If Spring 2017 were a videogame character, it’d be the Avatar of Change.
In the eight short weeks since the spring equinox closed the chapter on what passes for winter in the era of climate change, we’ve lost a superintendent, waved bye-bye to pension plans for most public workers, convicted the longtime de facto head honcho of the local Democratic Party of 18 federal charges, made national news for police brutalizing protesters on camera in real time, and learned precisely how cray-cray things can get in the Florida legislature.
Proceeding in no particular order, first off, now-former Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, a man as beloved by some as he was hated by others, including people on the school board, dropped what had to have been a victory lap of a resignation. Yeppers, Vitti’s flying the Duval coop for Detroit. (Consider how bad it would have to be for you to prefer paying state income taxes and suffering Michigan winters to staying here another second.)
Even as some cheered Vitti’s departure, his fans wondered whether the reformer might have stuck around if he hadn’t been treated like a cotton-headed outsider who just doesn’t understand how we do things down here. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, sure, but he’s hardly even gone and it seems like some of his toughest critics have a lot more nice things to say about him now. So maybe he didn’t do such a bad job after all.
As to city pensions, or lack thereof, after many years of arguing, analyzing and agonizing in the grand spirit of Much Ado About Nothing, Jacksonville City Council unanimously agreed to kick the can down the road yet again on a plan that will cost us billions more than the current tab for the unfunded pension liability. In spite of a laundry list of critics, most recently including Moody’s Investors Service, complaining that it isn’t fiscally responsible to let our pension debt balloon until 2031, when the half-penny sales tax revenue will start being used to pay it down, just so we can fix a couple of curbs and, I’m betting, get balls deep into the boneheaded river dredging, everyone at City Hall is stubbornly committed to the narrative that this is a good thing for the city. And you can bet your sweet patoot that 20 out of 20 re-election robocalls, mailers and stump speeches will agree.
Now on to the tragicomedy of Corrine Brown. The veteran Democrat had previously fought off adversaries, redistricting and the racially charged mockery of her more-pedigreed colleagues (psst: belittling an African-American person’s accent and syntax is not OK), plus narrowly avoided the financial misconduct danger zone more than once. Even an arsenal amassed over 24 years in Congress proved no match for federal prosecutors and betrayal by a man she considered a surrogate son. On May 11, Brown was convicted of 18 federal charges, ranging from tax evasion to wire fraud.
Don’t count on her giving up any time soon—she’s indicated that she will seek a new trial—but her conviction signaled the end of an era for Northeast Florida politics, for better or for worse.
On April 7, the people who would come to be known as the Hemming Park Five protested the U.S. bombing of Syria in Downtown Jacksonville. Like in many communities across the nation, this was another in a series of local civic actions expressing disapproval of the Trump Administration. Unlike other protests, which proceeded in peaceful, if at times disorganized, fashion, this one ended with people getting the business end of officers’ fists and, for one deaf, African-American protester, Tasers. On camera … well, on several cameras.
The optics weren’t great. Though the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office rushed to take control of the storyline by releasing police reports on Facebook that very night, making the case for their use of force to arrest the five, apparent contradictions between the footage and police reports only served to add fuel to the fire, as did JSO’s failure to arrest the alleged provocateur.
A lot of folks around the state were trepidatious about the incoming class of legislators who rode the Trump wave to victory. Unsurprisingly, there was cause for concern. This year, the legislature basically took an enormous shit on the 71 percent of citizens who voted to legalize medical marijuana (they’ve granted so few licenses that there’s effectively a marijuana cartel of growers, plus it’s illegal to smoke pot, no matter how sick you are), started a blood feud with the governor over corporate welfare, voted to hand the keys to 115 public schools to charter school companies (no takesies-backsies on property deeds, yo), and enacted an entirely unnecessary piece of legislation that would make an outcast of any student who doesn’t participate in the school-wide Jesus parade. And it could’ve been worse: If the State House had its way, it would’ve also gutted the Sunshine Law and ramped up the ineffective drug war against the opioid addicts our pill mills created.
One trembles to think what the remaining four weeks of spring may bring.