Start to (almost) finish, this year has been a wild ride. Hope, hate, snarky GIFs and all things great and deplorable have flowed from the far corners of the Earth and the interwebs as 2016 brought us together and tore us apart. We’ve been enraptured by the Mannequin Challenge, perhaps more fittingly known as flash mobs for the extremely sedentary, and hid out in the safe spaces (echo chambers) of our Facebook pages. We’ve bled, we’ve survived, and much of what we thought we knew has changed — time will tell whether for the better.
As twilight wans on one of the most dramatic and divisive years in living memory, let’s reflect on 2016’s highs, lows and WTAFs, the stuff that dreams, nightmares and Twitter wars are made of.
Locally, the first sign that 2016 would be more ‘divide and conquer’ than ‘united we stand’ came minutes after we rang in the New Year. Michael Davis was murdered in Jacksonville at 10 past midnight on Jan. 1, signaling the beginning of what has been a bloodbath of a year. As of this writing, there have been 109 homicides in Duval County, putting us on track to have the highest homicide count since 2008.
If the bloody beginning didn’t signal trouble brewing, this did: On Jan. 4, federal agents served 12-term U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown a subpoena as she dined on barbecue at a local restaurant. That saucy subpoena launched a cavalcade of scandalous stories that culminated with Brown’s criminal indictment on federal conspiracy and fraud charges in July. After decades of narrow escapes, this time, Brown got delivered. The much-loved and much-loathed congresswoman lost her primary to Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson on Aug. 30, signaling the end of an era in which Northeast Florida has an experienced congressperson in Washington. (ICYMI: Ander Crenshaw retired; former Jax Sheriff John Rutherford won the Republican primary against Hans “Rawhide” Tanzler and went on to topple David “The Underdog” Bruderly in the general election. Mr. Sheriff is going to Washington.)
In February, the long-awaited and much-hoped-for second attempt to amend Jacksonville’s human rights ordinance to protect citizens from housing, employment and public accommodation discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression failed. Some blamed councilpersons who went back on campaign pledges to support it; others blamed Mayor Lenny Curry pulling their strings behind the scenes (“The Mayor Has Two Faces,” Folio Weekly, Feb. 17). Regardless of who deserved the most blame, the outcome was the same: It remains legal to discriminate against people based on who they boink and what they wear. May freedom to discriminate ring.
In spring, Eureka Garden Apartments became the center of local attention when pale, shaking local politicians visited the complex and learned what poverty in America really looks like. Subsequently pols up the food chain noticed how well that storyline played out, and jumped in the game, bringing more cameras and the best outrage courting votes can buy. The saga culminated with Eureka Garden Apartments actual heroine Tracy Grant testifying on Capitol Hill about the appalling conditions at the complex and shady-with-a-side-of-sleaze conduct of owner Global Ministries Foundation. Unsurprisingly, GMF soon put Eureka and its other Jacksonville-based Section 8 apartment complexes up for sale. In September, Cleveland, Ohio-based for-profit company Millennia Housing Management stepped in to take the complex off GMF’s greedy hands. Curiously, since the impending sale was announced, not much seems to have happened. But, then again, election season is over.
In June, Northeast Florida and the nation mourned a terrible tragedy that struck just southwest of us: 49 innocents murdered by a lone gunman at the popular gay club Pulse Orlando. June 12 will be remembered as the day the rainbow went black.
All year, folks in Nassau County have been scratching their heads over the county’s surprising contortionism to pave the way for Rayonier to clear 24,000 acres, add 46,000 residents and create an independent development “stewardship” district (“Road to Ruin,” Folio Weekly, April 27). Seems some folks thought that part of the charm of Northeast Florida’s upper-right-hand-corner was that small town vibe. (Word in Toon Town is that they’ve even got their own strain of Dirty ’Dina chlamydia! OK, not really.) But, then again, you can fund capitol improvements and city services with property tax dollars; charm, not so much.
Speaking of charm: soon-to-be-former State Attorney Angela Corey. In June, we broke a story that Corey had possibly knowingly withheld potentially exculpatory evidence about the previous medical examiner’s dementia on the job, evidence that could affect dozens — or more — of homicide verdicts (“Truth, Justice or the Angela Corey Way,” June 22). This launched another in a series of media firestorms related to Corey, which continued through a summer in which she and harbinger-of-death-penalties Bernie de la Rionda were slammed by the Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project, The National Review, The New York Times Magazine and The Nation whose story title said it all, “Is Angela Corey the Cruelest Prosecutor in America?” In August, Corey lost the primary to Melissa Nelson. Elsewhere, third challenger Wes White slipped quietly into that good night.
Also slinking away come 2017 is Public Defender Matt Shirk, who lost his primary to Charlie Cofer. Where will Shirk pop up next? Smart money’s on belly-up to a bar in Anywhere But Jacksonville, where he will slam Angry Balls and plot his comeback tour.
