Jacksonville Archives - Florida Politics

Joe Biden plans trio of Florida rallies next week

Former Vice President Joe Biden will make three stops in the Sunshine State early next week to rally for Democrats up and down the ballot.

At noon Monday, the Delaware Democrat will be in Tampa holding a get-out-the-vote rally alongside U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, Attorney General hopeful Sean Shaw and nearby Congressman Charlie Crist. That’s at the University of South Florida’s East Gym, 12301 USF Maple Drive, Tampa. Doors open at 10:30 a.m.

At 3:45 p.m. on Monday, Biden, Gillum and Nelson will headline a similar rally in Jacksonville, this time joined by local congressional candidate Nancy Soderberg. That’s at the University of North Florida Field House, 11852 University of North Florida Drive, Jacksonville. Doors open at 3:45 p.m.

Capping off the two-day circuit is a 3:45 p.m. rally on Tuesday in Orlando. Gillum, the Tallahassee Mayor, will not be present, although Biden will be joined by Nelson and Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, along with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. That’s at the Cheyenne Saloon, 128 W Church St, Orlando.

A news release announcing the appearances notes that Biden will make stops at college campuses “to encourage young people to vote early, and promote Democrats up-and-down the ballot.” It also highlights that early voting begins in Hillsborough, Duval and Pinellas counties on Monday.

“This election is a battle for the soul of America, and Florida has the chance to decide the future of this country. I am honored to stand with Senator Bill Nelson and Mayor Andrew Gillum as they work to restore our nation’s democracy,” said Vice President Biden. “The stakes couldn’t be higher in 2018. We need Floridian’s voices to be heard at the polls this fall, and that starts with early voting.”

Biden earlier this week endorsed Shaw, the Democratic Attorney General candidate. He has also offered support for candidates running in special elections during the past two years, even going as far as recording robocalls to go out ahead of February’s House District 72 race, which saw Democrat Margaret Good secure an upset victory.

It’s no secret that Biden, who served two terms under former President Barack Obama, is mulling his own presidential bid in 2020. And there’s an emerging trend of other presidential potentials making headlines in Florida this cycle. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his rounds through South Florida earlier this month. Another national Democratic figure, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, endorsed Democratic Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried earlier this week.

After the storm: Andrew Gillum resumes campaigning

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum returned to the trail Thursday, his first active campaigning since Hurricane Michael.

The Tallahassee Mayor resumed his campaign with a rally at a Jacksonville church, his first of two stops in the city Thursday afternoon, with a fundraiser in between the two public events.

It’s not a moment too soon for Gillum’s candidacy.

The race is too close to call: the latest from St. Pete Polls shows Gillum up one point (47-46), but down four (45-49) against Republican Ron DeSantis with people who have already voted.

The fundraising race is similarly competitive, though DeSantis is surging, with $8 million of receipts in his most recent weekly report, even as Gillum is still enjoying strong support from deep-pocketed progressives (such as Tom Steyer, who just moved another $2 million to Gillum recently).

In the packed church Thursday afternoon, Gillum and Lt. Gov. nominee Chris King were in GOTV mode, despite a delayed arrival, with Gillum firing up the crowd.

“We have to speak truth to power. We’re not running for governor to make history. We’re running for Governor to change outcomes … to flip this state,” Gillum said. “The cavalry is here, and we want our place at the table. And if we don’t get it, we will build our own table.”

“I was always told that if you were not at the table, it means you’re on the menu. Folks, it’s time to get off the menu,” Gillum said.

We caught up with Gillum after his afternoon remarks, ahead of an evening speech to the NAACP.

Those remarks: Gillum’s first campaign oratory in 11 days, a lifetime in politics.

Now that Tallahassee’s power is restored and the community’s storm recovery is well underway, Gillum felt comfortable getting back on the trail, he said.

“It’s the right thing to do and now go out there and make the closing case to voters,” Gillum said. “What I say on the stump doesn’t change. I think it’s a message you can say in red counties and blue counties and purple counties all across the state of Florida.”

“We’re not shrinking from who we are or what we believe,” Gillum said. “We’re leaning into it.”

The Republican strategy, from the time the storm was imminent until well after it passed, was to drive up Gillum’s negatives even as he was occupied with storm prep and recovery.

Brutal ads about the FBI investigation into Tallahassee city politics and delayed power restoration after 2016’s Hurricane Hermine were in heavy rotation, and the end result has been an uninterrupted block of time where the candidate’s negatives have increased.

We asked if Gillum was worried that the swing voters may have swung the other way. He was not.

“We’re going to continue to move around and talk to them,” Gillum said. “The Republicans did something that most respectable parties and candidates in this state have not done.”

“During times of natural disasters,” Gillum said, “political organizations, parties, candidates and campaigns stand down from negative campaigning.”

“My opponents went headfirst into it,” Gillum noted. “It was a calculation that they made.”

“I’ve always said that we were destined to see a tightening in this race. I don’t think polls tell us everything. In fact, I think they tell us very little.”

“There wasn’t a single poll in the primary that showed me leading or winning,” Gillum noted. “But we won it. And we’re going to win the [general election] the same way.”

“The polls are capturing something, but they aren’t capturing the immense energy on the ground. The reason that people didn’t see us coming is because we had 150,000 voters who voted either for the first time or hadn’t voted in the last three elections,” Gillum said.

“We’re going to double that number in the general election. We’re going to win the race for Governor. And we’re going to do that by bringing more voters to the polls,” Gillum said, including “disaffected Republicans,” such as those who might have caught his speeches in Putnam County, Flagler County, or the Villages.

Gillum’s next stop: the NAACP dinner in Downtown Jacksonville, a packed large conference room at the Hyatt Regency, where the candidate was greeted as a conquering hero.

The mood was jovial.

“The five B’s of public speaking are simply ‘be brief, brother, be brief’,” Gillum said, to laughter and applause.

“This moment would not be possible,” Gillum said regarding his candidacy, “without the NAACP.”

Gillum discussed “professionals … breaking down barriers” who came before him, pivoting into a discussion of people who “didn’t think I had the right pedigree … didn’t think I had what it took.”

“It’s your demonstrated excellence,” Gillum said, that allowed “people to take me seriously.”

Gillum then went into autobiography: economic struggles growing up in Richmond Heights, with his parents “doing everything they could to make a way for me and my siblings.”

For those who have followed this historic campaign for the last year and a half, these are familiar assertions. Yet to this crowd, it was as if they were hearing it for the first time: an American story, one of how family and community transcend.

“There was a belief in the collective, that we were in this thing together,” Gillum said, invoking the name of his just-departed grandmother, who taught him “to live by your own set of expectations, to push on and push through.”

Gillum noted that children, in Duval and elsewhere, may lack that kind of “North Star” to guide them. And, as he has said time and again, those children and their future drive his campaign.

“Our communities need us like they have never needed us before,” Gillum said.

Gillum went through much of his platform, including spending on education, rights restoration for reformed felons, a more diverse judiciary, a living wage, and other social equity issues.

“Forty four percent of people in this state say that they can’t make ends meet,” Gillum said, hearkening back to his own childhood, where he watched his parents decide which bill needed to be paid to keep a utility from being cut off.

“If you get up every day and work a 40 hour week to support your family, you should not be paid poverty wages,” Gillum said.

In under three weeks, voters face a stark choice on the ballot. We will know then whether Gillum’s vision prevails.

Jacksonville Bold for 10.19.18 — Betting on red

Jacksonville’s political class, with a Republican Mayor and Sheriff, is betting on red this year, all in for Ron DeSantis for Governor.

And if he wins, it will be another case of “Jax on the Rise.”

Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams endorsed DeSantis before the August primary, as did Duval-adjacent legislators like Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings.

This is a sharp contrast with most major cities in Florida, led by Democrats, where major players are obviously surfing the hoped-for ‘blue wave.’

One theory goes: If DeSantis wins, Jacksonville wins. And the most recent polling shows he is well-positioned.

Twenty days before Election Day, Democrat Gillum is at 47 percent, while DeSantis is at 46. However, among those who say they have already voted, DeSantis is at 49 percent, while Gillum is at 45 percent.

That four-point spread speaks to a trend that should concern Gillum and the Democrats. But should delight Jacksonville power brokers.

Curry has called DeSantis a “brother from another mother.” For those who have enjoyed current Gov. Rick Scott treating the relaxed Jacksonville media like a homecoming game, scheduling safe events here to get camera time and avoid the more aggressive media down south, expect more of the same if DeSantis wins.

Curry’s best political op, Tim Baker, is on Team DeSantis. So is campaign manager Susie Wiles, the Ballard Partner who has as deep a City Hall pedigree as anyone this side of Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.

There aren’t a lot of DeSantis signs on Jacksonville streets. But if DeSantis wins, it likely is in no small part because of his draw in Jacksonville, which was a polling stronghold even when DeSantis was down big in polls, before weeks of attack ads defined Gillum for the voters who weren’t paying attention before Labor Day.

Cash-flush Soderberg seeks CD 6 flip

Democrat Nancy Soderberg is touting another strong quarter of fundraising in her bid to succeed DeSantis in the United States Congress.

