October 15, 2018

FDLE is investigating an officer-involved shooting in Panama City in the wake of Hurricane Michael

State police are investigating a shooting by a state fire marshal in Panama City in the wake of Hurricane Michael, according to police and media reports.

According to Pensacola-based station WEAR-TV, a Florida State Fire Marshal shot a looter who tried to steal a police car at Pinetree Road and Azalea Street.

The station quoted a Landon Swett, who was across the street and witnessed the shooting.

"He yelled at me a little bit, he said oh, I’m looting, and he opened the door, to the police officer’s SUV with the lights going got in it and shut the door," Swett told the station.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger confirmed to the Times/Herald the agency is investigating a shooting by an officer in the wake of the storm, but she did not immediately have more details.

Rick Scott and Jimmy Patronis aren't happy with Verizon's response to Hurricane Michael

Gov. Rick Scott points out some damage caused by Hurricane Michael while flying somewhere over the panhandle of Florida Thursday. The devastation inflicted by Hurricane Michael the day before came into focus Thursday as rows upon rows of homes found smashed to pieces, and rescue crews began making their way into the stricken areas in hopes of accounting for hundreds of people who may have stayed behind. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and CFO Jimmy Patronis have been taking aim at Verizon over the last 24 hours, apparently frustrated by how slow the cell carrier has been to restore service to the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Michael.

During a Sunday press briefing, Scott mentioned Verizon's problems twice, while touting the company's chief competitor.

"There in Bay County, we’re still waiting on Verizon," Scott said, adding why it was important for cell service to be restored.

"We’ve put a lot of food and water out all across the state," Scott said. "Well, if you have no internet and you have no cellphone, it’s hard to get the information out. AT&T is working there, but Verizon is not."

Scott, continuing to dig at Verizon, has also been retweeting AT&T and praising the company on Twitter.

Thanks, @ATT, for working to get communications back online quickly & helping Florida communities following Michael," Scott tweeted.

Patronis, whose hometown is Bay County's Panama City, also took aim at Verizon on Twitter, complete with the hashtag #fixitnow.

"We are on Day 6 with no @verizon service in Bay County," Patronis tweeted. "Phones are critical infrastructure for Search and Rescue and First Responder communications. We need the same response from @verizon as we have seen from our electric companies."

Verizon in a statement said it's suffered "unprecedented damage to our fiber, which is essential for our network."

"Our fiber crews are working around the clock to make repairs, and while they are making good progress, we still have work to do to get the fiber completely repaired," the company said.

But the other three carriers are apparently not having the same problem. The Wall Street Journal quoted customers and company officials with AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint saying that all three carriers were up and running in the area.

The Panhandle suffered widespread cell service outages in the wake of Hurricane Michael, with more than 70 percent of towers down in the hardest-hit areas the day after the storm came through.

And the carriers have made little progress in Bay County since the storm made landfall.

All other counties hit by the storm have at least half of their cell towers back in use, but in Bay County, more than 65 percent of cell towers were still out Monday morning — down from 78 percent the morning after the storm, according to the FCC.

Both Verizon and AT&T have been big donors to the Republican Party of Florida for years, and Verizon has given more than $50,000 to Scott's campaigns since 2013, records show.

On Monday afternoon, Scott issued a press release noting that Verizon has opened an emergency communications center at their Panama City store and was also supporting the Bay County Emergency Operations Center.

Herald/Times staff writer Emily L. Mahoney contributed to this report.

Tallahassee sees 90% power recovery after Michael. Will it help Andrew Gillum?

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Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum gives an update on Hurricane Michael recovery via Facebook Live on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. [Lawrence Mower | Times]

Tallahassee's electric utility said it restored power to 90 percent of its customers Sunday night, meeting its goal just four days after Hurricane Michael knocked out service to nearly everyone in the city.

Schools and universities were reopening in the city Monday morning, and the water and wastewater systems that failed during the storm are now working properly, according to the city.

Roughly 20,000 customers still didn't have power last night, however.

The city's recovery could be a boost for Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor who's been criticized for how the city recovered from Hurricane Hermine in 2016. Hermine, a Category 1 storm, knocked out power to 80 percent of city customers, and the city took four days to reach 90 percent recovery.

While Tallahassee's mayor doesn't manage the city or its utility — that's the job of its city manger — it hasn't stopped his Republican opponent Ron DeSantis from criticizing Gillum for Hermine.

The Republican Party of Florida has aired ads saying that Gillum "refused help" after that storm, which Politifact rated "mostly false."

October 13, 2018

Citing Hurricane Michael, Gillum says he will return to campaign trail Thursday, missing first debate



Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum will remain off the campaign trail until Thursday and miss the first scheduled debate against his Republican rival Ron DeSantis, he announced Saturday night.

