Alvin Brown Archives - Florida Politics

Jacksonville Bold for 6.2.17 — Summer Slam

It’s June, finally. And despite the Jacksonville City Council taking a week off, the political scene in Northeast Florida is heating up.

One congressional incumbent launched his re-election campaign, while a former Clintonista is mulling her own run in a district just south of Duval County.

Sen. Bill Nelson came through the region to talk about the youngest victims of the opioid crisis, and the head of the Florida Chamber delivered a downbeat message about what the state will look like with severely cut economic incentives.

And, to be sure, other news — covered here — transpired.

We expected a slow week this week, owing to the Memorial Day holiday. What is clear, however, in Jacksonville politics, things are always popping.

Your move, Alvin Brown

Thursday saw the first re-election fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, the Leon County Democrat who also represents Jacksonville in Florida’s sprawling 5th Congressional District.

Will Alvin Brown step up to face Al Lawson? If so, does he have a shot?

And with that comes an inevitable question: who will step up from Jacksonville to face Lawson?

The most compelling Jacksonville candidate associated with a potential run at Lawson in the Democratic primary: former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

Brown has talked to donors already, attempting to rebuild bridges that were broken down during his shambolic re-election campaign in 2015, and he has told Democratic elected officials that he intends to launch a campaign just as soon as Corrine Brown’s court case is out of the news.

Though Jacksonville Democrats may want the seat back, Lawson as an incumbent will have every possible institutional advantage, with support from lobbies and the national party should he need it.

Brown, meanwhile, has few friends in the Florida Democratic Party after a term in which he shunned party label on many occasions, including not appearing with President Barack Obama when he came through Jacksonville.

Bill Nelson talks opioid ‘pandemic’

U.S. Sen. Nelson visited Jacksonville’s UF Health this week, touring the safety-net hospital’s Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit to spotlight a problem that gets more grave by the month: newborns addicted to opioids.

Bill Nelson will step up his critique of GOP policies ahead of his general election campaign.

Nelson sees the problem of opioid addiction as one with “no boundaries,” ranging from New Hampshire to the farm belt, and to the Sunshine State itself.

And indeed, it’s a problem with an exponential growth curve. Neonatal addiction has almost doubled in five years among UF Health babies and has increased five times since 1994, a combination of Big Pharma marketing and product refinement, all of it wrapped up in a package with a bright bow of Food and Drug Administration approval.

Republican health care reform, meanwhile, would only make the problem worse, Nelson said.

“Politics is getting in the way of care for babies,” Nelson said. “The poor child, through no fault of its own, is born addicted.”

“It’s another symptom of our times. We have a lot of opioid addiction. It has become a pandemic,” Nelson said, noting that 2,000 Florida babies born in the last year were “addicted because the mothers are addicted.”

Curb your enthusiasm

Can a former Clinton administration ambassador win a race in Florida’s 6th Congressional District? Democrat Nancy Soderberg is giving it some thought, reports First Coast News.

Does she have a shot? Soderberg herself says the race would be challenging, and she’s right.

Nancy Soderberg’s last run for office was a blowout loss.

Worst-case scenario: Ron DeSantis somehow does not pull the trigger on a campaign for statewide office, and Soderberg winds end up going against an incumbent with beaucoup money and a sky-high national profile.

Best-case scenario: DeSantis runs for Attorney General or Governor, and Soderberg faces Brandon Patty or someone else who won the GOP primary.

Soderberg is more name than game; she is a thoughtful, professorial speaker, her style a world removed from the agitprop of activists like Indivisible.

In her last competitive race, a 2012 run against Aaron Bean for an open state Senate seat, Soderberg lost by more than 20 points.

Florida Chamber CEO delivers dispiriting message

In Jacksonville for the JAXUSA quarterly luncheon Wednesday, Florida Chamber CEO Mark Wilson described the 2017 Legislative Session as a “mixed bag,” saying that maybe things would be better for Gov. Rick Scott’s VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida once current House leadership cycles out.

Jacksonville pols were not reassured by Mark Wilson’s read of the current eco dev landscape.

“If we can get through ’17 and ’18,” Wilson said, “we can actually get on offense again.”

Warning of an inevitable economic slowdown as incentives winnow down, local pols were less than encouraged by his remarks.

JAXUSA VP Aaron Bowman, who takes over the Jacksonville City Council VP role next month, said he didn’t know how to feel after those remarks.

And U.S. Rep. John Rutherford noted that Florida is “competing with 49 other states,” and that he wasn’t sure “what just came from the Legislature” is going to help Florida be competitive.

Can Paul Renner become Speaker?

The big question on the lips of many Northeast Florida political insiders: can Rep. Renner get over the hump and become House Speaker?

Paul Renner is dressed casually here but is serious about a Speaker bid.

A fundraiser for Renner’s political committee last week paints the effort as do or die for Northeast Florida, with Mayor Lenny Curry and former Mayor John Peyton solidly behind the effort.

As Peter Schorsch writes: “Pressure is now on Renner to lock down his northeast Florida base. The region — Jacksonville in particular — believes it deserves a turn at leadership. And it’s time for the other Jacksonville/Northeast Florida House members to get in line.”

Whether Renner has the votes or not is very much an open question. Running for anything statewide from this part of the state can be a daunting task, however. As Jay Fant is currently learning.

Jason Fischer reflects on ‘strong’ session

The Duval County Legislative Delegation had a solid Session, said state Rep. Fischer in an interview we ran this week.

“Most of us thought we had a good, strong Session,” Fischer said about “Team Northeast Florida,” with “great things all over the region,” especially regarding water projects and transportation projects.

While it is unknown when Northeast Florida will have its next House Speaker, the delegation finds “strength in working together” to “make sure North Florida is taken care of.”

Jason Fischer, repping “Team Northeast Florida,” is stoked about the latest Legislative Session.

Fischer’s words offer one more rebuke to Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg. Termed out in 2019, Schellenberg has explored a run against Fischer.

Schellenberg wrote a letter to the Florida Times-Union a few weeks back saying that the Duval Delegation brought home “crumbs” and that they were slaves to House Leadership.

Fischer relates that he heard from colleagues after Schellenberg’s latest shot across the bow of his fellow Republican, and they were surprised.

If Schellenberg does run against Fischer? Expect that the City Councilman will have to contend with statewide efforts on the incumbent’s behalf.

Garbage in, garbage out

Ironically, neither George Orwell nor Aldous Huxley predicted the hot mess that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office use of social media surveillance software “Geofeedia” would create.

Lots of surveillance, driven by keywords. And nothing useful, reported the Florida Times-Union this week.

“The 146 alerts obtained by the Times-Union fell into four categories of named alerts: ‘Bomb Threat,’ ‘NationalBlackOut,’ ‘Roe v. Wade,’ ‘Angela Corey Protests,’ and ‘HS Alerts.’”

Effective law enforcement protects Jacksonville residents from the dread specter of sandwiches like this.

So far, so good! But wait!

One of the bomb threats? ““Bomb crab burger I had the other day,” posted someone on Instagram.

An expert quoted in the article said the approach was “‘garbage in, garbage out,’” noting that broad search parameters on the user end proved to be an obstacle to more efficient surveillance.

Weed for warriors

The local media coverage of medical marijuana, as a rule, has been lacking. Nevertheless, a story from First Coast News this week offered an interesting corrective, showing how those who have sacrificed the most for America have been unable to get the relief they ascribe to cannabis.

Some veterans, frustrated by the bureaucratic morass, are turning to the “black market” for their green, asserts a Lake City member of “Weed for Warriors.”

This former Marine is now at war with the government over whether cannabis is medicine.

“I know a lot of people who are scared to talk about it. They are scared to try and even attempt to get their medical card because they are scared that the VA is going to take their benefits away,” he said.

The “Weed for Warriors” member told a horror story of being shunned by an emergency room physician because he smelled like cannabis, followed up by the VA classifying him as “marijuana dependent.”

America’s warriors — at least the ones FCN talked to — face a Faustian choice between the stigma of being thought cannabis addicts, and the “all you can pop” buffet of opioids.

FCN draws FCC fine for phony emergency signal

Speaking of First Coast News and its parent company, Tegna, the Federal Communications Commission fined them $55K for misusing emergency signals this week, according to TVTechnology.com.

That fine — which might have paid for at least one more reporter or camera person — came after a stupid decision to use emergency signals in commercials for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016.

At EverBank Field last year, fans routinely filed for the exits. It was not a drill.

The jokes write themselves here, of course. Those who might have seen Gus Bradley coach, Blake Bortles quarterback or Luke Joeckel pass-protect would have said the emergency tones in August were an augury of what was to come for the Jag-wires.

Better times ahead for Jax bikes, pedestrians

Could a “master plan” to improve roadway safety for Jacksonville bicyclists and pedestrians get the job done?

The Florida Times-Union reports that there indeed is some optimism on that front, via a draft plan that “champions four ‘statement projects’ to showcase changes possible at sites ranging from a troubled strip of Soutel Drive on the Northside to riverfront properties on downtown’s Southbank.