Can Nancy Soderberg flip Ron DeSantis’ seat? If no, it’s not because of lack of funds.

The campaign announced last week that it had raised over $1 million in the latest quarter of fundraising, pushing it over $2.5 million raised.

This period includes August, September and October receipts.

Soderberg had over $500,000 on hand as of the filing.

“The support and energy we’re seeing for our campaign is incredibly inspiring,” Soderberg said. “What’s clear, now more than ever, is that Floridians are ready to elect a leader who listens to them, and who will stand up for them in Washington. A leader they can be proud of. I’m proud to fight to protect pre-existing conditions for families here and I’m proud of the movement we’re building together.”

The race between Soderberg and Republican nominee Mike Waltz has increasingly looked like a play for the center in recent weeks, and the most recent poll of the race shows Soderberg in a dead heat with Waltz.

Waltz raised $445,491 in Q3, which means that Soderberg has more ammo for television buys, many of which spotlight contrasts between the candidates on insurance for people with pre-existing conditions.

Lawson lauds ‘life saving’ Scott

Will we see U.S. Rep. Al Lawson in an ad for Gov. Scott? It’s possible he’s already recorded his testimonial during a joint appearance in Gadsden County this week in which Lawson lauded Scott’s post-storm performance over the last eight years.

“We will never know how many lives that he’s been responsible for saving,” Lawson said Tuesday.

Rick Scott couldn’t have asked for a better endorsement. Especially from a Democrat.

“The first thing you hear about is somebody dying in a hurricane. But just think: if it hadn’t been for his leadership, how many other people would be in the same situation,” Lawson asserted.

“When you’ve been around as long as I have, it’s very easy for you to understand people who take a proactive role in trying to preserve life,” Lawson added. “He’s done an excellent job … for many, many years.”

“It’s not about how much we get out of life, but how much we give, and he’s given a whole lot,” Lawson said.

Just as the Scott campaign ad Tuesday used news footage of storm recovery, it is quite easy to imagine this footage circulating in the commercial sphere.

Big money in HD 15

While most of Jacksonville-area state House races are settled in the primary (by dint of gerrymandering), an exception is in the one true swing district: House District 15 on the Westside.

With current Republican incumbent Jay Fant walking away this year, Democrat Tracye Polson and Republican Wyman Duggan are vying to replace him.

The Tracye Polson/Wyman Duggan war has been expensive and brutal.

Each week’s fundraising report has brimmed with narrative interest. This week’s story: Polson is both outraising and outspending Duggan, at least through Oct. 5 (the last day of current reporting).

Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, Polson brought in $16,060 to her campaign account. Of the $319,667 in hard money deposited, Polson has $35,483 on hand.

In addition to the nearly $36,000 in the campaign account, Polson has nearly $64,000 in the committee cash box. Polson has been spending heavily on television, running a second ad this week spotlighting Republican Duggan’s career as a lobbyist. With the ability and willingness to self-finance, Polson will undoubtedly be spending until the end.

She will have to.

Over the past three weeks, Duggan has brought in $76,500 in hard money, pushing him near parity with $85,000 on hand.

Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, Duggan raised $10,850 to his campaign account, bringing that total to nearly $67,000 on hand.

Duggan also has roughly $18,000 in his political committee, though with no donations in the latest reporting period.

Duggan has also benefited from over $100,000 air support from the Republican Party of Florida, which has funded attack ads, including a bristling spot associating Polson with drum circles, flag burners, and other elements of The Resistance.

Carlos in Duval

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an East Orlando Democrat representing House District 49, fundraised in Jacksonville Tuesday evening, in another sign of his increasing prominence statewide.

The event, in the tony Avondale neighborhood, was hosted by Kevin Clair, the husband of local state House hopeful Polson.

Mr. Smith (Carlos G., that is) goes to Jacksonville.

Helming Smith’s host committee is yet another state Representative, HD 13’s Tracie Davis, who was unopposed for re-election.

Smith had roughly $83,000 in his campaign account as of Oct. 5. Ben Griffin, his Republican opponent, has just under $46,000 on hand.

Mostly funding Griffin’s campaign is the Republican Party of Florida, which doled out $50,000 in June. As well, two Northeast Florida power brokers took an interest.

Sen. Travis Hutson‘s Sunshine State Conservatives and Rep. Paul Renner‘s Florida Foundation for Liberty each cut $1,000 checks.

Rep. Smith is in little danger of defeat. His district is 41 percent Democrat, 26 percent Republican, with the remaining third of voters independent or registered to a third party.

The rest of the story …

In Northeast Florida, most of the live state House races and the only state Senate race are characterized by a fundamental cash disparity.

Republicans have serious bank. And Democrats are far behind.

However, this most recently reported week saw Republicans coasting while Democrats actually won the weekly tally battle (even as cash-on-hand was less buoyant for them).

Aaron Bean extemporizes as Billee Bussard looks on.

The Democrat running for state Senate, District 4’s Billee Bussard outraised incumbent Republican Aaron Bean, bringing in $4,445. Meanwhile, between his campaign account and that of his Florida Conservative Alliance political committee, Bean brought in just $3,250 between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5.

However, Bean has roughly $93,000 in hard money and nearly $86,000 more in the committee coffers. This gives him a nearly 20 to 1 cash advantage over Bussard, who has roughly $9,000 on hand.

In majority-Republican House District 11, incumbent Cord Byrd is winning the fundraising battle with Democrat Nathcelly Rohrbaugh. Byrd has $53,000 on hand; Rohrbaugh $17,000.

Clay Yarborough, running for re-election in Southside Jacksonville’s Republican-plurality House District 12, had modest fundraising ($3,100 in the last week) and bigger spending ($9,043) as the election approaches. He has $98,000 on hand.

Democrat Tim Yost raised $1,258 during the same period and carries $9,000 into the final stretch of the campaign.

Similarly, HD 16 State Rep. Jason Fischer, first-term Republican, has had a consistent cash lead over Democrat Ken Organes.

Fischer did not fundraise between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5. Fischer had nearly $108,000 in his campaign account, and under $5,000 in the account of his political committee, Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville.

Organes, meanwhile, brought in $1,225 over the same period, and has just over $26,500 on hand.

Curry heats up

Curry, the best fundraiser in Northeast Florida history, delivered a statement month in September, with the second best haul of his re-election bid.

The March election may need big money.

The first-term Republican raised $789,500 for his political committee (Jacksonville on the Rise), and another $26,600 for his campaign account.

Curry, a former chair of the state GOP, is now nearing $3 million on hand and $3.5 million raised, with plenty of time to raise more before the March 2019 first election (a blanket primary).

The committee has $2,415,000 on hand of the $2,928,000 it has raised. The campaign account has over $440,000 of the $455,330 raised.

Curry currently lacks much in the way of competition. His five March opponents have raised under $3,000 between them.

When does Anna Brosche or Garrett Dennis make a move? Inquiring minds want to know.


As the first October receipts came in, Republican Jim Overton maintained his lead in the money race with Democrat Mia Jones for Duval County Tax Collector.

Can a Democrat win countywide? Mia Jones is about to find out.

However, it was Jones who had the best take between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, bringing in $19,375 from 59 donors, including former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund director Timothy Johnson, and Kids Hope Alliance board chair Kevin Gay.

Jones has raised $81,000 total and has nearly $31,000 on hand.

Overton, though he only raised $11,865 during the same period, still has the aggregate cash lead, with nearly $55,000 on hand of a total $162,834 raised.

UAE cuts a check

On Monday, Northside Jacksonville’s A. Philip Randolph Career Academies saw Mayor Curry receive the U.S. Ambassador from the UAE, Yousef Al-Otaiba.

Human rights concerns are less of a concern when capital is at stake.

Money was on the line. $2.775 million, to be exact (part of a $10 million grant to be divided between several cities hit hardest by Hurricane Irma.)

While local leaders appreciate revenue, there is a parallel story to the check: the UAE’s distressing and worsening human rights record.

The UAE has made a long-standing practice of storm relief, and there are those who believe it is a distraction from the regime’s human rights record, which is in keeping with the non-Democratic states of the Middle East.

In the context of an erosion of human rights backdropped against a wave of post-storm generosity, we asked the Ambassador and the Mayor if such donations were intended to gloss over a record not in accordance with the mores of liberal democracies.

“We’re here to talk about our gifts to Jacksonville,” Al-Otaiba asserted. “If you want to ask me a question about what our laws are, we’re happy to address that. But that’s not why we’re here today.”

Curry spotlighted the “two-million dollars, invested in vulnerable populations in Jacksonville.”

Regarding “foreign policy,” Curry said, “there’s experts in Washington, elected leaders in Washington who handle our foreign policy,” before pivoting to thank the Ambassador once more.

Applause filled the room.

JEA against the world

The Florida Times-Union reports that Jacksonville utility JEA is becoming the “bête noire” of the public utility world.

Jacksonville is falling out of favor with rating agencies. Can the city turn it around?

At issue: the utility’s attempt to get out of a 2008 agreement to subsidize construction of Georgia’s nuclear Plant Vogtle, a “hell or high water” deal that has no exit clause.

