leads of 15 percent and up among all surveyed demographics with appreciable data: whites and blacks, men and women, and every age cohort.

Among those who already voted, Lawson is up 52-42; among those yet to vote, Lawson’s lead balloons to 49-26.

Despite the negative messaging in this race in recent weeks against Lawson, the incumbent has not seen his favorable ratings damaged. Fifty-four percent of Democrats in the district regard him favorably, giving him a +36 rating (Brown, with 36 percent of Democrats regarding him favorably, is at +16).

The winner of this race will face Republican Virginia Fuller, a first-time candidate without an appreciable campaign infrastructure.

Lawson won the 2016 race against Republican Glo Smith by 26 points, winning six of the eight counties in the district. Baker and Hamilton went Smith’s way.

New poll shows Michael Waltz breaking away in Republican field

A new survey conducted by St. Pete Polls shows Republican Michael Waltz pulling ahead of primary opponents John Ward and Fred Costello in the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The new poll commissioned for Florida Politics asked likely primary voters who they would support if the election were held today. Waltz, a St. Augustine Army veteran, would take 40 percent of the vote, results show. Ward, a Palm Coast Navy veteran, would win 21 percent, while former Ormond Beach state Rep. Costello would get 16 percent. Another 23 percent of those polled remain undecided.

The poll, taken on Aug. 10, shows an even more pronounced lead for Waltz among voters who already cast their ballot in the race. Waltz won support from 41 percent of those polled. Interestingly, Costello outperformed Ward among those eager voters, winning 22 percent to Ward’s 21 percent.

More than 23 percent of those surveyed already voted in the Republican primary.

The poll shows significant movement from survey by St. Pete Polls conducted on July 18. Then, the three Republicans appeared to be in a dead heat, with Costello just over 21 percent, Ward just under 21 percent and Waltz at 20.

Now Waltz has gone from third (really a statistical tie) to first.

Waltz leads strongly with both male and female votes, but the poll found a higher percentage of men (26) percent who remain undecided in the race compared to women (20 percent).

Ward is outperforming Costello 23-16 among women voters but just 17-16 among male voters. Waltz, however, wins 41 percent of both the male and female vote.

He also secured more than 41 percent of white voters, the vast majority of likely voters polled in the race. Ward won 21 percent of the white vote to Costello’s 16 percent.

But Ward performed best among Asian voters, winning 67 percent to Waltz’s 33. Costello, meanwhile, won over Hispanic voters, securing 33 percent to Waltz’s 20 and Ward’s 13.

Every black voter surveyed remains undecided in the race.

Among voters under age 30, Waltz and Ward are tied at 27 percent, with Costello winning 20 percent. But Waltz holds a solid lead among all other age groups, including winning 49 percent of votes age 70 and older, compared to Ward’s 18 percent and Costello’s 16.

The automated phone poll surveyed 528 registered Republicans who plan to vote in the Aug. 28 primary. Pollsters reported a 95-percent confidence level and a margin of error of 4.3 percent.

The candidates are running to succeed DeSantis, now a candidate for governor. DeSantis in 2016 won 59 percent of the vote in the district over Democrat Bill McCullough’s 41 percent, and President Donald Trump won the district with 57 percent over Hillary Clinton’s 40 percent.

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