Changes may be ahead for Jacksonville pedestrians and bicyclists

“Projects on Soutel and on a section of Phoenix Avenue in the Eastside have been floated for inclusion in Mayor Lenny Curry’s next city budget proposal in July,” the T-U report adds.

June will see the bulk of the work on Curry’s third budget, via the mayor’s budget review committee, before the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee begins the formal review process in August.

Trouble for St. Johns County roads

Times have been good for St. Johns County in recent decades, with low unemployment and high population growth creating a boom in the tax base.

However, with such booms come challenges. The St. Augustine Record reports that the county lacks the money for maintenance, never mind expansion. Pavement management alone is in a $50M hole.

State Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, who linked to the Record article on her Facebook page, was once a St. Johns County Commissioner — and has a unique perspective on the problem.

Cyndi Stevenson has seen St. Johns County grow through the decades.

“Roads are like roofs in a way. If they are not well-maintained, the repair costs accelerate rapidly. It’s like accelerating interest cost … To make it worse, in the early years of fast growth, the county let some big residential developers put in roads that are not built to high enough standards, AND they accepted them and their roadways.”

“Now the repair and maintenance cost fall to all taxpayers of SJC. We need to take care of our roads. It doesn’t cost that much if the maintenance and repair are done regularly, but it is snowballing. We will face the music on this … just like Jax had to deal with their pensions … sooner or later,” Stevenson observed.

“He looked like a truck ran over him.”

Paybacks are hell — and from what we hear on the fourth floor of Jacksonville’s City Hall, receipts may be due after John Crescimbeni lost the City Council presidency race last week.

“He looked like a truck ran over him,” said one City Council veteran early this week.

Expectations are that Crescimbeni will work through the stages of grief, then — unburdened by the need to be collegial — will go into a more familiarly mercurial mode.

Just in time for budget season.

With presidential dreams dashed, what does John Crescimbeni have to lose?

There are Crescimbeni allies, meanwhile, who say that the Councilman isn’t quite so devastated as all that — but they are predicting a revenge tour also.

Meanwhile, we also hear that there is serious disquiet among Duval Democrats as it relates to the Dems on City Council who voted against Crescimbeni for president … and some thought (at least now) of pushing serious competition against the three running for re-election in 2019.

For those who might have missed our epic interview with the candidate who beat Crescimbeni, Anna Brosche, the link is provided here.

And for further reading, check out A.G. Gancarski’s column on the subject from Folio Weekly.

Barnett Bank tower making progress

One of the cornerstones of downtown redevelopment took a step closer to viability, reports the Jax Daily Record.

“Owner Barnett Tower LLC, led by developer Stephen Atkins, and Danis Builders LLC filed three permit applications with the city Tuesday for interior and structural work and window replacement on the 18-story structure … a sign that Atkins and The Molasky Group of Companies want to bring the 155,000-square-foot structure, built in 1926, back to life,” the Daily Record asserts.

The goal: a mixed-use development.

Glory days — they will pass you by.

The building has been in redevelopment limbo for over a decade; the Barnett building and the Laura Street Trio are key factors in bringing downtown Jacksonville a step (or two) closer to past glory, encouraging residential infill that will make downtown boom once the commuters have left for suburbia.

Jacksonville Mayo Clinic named National Pancreas Foundation Center

The National Pancreas Foundation recognizes Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville campus on San Pablo Road South as a National Pancreas Foundation Center for the treatment and care of pancreatic cancer.

Jacksonville’s Mayo Clinic is one of 35 National Pancreas Foundation Centers in the U.S.

The Florida Times-Union explains that National Pancreas Foundation Centers are health care facilities focusing on the multidisciplinary treatment of pancreatic cancer by treating the “whole patient.” These centers advance research and promote awareness and understanding of pancreatic cancer among health care providers, patients, families and the general public.

Students take part in JAXPORT-sponsored aquaculture ‘Labitat’

Fifth-graders from Mayport Elementary Coastal Sciences Academy gathered at Mandarin Park this week to participate in the release of striped bass they raised into the St. Johns River. They students raised nearly 400 fish from eggs to maturity in the academy’s JAXPORT-sponsored aquaculture ‘Labitat.’

Fifth-graders from Mayport Elementary Coastal Sciences Academy gathered at Mandarin Park to release striped bass they raised into the St. Johns River.

Labitat is an outdoor lab offering hands-on experience for learning about St. Johns River, its wildlife, and the river’s effect on the local economy. The lab uses a JAXPORT-sponsored power generator to keep fish alive in the event of a prolonged power outage, such as during Hurricane Matthew.

Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens Conservation Speaker Series — Sharks and Rays

MarAlliance Executive Director Dr. Rachel Graham will be the featured speaker Thursday, June 15, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

MarAlliance promotes education efforts and conservation of threatened marine species and their habitats, notably sharks and rays on the Mesoamerican reef. The group trains local fishers and call upon local communities to obtain information on sightings of important species. They share this knowledge in many different formats to many different audiences, from the youngest audiences in preschools all the way to politicians and other decision-makers.

Tickets include dinner, one drink, the presentation, and a zoo experience with its own amphibians. Cost is $30 for members, $35 for nonmembers and $10 for children. More information and tickets are available at jacksonvillezoo.org.

Al Lawson draws on Tallahassee base for first re-election fundraiser

With Jacksonville candidates mulling a challenge to Tallahassee Democrat Rep. Al Lawson in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, Lawson begins his fundraising in earnest June 1 with a fundraiser heavy on big names in the State Capital.

Among those names: State Reps. Ramon Alexander and Lorraine Ausley; FSU basketball coach Leonard Hamilton; State Sen. Bill Montford; and Allison Tant, the most recent former head of the Florida Democratic Party.

Lawson defeated scandal-plagued Corrine Brown, a longtime Jacksonville Congresswoman who was convicted of 18 counts of fraud-related charges earlier in May, in the 2016 Democratic Primary.

The margin of victory was in single-digits, a number abetted by Brown not being able to effectively run a re-election campaign (as Brown said in federal court, everyone who would have been an asset to that effort was sidelined by the federal investigation into “One Door for Education”).

Brown, who normally would have been expected to run up the vote in Jacksonville, barely broke 60 percent of the vote in Duval County, as Lawson scored roughly 20 percent and a third candidate scooped up the remainder.

The most compelling Jacksonville candidate associated with a potential run at Lawson in the Democratic primary: former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

Alvin Brown has talked to donors already, attempting to rebuild bridges that were broken down during his shambolic re-election campaign in 2015, and has told Democratic elected officials that he intends to launch a campaign just as soon as Corrine Brown’s court case is out of the news.

It remains to be seen how much traction Alvin Brown can get with the Jacksonville donor class.

In 2016, Susie Wiles — an iconic Jacksonville Republican who helmed President Donald Trump‘s Florida campaign down the stretch — took initiative for Lawson, introducing the candidate to Jacksonville media.

Though Jacksonville Democrats may want the seat back, Lawson as an incumbent will have every possible institutional advantage, with support from lobbies and the national party should he need it.

Ahead of ratifying pension reform, Jacksonville City Council looks backward

A Monday “lunch and learn” of the Jacksonville City Council involved members getting educated on the finer points of collective bargaining.

Not a moment too soon for that, as the council will have to vote later this spring on whether or not to ratify the latest pension reform package from the mayor’s office via 11 different ordinances: five on the city side, five from JEA side, and one from police and fire.

Introduction of legislation is imminent, with a slew of collective bargaining agreements being advanced to the council this week — potentially as soon as Tuesday.

The best deals are for police and fire, of course.

The deal offers long-delayed raises to current public safety  employees (a 3 percent lump sum payout immediately, and a 20 percent raise for police and fire over three years) and gives all classes of current employees the same benefits.

As well, all police and fire officers will have DROP eligibility with an 8.4 percent annual rate of return and a 3 percent COLA.

The deal, if approved without modification, will bring labor peace through 2027 — though it can be renegotiated by the city or the unions at 3, 6, 9, and 10 years marks in the agreement.

For new employees, however, the plan is historic — a defined contribution plan that vests three years after the new employee for police and fire is hired.

The public sector unions have agreed to this, but the council’s approval is necessary — and not to be taken for granted.

“As of Friday, all the bargaining units have ratified” the deals, General Counsel Jason Gabriel said, including the general employees — an important part of the puzzle, as all plans have to be closed before the funds are available, either to access or to provide certainty to actuaries that the money will be there.

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In March 2015, for example, the council deadlocked 9-9 on a reform vote. Though objections were magically mooted weeks after Alvin Brown lost his re-election, the fact remains that council needs to understand the process.

To that end, General Counsel Jason Gabriel — an integral part of the negotiating process — explained recent history on concepts to council, which saw 11 new members since the last pension reform package was approved.

Gabriel referenced the “unorthodox” way the city had of negotiating these terms in the past, but those days are long gone now.

“There’s been a conflation of roles … when it’s come to collective bargaining in general,” Gabriel said.

The council, said Gabriel, will have its “management hats” on when deciding to approve or deny the deal.