The utility and the city are on the same side of what looks to be an ill-fated federal lawsuit to get out of the deal, and credit downgrades are becoming increasingly routine for the two parties.

Moody’s Investor Services noted last week that one way for the city to reverse the impression that it’s not willing to honor its obligations would be to drop the federal lawsuit.

JEA sale OK?

A referendum authorized earlier this year, on whether Duval County voters should have a say on the sale of 10 percent or more of JEA or not, is on the November ballot.

This week, WJCT took a look at that measure.

The JEA question will be at the end of an exceptionally long ballot.

Bill sponsor John Crescimbeni, a skeptic of the privatization push that roiled City Hall earlier this year, asserts that “any conversation or any discussion or decision about selling the JEA should be made by the shareholders, the owners of JEA, and those are the citizens of Duval County.”

“So if the JEA board were to decide to sell more than 10 percent of JEA and the council reviewed that and also decided they agreed with the JEA board of directors, this straw ballot measure is taking the temperature of the voters, asking ‘would you want the council’s decision to then come to the voters in a subsequent referendum for you to vote on?’” said Crescimbeni.

“In the event that JEA was proposed to be sold by the JEA board and the City Council agreed, then whatever those terms and conditions were would go before the voters as an up-or-down vote,” the Councilman added.

“So, the voters are going to be asked a question Nov. 6, it’s a yes-or-no question. If they’re interested in participating in the final decision, in the event that there’s discussion about a possible future sale of JEA, they would want to vote yes” Crescimbeni summarized. “If they’re OK with the city council making that final decision, then they should vote no.”

CSX posts strong Q3, continuing trend

CSX Corp. posted a strong third-quarter revenue with $894 million in earnings, or $1.05 per share. It represents a 95 percent year-over-year improvement, reports the Jacksonville Business Journal, and a third-quarter operating ratio record.

The Jacksonville-based rail carrier had $3.13 billion in revenue, a 14 percent increase. Despite increased fuel costs and higher volume, expenses dropped 2 percent.

CSX is on the right track, earnings-wise.

Operating ratio — a measure of efficiency — improved 14 percent to 58.7, compared to 58.6 percent last quarter. This metric shows how much it costs to generate a dollar of profit. The company goal is for an annual ratio of 60 percent, which it expects to reach by 2020. (In the first quarter it was 63.7, on pace for 60.3 for the year.)

“Only eight months since the investor conference, by almost any measure, we are ahead of where I thought we would be,” CSX CEO Jim Foote said in the quarter’s earnings call this week.

Jacksonville Zoo’s year of innovation

About a year ago, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens announced a new 10-year master plan. In the subsequent 12 months, the zoo has unveiled a major new exhibit, several new baby animals and plans for more ambitious development.

Jacksonville Zoo’s year of innovation includes the ambitious African Forest Exhibit.

As the Jacksonville Business Journal notes, this year was the first for the traveling Dinosauria exhibition to stay throughout the summer; and one of the few times a new exhibit premiered in the fall and not the spring.

Some of the innovations over the last year include the Zoo’s newest master plan, with dozens of enrichment items, including large sculptures at a new main entrance, new exhibits (including manatees and orangutans) and more emphasis on animal enrichment and conservation as well as improved facilities for employees. Cost of the plan — which could take as much is 20 years to complete — is estimated between $50 million to $100 million.

The previous year also saw the construction of the Zoo’s latest exhibit, the African Forest, a $9 million, 4-acre project which incorporates wellness-inspired designs and a trail system that connects with a 54-foot tall interactive kapok tree.

Zoo director Tony Vecchio tells the Journal his team feels this new plan is necessary, and a “continuation of the upswing the zoo has been on for years now.”

The first part of the new plan — a remodeled Great Apes loop into the African Forest — completed in August 2018.

Jaguars need quick turnaround

The Jacksonville Jaguars are glad to be home this weekend. Having spent two disastrous weekends on the road, TIAA Bank Stadium will be a welcome sight Sunday when they take on the Houston Texans.

During the last two games in Kansas City and Dallas, the Jags were swamped by a combined score of 70-21. The 30-14 final against the Chiefs was one thing, but Sunday’s 40-7 humiliation delivered by the Cowboys showed a highly-promising season could be slipping away unless they turn things around.

Doug Marrone and the Jags have one more shot to save the season. (Photo via Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

“We earned the right to be where we are,” head coach Doug Marrone told the media Wednesday. “We’re the ones that put us where we are.”

The Jaguars are where they are after digging themselves into deep holes early in the last two games. In Kansas City, they trailed 20-0 at halftime, while the Cowboys carried a 24-0 lead into intermission.

Going into the season, the Jacksonville defense was ranked among the best units in the National Football League. After 6 games, they are ranked 31st out of 32 teams, while the offense is ranked in the middle of the league.

Marrone has worked them hard in practice this week, hoping to inspire a better performance on both sides of the ball.

“Doug and the coaches did a good job of pushing us and making sure we’re getting the quality work that we need to get done at this point in the week to be ready to go Sunday,” quarterback Blake Bortles said after practice. “That’s all part of our weekly preparation.”

Marrone says there is no magic pill. The best cure for getting better is hard work.

“You have to work hard,” Marrone said. “You have to go back there. You have to coach better. We have to play better. I have to do a better job.”

They had better … if they want to save their season.

Dueling Jacksonville events for Andrew Gillum, Ron DeSantis Thursday evening

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum will give his first major speech since returning to the campaign trail Thursday evening in Jacksonville.

The Tallahassee Mayor, who took time off the trail as Tallahassee completed most of its power restoration after Hurricane Michael, is back.

Gillum will address the 53rd Jacksonville NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner, a commitment he had made before Hurricane Michael’s approach.

This ticketed event will be held at the Downtown Hyatt Regency, with doors at 7 and Gillum expected to speak at 7:30.

Just a short drive away, Republican Ron DeSantis will address the GOP faithful at the Duval County Republican Party‘s 2018 Lincoln/Douglass Banquet.

The Duval Republicans are holding this event, which kicks off at 8 p.m., at the Jacksonville Veteran’s Memorial Arena, and Judge Jeanine Pirro and U.S. Rep. John Rutherford also will be speaking.

The most recent survey of the race from St. Pete Polls shows Gillum up one point (47-46), but down four (45-49) with people who have already voted.

The fundraising race is similarly competitive, though DeSantis seems to be hitting a stride, with an $8 million haul between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5.

There and back again: The return of Doyle Carter to Jacksonville City Hall

Former Jacksonville City Council member Doyle Carter resigned his seat earlier this year to run for Duval County Tax Collector. While he was eliminated in August, he didn’t have to wait very long for his next move in public service.

Carter has taken a role with the city, as Parks Athletic Project Manager. The job, in the $75,000 a year range, accords with Carter’s interest on the Council in youth athletic programs and facilities.

Carter has been an athletic director and coach for local high school softball teams at varying points in his career.

Carter, a Republican, is just the latest former City Council member to move into a city government role.

Upon being elected in 2015, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican, hired three different former members of the legislative body.

Republican Robin Lumb took a policy director role. Democrats Johnny Gaffney and Denise Lee, each of whom was helpful in kneecapping former Mayor Alvin Brown, likewise moved into senior roles.

One observer asserted that Carter’s hire was timed to help with Curry’s re-election. However, Carter got just 12 percent of the vote for tax collector in August, suggesting that help may be of limited usefulness.

Meanwhile, there are strong expectations that Carter may not be the last Councilor to be hired on by the city for an administrative role.

Former Council President Lori Boyer, a Republican who has an encyclopedic knowledge of city functions, seems like a likely addition in a senior role next year when she is termed out.

Human rights no concern as UAE cuts Jacksonville a check

On Monday, Northside Jacksonville’s A. Philip Randolph Career Academies saw Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry receive the U.S. Ambassador from the UAE, Yousef Al-Otaiba.

Money was on the line. $2.775 million, to be exact (part of a $10 million grant to be divided between several cities hit hardest by Hurricane Irma.)

Indeed, portions of this grant have already been delivered to Florida, with Collier County receiving its $2.7 million cut in August.

While local leaders appreciate revenue, there is a parallel story to the check: the UAE’s distressing and worsening human rights record.

The UAE has made a longstanding practice of storm relief, and there are those who believe it is a distraction from the regime’s human rights record, which is in keeping with the non-Democratic states of the Middle East.

Human Rights Watch spotlights imprisonment of political dissidents and a “sustained assault on freedom of expression and association since 2011,” which includes the death penalty for people who are determined to have worked to “undermine national unity or social peace.”

Definitions for that are subjective.

The UAE also actively participates in the ongoing war in Yemen, a proxy battle between the Saudis and Iran; its role, on the Saudi side, includes helming counterterrorism ops and running detention centers.

Furthermore, HRW charges the UAE with detaining and disappearing political prisoners (similarly to the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after a visit to a Saudi consulate this month), exploiting migrant labor, and systemic discrimination against women (facilitated by Sharia Law).

In the context of an erosion of human rights backdropped against a wave of post-storm generosity, we asked the Ambassador and the Mayor if such donations were intended to gloss over a record not in accordance with the mores of liberal democracies.