The Tallahassee mayor, citing the fallout in his city from the unprecedented Category 4 storm that hit the Panhandle Wednesday, said that he would remain focused on his city duties through Wednesday's city commission meeting, meaning he would not participate in the debate scheduled Tuesday in Orlando.

“In times like these, campaigning has to take a backseat to governing. My job is to keep our community safe and ensure Tallahassee recovers as quickly and fully as possible," Gillum said in a statement.

"Over the past several days I have been unable to participate in dozens of campaign events, and this week that will include our participation in the debate sponsored by Telemundo 31 Orlando. I deeply appreciate the organizers' understanding of the situation in Tallahassee. We will work diligently to ensure Telemundo and its audience are represented in the two scheduled debates and other possible forums."

The hour-long debate would have been broadcast 7 p.m. online and on Telemundo stations in Fort Myers, Miami, Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach. Another debate is scheduled Oct. 21 on CNN, and a third is scheduled at Broward College Oct. 24.

The city of Tallahassee reported that 70 percent of customers had regained power Saturday, and that it aimed to have power restored to 90 percent by the end of the weekend. Criticism of power restoration during Hurricane Hermine, the last storm to hit the capital city in 2016, had taken center stage in the last week of the campaign.

Tuesday's gubernatorial debate is not the first to be changed because of the storm — CNN delayed the Oct. 16 debate scheduled between U.S. Senate candidates Gov. Rick Scott and incumbent Bill Nelson Thursday.

Photo: Tampa Bay Times

October 12, 2018

Broward Sheriff deputies' union breaks with Sheriff Israel, endorses Ron DeSantis

DeSantis in Miami
Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters as his lieutenant governor candidate, state Rep. Jeanette Nunez, left, listens during a rally in Orlando, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. DeSantis resigned from Congress on Monday, Sept. 10, to focus on his bid to become Florida’s next governor. John Raoux AP

While embattled Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel has been fundraising for Democratic nominee for governor, Andrew Gillum, the deputies' union for his department announced Friday their endorsement of Republican nominee Ron DeSantis.

"Ron has consistently stood with law enforcement and supported us in our mission to keep communities safe," said Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff's Office Deputies Association, in a statement. "His opponent, Andrew Gillum, is hostile toward law enforcement."

The statement cited Gillum's signing of the "Freedom Pledge" drafted by a Florida activist group, the Dream Defenders, which advocates for minority rights especially as they relate to the justice system. In 2013, the group famously occupied the state capitol for a month following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager from Miami-Dade.

The pledge includes support for the group's "Freedom Papers," which the union says includes anti-law enforcement language, such as saying "police and prisons have no place in 'justice.'" The papers also state that police "were never meant to protect and serve me and you," and "they started as slave catchers hired by wealthy plantation owners."

"This is a blatant attack on our law enforcement community, an insult to the citizens we work to protect, and dishonors the memory of our fallen officers," Bell wrote.

Johanna Cervone, spokeswoman for Gillum's campaign, said Gillum, as the mayor of Tallahassee has always supported police.

"The mayor has been a strong ally of law enforcement in Tallahassee, investing in additional officers to help reduce crime across the city," she wrote in a statement. "As Mayor Gillum has previously said, he will not take money from the private prison industry and instead will invest in community policing, smart justice and strategies that work with communities to reduce crime and create better opportunities for all Floridians."

Gillum's campaign has been supported by other sheriffs, such as Russell Gibson of Osceola County and Walt McNeil of Leon County.

It's not the first time the Broward sworn deputies' union has rebuked Israel, as the department has been splintered and politicized since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Israel, a Democrat, faced a wave of criticism surrounding the way he handled the shooting, and multiple inquiries are underway into the law enforcement response and the handling of previous calls for service regarding the shooter, Nikolas Cruz.

In April, the union's majority voted in agreement that they had "no confidence" in Israel's leadership.

This fall, Israel appeared at a Gillum fundraiser. When he was criticized by one of the Parkland parents, Andrew Pollack, for the connection, Gillum deflected by saying it was better to focus on gun policies.

“It’s unnecessary to pin individuals, families, victims or law enforcement against each other,” Gillum told the media in Plantation in September. "We have to put our attention on the kind of gun reform that will prevent these kinds of incidents from happening.”

DeSantis has said he would remove Israel from office if elected governor.

Tallahassee is aiming for 90 percent of power restored by Sunday, likely helping Andrew Gillum

Gillum Kissimme crew
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum speaks to a local reporter on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, while workers from Kissimmee repair a power pole damaged from Hurricane Michael. (Lawrence Mower / Tampa Bay Times)

The City of Tallahassee is aiming for 90 percent of its customers to have power by the end of the weekend, a pace following the devastation of Hurricane Michael that could quell criticism of its mayor in the final weeks of his race for governor.