Gabriel described the 2015 “settlement agreement” as putting the “final kibosh” on negotiating with the Police and Fire Pension Fund, paving the way for the various pension reform deals negotiated since August 2016 with the unions.

The city has three funds: the general employees fund, the correctional officers fund, and the police and fire pension fund.

These funds were established in 1937; pending ratification of pension reform by the council, they will be closed to new members.

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Gabriel went back into history: starting a granular analysis in the early 1990s, after some changes in the 1980s led to a city charter amendment that made the police and fire pension fund an independent agency of the city.

The Ed Austin administration imposed an amendment allowing the local PFPF to negotiate pension benefits, and amendments over the years and across administrations changed and elongated the deal, leading to the 2001 “30-year agreement.”

Gabriel reviewed lawsuits related to that agreement, including actions related to violation of agreement terms, Sunshine Law violations, and so on.

Gabriel discussed pension reform deals worked out by the John Peyton administration in 2011, but not approved, as the Alvin Brown administration withdrew the bill related to the police and fire pension fund.

“The Peyton plan kind of comes off the table, and we start fresh with the Brown administration,” Gabriel summarized.

The Brown administration attempted legislation related to a mediated settlement of a sunshine law suit in 2013, a 2014 retirement reform agreement, and a counter-proposal from the PFPF in 2015, but finding common ground between the council, the mayor’s office, and the pension fund proved challenging.

Also attempted: making JEA a funding source. That didn’t float either.

The 2015 agreement that was ratified, said Gabriel, had “two huge provisions.”

One: “that collective bargaining is a constitutional right of the unions and management … and those rights are not waivable.”

“Everything we’re doing today fits into the terms of the 2015 agreement,” Gabriel said, referring to the pension reform package put forth by the Curry administration, one that sees dedicated funding coming from the extension of a current sales surtax.

“None of this is easy,” Gabriel said, referring to the stipulations of the plan, which include closing underfunded plans to new employees, agreeing to a 10 percent minimum employees contribution, an extant surtax with a date certain for termination, and keeping the trustees out of the bargaining.

“It’s almost like a sleeper provision in there,” Gabriel chortled about the latter. “It’s crystal-clear … we have to follow the dictates of the statute, and one of them is that the board of trustees has no role in pension benefits.”

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If legislation is completed and ready to be filed, the bills will be added to the addendum council agenda meeting Tuesday, setting up a more robust schedule of meetings.

“It’s all a moving target,” Council President Lori Boyer said, with the hope for a marathon meeting about the “financial side” between representatives of the mayor’s office and city council on Apr. 6.

“I’ll hand out a whole schedule tomorrow of potential dates,” Boyer said, floating the possibility of taking up these issues in a separate meeting dedicated to the purpose of pension reform, pending the distribution of actuarial studies.

“This meeting is about us receiving the information … we don’t even have it yet,” Boyer said.

Report: Jacksonville ‘jilts’ intelligent street lights

For those wondering what happened to the “intelligent” street lighting pilot project Jacksonville launched a couple of years back, wonder no longer.

Trade publication LEDs Magazine reports that Jacksonville “jilted” the pilot project from GE.

In April 2015, then-Mayor Alvin Brown, in campaign mode, exulted over the project which was supposed to put Jacksonville “at the forefront of innovation nationally.”

“Jacksonville is excited to be on the front lines with this pilot project, using new technology to increase efficiency and drive innovation, at no cost to taxpayers …. This technology has the potential to transform how our city solves problems by allowing us to use the power of data to drive outcomes that give us flexibility, efficiency and new, creative actions to enhance life in our city,” Brown said.

Brown lost his re-election a month later, and the project was passed on to the Lenny Curry administration, where the excitement apparently ebbed.

“Upon the pilot’s conclusion, the city did not move forward with the program,” a City of Jacksonville spokesperson told LEDs Magazine.

The city had “other priorities that took precedence,” the magazine continued.

(Note: For those who don’t speak Mayor’s Office, “other priorities” is one of those phrases like “the mayor has a schedule conflict” that semantically is intended to close inquiry. However, given the timing of the administration’s decision early last year, it likely was tied with the all-consuming push to get its pension reform scheme through Tallahassee.)

Ironically, the other location where the pilot launched — San Diego — has a mayor who is Republican, like Curry, but San Diego is pushing forward.

“The San Diego smart lighting trial ended in August, and last month Current announced that San Diego was now investing $30 million to deploy 3200 of GE’s CityIQ sensor nodes on street-light poles starting in July, with the possibility of another 3000 nodes later this year. San Diego is also upgrading 14,000 light fixtures — about a quarter of the city’s street lights — to Current’s Evolve LED luminaires,” LEDs reports.

In an interesting twist, San Diego’s system includes ShotSpotter technology.

The Curry administration started looking into ShotSpotter, a technology which allows aural identification of where gunshots come from, last year.

This year, the administration shepherded legislation through the city council to ensure local allocation for it, while having Duval County Legislative Delegation member Rep. Kim Daniels carry an ask for $325,000 of state funds.

Between that and the city’s participation in the NIBIN program (a federal clearinghouse for shell casings to identify firearms used in violent crime), it’s clear that Jacksonville is implementing technological solutions to the crime issue — at least two of which could be called “intelligent design.”

However, the GE project clearly wasn’t the way forward … for reasons the administration didn’t want to discuss with a national outlet.

A.G. Gancarski’s 10 predictions for Jacksonville politics in 2017

Now that 2017 is all but upon us — after a tumultuous 2016 electorally — what’s next for Northeast Florida politics?

One assurance: unlike in 2016, with a massive electoral turnover in the region’s Washington and Tallahassee delegations, as well as in both the state attorney and public defender offices, 2017 won’t see that.

With that in mind, our crystal ball turns — mostly — to policy.

Though, as you will see, we won’t be able to resist a few purely political prognostications.

In the words of Jay-Z (or was it Lenny Curry?) “you can’t change a player’s game in the ninth inning.”

Prediction 1: Duval Delegation will struggle to bring home the bacon.

The smart people (or at least the old ones) will rehearse their now ritualized laments for another year. They will whisper and mutter about how things used to be, back when titans like Jim King ruled the corridors of power in the state capital.

And they will be right.

The Duval County Legislative Delegation is in for two years, relatively speaking, in the cold. House Districts 11, 12, 13, 14, and 16 all have rookie legislators.

You can see the track toward power — or not — in committee assignments.

The only leadership position will be held by the one returning member from Jacksonville — House District 15 Republican Jay Fant — vice chair of the Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee.

That lack of stroke, coupled with a darkening fiscal forecast for the Sunshine State and the parsimony of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, is going to lead to fewer appropriations projects coming back to Duval County.

While Jacksonville is lobbying up in Tallahassee again in 2017, replicating the 2016 strategy involving the Fiorentino Group, Southern Strategy Group, and Ballard Partners, expectations will have to be tempered given that every major push will have to be made to legislators from outside the area.

Duval’s priorities will be weighed against those of delegations with superior manpower and seniority in the House.

In the Senate, of course, Audrey Gibson and Aaron Bean are seasoned pros. But the House is going to be where Duval’s dreams live or die.

Prediction 2: No money for the Hart Expressway offramp removal this year.

Curry wants $50 million in state money for Hart Expressway ramp modifications, noting at November’s Duval Delegation meeting that the current setup has outmoded designs and creates public safety issues.

“The ramps were originally designed to bypass the industrialized waterfront,” Curry said, a purpose outmoded in the half-century since the original construction.

Indeed, the city strategy is predicated now on utilizing the potential of Bay Street. The goal is to have meaningful tourist attractions at the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park, to augment the latest $90 million capital influx into the Sports Complex.

However, Prediction 1 comes into play: who from outside the area, in a year of dwindling state resources, is going to push for a $50 million road project in Jacksonville’s downtown?

Mayor Curry played any number of hold cards during the last session to get the pension reform bill through Tallahassee and onto the referendum ballot. Does he have enough juice to get this ball into the end zone with a line full of untested rookies blocking for him?

Prediction 3: Collective bargaining will not wrap in time for Jacksonville’s FY 18 budget

Who will blink first in the current negotiating table showdown between city negotiators and the heads of various unions? And when will they cave?

City hopes have been that they could close a deal with one of the bargaining units by the middle of the year, and that unit would be willing to accept defined contribution plans for new hires.

Out of the units — general employees, police, and fire — the expectation is that general employees would be willing to “take a haircut.”

Police and fire risk their lives daily in the field. Meanwhile, there are some general employees whose greatest daily risks is queueing up at food trucks at Hemming Park during lunch.

However, with general employees, there are a lot of moving parts. And even with a bargaining unit as relatively friendly as the Jacksonville Supervisors Association, the city and union are far apart on pay raises.

Throughout the city, many employees took a 2 percent pay cut in 2010, and have yet to see restoration. It means there are a lot of people — and unions — looking to be “made whole.”

Thus, a trend. The city offers pay raises that get them part of the way there; the unions counter by saying the raises aren’t enough.

Meanwhile, a wrinkle affecting public safety: the 2015 pension reform accord signed into law by outgoing Mayor Alvin Brown, which was supposed to hold for seven years.