When we asked about the imprisoned political dissident Ahmed Mansoor, locked up as of this writing for 10 years for tweeting criticisms of the regime, the Ambassador smiled.

“We’re here to talk about our gifts to Jacksonville,” Al-Otaiba asserted. “If you want to ask me a question about what our laws are, we’re happy to address that. But that’s not why we’re here today.”

Curry spotlighted the “two-million dollars, invested in vulnerable populations in Jacksonville.”

Regarding “foreign policy,” Curry said “there’s experts in Washington, elected leaders in Washington who handle our foreign policy,” before pivoting to thank the Ambassador once more.

Applause filled the room, followed by stern looks from the Ambassador’s handlers, and a conversation with a plainclothes member of law enforcement who questioned whether this reporter was a real member of the media.

From there, Curry and Al-Otaiba toured the school. Media was invited along until the two went through a door, at which point reporters and cameramen were told to wait for a post-event availability.

Time passed, and three SUVs (two attached to the Ambassador, and another for the Mayor) departed the premises.

The money will be used for various expenditures, including computer labs for Raines and Ribault High Schools, restoration of a local park, purchase of mobile medical units, with approximately $1.45 million going to projects in the Ken Knight Road area, which was among the slowest in the city to recover from Irma.

Jacksonville Bold for 10.12.18 — Control needing control

As poet, novelist and pop culture icon William S. Burroughs once noted: “Control needs control to control.”

That observation holds in all hierarchical structures, especially politics, and particularly after voting begins.

In a typically Republican area like Northeast Florida, recent history shows it’s been rare to see so many competitive races as we are seeing this year on the November general election ballot.

An observation by William S. Burroughs applies to today’s politics, especially as ballots are cast.

Democrats are fielding candidates — serious ones — in unlikely places. And whether they can win or not, it’s worth noting that they are competing and signaling that there are no giveaway offices. Not anymore at least.

While it’s not likely that Cord Byrd, Jason Fischer, or Clay Yarborough will be leaving office anytime soon, the fact that Democrats are playing matters.

Also crucial down the stretch: Control over narratives.

The Ron DeSantis for Governor campaign has an increasingly Jacksonville flavor. Operative Tim Baker came aboard in a senior role, joining recently hired campaign manager Susie Wiles.

Baker and Wiles (as well as the rest of the team) will win or lose based on how effective they are when it comes to defining Andrew Gillum as just another Democratic candidate in a state where most poll stories have headlines of “dead heat” or “too close to call.”

Republicans have controlled narratives in this region for generations. To maintain control of the process, they will have to continue writing the script.

Baker joins DeSantis campaign

With four weeks before the primaries, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis brought on yet another seasoned hand for his campaign’s stretch run.

Florida Politics learned Monday evening that operative Baker joined the campaign in a senior leadership role, offering strategic and political guidance.

Thumbs up: Tim Baker with Lenny Curry and Brian Hughes. (Image via News4Jax)

Baker, one of a series of staff moves in DeSantis World that included bringing on another op with a Jacksonville portfolio in campaign manager Susie Wiles, asserted that the campaign is “starting to hit stride” and “we are all working like crazy.”

Baker’s skill: targeting voters and moving them.

Recent campaigns have seen 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.

One can already see evidence of such appeals in the DeSantis campaign, which smartly and in a timely fashion went up on TV last week to pillory Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for botched storm response after 2016’s Hurricane Hermine.

Such ads can be seen as part of a larger strategy to define Gillum in the “traditional major party candidate” way. Baker notes that Gillum emerged unscathed from an oppo-free Democratic primary, while DeSantis was “pounded in the primary,” as support from President Donald Trump drove a narrative that went well beyond Florida borders.

The choice, Baker believes, will come down to one of “leadership” (DeSantis) versus a “feel-good choice without substance.”

Clark backs Soderberg

No real surprise here, but former Clinton Administration alum Nancy Soderberg picked up an endorsement in her Congressional race from former 4-star general and 2004 presidential candidate Wes Clark.

Wes Clark and Nancy Soderberg have been allies since the 1990s.

“I worked closely with Nancy when she was on the National Security Council and U.N., and I’ve watched her defend American interests around the globe. She has fiercely fought for our values; building peace in the Balkans, forging a cease-fire in Northern Ireland, standing up to terrorists, and so much more,” Clark said.

The Clark endorsement was part of a raft of military endorsements for the Democrat running to replace DeSantis in Congress. The nods from two 4-Star Generals, three Lieutenant Generals, one Brigadier General, one Colonel, one Captain and three Rear Admirals “highlight the respect Nancy Soderberg earned from leaders in our military over her decades of work safeguarding our national security,” asserted a media release.

Soderberg is up against Mike Waltz in the general election in the Daytona-centric district that nonetheless has a lot of Jacksonville flavor in the campaign, with donors and interests in the 904 monitoring this swingy contest.

Bean beefs up

Republican state Sen. Aaron Bean, whose Senate District 4 encompasses all of Nassau and part of Duval County, continued to pad his campaign account during the last full week of September receipts.

Aaron Bean continues to bank.

From Sept. 15-28, Bean raised $22,200 between his campaign account and that of his political committee, Florida Conservative Alliance.

Among the donors on the committee side: Florida Blue and the Florida Pharmacist Political Committee.

The campaign account donors included Southern Gardens Citrus, U.S. Sugar, and Comcast.

Bean has $89,908 in the committee account and $107,567 in the campaign account, giving him $197,475 to work with during the campaign stretch run.

Bean maintains comfortable leads over his opponents. Democrat Billee Bussard has $6,558 on hand after raising $5,760 in the same two-week period. Libertarian Joanna Tavares does not fundraise and has roughly $40 on hand.

The district is nearly half Republican. With just over 360,381 registered voters, 174,580 Republicans and 100,307 Democrats call SD 4 home. The remaining voters are either NPA or third party, including 1,466 registered Libertarians.

Bean last faced a competitive general election in 2012, when he defeated former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg 62 percent to 38 percent.

Byrd flies high

Freshman Jacksonville-area Republican state Rep. Cord Byrd continued to maintain strong cash leads over his Democratic challenger as September closed.

Cord Byrd flying high in fundraising for the home stretch.

Byrd, whose majority-Republican House District 11 includes coastal Duval and all of Nassau County, brought in $8,100 of new money between Sept. 15 and 28, pushing his campaign account over $49,000 on hand. Comcast and Duke Energy PAC were among the $1,000 donors.

Byrd also has over $10,000 in his 1845 political committee.

His general election opponent, Nathcelly Rohrbaugh, mostly kept pace with Byrd in late September receipts, bringing in $4,442 of new money, pushing his campaign account over $16,000 on hand.

Labor money, including from a Sheet Metal Workers local and the North Florida Central Labor Council, added to Rohrbaugh’s haul.

No bitter pills for Yarborough

First-term Jacksonville-area Republican state Rep. Yarborough continued to maintain a healthy cash lead over his Democratic challenger as September ended.

Clay Yarborough continued to amass resources as September ended.

Yarborough, running in Southside Jacksonville’s Republican-plurality House District 12, brought in $6,000 between Sept. 15 and 28.

Of that haul, $4,000 came from the biggest companies in Big Pharma: Eli Lilly, Bristol Myers Squibb, Pfizer and AstraZeneca all cut the Arlington Republican checks.

All told, he has raised $171,225, with $103,918 of that on hand.

Yarborough faces Democrat Tim Yost, who took in $610 during the same period. All told, Yost has $11,225 on hand of $17,558 raised.

Yarborough made news last week for becoming the regional head of the Yes on 3 campaign, designed to make expansions of casino gambling contingent on citizen referendums.

Polson seeks debate

The general election race to replace outgoing state Rep. Jay Fant in Jacksonville’s House District 15 is beginning to heat up, with a pattern established last week.

Democrat Tracye Polson is determined to push back against what she sees as distortions of narrative and distractions from the campaign of Republican opponent Wyman Duggan.

Debate or no? Trayce Polson takes umbrage with attack ads in HD 15.

One such example: challenging Duggan to debate, in the wake of a pyrotechnic attack ad that linked Polson to Resistance protesters, with stock footage of a flag burner catching the Democrat’s ire.

The ad said Polson is “with them, not with us.”

In that context, Florida Politics has learned of the second line of attack being mulled by the Duggan campaign, one focusing on Polson being a recent arrival to House District 15, a group of deep-rooted communities ranging from Riverside, Avondale, and Ortega to the more bucolic stretches of Jacksonville’s Westside.

The contrast would be implicit, between the deeply rooted Duggan and Polson, a candidate who moved to the district much more recently, according to voter registration records.

Polson registered in HD 15 in November 2016, records show. Before that, she was a registered voter in St. Johns County.

We asked Polson about this potential issue, and she framed it as yet another distraction put forth by the Republican campaign to distract from his career as a lobbyist.

Duggan, meanwhile, is starting to rebuild his campaign war chest, raising more than $56,000 between Sept. 15 and 28 between his campaign account and that of his political committee.

All told, he has roughly $82,000 on hand, a number that is still behind the Polson campaign, which had as of its most recent campaign account and committee filings approximately $123,036 on hand after having raised and self-financed about $125,000 during the same period.

