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Thomas Leek tops $100K mark in HD 25 campaign

Republican House District 25 candidate Thomas Leek has crossed the $100,000 mark in the race to replace Rep. Fred Costello in the Volusia County seat.

According to newly filed campaign finance data, Leek raised $26,300 last month and spent just $2,676, leaving him with just over $110,000 in his campaign account after four months in the race.

Among the 70 May contributions were 11 checks for the campaign maximum, including $1,000 checks from at least four businesses tied to former House Speaker J. Hyatt Brown and his son, James Powell Brown.

Also on the list were lobbying mega-firm Greenberg Traurig and NASCAR-related companies Motor Racing Network and ISC Properties.

The few expenditures reported include a $1,200 payment to Ormond Beach-based Bald Eagle Strategies for campaign staffing, and another $841 to South Daytona-based Wishworks Media for campaign swag.

Leek, an attorney, entered the HD 25 race shortly after Costello announced he would run for Congress, and with the exit of fellow Republicans Deb Denys and Beck Reichenberg from the race, he is the only GOP contender for the right-leaning seat.

The only other candidate filed is Democrat Noel Bickford, who has not yet filed a campaign finance report for May. Through the end of April, the New Smyrna Beach resident had $4,275 on hand.

All Aboard Florida opponents to offer candidate ‘report card’ on rail expansion

A group opposing All Aboard Florida announced Tuesday they would issue “report cards” measuring where candidates for public office stand on the railroad project connecting Orlando to Miami.

The Coalition Against Rail Expansion in Florida, or CARE FL, sent a 12-question survey to candidates in districts affected by All Aboard Florida with instructions to send them back by June 17 so the group can communicate the results to voters ahead of the Aug. 30 primary election.

“For the past two years, we have worked closely with elected leaders, business leaders and first responders in this region to educate the public on the negative impacts of the Brightline/All Aboard Florida (AAF) project,” said CARE FL’s Jane Feinstein, who is leading the survey initiative. “Until Election Day and beyond, we will actively pursue all possible legal and public communication channels to stop the ill-conceived AAF rail project that will destroy our quality of life and put our residents in harm’s way.”

The survey was sent to about 120 candidates in total, including all candidates for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio, as well as those who filed for Florida’s 18th Congressional District, and all Florida Legislature and county commission seats in Martin, Indian River, St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties.

CARE FL is made up of South Florida and Treasure Coast residents and organizations that oppose the rail line because of its possible impact on the region’s well-being.

“Our concerns are based upon the financial implications of rail expansion for communities and municipalities, as well as on safety, environmental and waterway impact,” CARE FL Steering Committee Chairman Brent Hanlon said. “Our goal is to protect the safety, welfare and way of life for the families, businesses and retirees who live in our communities.”

California U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas endorses Darren Soto in CD 9

Democratic state Sen. Darren Soto has received another congressional endorsement in his bid to be elected in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, this time from U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas of California.

Vargas, the son of Mexican immigrants who grew up on a California chicken ranch, said he sees in Soto someone who understand immigrant families.

“Darren Soto has already proven that he has what it takes to fight for justice for immigrant families. He stood up against Republican attempts to bring the xenophobic, Arizona-style immigration law to Florida which would have allowed for racial profiling. Darren fought for in-state tuition for Dreamers and to allow them to be admitted to The Florida Bar,” Vargas stated in a news release issued by Soto’s campaign. “I am eager to have Darren stand with me in Congress to fight for commonsense immigration reform.”

Soto faces Susannah Randolph, Dena Grayson and Valleri Crabtree in a Democratic primary contest on Aug. 30. The winner would have a shot of succeeding Grayson’s husband, Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando. The Republican primary candidates include Wayne Liebnitzky and Wanda Rentas.

“Congressman Vargas is an exemplar of why we must fix our broken immigration system. He and his family have contributed to our country to make it better for everyone. I’m proud to have his support,” Soto stated. “I look forward to working with Juan in Congress where we’ll focus on keeping families together rather than tearing them apart.”

Jax Council Rules committee relaxes inspector general ‘2-year rule’

On an otherwise quiet Tuesday in the Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee, the panel moved to remove the provision that the inspector general shall not have been employed by city government or any other governmental entity within two years before before being selected, unless the appointment was in the IG’s office.

The bill, moved on an emergency basis, was timed to help facilitate the city government’s search for a new inspector general, after the previous one resigned earlier this spring.

Former City Hall attorney Steve Rohan serves currently as the interim inspector general.