If the city meets its goal, four days after the Category 4 storm made landfall about 75 miles away, it will match the pace of recovery from Hurricane Hermine, for which Mayor Andrew Gillum continues to be criticized.

Hermine, a Category 1 storm that did less damage, knocked out power to 80 percent of the city's customers and also took the city four days to restore power to 90 percent, the Tallahassee Democrat reported at the time.

More than 92 percent of city customers have lost power from Hurricane Michael.

In the aftermath of Hermine, many Tallahasseeans were furious with how long it took the city to recover.

County Commissioner John Daily, who is now running to replace Gillum as mayor, was livid five days after the storm. He was part of the 10 percent who still didn't have power.

"We don't have power," Dailey said at the time. "We're frustrated. We're angry. We want answers. We're not getting answers. This is ridiculous."

Gillum, who publicly sparred with Gov. Rick Scott about the city's recovery from that storm, pushed back against criticism but acknowledged there were problems.

"Without a doubt, we've not been perfect in this process," Gillum told the Tallahassee Democrat at the time.

Gillum's opponent for governor, Republican Ron DeSantis has used Tallahassee's response to Hermine to question whether Gillum is fit for governor. The Republican Party of Florida has aired ads about Gillum's response to the hurricane even as Hurricane Michael bore down on the coast.

"Utility companies lined up trucks to restore power," one RPOF ad says. "But as mayor, Andrew Gillum refused help from workers. The trucks just sat, while people suffered."

Politifact called the ads "mostly false."

The city did turn down some help from Florida Power & Light after Hermine, but as mayor, Gillum had little control over that decision. Tallahassee's city manager runs the city and oversees the head of its electric utility.

This year, Gillum said the city was able to call on hundreds more electrical workers from as far away as Nebraska, thanks to new agreements with private utility companies.

Gillum has been frenetic in the days before and after Hurricane Michael, making more than a dozen national TV appearances, filling and delivering sandbags and using a chainsaw to chop up downed branches — sometimes with a cameraman from a company employed by his campaign shadowing him.

This Democratic activist wants to be part of Florida’s blue wave

IMG_debbie_murcarsel-pow_4_1_3M9KMIAC_L265070303 (3)


Debbie Mucarsel-Powell volunteered for John Kerry’s Florida campaign and hosted house parties to rally support for Barack Obama. In 2016, she became a candidate herself, losing a bid to oust a Republican state senator.

That the Democrat is back in the running — this time challenging a Republican member of the U.S. House — comes as little surprise to those who know her.

“When I finally decided to run for Congress, my friends were like, ‘We were waiting for you to finally do something like this,’ “ she said in an interview in her campaign office as volunteers manned the phones. “I’ve always want to get involved.”

A native of Ecuador, who moved to South Florida in 1996, Mucarsel-Powell, 47, has done fundraising for community groups, including the Zoo Miami Foundation and the Coral Restoration Foundation. She also worked at Florida International University, where she raised money for healthcare programs. Politics has long been a passion.

“People think I’m some random woman Democrat who decided to run in the ‘Year of the Woman,’ “ Mucarsel-Powell said, referring to the record number of women running for office in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential victory. “But I’ve been doing this work for 20 years.”

Though Mucarsel-Powell is not widely known, Democrats were pleased with her decision to challenge Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, in one of the districts that Democrats are hoping to flip. She’s picked up support from EMILY’s List, which backs pro-choice candidates, along with an endorsement from former Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama, who included her in a list of candidates his office says are in “close races in which his support would make a meaningful difference.”

Though Curbelo has outraised her, she’s been aggressive: She and her Democratic allies since mid-September have been up repeatedly with bilingual television and radio advertising. The push has the ability to change the momentum in the race, with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report changing the rating on the race from leaning Republican to a toss-up.

Unlike the other two Democrats looking to unseat Republicans from largely Hispanic Miami districts, Mucarsel-Powell is a native Spanish speaker. At a recent rally in support of union workers at the airport, she opened in Spanish, but closed in English.

Read more here.

Carlos Curbelo tries to distance himself from Trump — but they have something in common

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Carlos Curbelo is Extremely Online.

The second-term congressman seeking to win reelection in the most Democratic-leaning district in the country held by a Republican is no fan of President Donald Trump’s governing style and temperament, but the pair share a love of scrolling through their phones and tweeting at all hours of the day.

“Sorry Donald Trump but I’m calling the new NAFTA, NAFTA — maybe NAFTA 2.0,” Curbelo tweeted in jest when Trump announced a new U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade deal recently. “Glad to see some progress on trade with our allies.”