Polson is spending big on television, and her ability to finance her campaign has gotten her into the game. The next four weeks will show if her campaign can go toe to toe with a Republican machine with deep tentacles into GOP power structures in Jacksonville and Tallahassee both.

Overton builds cash edge

As September ended, a familiar narrative continued.

Republican Jim Overton maintained his lead in the money race with Democrat Mia Jones for Duval County Tax Collector — even though she was the choice of almost 47 percent of voters in the August blanket primary.

Jim Overton continues to lead Mia Jones in the money race.

The latest filings to the Duval County Supervisor of Elections run through Sept. 28.

Overton (a former City Councilman and Property Appraiser) now has over $43,000 on hand after raising $16,034 in the two weeks leading up to the 28th.

Among the latest donors: Peter Rummell, the Jacksonville developer closely aligned with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry; Hans Tanzler; and a couple of entities associated with Jacksonville Landing developer Toney Sleiman, currently feuding with Mayor Curry.

Jones was less productive from Sept. 15 to 28, raising just $3,835 and giving her nearly $20,000 on hand. Prominent backers include the AFSCME union and local trial lawyer Wayne Hogan.

Democrats enjoy a registration advantage in Duval County. Of the just over 600,000 registered voters, 244,542 are Democrats, compared to 219,850 Republicans.

However, that advantage doesn’t translate to wins in citywide races. All constitutional officers in Duval County are currently Republicans.

DeFoor stretches cash lead

In the race to succeed Republican Jim Love on the Jacksonville City Council, Love’s fellow Republican Randy DeFoor expanded her cash on hand lead after September receipts.

Randy DeFoor keeps banking for the March election.

But in what could be a preview of a runoff election, Democrat Sunny Gettinger is keeping pace.

As of the end of September, DeFoor had roughly $157,000 on hand between her campaign account and her Safe and Prosperous Jacksonville political committee.

DeFoor brought in $10,050 of new money to the campaign account, and an additional $5,000 to her political committee.

First Coast Energy was the big donor this cycle; its CEO Aubrey Edge is a supporter of Mayor Lenny Curry, and DeFoor is aligned with that political operation.

Gettinger, meanwhile, saw declining receipts for the fourth straight month. Her September haul of $4,245 was the slowest month of her campaign, giving her over $96,000 on hand.

Her key donors last month included connected local businessman Walt Bussells and Jon Heymann, the longtime leader of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission.

DeFoor and Gettinger are better positioned financially than the two male candidates in the race, who have yet to report September numbers.

Republican Henry Mooneyhan had roughly $12,000 on hand at the end of August. Democrat Jimmy Peluso had approximately $36,000 at his disposal.

Jacksonville municipal races see a first election in March. If no one takes a majority in that blanket primary, the top two finishers move on, regardless of party, to the May general election.

Vogtle sparks Moody’s downgrade

Moody’s downgraded $2.1 billion of Jacksonville debt, pinning a negative outlook on issues resulting from the city’s misadventures with utility JEA.

At the root of it all: the still-under-construction Plant Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, from which the city committed to buying power in 2008, and as of late wanted out of the deal, citing conditions ranging from flat revenue streams, escalating costs to getting cheaper power elsewhere.

JEA agreed to bankroll 41 percent of MEAG’s share for 20 years. However, the utility and the city have groused of late.

Plant Vogtle is causing Jacksonville rating headaches.

And now the credit rating agencies are taking notice.

“The downgrade of the city’s debt reflects our concurrent downgrade of JEA’s electric, water and sewer and District Energy System utility debt ratings,” Moody’s contends.

Affected were a series of bonds, spanning a spectrum of city expenditures.

Jacksonville’s issuer rating dropped to A2 from Aa2, Special Revenue Non Ad Valorem Covenant bonds to A3 from Aa3, Better Jacksonville Sales Tax Revenue bonds to A2 from A1, Capital Projects bonds to A2 from Aa3, Excise Taxes Revenue bonds to A2 from Aa2, Capital Improvement bonds to A2 from Aa3 and Transportation bonds to A2 from A1.

At issue: “The city’s participation as a plaintiff in litigation with JEA, a component unit of the city, against Municipal Energy Authority of Georgia (MEAG), in which JEA and the city are seeking to have a Florida state court invalidate a ‘take-or-pay’ power contract between JEA and MEAG.”

COJ OK on ADA, says DOJ

After over five years of work by the City of Jacksonville to meet Americans with Disabilities Act goals, the city got the all-clear from the Department of Justice Friday.

The Justice Department declared the 2013 agreement fulfilled last week.

The DOJ Civil Rights division wrote city officials, noting that the city had fulfilled the terms of its voluntary, pre-litigation Project Civic Access agreement.

The agreement, per a 2013 post by the Justice Department, was wide-ranging:

“During the compliance review, the Department reviewed 64 of the city’s facilities. The agreement requires the city to correct deficiencies identified at the 64 facilities and requires Jacksonville to review and correct identified deficiencies at hundreds of additional facilities.”

Those facilities had all been built or modified since 1992, and included libraries, community and senior centers, a boat ramp, fire stations, athletic fields and sports complexes, City Hall, parks, the Jacksonville Zoo, detention and corrections facilities, parking garages and polling places.

The city had to improve accessibility, ranging from parking to drinking fountains.

Efforts for Braille and sign-language translations and translators likewise were mandated. Barriers at polling places and to emergency services similarly had to be removed, and sidewalks and other public infrastructure required work also.

JAXPORT nabs major ocean carrier

JAXPORT is adding Zim Integrated Shipping Services, the world’s 11th largest ocean carrier.

First reported by the Jacksonville Business Journal, the Israel-based company will come to Jacksonville as the vessel operator for 2M, among the largest vessel-sharing alliances in the world.

The additions will bring containers from North Asia through JAXPORT, which has recently focused on Asian container imports, with an average annual growth of 21 percent over the past five years.

Zim Integrated Shipping Services, the world’s 11th largest ocean carrier, is heading to Jacksonville.

Zim’s entry into the Jacksonville market will further diversify JAXPORT ocean carriers and boost its growing container business. Container volumes year-to-date are up 28 percent over last year, and volumes handled by JAXPORT in July and August were the highest in the port authority’s history for the same time frame.

Existing ocean carriers also increased their average capacity at Jaxport by almost 13 percent in August, the Journal noted.

Jacksonville as a port-of-call is another new step Zim, an independent carrier facing challenges in the ocean carrier industry. Zim and other ocean carriers have often netted quarterly losses in the face of oversupply — despite increased volume and revenue increases — as well as declining rates and rising costs.

On October 3, Zim USA President George Goldman explained to the Jacksonville Propeller Club that the world’s top 11 carriers lost money 25 out of the last 42 quarters.

“That’s not really sustainable,” Goldman warned, adding that the industry has gone through several acquisitions, mergers and bankruptcies.

Goldman admitted that much of the industry’s operational challenges are self-inflicted, especially when it came to oversupply. He called the industry collectively “dumber than a bag of rocks.”

“Individually, we’re pretty smart people,” Goldman added. “The problem is when we get together … Without a doubt, we are our own worst enemies.”

Zoo celebrates endangered gorilla birth

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens announced a new addition — its 22-year-old, Western lowland gorilla Kumbuka has given birth to a healthy infant.

The 4.8-pound female was born Friday, Sept. 28 at 1:30 p.m.

Kumbuka’s initial maternal behavior toward the baby was perfect and healthy, Zoo officials said. However, Kumbuka was cradling and carrying the youngster improperly — similar to the way she behaved before she lost two previous offspring at another zoo.

Welcome to a baby gorilla, as yet unnamed.

Zoo staffers believe Kumbuka’s hearing disability may prevent her from detecting when her youngsters are in distress. Faced with a life-threatening situation, the staff decided to remove Kumbuka’s baby — for short-term assisted rearing by gorilla-care staff.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Gorilla SSP (Species Survival Plan) group supports the decision.

The Gorilla SSP recommended she join the Jacksonville Zoo troop to learn maternal behavior from the other mother gorillas and participate in a maternal training program.

After Kumbuca’s arrival in 2014, Jacksonville gorilla care staff began suspecting she might be hearing-impaired. By 2017, her condition was confirmed through consultation with audiologists from Nemours Children’s Specialty Care.

The diagnosis provided valuable for developing a specific birth plan to improve Kumbuka’s chances for maternal success. Throughout Kumbuka’s pregnancy, keepers worked to teach her the correct way to position an infant — as well as other essential maternal skill — while also preparing for possible intervention, if necessary.

The training will continue as keepers show the proper way to hold and carry the infant. Kumbuka is the most genetically valuable female in the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP), and pairing with Jacksonville’s silverback Lash, she conceived in early February 2018. Lash, 42, was born at the Cincinnati Zoo and came to the Jacksonville Zoo in Gardens in 1998.

The new infant is very important to the entire North American program, which relies upon cooperative pairings of gorillas already in human care. Wild gorillas are no longer captured for zoos.

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens recently opened the newly-renovated home for the great apes, African Forest. The $9.5 million renovation features a 50-foot-tall kapok tree that animals can climb and swing on, a mixed-species exhibit, a trail system that allows the animals to roam the area as they choose, and many more wellness-inspired design elements.

