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Mayoral candidate LeAnna Cumber fires back over JEA investigation

Jacksonville mayoral candidate LeAnna Cumber speaks out Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, about recent attack ads by election opponent Daniel Davis.
Dan Scanlan
Jacksonville mayoral candidate LeAnna Cumber speaks out Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, about recent attack ads by election opponent Daniel Davis.

Jacksonville mayoral candidate LeAnna Cumber is firing back over suggestions that she misled investigators looking into the failed sale of JEA in 2019.

Speaking Monday afternoon on the city's Northside, Cumber also had pointed words about recent attacks from election opponent Daniel Davis in TV ads and a news conference.

Cumber and Davis are among eight candidates qualified to run for mayor in the primary election March 21. Cumber took issue with a JEA investigative committee that was revived last week, after suggestions that she had been less than forthright about her husband's involvement in the process.

Cumber called the reformed committee a "political attack, unprecedented in the history of consolidated government."

"City Hall has never been so blatantly weaponized to go after a political opponent only days before an election," Cumber said. "Daniel Davis, [Mayor] Lenny Curry and [City Council President] Terrence Freeman have weaponized city government against a citizen who opposed their agenda and had the guts to run against their hand-picked candidate to try to clean up the legacy of corruption and scandal."

Erin Isaac, Davis’ campaign communications director, said there was nothing new in what Cumber presented Monday. Isacc issued a statement from Davis saying in part that Davis is "as concerned as anyone over the news reports suggesting LeAnna and Husein Cumber have not been truthful about their involvement in the JEA scandal."

"That LeAnna Cumber would publicly demand transparency while harboring such contempt for the truth is an egregious violation of the public trust that deserves to be investigated," Davis' statement said.

City Council members Rory Diamond, Nick Howland, Sam Newby and Michael Boylan will serve on the Special Investigatory Committee. Freeman said he revived it at the request of multiple council members.

Freeman said new information has emerged that raises questions about whether Cumber's husband, Husein — a former JEA board member — was involved in the potential sale and whether she was honest about his role.

Emails obtained recently by the Florida Times-Union showed that Husein Cumber met and communicated with people working to move forward a proposal from a consortium of companies that became known as Public Power Partners. Public Power Partners offered to pay a multibillion-dollar concession fee for the right to manage JEA, the Times-Union reported. That was a form of privatization that would have kept JEA under the city's ownership.

The investigative committee later asked all City Council members to voluntarily disclose "whether you or your immediate family member had any interaction with any person or entity connected in any way with JEA or the city."

Cumber turned in a statement in March 2021, after the committee had released its final report, the Times-Union said. The statement said she had no conflicts regarding JEA or the attempted sale process, known as an Invitation to Negotiate.

During Monday's 30-minute news conference, Cumber called her husband a "star witness" for the prosecution in a federal case against deposed JEA CEO Aaron Zahn, who was indicted almost a year ago on charges of conspiracy and wire fraud, accused of trying to enrich himself from JEA.

Cumber said her husband "has received no compensation and had nothing to gain" from the prospect of selling JEA. "My family had no financial interest of any kind in the JEA. ... I have always, always fully complied with every ethical and legal requirement that I took an oath to uphold. I filed a legally accurate, voluntary disclosure, unlike some of my colleagues."

The candidates' recent TV ads attacking each other also were discussed Monday.

Davis' advertisement criticizes Cumber and her husband in their roles in the attempted JEA sale, according to News4Jax. Cumber's latest ad, paid for by a PAC supporting her campaign, takes issue with Davis on various criminal and social issues.

During a news conference Friday, Davis said her ads are attacking his family. He said that it "trivializes the serious issue and politicizes that pain of others for nothing more than political gain." And while Davis spotlights Cumber’s family in his ad, he denied attacking her, according to News4Jax.

But Cumber responded that "the only candidate's family under attack is mine," adding that Davis tried "desperately" to get one of her TV ads taken off the air.

"He only has negative things to say because he lacks a vision to fix the problems in this city that he himself has created," Cumber said. "The bottom line is that Daniel tells lies."

Supporter Daniel Bean speaks at Jacksonville mayoral candidate LeAnna Cumber's (left) Monday news conference.
Dan Scanlan
Supporter Daniel Bean speaks at Jacksonville mayoral candidate LeAnna Cumber's (left) Monday news conference.

Cumber was joined by supporter Daniel Bean, a local attorney and president of the Jacksonville Naval Museum, who discussed the revived committee.

"Notwithstanding the legality of it, it stinks," Bean said. "You have the optics — let's handpick some folks to do a search of a fellow council member. All of them received money from the chamber or an endorsement from Davis or his political consultants, and let's do that against Mr. Davis' top opponent. But let's wait to form this group when it is most opportune to Mr. Davis — close to the election."

Along with investigating Cumber and Public Power Partners, the special committee that kicks off at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Council Chambers could propose legislation to ensure that deception never impedes the work of future investigatory committees, Freeman wrote.

Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years as a radio, television and print reporter in the Jacksonville area, as well as years of broadcast work in the Northeast. You can reach Dan at, (904) 607-2770 or on Twitter at @scanlan_dan.