The bill simply deletes the two-year requirement, said President-Designate Lori Boyer, that was adopted in a Rules Committee amendment in 2014 at the urging of the council auditor’s office, which was worried their employees would be “poached.”

Boyer, who helms the Inspector General Selection and Retention Committee, notes the committee wants the restriction lifted from the ordinance to broaden the pool to people employed by independent authorities and the sheriff’s office.

If there were “potential conflicts,” Boyer said they would be discussed in the hiring process.

Ethics head Carla Miller believes the idea a “fallacy” that someone who has been gone for two years automatically has the necessary “degree of independence.”

Ultimately, it is council’s decision, she said.

Rules Committee members pushed back.

Anna Brosche said she had “reservations,” but could support it nonetheless. Tommy Hazouri “shared those same concerns,” but said he’d support the measure nonetheless.

John Crescimbeni, who is not a Rules member, expressed concerns about “poaching city employees” and also posed the idea that someone who left an agency could give proper “scrutiny” in that investigation.

“The risk of coming from somewhere in city government that may be the subject of a complaint” worried Crescimbeni.

Miller said that risk was a potential issue, and that the inspector general’s office needed to develop a policy to deal with it.

“We have to depend on the integrity of the person we hire for that position,” Miller said, and “protocols and rules have to be established.”

Crescimbeni noted a previous iteration of the inspector general “worked for the mayor, so there [was] no independence.”

“That doesn’t always pass the smell test in the eyes of the public,” Crescimbeni said.

Boyer noted that familiarity with how city government works creates an advantage for an incoming candidate, in terms of knowing where the issues were, as compared to a candidate, such as the previous IG, who was from out of town and out of his depth.

Crescimbeni pushed for an amendment to outline the procedure for how an internal candidate might handle potential conflicts of interest. Ethics head Miller said more IG-related “cleanup bills” will be coming before the committee to address that and other issues, but Crescimbeni was not mollified, wanting an amendment ahead of Tuesday.

Interim IG Rohan noted there is a “very elite and accomplished selection committee … vetting the candidates and making good decisions.”

Rohan said if Crescimbeni’s logic were extended, no candidate who had ever worked for the city could qualify for the position.

“You have a solution that you’re looking for a problem for,” Rohan said, given the “superb” committee in place.

“I can’t imagine an official of the city whom I would not be willing to investigate,” said Rohan, including a member of the Office of General Counsel, city council, or the mayor.

Rohan, meanwhile, “has not ruled out” filling the role himself, albeit on a part-time basis that wouldn’t impact his retirement.

Concerns about independence (or the lack thereof) notwithstanding, Rules passed the measure 6-0, which will need to be approved by the full council on June 14.

Andrew Korge has raised more than $200K during last two months on campaign trail

Andrew Korge, a first-time Democratic candidate for Senate District 39, has raised more than $200,000 during the last two months on the campaign trail.

Korge announced Monday that he brought in roughly $102,000 in May. That’s on the heels of more than $100,000 raised in April.

“Voters in District 39 are responding to our 21st century vision for Florida, and our fundraising proves it,” Korge said Tuesday.

This is the third time since Korge entered the SD 39 race he has cleared the $100,000 per month hurdle. In March 2015, Korge reported an impressive $250,000 raised in just two weeks.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Korge’s May report is that he is starting to raise Tallahassee money, which many expected would only go to Republican Sen. Anitere Flores.

“As a pro-growth Democrat who is business partners with Jeb Bush Jr., it makes sense that major donors would play both sides in a highly competitive race like this,” Korge said. “I am humbled by their support and confidence in me.”

The Korge campaign says it is likely more Tallahassee donors will cover their bases in the coming months because many are starting to realize that GOP nominee Donald Trump could be a major drag on down-ticket races in Hispanic areas like Miami. In 2012, Barack Obama won Miami-Dade by more than 200,000 votes against a far less controversial opponent.

4th Circuit Public Defender candidate Charles Cofer spends big in May

In May, former Duval County chief judge Charles Cofer began spending in earnest in his GOP primary bid to unseat 4th Circuit Public Defender Matt Shirk.

The 4th Circuit encompasses Duval, Clay, and Nassau counties.

Cofer raised just over $11,000 in May, including two key max contributions: one from Gate Petroleum, the company of former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton; the other from the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters.

His total money raised is $115,815. His total spend thus far is $74,338.

Cofer spent $53,391 of that money in May, with over $44,000 of that going to Daigle Creative for a $40,000 media buy, a $3,000 consulting charge, and $1,079 for graphic design, printing, and media relations.

Cofer has just over $47,000 cash on hand, a number boosted by a $7,000 loan early in the campaign.