The infant gorilla is not yet named.

Jaguars Job One 

As ESPN’s Michael DiRocco notes, the Jaguars defense faces a specific challenge against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday: stop Ezekiel Elliott.

After falling to the Kansas City Chiefs offense (led by Patrick Mahomes) and loaded with playmakers, the Jaguars face a Cowboys offense led by running back Elliott, which ranks near last in the NFL for passing.

That relieves the pressure just a bit. And as DiRocco writes, “It’s going to be an old-school, smash-mouth kind of game.”

Jaguars’ Job One: Stop Ezekiel Elliott.

“The New York [Giants] week got us ready for this week in the sense of saying they’re going to try to go through the running back,” Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith told ESPN. “We know the offense flows through the running back. They’re going to try to get him going. We’ve just got to go out and execute and play.”

Elliott, who coach Doug Marrone calls “probably the best running back in the league,” leads the league rushing with 480 yards and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He also leads the Cowboys in receptions (22), and his 635 yards of total offense accounts for 41 percent of the Cowboys’ total yards.

That is despite turning in his worst performance of the season Sunday: 54 yards on 20 carries in the Cowboys’ 19-16 overtime loss to Houston.

“Great out of the backfield, great hands, great in space,” Marrone continued. “There’s probably not a run that he can’t do. He can run people over. He can run by them. I’ve seen him run over them. He has a great stiff arm.

“Can’t say enough good things about the guy.” The Jaguars’ run defense is ranked No. 14 (101.2 yards per game), allowing the Chiefs to rush for 126 yards. Nevertheless, the Cowboys’ pass game is not even close to what the Chiefs brought to Jacksonville. In nine of the last 13 games, QB Dak Prescott passed fewer than 200 yards, without a touchdown pass in seven of those games.

For the Jaguars, stopping the run is a top priority, but handling Prescott is not far behind, mainly due to his mobility.

Prescott is one of eight quarterbacks who rushed more than 100 yards this season (with 121).

Bottom line: The Jaguars success this week will rest on how they deal with Elliott.

Jacksonville fulfills terms of DOJ disability rights settlement

After over five years of work by the City of Jacksonville to meet Americans with Disabilities Act goals, the city got the all-clear from the Department of Justice on Friday.

The DOJ Civil Rights division wrote city officials, noting that the city had fulfilled the terms of its voluntary, pre-litigative Project Civic Access agreement.

The agreement, per a 2013 post by the Justice Department, was wide-ranging:

“During the compliance review, the Department reviewed 64 of the city’s facilities. The agreement requires the city to correct deficiencies identified at the 64 facilities and requires Jacksonville to review and correct identified deficiencies at hundreds of additional facilities.”

Those facilities had all been built or modified since 1992, and included libraries, community and senior centers, a boat ramp, fire stations, athletic fields and sports complexes, City Hall, parks, the Jacksonville Zoo, detention and corrections facilities, parking garages, and polling places.

The city had to improve accessibility, ranging from parking to drinking fountains.

Efforts for Braille and sign-language translations and translators likewise were mandated. Barriers at polling places and to emergency services likewise had to be removed, and sidewalks and other public infrastructure required work also.

There could be other issues not addressed in the 2013 agreement, per the Justice Department, which stresses that closing the agreement does not mean the city is perfectly compliant.

Meet Tracye Polson, Democrat running for Florida House District 15

Just like in 2016, we’re again asking every candidate, including incumbents, to complete a questionnaire we believe offers an interesting, albeit, thumbnail sketch of who they are and why they are running. If you are a candidate and would like to complete the questionnaire, email Peter@FloridaPolitics.com.

Significant other? Kids?

My husband and I have five adult children – three from his first marriage and two from mine. Our kids work in a range of fields: science, law, business, public policy and social work. Of course, I think they are the most intelligent, hardest working young people I know. As the mom and step-mom of them, who range 24 to 33 years of age, I don’t relate personally to disparaging comments about millennials because I’ve met so many of their friends and those other young people, too, give me hope for our future.

Education background? Professional background?

I was the first in my family to graduate from college – my parents did not – and I did so at the age of 31 while working full-time, already a mom to my 7-year old daughter and four months pregnant with my son. One of the reasons I don’t like the message “not everyone wants or needs to go to college” is it misses the more important point of assuring the opportunity to attend college for those who want to, even if they come from a background of financial hardship. I’m a champion for personal choice, setting one’s own direction. Every person should have an opportunity to build their career, in college, trade school, the military, or elsewhere that their interest and ability takes them. Let’s promote a love of learning, valuing of hard work, and support of options that lets each person pursue a path to financial security and meaning that they themselves choose – that options aren’t limited severely by the family into which one is born or their home’s zip code.

I have a master’s degree in Social Work and a Ph.D. in Clinical Social Work. I defended my doctoral dissertation on high-conflict divorce and its potentially corrosive effect on children while undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer and was the class speaker at graduation in 2014.

What was your first job?

I was 15 when I went to work as a sales associate for a small, family-owned woman’s clothing shop. I loved working for this entrepreneurial and civic-minded family and am still friends with them today. I learned about my personal responsibility at work, business, sales, and more in that job. It was a great experience that I’m fortunate and grateful to have.

In 25 words or less why are you running for office?

I was moved by women in Jacksonville, alarmed by President Donald Trump’s behavior toward women. I felt the need to step forward and serve.

Did you speak with anybody in your political party before deciding on running? Receive any encouragement? From whom?

I spoke with many people, across party lines, before filing including Democrats Senator Audrey Gibson, former candidate Lisa King and former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg as well as Republicans such as Jacksonville City Councilwoman Anna Brosche and former mayoral candidate Audrey Moran, to name just a few.

Who do you count on for advice?

I have a wide range of friends and family, from different backgrounds including business, the military, and education that provide me advice, perspective, and support. They are people active in both parties and not at all political as well. One cannot have too many good friends, and it’s best when they have different perspectives, as many of us now are subject to hearing over and over the thoughts of those encased in their own ‘bubbles’ or narrow points of view.

Who is your political consultant? Campaign manager?

Scott Arceneaux is my political consultant and my campaign manager is Haleigh Hutchison, Councilman Tommy Hazouri’s former executive assistant. I really like my team; they are experienced locally and statewide, and deeply ethical. As a first-time candidate, immersed before filing in the running of my own small business, I wanted thoughtful assistance. That’s the process I’ll use as a legislator – one similar to my response to this and the previous question – listening to a wide range of knowledgeable input.

Who was the first person to contribute to your campaign? Why did they donate?

Patty Forbes. She worked most of her career as a lawyer and small business program manager for the U.S. Small Business Administration in D.C. and later as Staff Director and Chief Counsel for the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. During her career, she developed and refined many Federal small business programs aimed at providing access to capital and business education to new or growing small business owners. One of her proudest accomplishments was the enactment of the Small Business Administration’s Microloan Program which has provided small loans to budding entrepreneurs for more than 25 years. After her retirement in 2014, she taught low-income children in the Virginia public schools.   

Patty has known me for decades and knows I am ethical, caring, hard-working, a good listener and a fighter for what is right and if elected, she knows I will do everything I can to address the real needs of ALL of the people in District 15.

Who, if anyone, inspires you in state government?

Senator Audrey Gibson and Representative Tracie Davis. They are two strong, approachable, and effective legislators who care about their constituents and Jacksonville. I can’t wait to work with them in Tallahassee.

Why do people mistrust elected officials and what are you going to do about it?

I think many people see elected officials as unapproachable or distant, non-transparent or opaque. As a professional working in the field of human behavior, I know definitively that we are all human, unique, fallible and, yet, redeemable. Some officeholders become swayed by power, money, and fame; their identity becomes fused with ‘a role’ versus seeing themselves as simply ‘a person’. I am fully aware that I’m just a person, with my own unique abilities and needs and aspirations for our community common to many. My many roles in life include being a mom, mental health professional, a business owner, wife, daughter, and now candidate. Each of these roles is a part of my overall identity, which remains essentially unchanged by the political process. During my campaign I have been very approachable, and I’ll remain so. I sit with anyone willing to have a conversation about the needs of our community. I will bring that openness and availability to Tallahassee as the next State Representative in District 15.

What are the three issues that you’re running on? (You’re not allowed to say education or “improving the schools”)

I’m reluctant to not mention as one of my top three issues – education – as voters in House District 15 have told me over and over that (a) it is the issue that matters most to most, though not all, people and (b) they want addressed Florida’s school and student performance, which has fallen far behind many states.

My work’s focus has been on families for as long as I can remember. I’m deeply engaged in why some families struggle to get by financially, why some families are devastated by domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and why other families seem more caring, stable and successful. From this focus on families it’s clear that nearly every issue our community struggles to improve requires support of the family, including these issues important to me as House District 15’s Representative: 1. high-quality and affordable health care, the absence of which can devastate families financially; 2. public safety, crime prevention and its clear connection to drug abuse and, more generally, mental health; and 3. improved public education and its undeniable linkage to good, well-paying jobs.

What is a disruptive issue you are interested in?