The idea behind that accord: relative stability, coupled with an increase in city contributions beyond current levels totaling $350 million in 13 years.

The public safety unions interpret that as not having to agree to anything until next decade.

They could, theoretically, cave. But the world is watching. And by the world, we mean the national organizations of the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Prediction 4: Human Rights Ordinance expansion faces another uphill slog.

The “smart set” wants HRO expansion to the LGBT community — and the “T” is non-negotiable.

The arguments for the HRO expansion are familiar by now: other cities accomplished this years ago, and their moral firmaments remain intact. The cities that have gotten protections for people regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression align more closely with the values of corporations looking to relocate to Jacksonville. And it’s the right thing to do.

Also familiar by now: a Jacksonville City Council, which has many members who might have said in 2015 on the campaign trail that they support HRO expansion. But in 2016 and 2017, the concerns are more prosaic, about the “language of the bill” and “unintended consequences” of legislation that could, theoretically, impact churches and small businesses.

Despite the fact that enforcement of the ordinance expansion would be in a gray area, there are real concerns about the nightmare scenarios that happened to Christian conservatives elsewhere in the country when they flouted laws and refused to provide service to LGBT people.

Early indications are that advocates have taken a “divide and conquer” approach with the council, each of them lobbying a handful of members. There may be attendant risks to that strategy. It didn’t seem to drive the votes in 2016.

Word is by early January, HRO proponents are going to know if they have the votes needed to push the bill through. If you don’t see a filing soon after that, you will know there aren’t quite 10.

Is there a Plan B?

The way to lobby this council is to pick one lobbyist — my pick would be Paul Harden, who is the best lobbyist in the city — to make a unified, cohesive pitch. Such a pitch would ensure the council is on the same page, and understand both the affirmative talking points and how to undermine concerns of the Christian right.

This is a good ol’ boy town. To sell radical change, it has to be through the good ol’ boy system.

Prediction 5: The murder rate won’t abate, and that will become a problem for the mayor’s office.

As I write this (late December), the city of Jacksonville is well over 110 homicides. As of December 21, the numbers was 116.

That’s consistent with the range between 2012 and 2015, which was between 109 and 117. Given the realities of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, it’s likely that Jacksonville could end up with over 120 homicides.

If so, that would be the first time since 2008.

Mayor Curry has been able to message on the need to improve public safety for a year and a half as mayor and for longer than that on the campaign trail.

However, if the blood tide surges in 2017, blaming it on decisions made in 2012-14 by the “previous administration” will be a strategy with diminishing returns.

The corrective strategies that can be used are already being used. Increased enforcement in the hot zones, coupled with new technology (new for Jacksonville, that is) like Shot Spotter, which allows LEOs to identify where a shot may come from.

However, the question is whether law enforcement can solve problems created by a lack of economic opportunity, educational gaps, family structures decimated from said lack of economic opportunity, to the school-to-prison pipeline.

While there may be nuanced and plausible solutions advanced behind closed doors, the question may be more elemental: can government solve this issue through prevention, intervention, and enforcement? Or is there something larger happening — a societal dislocation?

The mayor would be well advised to message aggressively on the issue of public safety in the early spring, getting ahead of the inevitabilities of the summer to come.

Prediction 6: Alvin Brown continues to resurface

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown stopped by the mayor’s office to talk to Lenny Curry in December, offering a long-delayed coda to an acrimonious mayoral campaign.

Expect to see more of Brown in 2017.

He didn’t lose to Curry by much; there was not some populist wave sweeping him out of office, as was the case with State Attorney Angela Corey and Public Defender Matt Shirk.

And much of the reason for Brown’s loss had to do with inept re-election campaign messaging, and an inability to corral a balky city council on pension reform until the end.

Brown is not damaged goods, in other words.

Is he a viable quantity going forward? There may be a platform in which we find out. Sooner than later.

Prediction 7: Democratic demolition derby begins, ahead of local challenge to Al Lawson

Message to Duval Democrats: he’s not that into you.

By “he,” we mean Rep. Al Lawson, the Tallahassee mainstay who came to visit and left with one of Jacksonville’s two congressional seats.

By “into you,” we mean that Lawson will put Tallahassee first. That’s where his base is.

And that means opportunity for a local Democrat.

Who might that Democrat be?

Alvin Brown’s not doing anything major right now; he’s a former mayor who has a natural rapport with Curry and Jacksonville power brokers. That could matter.

With former Rep. Mia Jones termed out of the State House, her credibility and gravitas could take her a long way. Undetermined: does Jones have the brashness needed to make a primary challenge against an establishment-friendly Democrat? And could she stack votes in Duval to make up for an uphill slog the farther west the district goes?

Sen. Audrey Gibson is chair of the Duval Democrats. However, she has already filed for another run for State Senate. And, as Lake Ray can attest, it’s not a great idea to launch a run for Congress from a party chair position.

Former State Sen. Tony Hill: a name to consider also, at least according to some members of the chattering classes. Could Hill convince local power brokers to back his play?

Out of these four, we still believe Brown has the clearest path with the fewest impediments.

Prediction 8: There will be a homeless day resource center in Downtown Jacksonville

The scene outside of Jacksonville’s city hall is like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape.

The homeless population fills Hemming Park, and on cold days spills into businesses like Chamblin’s Bookmine and the public library, inhibiting patterns of usage that might otherwise lead to downtown becoming the destination that city leaders have wanted, ever since department stores cleared out during the Hans Tanzler and Jake Godbold eras.

The reality is that Jacksonville would like to gentrify its downtown. The parallel reality is that much of the homeless problem can be attributed to the lack of a homeless day resource center, which would allow that population to shower, shave, and assume various accouterments of normalcy.

One of these existed when Alvin Brown was mayor, but the Curry administration cut it in its first budget, and didn’t restore it in its second.

The days of Lenny Curry taking lunchtime runs through Hemming Park seem to have ended, but what he would see if he were out there would be flocks of dispossessed people, who (whether they are ultimately responsible for their own fates or not) run counter to the brand Jacksonville desires.

Policy Director Robin Lumb has suggested a “well-managed day center for the homeless.”

If the mayor were to roll out a proposal for something along these lines, one could expect the timing to be deliberate: perhaps the March ICARE meeting of local socially-conscious church types would be that time.

That would put the proposal — which likely would be in the $1M per year range — out front ahead of the budget season, allowing the mayor to advance other priorities based on a relatively inexpensive gesture that would, in the final analysis, advance public safety.

Prediction 9: The city will reassume control of Hemming Park, but it won’t matter much

Speaking of Hemming Park, another big story to watch is whether Mayor Curry follows through with his stated intention to have the city take back control of “the front door to city hall.”

Policy Director Lumb noted in an internal memo that “the city does not have a compelling interest in creating conditions in the park conducive to attracting any group of persons looking for a place to ‘hang out’ for extended periods of time … people who otherwise have no reason to be downtown other than to receive services from homeless agencies, food kitchens, and shelters.”

His recommendation: the Parks Department should take control of the park back, stepping up enforcement, and RFPing an event promoter for nights, weekends, and park vendors.

Despite the well-documented issues with Friends of Hemming Park, they had — until recently — offered consistency in presence.

Will the city enforce conditions in Hemming Park in a more aggressive way than it does in Main Street Park? The latter, just two blocks away, has a robust homeless population and no enforcement presence, so to speak.

The Hemming Problem: a symptom of a larger social malaise.

Attempts to remedy Hemming appear to be an ornamental solution to create an oasis downtown for business people. And of course, these attempts have been tried, and have mostly failed, for decades now.

In a way, FOHP was a useful foil for city government.

As long as Friends were engaged, there was the idea that things could improve if the city took control.

If the city takes control, and conditions aren’t better next summer than last summer, what happens then?

Prediction 10: Political scofflaws skate on charges

Yes, Reggie Fullwood pleaded guilty to two felony charges in his campaign finance fraud case.

And, yes, Corrine Brown’s trial will be complicated by the drip-drip-drop of serial betrayals from her coterie of cronies and hangers on.

And there may be a city councilwoman whose familial barbecue sauce plant was raided by the Feds in December.

But not much will come of any of it.

Will Fullwood serve real prison time?

Will Corrine beat the rap?

Will there be any real consequences for whatever is going on with Jerome Brown BBQ?

The pitchfork mob might want it.

But the case could be and will be made that Fullwood has paid his price already.

That Corrine Brown wasn’t aware of what was happening in the name of One Door for Education.

And that Katrina Brown is a limited partner in her family business and had little to do with its inability to meet the job creation goals mandated by her company’s $640,000 grants and loans agreement with the city.

While the punitive model of justice exhilarates some, there is a corollary argument.

What’s accomplished by locking up Fullwood until he’s an old man?

By locking up Corrine Brown for the rest of her life?

These questions seem remote now, but when Fullwood is sentenced in February, and when Corrine Brown’s trial starts later this year, they will seem less so.

 

10 people to watch in 2017 in Jacksonville politics

Jacksonville politics is like a Southern family reunion: there are characters of all types.