Cofer’s opponent, incumbent Shirk, had just over $25,000 on hand through April.

His May numbers are still pending.

Six-figure haul for Melissa Nelson’s ‘First Coast Values’ political committee

The May numbers for “First Coast Values,” a political committee associated with 4th Circuit State Attorney Republican challenger Melissa Nelson, augur well for her campaign.

The political committee’s first month of fundraising brought in $108,500, of which $50,103 was spent.

Of that money, $80,000 came from three donors, all attorneys.

Ellen Fitzsimmons, general counsel for railroad company CSX, gave $50,000.

George “Buddy” Schulz, of the Jacksonville law firm Holland and Knight, gave $25,000.

Scott Cairns of McGuire Woods (Nelson’s firm) gave $10,000.

Multi Media Services, got $50,000 of the May spend, for a big-ticket ad buy that started running in the Jacksonville media market in May.

The entire 4th Circuit, which includes Duval, Nassau, and Clay counties, is encompassed by that media market.

Nelson’s May fundraising numbers are not in for her campaign account as of Wednesday afternoon. However, she has a steep hill to climb.

As of her April filing, incumbent State Attorney Angela Corey has over $200,000 on hand.

Rick Scott meets with Jax first responders, calls for federal help on Zika

With Tropical Storm Colin now a memory for the Sunshine State, Gov. Rick Scott stopped in Jacksonville Tuesday to thank first responders at Fire Station #1 on Jacksonville’s Eastside.

While he was here Tuesday morning, he sounded the alarm — yet again — on the matter of federal funding for Zika prevention.

When discussing the storm, Scott noted that standing water is a recurrent problem still, which is obviously an issue given that water is a breeding ground for the mosquitoes that carry Zika.

Scott, discussing Zika, said he was “really disappointed” Congress went on recess instead of passing the Zika funding necessary to handle the state’s needs.

“We’re doing our part,” Scott said, but “this is a national issue” and “the federal government needs to show up.”

“There’s money in the federal budget right now,” Scott continued, to fight Zika.

When asked if the state budget had money in reserve to handle the shortfall from the federal side, Scott said “the state’s going to do the right thing” but “the federal government needs to do its part.”


Addressing media along with Gov. Scott were Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams, who both spoke about the local experience with Colin on Monday.

Curry noted that Scott called on Monday, to see if the city needed any help, and to ensure Curry knew to call if any help was needed.

Sheriff Williams, meanwhile, noted that Jacksonville “came together as a city” in response to Tropical Storm Colin.

Town hall tonight in Jacksonville focusing on police shootings

Activists in Jacksonville are hosting a town hall meeting tonight at the Wells Fargo offices on North Main Street after weeks of protests against the shooting death of Vernell Bing.

The Kemetic Empire says it’s hosting the event “to present solutions, a platform for the community to express their views and concerns.”

Invited to appear are State Attorney Angela Corey, Sheriff Mike Williams, Public Defender Matt Shirk, and Jacksonville City Council member Reginald Gaffney, among others. No word yet if any of those officials are confirmed.

JSO continues to face criticism after Bing was shot by police on May 22 in Springfield after he rammed a stolen vehicle head-on into a braking patrol car, ending a high-speed chase.

For his part, Williams says he’s committed to more transparency with the public and wants to regain trust in the city’s African-American neighborhoods. His Sheriff’s Initiative, a study of police policies, is expected to issue a report later this month.



Second Jax council committee approves mosquito-control funds

On Tuesday morning, the Jacksonville City Council Recreation, Community Development, Public Health, and Safety committee mulled Zika-related legislation.

One bill, which moves $122,524 from the mosquito control fund balance to allocations for insecticide and equipment this fiscal year and next, was approved by the Finance Committee Monday.

RCDPHS approved the bill 5-0 without discussion.

A companion bill, which authorizes the finance director to execute budget forms on behalf of the city council with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services relating to mosquito control funding, was approved on an emergency basis, as it was in Finance.

These forms have to be signed by a constitutional officer, according to the city charter.

Without these signed forms, the state can withhold funding, which amounted to $43,000 this fiscal year.

These measures will have to be approved by the full council Tuesday.

After the discussion, Kelli Wells of the Department of Health said door knockers were being put out on doors to raise Zika awareness. Unlike in some cities, condoms (to nullify the threat of sexually transmitted Zika) are not included.

Wells noted that while the heavy rains from Colin disrupted the mosquito population momentarily, standing water presents a threat for mosquito population redevelopment.

Pregnant women are being monitored, said Wells, to ensure that they aren’t symptomatic.

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