In the state of Florida, it is unambiguously apparent, by the science and what’s happening in our repeatedly flooding streets that rising water levels and climate change rise is a “disruptive” issue. We cannot afford to continue to ignore the need for a comprehensive plan to address the infrastructure improvements needed to address this; the potential effects if unaddressed are too severe, financially and environmentally. Furthermore, there is great economic opportunity in Florida and Jacksonville becoming a leader in “green” and sustainable environment industries.

What does your legislative district need from Tallahassee?

A representative that will fight for every person and family in Jacksonville, no matter of party affiliation, economic condition, age, gender, race, sexual orientation or background. I believe most of us want similar things – to feel safe in our homes and communities, a good job paying a wage from which a person can support oneself, opportunities for advancement for those who strive, to raise our children with excellent public schools nearby, to be able to go to a doctor and get medical treatment without the fear of bankruptcy or losing one’s home.

Who was the best governor in Florida’s modern history?

Reubin Askew. He was an early champion of civil rights and was instrumental in helping move Florida in the right direction during the 1960’s and 70’s. He was known for his honesty and integrity and ushered in an era of transparency and good government that we still benefit from in the form of our Sunshine laws and an independent judiciary. We could all learn from his example.

Are yard signs an important part of campaigning in your district?

For me they’re a fun part of campaigning; I enjoy talking with voters as they let me place a sign in their yard. One morning while I was out canvassing my campaign manager messaged me saying: a person had seen my yard sign, ‘googled’ me to learn more about who I am, then called our office to ask for a sign, and had just made a very generous donation to the campaign. All without having met me in person yet. After I finished canvassing I delivered a sign to them and we spent some time discussing issues that matter most to them.

What’s the first thing you read each morning?

I reach for my phone first thing each morning to make sure none of my patients or family members are in crisis, then I read my email where there are links to articles in the Florida Times Union, Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times and other news sources.

Where do you get your political news?

The local and state newspapers I mentioned above and Florida Politics, public radio (WJCT here in Jacksonville), and other sources such as national newspapers and reliable websites.

Social media presence? Twitter handle?

Yes, my campaign can be found online at www.polsonforjacksonville.com, on Facebook and Instagram at “Polson For Jacksonville,” and on Twitter @PolsonForJax.

In 280 characters, what’s a tweet that best describes your campaign message?

I’m a mental health professional, small business owner, cancer survivor and an Army veteran’s daughter. I’ve spent my life studying why some families thrive and others struggle to survive. I will bring my professional expertise to Tallahassee and fight every day for working families in Jacksonville.


Between my business and the campaign, I do not have as much time for hobbies now, but I enjoy biking for fitness, working out with a helpful local trainer, reading clinical journals to stay up with best practices in my field, traveling to interesting places with our kids, and going to dinner out at some of my favorite spots in Jacksonville.

Favorite sport and sports team?

I love watching college football and basketball. I became a Gator fan when my daughter attended UF during the era of Chris Leak, Tim Tebow, Al Horford and Joakim Noah. I’d never been to games where there was so much enthusiasm – and orange and blue. I also enjoy attending The Players Championship every year. And, of course, go Jags.

Jacksonville Bold for 10.5.18 — Time in a bottle

This week in City Hall, a time capsule containing artifacts from 1960 was opened.

Being it’s the 50-year anniversary of Consolidation, city leaders are (understandably) in a sentimental mode.

But 50 years from now? One wonders if such sentimental pulls will prevail.

How will we be seen fifty years from now? (Image via Jacksonville.com)

What kind of letters would current City Council members write to those who will succeed them in the Jacksonville of the future?

Will there be a need to explain current political conditions? Or to advise people living through the future that we imagine?

In 1960, stuffing the time capsule for posterity, Jacksonville was not as it is now.

Consolidation was eight years away. Everyone in town was a Democrat. And Rep. Charles Bennett was still a (youngish) congressman.

Politicians don’t do a great job envisioning the future.

A thought exercise: How will politicians a half-century from now see the past?

Fang’s Law

Prediction: A local legislator will file a bill next session to enhance penalties for the killing of police dogs.

Last month, the killing of Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office K-9 officer Fang shocked many locally.

The death of K-9 officer Fang is sparking outrage, possible legislative action. (Image via WJXT)

“JSO says K-9 Officer Fang was shot and killed on the Westside, near I-10 and Cecil Commerce Parkway, while chasing 17-year-old Jhamel Paskel, a suspect in an armed carjacking. Investigators said another police dog helped catch Paskel, who was arrested near where a 9 mm handgun was found,” reports WJXT.

Per THE Local Station, a Change.org petition has been launched to increase penalties for killing police dogs. However, that can only happen in Tallahassee.

To reiterate: It’s only a matter of which member of the Duval Delegation will carry the bill. It will be a winner in the Legislature, and it’s the kind of thing that plays really well in direct mail — and with police unions, the support from which can be a boost in competitive elections.

Brown ‘still fighting’

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown is locked up currently, serving a stretch for the One Door for Education fraud scheme.

However, per Brown’s house organ (the Florida Star) the Congresswoman is “still fighting,” and is looking for tangible expressions of support from her base.

Corrine Brown is still in battle mode. (Image via WESH-TV)

“She wants you to know that she is still fighting, is doing well, and looking forward to coming home soon. Even though Congresswoman Brown was sentenced to five years at FCC Coleman Camp, she is very hopeful that her case will be reversed,” the Star reports.

“Congresswoman Brown also needs your financial assistance, and if you can contribute, please know that any amount will help tremendously! If you would like to contribute to her Commissary Account, you can send funds by Western Union,” the Star notes.

Just as was the case when she was in politics, there are multiple ways to help Corrine — including one familiar to those covering her legal travails: “If you would like to assist with her mounting legal fees, you can mail a check or money order to the … Corrine Brown Legal Expense Trust

In a changing world, it’s reassuring that some constants exist.

Consolidation commemorated

Fifty years ago Monday, Jacksonville (racked by corruption and governmental inefficiency at the time) embarked on an experiment with consolidated government.

Lenny Curry talks Consolidation and Jacksonville history.

Though many debate the efficacy of the model, the case for Consolidation was made (or reiterated) energetically Monday evening at the Jessie Ball DuPont Center.

The Jacksonville Historical Society’s Task Force for Consolidation hosted the 5:30 p.m. event, which saw with Rick Mullaney, the former Jacksonville General Counsel.

Mullaney, an enthusiast for Consolidation, referred to the move as “the most significant local government restructuring in Florida history.

“The Jacksonville of the 1960s,” Mullaney said, was perceived as “a slow-moving southern town with an inferiority complex.

Including here, he added.

“That was a perception we had of ourselves,” Mullaney noted.

Jacksonville had seen a “wave of public corruption” in the 1930s, which included “wasteful and duplicative” services.

Despite this, and a Jacksonville constitutional amendment that gave the city significant leeway, nothing was done until the 1960s.

The referendum that greenlighted Consolidation, Mullaney said, brought a “strong mayor” form of government with a “unique ability to build consensus [for] transformational change.”

‘Work in progress’

Per the director of the Jacksonville Historical Society in the Jacksonville Daily Record, after 50 years, Consolidation is still a “work in progress.”

Jacksonville Consolidation: A ‘work in progress.’ (Image vis Jacksonville Daily Record/Matt Carlucci)

“Some of the problems its authors sought to resolve have indeed given way, while others persist,” noted historical society director Alan Bliss.

“All by itself, [a] consolidated local government is accountable neither for its successes nor its unmet promises. Jacksonville’s elected officials — and the voters who choose them — are ultimately responsible,” Bliss added.

“By the 1960s, Jacksonville resembled other American cities that faced aging infrastructure and dysfunctional government,” Bliss noted, after adding that Tampa and Miami faced similar issues with booming suburbs and declining urban cores.

“Downtown Jacksonville suffered visibly, with a declining tax base no longer adequate to sustain municipal services,” Bliss added.

Left unanswered: how Tampa and Miami became great global cities, while Jacksonville attempts to find its footing on a somewhat lower tier.

What’s your hurry, Curry?

The titular question, posed by a columnist in the St. Augustine Record, addresses a proposal from the Jacksonville Chamber’s JAXUSA group that would give Northeast Florida an identity.

Does St. Augustine really need a branding boost from the JAX Chamber? Sources say no.

That identity: Greater Jacksonville. And the “Water Life Region.”

“I suffer marketing naiveté but thought ‘Florida’s Historic Coast’ had an honest ring to it. And that’s not the case for only St. Augustine. Ponte Vedra, the North Beaches, St. Augustine Beach and the South Beaches clear down to Summer Haven have compelling histories of their own. Jacksonville has Cowford,” writes the Record’s Jim Sutton.

Sutton also takes aim at state Sen. Travis Hutson for his “amendment to a totally unrelated bill on Community Development Districts. The amendment redrew the boundaries of St. Johns County, moving a massive swath of prime conservation land into Duval County. The land lies along the western side of Roscoe Boulevard, running north and south, essentially from Palm Valley down to Mickler’s Landing. The eastern boundary abutted the ICW the total length — all waterfront and largely undeveloped land.”