The 2017 list points out ten of those members of the #Jaxpol family who are uniquely positioned to be in the headlines for one reason or another.

We are hoping that 2016 was an outlier year for scandals, and are not projecting scandal potential onto this list.

These names are in no particular order or ranking.

***

Lisa King: Does the Duval County committeewoman have what it takes to become chair of the Florida Dems?

King has run against the odds before, running a strong Democratic campaign for Jacksonville’s City Council in a deep red area in 2015.

King got Chamber Republican support, and though she lost the race, she outperformed Democrats elsewhere on the ticket.

Similarly, King was willing to battle Mayor Lenny Curry during what Democrats called a “purge” of city boards and commissions.

Worth watching: what commitments of support roll in for King? What kind of press coverage does she get throughout the state? And will the grassroots coalition she seeks to build coalesce around her as ABC: Anybody but Bittel or Clendenin.

***

Anna Brosche: January is almost upon us, and with that the thrill ride of Jacksonville City Council leadership elections will be set into motion.

Is this Anna Brosche’s year to run for VP?

Council President Lori Boyer has made no secret of wanting first-termers to get meaningful leadership experience. Boyer put Brosche atop the Finance Committee, the choicest committee assignment there is. And Brosche has flourished.

If there were a bookie taking bets on which member of the Class of 2015 would be first to make her way to council leadership, the smart money would be on Brosche.

Spoiler alert: she’s not averse to the idea.

“I’m definitely considering it,” Brosche said. “I’ve made my way into these spots.”

However, any bid for leadership will happen at a moment of her choosing: “the right time for me, the right time for the council as a whole.”

Is this the right time?

Boyer has been a stabilizing influence atop the council, a small-c conservative pragmatist in the Tillie Fowler mold. Brosche is also cut from that mold.

She doesn’t pontificate. She doesn’t speak to hear herself speak. She generally is more likely to get in the last word than the first.

Anna Brosche has grown in her time in the public eye, from seeming underdog candidate to MVP of the class of 2015.

Watch what she does early in 2017.

***

John Crescimbeni – the Council VP told us that he wasn’t sure if he’d get to be President. Nonetheless, in preparation for that possibility, the veteran legislator finally hired a council assistant.

He clearly wants to be president. And he clearly has the institutional knowledge to be effective.

So will this be his year to run for the top job?

His run for VP was rough. He beat Doyle Carter by one vote – that of Reggie Gaffney, who had actually pledged to go with Carter, but mysteriously swerved him during the vote itself.

Crescimbeni may face a challenge for the presidency if he runs. But his half year in the VP slot has shown that when in a leadership role, he is able to be a team player.

One would expect that he would be able to count on a solid bloc of Democratic support in a newly revitalized party. With those seven votes, he would only need three Republicans to push him toward the presidency.

Worth watching: if Crescimbeni and Brosche present themselves, however informally and within the guidelines of the Sunshine Law, as a ticket of sorts.

***

Audrey Gibson – The Senator is one of the best politicians in the area and takes over the chair of the Duval Democrats, at a time when the local GOP is experiencing a schism.

What will she and her party be able to do to exploit it?

The Duval Democrats, of course, have a history of schism themselves. And from what we understand, a meeting as soon as January may include a motion to cap at $1,000 the expenditures a chair can commit to without the approval of the Central Committee.

Donald Rumsfeld used to say “freedom is untidy.” But here’s the reality: if the Democrats want to position themselves well for 2018 and 2019, they need to let the chair do her thing.

She’s won elections. Her critics wouldn’t even know how to start.

***

Ronnie Simmons – When will Corrine Brown’s almost-former chief of staff turn on his mentor?

As the One Door for Education trial approaches later this year, the machinations that have already happened provide a window into the future.

Simmons’ lawyer filed, then rescinded, a motion for separate trials from the congresswoman.

Brown’s counsel, meanwhile, has strongly hinted that a key to the almost-former congresswoman’s defense is going to be contending that she wasn’t exactly aware of what was being done in her name, vis a vis the $800K of contributions for the One Door foundation.

“Congresswoman Brown and her chief of staff are alleged to have used the congresswoman’s official position to solicit over $800,000 in donations to a supposed charitable organization, only to use that organization as a personal slush fund,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement when the indictment was delivered.

Tens of thousands of dollars went into Brown’s personal account, with Simmons as the conduit, from One Door. Luxe hotel accommodations, skyboxes at Beyonce concerts and Redskins games, and other accoutrements of the high life were also funded, as part of over $200,000 allegedly diverted from the One Door account to the Congresswoman’s walking around fund.

Brown is in her golden years. Simmons, meanwhile, has decades to live if actuarial projections mean anything. Expect him to roll over on his former boss between now and the trial.

***

Mia Jones – Miss her yet? Jones was termed out in House District 14 this year, but it’s only a matter of time before she resurfaces.

Could she run for the city council in 2019? Or could she have something bigger – such as a run against Al Lawson in 2018 – in mind?

***

Alvin Brown – The former Jacksonville mayor’s meeting with Lenny Curry was one of those #jaxpol events that everyone said they knew was going to happen … after it happened.

Brown requested a meeting with Curry. As someone who was in the mayor’s office when that meeting was taking place, it was clear from Brown’s booming laugh and the bonhomie between Brown and his successor that the former Jacksonville mayor was angling for something.

That something, we hear from good sources, could be a run against Lawson in 2018.

Whether Brown takes on Tallahassee Al or not, the reality is that he’s got to find a way back into the public eye.

Brown’s painting – a tradition among former mayors – will be unveiled this spring in the mayor’s office, at long last.

An interesting sign of the times: Brown is scrambling to get the money needed to pay for it, and the Generous Donors that emerge will be of interest.

While it’s entirely possible that Brown could set his sights on a lesser office, such as an at-large bid for the city council, the reality is that Congress has been in his sights for a long time.

Brown’s first failed campaign: a run against Corrine Brown in the 1990s.

Worth watching: will Jacksonville candidates cannibalize each other if and when one or more runs against Lawson?

There can only be one, if a challenge is to have any chance of success.

***

Bill Bishop – In 2015, Bishop announced that he in fact would run for mayor in 2019.

However, 2016 changed the former two-term district councilman’s calculus. He has not-so-subtly been hinting at running for city council again – in an at-large seat currently held by John Crescimbeni.

Bishop would, we hear, face off against Republican Mike Anania, who lost a district council race in 2015 to Democrat Joyce Morgan.

Bishop has the name identification advantage over Anania, but the local GOP may want to exact payback for Bishop running against Curry in 2015, then endorsing Alvin Brown once he was eliminated from the race.

Speaking of Alvin Brown, if he were to run for council instead of the United States Congress, he would be in At-Large Group 2.

A Brown/Bishop race would almost certainly be the most interesting contest on the ballot.

***

Matt Carlucci – Carlucci, like Bishop, is another registered Republican that the hardcores say is a RINO.

And like Bishop, Carlucci is looking for one more run at council: to replace termed-out Greg Anderson in 2019.

Carlucci, like Bishop, has what it takes to run citywide; namely, friends on both sides of the aisle.

Carlucci, if he runs and wins, would offer institutional knowledge of the sort that veterans like Tommy Hazouri and John Crescimbeni bring to the chamber.

***

Fred Newbill – Newbill, one of the more politically connected pastors in Jacksonville, made an interesting play late in 2015 that seemed like it could affect his 2017.

In 2015, Newbill came out against expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to the LGBT community.

In 2017, Newbill is up for a position on the JEA Board.

JEA offers employment and accommodations protection to LGBT people.

Newbill, we hear, has evolved on the HRO since his opposition to a council vote on the measure.

We hear that he’s not going to evolve toward supporting the measure.

However, he seems willing to relinquish his position as a pointman of opposition to the bill.

It will be interesting to see if the Rules Committee or the Jacksonville City Council cares all that much about where Newbill is on the HRO.

Pay close attention to his hearings in both committee and in front of the full council.

They will tell you where the body as a whole is on expanding LGBT rights to match up with most other major cities in the country.

Subpoenas with a side of sauce: The 10 biggest #JaxPol stories of 2016

Subpoenas with a side of sauce.

That’s one way to sum up the year.

In Jacksonville politics, 2016 started with subpoenas being delivered to Rep. Corrine Brown and her clique at a barbecue place on the Northside.

And it ended with a raid on Councilwoman Katrina Brown’s familial barbecue sauce plant on the Westside.

Katrina Brown’s family, which was granted/loaned over $600K by the city for job creation that never fully happened despite having years to do it, poured real money since that money came through into the campaign apparatuses of the councilwoman herself, along with Corrine Brown and former Mayor Alvin Brown.

As well, shortly after Katrina Brown got the Corrine Brown “Quick Pick,” she gave $500 to Corrine Brown’s former right-hand woman, Von Alexander, for what was called “marketing.”

That, my friends, is what we call a narrative arc. And a story that will have legs in 2017.

Beyond these issues, a heck of a lot happened in #jaxpol in 2016.

Political dynasties: toppled.

Conventional wisdom: shattered.

We are limiting ourselves to looking at the ten biggest stories of 2016 in Jacksonville politics.