A few minutes later, Curbelo tweeted his disapproval of Trump’s treatment of a reporter, when the president said, “I know you’re not thinking” to a journalist trying to ask him about the FBI investigation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

“If I think something’s terrible, I’m going to say it; if I think something’s funny, I’m going to say it,” Curbelo said. “I criticized [Trump] for the way he talked to that reporter. It pissed me off. She [the reporter] has the same name as my wife. Why do you have to be such a jerk?”

Curbelo, 38, is seeking to keep his seat for a third term in November, and he’s been in constant campaign mode since July 2013. But this time around he won’t be facing former Rep. Joe Garcia, whom he ousted by three percentage points in 2014 before beating him by more than 11 points in 2016 in a year where Trump was unpopular in the Miami-Dade portion of his district, which also includes the Florida Keys. His 2018 opponent is Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a former nonprofit fundraiser who ran an unsuccessful state Senate campaign two years ago in a district that overlaps with Curbelo’s Miami-to-Key West seat.

Mucarsel-Powell criticizes Curbelo’s votes in favor of the unsuccessful Obamacare repeal bill, and says his support of a successful tax overhaul he helped draft hurt working-class voters in a majority Latino district that includes more than 90,000 Obamacare recipients. She has recently outspent him on TV advertising, though Curbelo maintains a fundraising advantage in a race where both national parties are investing millions. The race is seen as a toss-up.

“The extreme left has spent millions here over the last five years attacking me and it hasn’t worked because my community knows me,” Curbelo said. “I know that this community does not want any party puppet to represent them in Washington.”

More here.

October 11, 2018

Massive cell tower and internet outages reported in Florida Panhandle, FCC says

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A map from the FCC showing widespread cell tower outages along Hurricane Michael's path.

Widespread cell tower and internet outages have been reported along the devastating path of Hurricane Michael, according to the Federal Communications Commission's first report following Wednesday's storm.

More than 70 percent of cell towers were down in the hardest-hit counties where the storm made landfall, and more than 185,000 cable customers in Florida were without service.

The effects were felt heavily in Tallahassee, as well, where more than 40 percent of cell towers were down as of 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The FCC routinely tracks outages among cellular and cable providers following major storms and disasters. The level of outages following Michael are similar to when Hurricane Irma struck Florida last year.

Outages don't necessarily mean the cell towers are damaged or destroyed. Power outages are a more likely cause of outages, experts say, and Hurricane Michael has left 400,000 people in the dark.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that he was working with providers to restore service and was happy with their responses so far.

"We were pleased that carriers had pre-positioned equipment and were in the process deploying cells on wheels (COWs) and cells on light trucks (COLTs) in order to get wireless service up and running in many locations," Pai said in a statement.

The FCC will be updating its outage map daily. The reports are viewable here.

Patronis talks wife's battle with cancer, Hurricane Michael's wrath on his hometown



Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis stopped by his hometown of Panama City Thursday after spending time in Tampa, where his wife Katie underwent breast cancer surgery at Moffit Cancer Center.

Katie Patronis was diagnosed a few weeks ago, but her diagnosis became public Thursday afternoon.

The couple met in 1998 when Katie's uncle, a friend of the Patronis family, introduced the two. Katie's mother worked at the Patronis family's historic restaurant, Captain Anderson's, and the young couple bumped into one another at local government events. The families also spent time together as friends, hanging out in Panama City and scuba diving.

"My wife is incredibly important to our successes," Patronis said, choking up. "I wouldn't be here today if it wasn’t for her."

The couple dated for six years and got married in 2004. They have two sons -- Theo, 10, and Johnny, 8. 

"We have been together for a long time," Katie Patronis told the Herald/Times two weeks ago. "He has a good heart."

Katie Patronis, a real estate agent, was twice appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the Gulf Coast College District Board of Trustees in Panama City.

Jimmy Patronis, who is currently in the third position Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to, is on the November ballot to keep his statewide seat. He was appointed as CFO after former CFO Jeff Atwater stepped down in 2017 for a job at Florida Atlantic University.

Patronis' hometown was essentially ground zero for Hurricane Michael's destruction. Images and newscasts from Panama City show flattened homes, overturned boats and blown-out windows. The Category 4 storm made landfall Wednesday, wreaking havoc on the Panhandle and Big Bend areas of the state. 

"You're not supposed to see your hometown where you grew up get wiped off the map," Patronis said Thursday during a brief visit to the state emergency operations center. "Now, I really have some empathy for what the folks in Miami-Dade County went through with Hurricane Andrew. It's abnormal to feel this way."

While the physical damage of his hometown is a priority for the CFO, he said he is also focused on finding the people preying on residents desperate for food and housing.


Patronis said he learned a lot from Hurricane Irma, which he once called "a baptism by fire." He said during natural disasters, people take advantage of the most vulnerable by getting between them and their insurance and trying to make a buck. 

"I'm being torn apart by my emotions, but I've got a real job to do," he said.