Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown launched his campaign for Florida’s 5th Congressional District on Saturday morning at the IBEW Hall in Jacksonville — the same place he began his first mayoral campaign eight years ago.
“They said it wouldn’t happen,” Brown said of that 2011 race. “Let’s do it again.”
The location, where the Duval Democrats hold their monthly meetings, is a metaphor for the Jacksonville vs. Tallahassee dynamic of the Democratic primary race between Brown and incumbent U.S. Rep. Al Lawson.
Brown’s preacher cadence, a hallmark of his time as Jacksonville Mayor, was on display Saturday. He treated the union hall like a church, referring to supporters as “brothers and sisters” while driving call and response tfrom the largely over-50 crowd of 100.
On the student loan “debt crisis,” on income stagnation and unemployment, homelessness and inequity in pay between genders, Brown, “deeply concerned” about inequities, said “we need to do better.”
“If you don’t want a better tomorrow, stay home,” Brown said near the close of the 14-minute stemwinder. “But if you believe God has been good to you … rise up … and say Alvin for Congress.”
With grumbles among many former supporters that they weren’t sold on Brown’s political reincarnation, we wondered where that support was — and where the support was, in terms of campaign finance, from the downtown Jacksonville power structure that abandoned him in 2015 for his Republican opponent in the mayoral race.
“This election is not about the past, but about the future,” Brown said. “When I put my message out there and communicate with the voters, and get past all the chatter, they’re going to discover that Alvin for Congress is the best person for the job.”
“I’m going to work hard in this race to reach out to everyone across this district to make sure they know who I am and why I’m running. It is proven that when you make your case directly to the people,” Brown added, “good things happen.”
We asked where local politicians were for the launch; beyond school board chair Paula Wright, elected Democrats were otherwise occupied.
“I can tell you that the most important support that we need is from the people,” Brown said, “and today’s a great day for the Fifth Congressional District. I’ve been taking my message all the way through the district.”
Brown described himself as “well-known in Washington for making things happen for Jacksonville.”
Earlier this month, Brown posted his first finance report, which showed him outraising Lawson two-to-one in the first quarter. However, Lawson still held the aggregate cash on hand edge, with corporate PAC and agribusiness groups holding sway.
Brown was Jacksonville’s mayor from 2011 to 2015 before losing his bid for a second term in a tight race against current Republican Mayor Lenny Curry. (Curry celebrated winning by purging Brown appointees from boards and commissions. Meanwhile, for his part, Lawson says he and Curry have a “strong relationship.”)
Brown may not get help from the Jacksonville political establishment, which finds Lawson easy to work with. In that context, Brown will have to bring what one former supporter called his “bootleg preacher” stump style to the western end of the district, taking on Lawson on his home turf.
Drew Wilson contributed to this post.