Over the summer, the race to be the next sheriff in Clay County became something like watching telenovelas on Telemundo. Opposition to Craig Aldrich’s candidacy was, to put it mildly, passionate. Someone even went so far as to mail thousands of households in Clay a copy of “Strip Search,” our June 20 story about Aldrich’s alleged visit to a Tampa-area strip club in a patrol car. In the end, the opposition got what it wanted: incoming Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels.
August brought us the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, a much-needed salve for the festering 2016 narrative. It was a big, festive splash of medals and world records, with former The Bolles School swimmers Joseph Schooling, Ryan Murphy and Caeleb Dressel bringing home medals and doing Northeast Florida proud, and Michael Phelps gallivanting around the pool in Speedos (delicious in any language) … Then we all got a nice dose of an embarrassing, but amusing, international incident when another Olympic swimmer, Ryan Lochte, told his momma and the press that he was the victim of an armed robbery. It later turned out that he and three other blotto Olympians (none from Northeast Florida, praise be) had actually vandalized a gas station and pissed all over the place. For penance, Lochte had to pop wood on Dancing With the Stars. No, really. Google it.
Also in August, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry put his political capitol to the test with a voter referendum on the half-cent sales tax to fund Jacksonville’s burgeoning pension debt. In spite of a late-round rally to oppose it by Duval Democrats who finally found that fire in their belly, the tax passed with flying colors.
As summer gave way to the season we call fall but feels almost exactly like summer (see also: spring), and the presidential election heated up to a white hot blaze (pun intended), Northeast Florida became the center of the political universe. From Donald Trump to Bill Clinton to Donald Trump (again) to President Barack Obama to Bill Clinton (again), scarcely a week went by without a current, former or wannabe president coming to town. The only thing missing was Bush. Oh, and Hillary. Like Lochte, Northeast Florida has rarely been so engorged on the national stage.
In the midst of all the political brew-ha-ha/they’re-coming-to-take-me-away-please-god, we got hit by the first hurricane in the almost 20 years since Hurricane Floyd tore up Jacksonville Beach’s ass with whirling dervishes — that is, tropical cyclones. On Oct. 7, Hurricane Matthew showed Northeast Florida that he did not play, ripping up the coast from St. Augustine, which took the hardest hit locally, to Fernandina. Other than a few rumors of profiteers, after the storm displaced friends and neighbors and wrecked scores of homes and businesses, St. Augustinians showed the region what community means, rallying together in truly inspiring fashion (“Aftermath of the Storm,” Folio Weekly, Oct. 12).
Meanwhile, in Jacksonville, the biggest storm story unfolded in the darkness that remained for hours, then days, after JEA’s self-imposed pipe dream of a deadline to restore power. As tens of thousands waited for electricity, city officials did everything they could to stoke the flames of dissent against the utility, which was every bit as helpful as you might imagine (read: not helpful at all).
Just before the election wave crashed on our heads, the owners of The Florida Times-Union did the rest of the print media a favor by unilaterally deciding to endorse Trump, bringing the grand total of papers to endorse him to three: the KKK newspaper, that rag Sheldon Adelson owns and our daily local birdcage liner, which is not to be confused with this, our weekly local kindling. Word is hundreds reacted by canceling their subscriptions.
Then, finally, after the longest campaign in living memory, Nov. 8 came and went, leaving behind president-elect Trump and a likely end of the Clinton era in national politics — at least until Chelsea is old enough to run for president. What? She’s old enough now? Better save those Clinton for President stickers for 2020, folks, and hope that Hill-dawg’s daughter doesn’t know how to use email.
Following Trump’s victory, locals reacted with a few abhorrent incidents involving swastikas and other racist effigies, but — other than on social media, which was filled with epic ideological battles, comment threads in the hundreds and mass unfriendings in the days after the election — people were by and large peaceful, even respectful, of one another, giving at least some of us hope for the future.
In other happy election news, Floridians voted against a contentious solar ballot initiative funded by big energy and, drumroll please, FINALLY LEGALIZED MEDICAL MARIJUANA!! Oh, happy, happy day! Going to grandma’s house just got a whole lot sweeter.
And then the Gold Club burnt the hell up and ruined everything. At least for one news cycle, cause days later, the nation was captivated by the rescue of a manatee from a storm drain in the Ortega ’hood. The 950-pound female that neighborhood kids named Venetia was then transported to SeaWorld — temporarily! #ByeVenetia — for medical attention, and News4Jax reports that she had a few abrasions but is expected to make a speedy and full recovery.
Less than 24 hours after Venetia captured our hearts, another local animal became an unexpected sort of celebrity when his owner decided that “Take Your Dog To Work Day” included allegedly robbing banks and taking hostages. On Dec. 1, 13 people were held hostage at the Community First Credit Union on the 1600 block of Edgewood Avenue West. The hostages were rescued unharmed, the suspect, 23-year-old Nicholas Humphrey, was taken into custody and the dog was uninjured.
Lest we forget sports, though some season ticketholders probably wish they could, the Jaguars stank — again — the Suns became the Jumbo Shrimp (no one is sure if they should be boiled or fried), the Giants kicked serious ass and the Armada, well, there’s always next year.
Well, there you have it, 2016 in a nutsack.