In a year as driven by a change dynamic as any since the Consolidation era, this was an easy write.

The biggest difficulty?

Limiting the article to just ten stories.

***

The # 1 story of the year: the passage of the pension reform referendum Aug. 30.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry spent the better part of a year manufacturing consensus for the once unlikely seeming proposal of getting the Better Jacksonville Plan tax extended, and using the revenue secured to stabilize the pension debt.

Curry brought together a coalition that the city hasn’t seen since consolidation, with unions and union bosses; African-American pastors and community leaders; and other unlikely supporters, including every Democrat on the city council, lining up behind the mayor.

The manufacturing of consent went deeper than just influencers:
Also in play was a deep-dive data operation, with specific appeals made to medium-propensity voters, to female homeowners between the ages of 35 and 46, and to other blocs of voters, where support could be firmed up and maximized.

“Campaigns are tough,” Curry said at the victory party at the Hyatt on Aug. 30. “You’ve got to execute and win.”

Execute and win he did.

Curry leveraged support in the Senate and the House from regional power brokers, Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings, driving to and from Tallahassee with everyone from Marty Fiorentino to Randy Wyse, the head of the local fire union to guide and prod the bill through committees in each house, then through a floor vote.

Any resistance that might have manifested was quelled, as Curry had entire days of meetings with everyone in a position to kill the bill in committee.

It was a tour de force political performance; one planned out well before the session.

And while there is a long way to go to secure the future revenue from the current ½ cent sales surtax — a tortuous road through collective bargaining — Curry did the impossible: provided actuarial certainty that Jacksonville had a way to pay down its massive unfunded pension liability.

Story of the year? Absolutely.

But it had competition.

***

# 2: Angela Corey goes down.

While some other Northeast Florida titans drew their last political breath in 2016, the State Attorney from the 4th Circuit is arguably the most significant locally.

Legislators go to Tallahassee and Washington and generally toe the party line. They aren’t going to be outliers on the big issues of the day.

Corey? Very much an outlier.

It was a climate where the Koch Brothers are attempting to push criminal justice reform from the right, and various groups on the left and libertarian sides pushing for similar ends.

Corey’s “lock ‘em up” approach was as much of a throwback as acid-washed jeans, Milli Vanilli cassette singles, and asbestos insulation.

Corey? She stood athwart that trend, seeking more death penalty convictions than almost any district or state attorney in the country, and earning sobriquets like “the cruelest prosecutor in America.”

It all seemed to be going pretty well. Corey stacked regional and state endorsements like Scrooge McDuck stacking greenbacks. Her first declared opponent in the primary, Wes White, attempted to run an insurgent campaign with little money and institutional backing.

White got some traction, as the negation of the case for Corey, but it looked until June like Corey would get her third term.

Then, a funny thing happened.

Melissa Nelson got in the race, getting real money behind her, and the best political machine in the state — Tim Baker and Brian Hughes — doing what so many people wanted to do.

Getting paid to end Angela Corey’s political career (though one suspects that Baker and Hughes might have been willing to take that task on for free).

By July, Corey was cratering in the polls. By August, the scenarios in which Corey — the epitome of a disqualified candidate — would find even a dead cat bounce were winnowed down to nothing.

By September, she was a lame duck.

Melissa Nelson takes office in January, armed with a community and institutional support, a great team (Dave Chapman, handling comms next year, had been probably the best reporter on the Jacksonville city politics beat this century), and a commitment to reform.

Nelson will spend a big part of her first term cleaning up Corey-era messes.

There will be stumbles.

But Melissa Nelson, unlike Corey, is willing to have a dialogue with the media and the community. And she is looking for applications of justice that actually heal rather than divide communities.

As hinted above, Corey’s political obituary wasn’t the only one written this year. In fact, the third-biggest story in Jacksonville this year was a variation on that theme.

***

#3: Corrine Brown goes down, and Jacksonville loses a congressional seat.

When federal agents served subpoenas up to Rep. Brown and political operatives at the Bono’s on Norwood Avenue, it was the beginning of the end for the congresswoman.

Though she ran a modified version of a re-election campaign for her seat in Congressional District 5, Brown was wounded.

She couldn’t raise real money. She was distracted by the legal fight. And when asked during and after her sole televised debate about the incompatibility of a 23-count federal indictment and a campaign for re-election against a Democrat as connected as Al Lawson, Brown said that the charges against her were as absurd as accusations of pedophilia against news media members.

“The Fifth Amendment says that the prosecutors have to prove their case. Now, what if I said, as we standing up here talking, that you were a pedophile? You would think there would be something wrong with me. So, you would put together a team of lawyers and you would go to court, and duke it out in court. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do. Just because someone accuses you, doesn’t mean that they have the facts. The federal government under these, have a slush fund, and they can do and they can bring charges,” Brown said in August.

She’s not saying that now. Or much of anything. The waiting game of 2017 now involves seeing when and if her inner circle (including/especially Ronnie Simmons, her co-defendant and almost-erstwhile chief of staff) turns against her in the One Door for Education trial.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville is in deep doo-doo regarding its representation, as Al Lawson hasn’t demonstrated a real understanding of local issues compared to those out west.

Jacksonville may produce a real challenge to Lawson in the 2018 primary, but the first two years of the Trump era are going to be challenging for Jacksonville. At a time when the White House is looking to fund ambitious infrastructure projects via expanding the monetary supply, a reliable Jacksonville veteran of the United States Congress will be replaced by a neophyte.

Meanwhile, we hear that the initial staffing process for Lawson is chaotic, with scheduling problems for mid and lower level staff interviews, and a distinct Tallahassee bent to those hired by his office.

***

# 4: Ander Crenshaw out, John Rutherford in.

“I won’t miss the circus, but I will miss the clowns.”

Those words from Rep. Ander Crenshaw, who represented Jacksonville in D.C. for eight terms, say it all.

Crenshaw was ready to step down. And former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, on the political sidelines since he was termed out in 2015, was happy enough to step up.

Crenshaw was the type of Republican prominent around Jacksonville in a bygone and better time; cut from the John Thrasher/Mike Hightower cloth, Crenshaw was the kind of conservative who didn’t fit the polemical Tea Party mold.

Because of that declining level of affinity with the grassroots, Crenshaw faced a primary challenge in 2014 from Ryman Shoaf — and it was a closer race than many expected.

Crenshaw’s decision not to run for re-election set up a lively primary campaign, with Rutherford forced to fend off State Rep. Lake Ray and the biggest spender in the race, Hans Tanzler III.

Rutherford, evidently, will attempt to maintain as much continuity as possible. Jackie Smith, a Crenshaw holdover, will run the district office.

That realization of the importance of continuity by their replacements is a major difference — in terms of impact — to the departures of Corrine Brown and Ander Crenshaw.

Of course, there’s more to Jacksonville politics than arrivals and departures. Some issues persist no matter who the incumbent is.

***

#5: The ongoing battles of collective bargaining

When “County Referendum 1” passed Aug. 30, allowing the extension of the one-half cent local sales tax to be devoted to the unfunded liability conditional on closing one of the city’s pension plans to new hires, it represented the fulfillment of one quest and the necessary beginning of another.

Mayor Curry counted fire union head Randy Wyse and police union leader Steve Zona as allies in the run-up to the referendum. However, that was destined to be a short-term accord.

As the days got shorter in 2016, it became apparent that the city and its unions — especially its public-sector unions — were far apart.

The union heads will tell you: getting competent new hires to come in and stick around with a promise of little more than the same 401(k) an office jockey gets is not a sustainable strategy for workforce development and retention.

Cops in their 20s may not see that the future involves them being battered and broken down from the job. But add a wife and 2.5 kids to the equation, and then the future moves from an abstraction to reality.

Thus, the unions want the Florida Retirement System for new hires.

The current sheriff, Mike Williams, is caught between labor and management, and his comments to us a few weeks back reflect that.

While Williams wants a “competitive pay and benefit package,” he contends the “vehicle” doesn’t matter — a position that is news to the union.

Former Sheriff John Rutherford, advocating pensions for officers while in office, has yet to see a defined contribution plan accounting for the real downside risk of a career as an officer.

Expectations are that general employees will be the easier sell on DC plans for new hires. But with six bargaining units to deal with, consensus won’t be quick — and probably won’t be in time for the budget deliberations of June and July.

Amazingly (or not), another pension story makes the top ten.

****

#6: Drama continues between city and Police and Fire Pension Fund

The PFPF continues to serve as a piñata for local politicians; 2016 was no exception.

Things were relatively quiet between city hall and the pension fund in the first quarter, until the city and the fund squabbled over the controversial “senior staff voluntary retirement fund” that served to benefit former executive director John Keane and a few others.

Just as May brought in the summer heat, Jacksonville’s general counsel issued a ruling that — contrary to the PFPF position — the fund was subordinate to the city, and the general counsel was, in fact, the prevailing legal authority.

The PFPF attempted to appeal to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. But it didn’t do any good.

From there, the PFPF cropped up again — a $44 million accounting true-up, for which the fund claimed to have a waiver from the state, allowed Curry to win a November news cycle by excoriating the fund for its sloppy financial practices.

