When House District 13 State Rep. Reggie Fullwood pled guilty to two of the 14 federal counts against him last week, it was a tragic scene.
In the courtroom, Fullwood was a man alone; his wife, whom you would have expected to be there in support, was absent.
An irony, given that part of the reason Fullwood took $60K from his campaign account for personal expenses — liquor, jewelry, incidentals — was to defray the lack of pay that one gets in the state legislature.
He didn’t say that in court, of course. But it’s the truth.
With eight years on Jacksonville’s City Council and six in Tallahassee, Fullwood had been in public office for more than half of his public life.
The scene that most reporters saw was Fullwood, a shining star of Jacksonville’s political scene since 1999, left alone when he needed support the most.
There was no entourage.
There were no sign holders holding up “Reggie Delivers” placards.
In the end, he couldn’t afford them.
In the end, he was having a hard time paying a traffic ticket for running a red light.
The Duval County Democratic Party? It wasn’t there, but it had its reasons: Former NBA player Jason Collins was in town for a voter registration drive.
If Collins wanted to know how politics in this city really work, he should have been at the courthouse.
There was plenty of room — the pew-like benches were occupied by only a smattering of media types.
As the Jaguars know, no one comes to cheer you on when you lose.
And when you lose, you get screwed: Those closest to Fullwood in his time of greatest need were reaching out to the press, rather than turning their phones off and helping their friend.
Facing the very real possibility of prison time after sentencing happens on Jan. 9, Fullwood will need friends then, too.
Who will be there?
When Fullwood was indicted in April, there was a lot of media interest.
Ten counts of wire fraud and four counts of failure to file tax returns will do that.
However, as spring turned to summer, it almost seemed there was reason for optimism in the Fullwood case.
The feds had claimed that Fullwood had defrauded the Florida Division of Elections by taking campaign contributions and spending them on himself.
The judge in Fullwood’s case, Marcia Morales Howard, said that wasn’t the case, as the state agency had no property interest to be defrauded.
Fullwood scored what seemed to be an important victory, and then he doubled down.
In August, the Jacksonville Democrat filed a motion to dismiss, saying that those who contributed “got what they paid for” — i.e., they got Fullwood in office.
Fullwood was optimistic.
His optimism grew after he won the Aug. 30 primary, against “friend” and former deputy supervisor of elections Tracie Davis.
He didn’t really consider what the feds were doing in the time between the filing of his motion to dismiss and the next hearing in his case, in the middle of September.
As it turned out, they were putting the nails in the coffin of his political career.
The FBI interviewed five former contributors, and they all told the same story: Namely, when they gave Fullwood money, it was intended to be used for a political campaign, not diverted for a slush fund.
The feds shredded Fullwood’s motion to dismiss like confetti for a parade of the burlesque and the grotesque — adding Fullwood to a procession of faded politicians, like Don Gaffney and Willye Dennis last century, who betrayed the public trust by putting their hands in the till, thus ending their political careers.
From there, a status conference on Sept. 29 became the setting for a plea deal, putting a wrap on the career of a Jacksonville Democrat who was actually important in the House.
He will be replaced by a rookie, and at press time it’s not known who that rookie will be.
Options include Tracie Davis, who lost in the primary to Fullwood by four points, and who is backed heavily by State Sen. Audrey Gibson. At this writing, it’s hard to completely count out Duval County Public Schools Board member Paula Wright; the case for her is that, unlike Davis, she has meaningful legislative experience.
Ultimately, the Duval Dems went with Davis.
Would that all the issues associated with this case offered such clarity.
Reggie Fullwood was a great politician.
He knew the issues. He had the relationships. He had enough community buy-in to win a competitive primary with no real fundraising behind him and a federal case looming over his head like an oversized cartoon anvil.
Now Fullwood is done.
And it will be HD 13’s loss, as whoever replaces him is going to be lost in Tallahassee for the first two years.
It sucks for the Duval Delegation, too: in the House, Fullwood’s exit ensures that we have a bunch of rookies and Jay Fant, even as the most conservative House Speaker imaginable takes over.
In other words, we’re not getting much state money anytime soon.
Fullwood lost. But more important, we did.