This deal got squashed when it was reported. But Sutton doesn’t think it’s over.

“We dodged an amazingly brazen bullet. But watch for the same “good neighbor” policy to show up next session, cloaked differently this time,” Sutton warns.

Sex claims roil JAXPORT

Per the Florida Times-Union, a newly-filed sexual harassment suit is ensuring JaxPort headlines are about more than dredging and cargo ships.

JAXPORT is getting some unwanted attention. (Image via JAXPORT)

Glenda Prinzi filed a case alleging a pattern of pressure to perform sexually for hiring, then promotion.

Prinzi contends that on numerous occasions, she was pressured into having sex with both direct JAXPORT employees and subcontractors.

“Such conduct is entirely unacceptable in this day and age,” Matt Kachergus, an attorney with the firm Sheppard, White, Kachergus & DeMaggio, said to the T-U.

JAXPORT CEO Eric Green asserted this week during a board meeting that he has “zero tolerance for workplace harassment of any kind.”

Let ’em fly

Months back, a code enforcement issue became global news, when a city of Jacksonville employee cited a local business for flying military flags.

One city. One Jacksonville. Six flags.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry overruled his employee.

Lenny Curry says ‘let them fly.’ And here we are.

“Let them fly,” he tweeted.

And so, they did.

Now those flags will fly, permanently, at City Hall, after a ceremonial raising of the flags of all military branches (along with a POW/MIA flag) Tuesday.

Curry noted the city’s “gratitude for members of the armed forces” factoring into the decision to fly the flags as a “daily reminder of all that served and all that have served.”

Read more here.

No juice left

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, a first-term Democrat, was thwarted by the Finance Committee he once chaired Tuesday, regarding a resolution of opposition to selling local utility JEA.

The Committee had Dennis sit for an hour before not moving his bill.

Garrett Dennis gets stymied by the same committee he once chaired.

The sale of JEA has been a discussion point in City Hall off and on for the last year, and Dennis is concerned that Council will greenlight the deal down the road.

Dennis’ resolution (2018-593) couldn’t even get moved to the floor Tuesday.

Dennis had pushed similar legislation to the same effect once this year already, and the distraught Democrat dropped science on the silent committee after the non-movement.

“It’s not going away,” Dennis said. “I truly believe that we will be in a better position if this Council votes this resolution up.”

Dennis cited the issues with the Plant Vogtle development, which JEA entered into in 2008 and has since come to see as a financial albatross. The utility was thwarted last month in efforts to get out of the deal.

Committee discussion afterward was brief, and seemed to center on getting Dennis to go away.

“Dennis has indicated that if we withdraw this bill, he will refile it,” said Councilwoman Lori Boyer, who advised that “these bills can be deferred by the chair and never end up on the agenda for discussion.”

For Dennis, a potential mayoral candidate in 2019, this represents another setback.

For the Jacksonville City Council, this is business as usual.

Supremes decline qualification dispute

On Tuesday, the Florida Supreme Court refused to take up a case filed by a Clay County judicial candidate who was kept off the ballot when she filed paperwork 12 minutes late.

As the News Service of Florida reports, justices handed down a one-page order turning down the appeal by Lucy Ann Hoover. As is customary, the court did not explain why.

Supreme Court smacks down Lucy Ann Moore’s chances for a Clay County judicial spot.

Hoover, who had sought to run for county judge, went to the high court after the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected her request to be added to the ballot. Hoover, who planned to challenge Clay County Judge Kristina Mobley, rushed May 4 to meet a noon qualifying deadline, according to the appeals court ruling. But a required financial-disclosure document was not notarized at the county elections supervisor’s office until 12:12 p.m. — 12 minutes late. The supervisor of elections initially qualified Hoover, since she was in the supervisor’s office before the deadline. But Mobley challenged the qualification, and a circuit judge agreed, ruling Hoover should not be on the ballot. In an eight-page opinion, a panel of the appeals court upheld the decision.

Davis, others look to 2020

Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis, who ran unopposed this year, became one of about half-dozen House incumbents opening campaign accounts this week for 2020. Davis, who has been serving House District 16 since 2016, is joining six other colleagues: Republican state Reps. Brad Drake of Eucheeanna, Sam Killebrew of Winter Haven and Michael Grant of Port Charlotte as well as Democrats John Cortes of Kissimmee, Ben Diamond of St. Petersburg and Evan Jenne of Dania Beach.

State Rep. Tracie Davis joins the crowd looking toward 2020.

The News Service of Florida notes some newcomers who already locked up House seats this year and opened accounts for 2020: Gulf Breeze Republican Alex Andrade in the Panhandle’s HD 2; Boca Raton Democrat Tina Polsky in Palm Beach County’s HD 81; and Boynton Beach Democrat Joe Casello in Palm Beach County’s House District 90. West Palm Beach Democrat Philippe Louis “Bob” Jeune also opened an account Friday to run in Palm Beach County’s HD 88. Democratic state Rep. Al Jacquet of Lantana ran unopposed for the seat this year.

Voters in Charge staffs up

Voters in Charge, the political committee supporting Yes on 3, the constitutional amendment giving voters the final say in any gambling expansion in Florida, has been busy staffing up local leadership committees.

Members include community, business, law enforcement and religious leaders throughout the state committed to ensuring that Florida voters are put in charge of casino gambling decisions in Florida.

Clay Yarborough is leading the Northeast Florida delegation for Voters in Charge.

Chairing the Northeast Florida delegation is state Rep. Clay Yarborough. Committee members include state Sen. Keith Perry; Sheriffs Sadie Darnell of Alachua and Darryl Daniels of Clay counties; Isaiah Rumlin, President of NAACP Jacksonville; Nicole Chapman, Regional Director of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association; Ben Goldsmith, Director of Cru Inter City Jacksonville; and Mary Lib Stevenson, President of the Clay Family Policy Forum.

“We are thrilled to have the support of so many pillars of the community for this important amendment,” said Voters in Charge Chair John Sowinski. “For most of our lifetimes, decisions about casino gambling were left up to the voters. It is past time to return that right to Floridians and take it away from politicians and special interest groups in Tallahassee.”

All month, the group has rolled out committees throughout the state. Information on the Yes on 3 campaign, including local contacts and regional offices, is at VotersInCharge.org.

Zoo staffer honored

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens animal wellness director Terry Maple has received the inaugural “Animal Welfare Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The award recognizes Maples’ four-decade career as a leader in the animal wellness field, reports the Jacksonville Business Journal. His work includes research, husbandry, mentorship and advocacy for animal protection.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is recognizing Terry Maples for his lifetime of work on animal welfare. (Image via the Jacksonville Business Journal)

According to the Journal, Maple spent 18 years at Zoo Atlanta, helping transform it from one of the worst-rated zoos in the country to one of the most successful institutions studying animal behavior and wellness. Maple has been with the Jacksonville Zoo since 2014, helping launch its wellness division and continued research to the field.

Jacksonville Zoo director Tony Vecchio, one of Maple’s former students at Zoo Atlanta, said he is “a brilliant man and a passionate advocate for zoo animal welfare.”

Vecchio added: “He made life better for animals in zoos and aquariums and laid the groundwork through his research, publications and students to keep that passion moving into the future … by bringing such expertise to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, we are fully committing to being a leader in animal wellness and setting the standard for zoos all over the world.”

Receiving the award “feels great,” Maple said, adding that he was grateful to the many students and employees who collaborated on his research over the decades.

Porous Chiefs’ defense gives Jags opening

Week 5 in the NFL has some interesting matchups, but the week’s best game will take place Sunday in Kansas City. That is where the 3-1 Jacksonville Jaguars will face the 4-0 Kansas City Chiefs.

It goes far more than just records and individual matchups.

Will Jalen Ramsey penetrate the Chiefs’ porous defense? Tune in on Sunday.

Sure, seeing the Chiefs’ speedy receiver Tyreek Hill trying to get some space between himself and Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey will be fun. However, it will be seeing if the NFL’s second-ranked defensive unit can slow down emerging star quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his arsenal of offensive weapons.

In just four games, Mahomes has thrown for 14 touchdowns with zero interceptions. He was challenged last week in Denver but has yet to see the type of defensive pressure that will come at him from the Jaguars.

There is every opportunity for the Jags’ offense, and quarterback Blake Bortles in particular, to either match or exceed, whatever the Chiefs put on the scoreboard. Kansas City’s defense ranks 32nd, dead last, in total yards allowed.

In terms of passing yards, they are 31st with an average of 328 yards allowed per game. The defense allows nearly 29 points per game.

Former Indianapolis Colts’ all-pro wide receiver Reggie Wayne is not alone in thinking Bortles could wind up throwing more touchdown passes than Mahomes. Hopefully, the Bortles that showed up last week against the Jets will be the one on the field Sunday.

The Jags will have to do it again with running back Leonard Fournette, who has been ruled out. TJ Yeldon will again take the starting role. He is usually good for about 100 yards combined between rushing and receiving and has scored three touchdowns.

Just so the Jacksonville offense does not look as they did in their one loss, a disappointing 9-6 loss to the Tennessee Titans, they have a decent chance to knock the Chiefs from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Kansas City is a three-point favorite.

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