Curry’s ire was undercut in December, however.

The city’s CFO and the executive director of the PFPF appeared together at a Dec. 7 meeting of the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee.

They said the documents regarding the waiver leaked to the media before they had a chance to figure out a collaborative strategy to address it.

They also suggested that the extra $44 million or so of yearly costs — could be phased in over a few years, or even wiped out after collective bargaining with the public safety units wraps.

Whenever that is.

The CFO, Mike Weinstein, also undercut the mayor’s position by saying the $44 million was a “hiccup” compared to the larger unfunded liability.

A goal for the city of Jacksonville: to not have next year’s “stories of the year” piece marred by yet another chapter in the saga between the city and the PFPF.

There’s still a lot of work to do to get there.

***

#7: Municipal bond ratings improve.

In the “if it bleeds, it leads” world of television news, the esoterica of bond ratings doesn’t exactly drive the Nielsen #s.

But in the world of municipal government and finance, bond ratings determine the ability to borrow money, and the favorability of the repayment terms.

With that in mind, a big success of 2016 was rooted in Dec. 2015, when Mayor Curry and an entourage of senior city staffers flew to New York for that year’s annual meeting with the rating agencies.

Successes outnumbered failures.

JEA came out of the event with its first ever AAA rating. Standard & Poor’s Rating Services upgraded the rating on the City of Jacksonville’s sales tax revenue bonds to an “A+” from an “A” the previous year. Other rating upgrades followed.

By October, with the referendum out of the way, Curry’s office was able to trumpet the improved perception of its financial management.

Examples thereof: documentation of Better Jacksonville Plan sales tax revenue upgrades in February to A+ from S&P and Fitch, with a A1 from Moody’s in that category; a March upgrade to AA in excise tax revenue from Moody’s; a July Fitch AA long-term credit rating and an AA issuer credit rating predicated on expectations the city will “continue to demonstrate a prudent level of fiscal management” and “continue to moderate the impact of its pension liability on the annual budget;” similar upgrades in the special revenue rating in August; and an upgraded commercial paper rating in September.

Curry ran as a CEO type with an accounting background, and though his team deserves a lot of the credit regarding the nuts and bolts actions, Curry brought it together.

That wasn’t the only major story of 2016 involving JEA, however.

***

# 8: “JEA Agreement

“It’s important to put this in context,” Curry said in March when signing off on the deal.

When Curry came into office, there was a “narrative” that there “didn’t look like a way forward” for the mayor’s office, the Council, and JEA on an agreement.

Curry pushed Alvin Brown’s appointees out, for the most part, and put in his people, creating a “strong board.”

And that strong board was a mechanism to get an agreement between the city and its utility through 2021.

To recap: the JEA Agreement applies between the city and the utility through 2021, with the current JEA contribution set at about $114.2 million, with minimum annual increases of 1 percent. It also allocates $30 million of total funding, split evenly, from JEA and the city for five years for water and sewer projects. And two million dollars a year in water quality trading credits, which will go to stormwater needs.

The stormwater projects are already under way, and they will help to close a long-standing infrastructure gap between pre-Consolidation communities and the rest of the city.

Curry’s comfort level with JEA is such that even when the CEO was out of town during Hurricane Matthew, the mayor did not take the opportunity that some on the city council did to question his priorities and job performance.

Speaking of Hurricane Matthew, that was a pretty big deal also.

***

# 9: Hurricane Matthew

There was a reasonable chance in October that, if the storm had moved 40 miles west when trucking up the Florida coast, Jacksonville would have been devastated.

In fact, the city did pretty well, considering.

While St. Augustine got hit with higher winds and more devastating flooding, which the city is still recovering from, Jacksonville dodged the catastrophic hit that was feared as the storm approached.

To be clear: there were tens of millions of dollars of damage.

Debris removal from rights of way and parks cost a couple of million dollars.

Streets, drainage, and parks likewise required a real financial commitment.

The road to Huguenot Park still needs repair.

And over half the city lost power, with, in some cases, restoration taking up to a week.

But Mayor Curry, the sheriff’s office, and mayors of the beach communities coordinated evacuations for zones where half the city’s population lives (as well as the entirety of the county east of the Intracoastal), and despite the property damage and inconvenience, Jacksonville got through the storm.

***

#10: Duval GOP dysfunction

While there are probably stories offering more civic import, worth watching is the continuing decline of the Republican Party of Duval County.

This tale of infighting goes back well before 2016 began, of course. But 2016 had enough drama to make up for it.

The year started with Lake Ray as party chair. That lasted until May, when Cindy Graves took control.

All seemed to be going well enough. From the outside at least.

Karyn Morton, who backed Graves at least by the time votes were counted, said in a news release: “Cindy is the leader our party needs right now.”

Note the temporal phrasing.

The election came and went, and despite Trump getting elected, there was still some trouble brewing.

Just like Andrew Ridgely and George Michael in Wham!, the Morton/Graves alliance would turn a different corner soon enough.

By summer, Morton was grousing as Graves spoke at GOP events, saying that “the leader our party needs right now” doesn’t know when to shut up. [Paraphrased, obviously]

Summer turned to fall, leaves turned on and fell off the trees, and quiet dissidence turned into open rebellion.

December was Graves’ undoing.

Morton ran against Graves, and her speech brought the quiet frustrations to light, as it was peppered with descriptions of mistakes from past leadership.

Some of the old guard wasn’t allowed to vote, including Rep. John Rutherford and Mike Hightower.

Meanwhile, some new Republican Executive Committee members were allowed to vote. And they made the difference.

A veteran of party politics says Morton and the other party officials constitutes the “worst leadership since 1980,” predicting “Audrey Gibson will have a field day” as local Democratic chair, as Republicans “decentralize” in the short term … an important factor to look for as the 2018 races ramp up.

Will Morton be able to appease the donor class? That question remains to be answered.

***

And that was the year that was.

Will 2017 have as much barbecue-related drama as 2016?

Probably not.

But it will have drama, personality clashes and, if we’re lucky, some things on the policy front as well.

Reading the tea leaves of the Lenny Curry-Alvin Brown meeting

Friday saw an official meeting between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and former Mayor Alvin Brown.

And with that meeting, a message to #jaxpol: the bitterness of the 2015 election was finally consigned to memory.

The picture above: worth a thousand words. Acrimony expunged, replaced by bonhomie.

The campaign for Jacksonville mayor was the most expensive local campaign in history. And that money was spent, especially on the GOP side, with a specific intent.

That purpose: to undermine what was perceived to be soft support for Alvin Brown, via a “death by 1,000 cuts” approach that saw Brown and his team on the defensive in every news cycle.

Whether Brown was missing the budget vote in city council for a Bill Cosby fundraiser, or his campaign was touting a convicted murderer as a “job creator and business leader,” Brown was on the defensive as a candidate from the fall of 2014 straight through to the 2015 election.

And when he did get it going in earnest early in 2015, there were glitches.

Brown wasn’t prepared to take fire, day after day, from Curry and Bill Bishop before the March election.

Bishop lacked real money to run the campaign, yet his rapport with local print media gave him earned media, in which he made the case that Alvin Brown didn’t merit four more years. And even when Bishop endorsed Brown after the race became a two-man battle, the endorsement and subsequent campaigning with Brown didn’t undo the damage done before the March “First Election” vote.

Curry, meanwhile, had all the money he could need, along with a political team that simply did not lose news cycles.

However, 2015’s epilogue has already been written. The meeting between Curry and Brown represents a prologue, for 2017 and beyond.

Notable: Brown reached out to Curry to schedule the meeting.

There are a number of plausible interpretations for the timing.

One such interpretation: Brown wanted to give Curry time to settle into office.

With Curry’s first term a third of the way over, he definitely should be settled in at this point.

Another such interpretation: with Brown not ending up in a Hillary Clinton administration, as was expected until the votes were counted Election Night, the former mayor had to commit to a back up plan.

And that back up plan: becoming a part of the Jacksonville scene again, and the brotherhood of former mayors.

From there, if history is a guide, options abound.

Consider the last one-term mayor in Jacksonville: Brown’s fellow Democrat, Tommy Hazouri.

Hazouri, like Brown, had a term with some tangible accomplishments.

However, Hazouri also had some issues.

The book on Hazouri was that his administration had the city’s books in “financial disarray.” That his team had issues with messaging through the media.

Those issues parallel those of Alvin Brown.

Curry was able to message during his campaign on getting the books in order, just as Ed Austin had against Tommy Hazouri. And there were times in Brown’s tenure where the message the administration wanted to get out through the press didn’t quite get out.

And all of that is the past now.

When Brown set up a meeting with Lenny Curry, it represented a radical shift from his absence from the public eye since June 2015.

Brown, even as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, mostly avoided the Jacksonville market in the fall.

Brown was deployed on mayoral bus tours through places like Ohio, and other parts of Florida, as if a conscious decision was made not to parlay on his name value locally.

Brown did attend a November rally in Northeast Florida, where President Obama spoke on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

However, Brown didn’t speak at the event. And there was some speculation as to whether or not Brown even stayed for the entirety of the Obama speech.

Alvin Brown’s path to D.C., as a Clinton appointee, is being foreclosed even as this is typed, as Donald Trump‘s electoral votes are counted.

However, Brown’s future itself is not foreclosed.

As a mayor who lost a very close election 17 months ago, Brown may not have present-tense political capital, but it is very easy to imagine how a reinvented Alvin Brown could become a factor locally in 2017.

Congressman-elect Al Lawson won’t be in Tallahassee forever. And it is entirely possible that Lawson could face a Jacksonville challenge in 2018.

Could that be Alvin Brown?

Back in our “five people to watch in 2016” piece, we tabbed Brown as someone to watch relative to the CD 5 seat.

We haven’t written the 2017 version of the list yet.

Odds are very good that Alvin Brown will be on it again, however.

Even if Brown chooses not to run for Congress, there is plenty to keep him busy locally.

An at large city council seat will be open in 2019, and Brown theoretically could run against Bill Bishop, who has already committed to run in the race to replace John Crescimbeni, the current occupant.

If that were to happen, it would be interesting to see how Curry and his political machine might react, as there was no love lost between the two Republicans when Bishop endorsed Brown.

And other openings could manifest in Jacksonville as well.

In other words, Alvin Brown will have a second act in the limelight.

The only question now is which stage he will pick.

Alvin Brown, Lenny Curry meet, putting election behind them

For the first time since the acrimonious election of 2015, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and his predecessor, Alvin Brown, met in the mayor’s suite.

Curry and Brown, in a brief appearance in the lobby of the mayor’s office, smiled for the camera, with Curry saying they were “just catching up.”

Curry’s spokeswoman, Marsha Oliver, noted that “Mr. Brown requested the meeting, and the mayor was happy to [meet]. Former Mayor Brown was visiting with folks and meeting with new staff.”

Chief of Staff Kerri Stewart noted that Brown was interested in posing for the ceremonial painting that all former mayors get; currently, a photograph of Brown hangs in the mayor’s suite, in lieu of the picture.

Stewart noted that Brown “wanted to give the new mayor breathing room” before meeting Curry in the mayor’s suite.

The former mayor and the current one interacted Thursday at a groundbreaking event at Jacksonville University, from where Brown was an alumnus.

“All of the former mayors have good experience to draw from,” Stewart said, though there are no definite plans for Brown to collaborate with the Curry Administration on anything yet.

We are in the mayor’s office and will update this piece if Brown or Curry wish to offer further comment.

What is clear, though: the acrimony of the campaign is a memory, as Brown’s booming laugh was audible in the lobby of the mayor’s office, coming from behind the walls of the inner sanctum.

John Rutherford, a former Jacksonville sheriff, discusses police pensions

The crossroads for pension plans for new hires in Jacksonville is here, and is casting a shadow over virtually every aspect of the city’s future.

The latest bond rating trip for the city, for example, saw the pension issue – and whether or not Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry will succeed in getting at least one union’s new hires to accede to a 401K plan – casting a shadow over the proceedings.

The municipal debate over pension plans has elicited the interest of free-market groups such as Americans for Prosperity and, ineluctably, the national and state Fraternal Order of Police.

On other issues, Curry has called for a “Jacksonville solution.”

On the matter of pension reform, outside stakeholders may not be at the bargaining table as the city attempts to close the old plans that incurred $2.8 billion in debt to unlock future sales tax revenue, but they do have their talking points.

Caught in the middle of the maelstrom between city negotiators and police officers: the elected sheriff.

One man who knows what that’s like better than most in Duval County: Rep. John Rutherford, who was sheriff for three terms before term limits kicked in.

On Wednesday, Rutherford spoke to the issue, offering more extended comments than his successor, Mike Williams, delivered on this subject earlier in the week.

“I think a pension is absolutely necessary,” Rutherford told FloridaPolitics.com, noting that a defined contribution plan is a pension.

Albeit one that may not consider the full risk an officer assumes.

“I supported for years a defined benefit [plan], because if I have two officers who are facing a man with a gun – one has 20 years, one has two years – the guy with two years under a 401K is putting a lot more at risk than the guy who has twenty years,” the congressman-elect asserted.

“If you can come up with a defined contribution plan,” Rutherford added, “that levels that playing field, that might be okay. But you have to guarantee that, if an officer dies [during] his first year in office, his family’s going to be taken care of.”

“I hear people say ‘well, look, people die in all kinds of different disciplines, different jobs.’ The difference is my guy’s putting his life on the line. He knows what he’s going into,” Rutherford continued.

“An accident is one thing. Putting your life on the line because somebody’s in there shooting at you and you’re trying to save someone’s life, that’s a completely different situation,” Rutherford added.

“As long as you can make that defined contribution significant enough that it takes care of their family, then that might be doable, but I’d have to see it.”

Rutherford stresses that a defined contribution plan is a pension, which is not a universal view.

Despite that qualifier, many of Rutherford’s words are closer to the position of the police union than they are to the current sheriff.

During the collective bargaining session between the Fraternal Order of Police and the city before Thanksgiving, the union made many of these points.

While officers bear the non-negotiable burden of physical risk, a 401K plan floats with the market. And for officers who are younger and drawing more dangerous details, the 401K doesn’t come with a downside guarantee.

However, Rutherford isn’t completely sold on the Florida Retirement System option for new hires, which is a position held by all the public safety bargaining units.

“FRS is not bad. But let me say this – this is my concern about FRS and defined contribution. What I liked about our defined benefit plan is that it anchored officers in Duval County,” Rutherford contended.

“You look at South Florida. You see these guys moving all over, going from one agency to another. They come in at different ranks, and go away.”

“In Jacksonville,” Rutherford continued, “when I saw a recruit at the academy, I expected him to be here 25 years later. A defined benefit plan will do that for you. It will keep that stability in your agency.”

“Defined contribution has that as a possibility, but it’s much more portable. Because he can take that 401k with him. And FRS is the same way. They can take that with them.”

“So,” Rutherford added, “there’s a lot to be considered when you start talking about defined contribution versus defined benefit.”

****

Rutherford, of course, found himself in the position of having to advocate for the stability of the sheriff’s office during much of his time in leadership.

The economic downturn of 2007 and the crash of 2008 caused millage revenues in Jacksonville to nosedive, and the recovery in revenue has been slow.

In 2009, Rutherford faced proposed cuts from Mayor John Peyton, with the general fund contribution being $76 million.

The sheriff told the Florida Times-Union that a big part of the issue was a trough in millage revenue, and that another part of the issue was that the city took breaks from paying its part of the obligation during economic booms.

When confronted with a proposal to raise the retirement age, Rutherford was blunt.

“Crime is a young man’s game. Running the street is a young man’s game,” he said. “And I’m not sure there’s a savings there. If you leave at 25 years, you leave with more pension than you had at 20.”

In 2013, Rutherford and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office faced a potential $29.2 million cut in the JSO operating budget.

Rutherford advocated a tax increase, refusing to make the cuts Mayor Alvin Brown pushed for.

By 2015, Rutherford’s patience with the tax-averse Brown – and the impacts that tax aversion had on public safety – was exhausted.

The sheriff was, if not a surrogate for Lenny Curry, a definite asset when it came down to messaging.

And his message was that Brown couldn’t be trusted when it came to securing resources for public safety.

“Crime has gone up since 2011,” he said, asserting that violent crime especially has gone up increasingly as the Brown administration has progressed, with an 11.6% increase in 2014 being the direct “result of cuts to this office.”

Brown’s team touted nominal budget increases. Rutherford countered that “ninety-five percent of the budget increase was related to the unfunded liability.”

Soon thereafter, Rutherford was co-branded with Lenny Curry in a television spot.

“Lenny Curry understands that the Mayor’s first priority must be to reduce crime and ensure public safety,” the Sheriff said, adding that “for a safer city and a better Jacksonville, I support Lenny Curry to be our next Mayor.”

Curry won, of course, and so did Mike Williams – Rutherford’s preferred candidate.

While Curry has come through on long-delayed force enhancements and technological adds, and while Williams (much like Rutherford was during the Peyton era) is on the sidelines of the pension debate, history tells us that a sheriff walks a fine line between labor and management.

When asked about the union position on Monday — that if benefits fall behind the rest of the departments in the state, then retention and recruitment will suffer — Williams had this to say.

“I will say this: that’s my concern really,” Williams said, before ameliorating that concern with his characteristic optimism.

“As long as it’s a competitive pay and benefit package, I’m not sure the vehicle matters. But again, I’m going to leave the negotiations up to them. and I’m confident they’ll come up with something that will work,” Williams said.

History tells us that a recurrent motif in the Jacksonville model involves tough negotiations between labor and management … a consequence of when a low-tax regulatory model collides with the realities of a big city union.

And on Wednesday, Rutherford spoke to that history, clearly pointing out that a non-negotiable value in the transaction is the risk assumed by an officer.

A challenge for Curry’s team: to find a way to meaningfully address that idea within a defined contribution model.

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