Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and current U.S. Rep. Al Lawson were jointly interviewed by the Tallahassee Democrat Thursday.
There were some highlights, both in terms of policy distinctions and personal attacks, in what was the most substantive interview either candidate has conducted during this campaign.
The session heated up with discussion of gun rights — a big talking point in this campaign.
Lawson stood his ground on voting for Stand Your Ground, noting that it protected homeowners from prosecution when protecting themselves.
“We really need to go back and have the Florida Legislature look at it … the law is being interpreted wrong,” Lawson said, repeating that homeowners need protection.
Brown, meanwhile, wanted to “scrap” Stand Your Ground altogether, citing the killings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.
“People use it as an excuse,” Brown said.
Brown was compelled to defend his record as Jacksonville Mayor, noting that he’d brought jobs and companies and private investment to Jacksonville, repeating scripts the Florida Democratic Party wrote in his failed re-election campaign.
“The Mayor’s record was a disaster … the budget was in disarray … areas like Eureka Gardens looked like a third world country,” Lawson said.
“Alvin was absent. Sleeping on the job … with chauffers and everyone carrying him around in Jacksonville. The people decided they didn’t want him back as Mayor. He didn’t do a good job,” Lawson contended.
Brown contended he “showed up for work every day” and did “tremendous work” for the people of Jacksonville, focusing on “long-term economic development to get people back to work.”
“You don’t get approval deepening the harbor by not showing up,” Brown contended.
Brown also defended his response to crime as being rooted in “prevention and intervention,” with the sheriff “whose job is for public safety.”
Brown also had to address his botch of the Human Rights Ordinance process, eliding what some say was active opposition, saying he’d enacted protections for LGBT employees in City Hall, but “City Council didn’t pass it.”
Brown said he “at no time was against the legislation at all.” Lawson called him a liar.
“That community is totally against the mayor,” Lawson said. “If he had done what he stated, they would support him. They don’t support him. He had the opportunity and he went out the back door.”
Lawson had to answer for characterizations that he was Trump’s lackey and on the right of Brown, a liability in a closed Democratic primary.
Lawson noted he “clapped for the President” at the State of the Union when he said unemployment was low for blacks and Hispanics, but Brown was only using the issue because he had no issues to run on.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a moderate,” Lawson said, noting that he represented very conservative counties in the Florida Legislature.
Brown was asked if he thought Lawson was racist (an echo of the 2015 mayoral campaign, when racism became a talking point in a debate); Brown said Lawson supported “Trump’s agenda.”
“He’s not showing up for work … at the end of the day, he supports Trump’s agenda … supports ICE,” Brown said. “He supports Trump more than any Congressional Black Caucus member.”
“He says one thing, and he’ll do another,” Brown said.
Lawson said he voted with Democrats 98 percent of the time, and repeated his claim that Brown lacks issues to run on.
Lawson also noted that he wants to “reform ICE,” and “all of us know they need to be reformed.” Brown noted that he also wants ICE reform.
Lawson offered surprises, including advocacy for decriminalizing marijuana, citing Denver (!!!!) as a model; Brown concurred that it should be decriminalized.
“It’s clogging up our legal system,” Lawson contended.
Brown went on to say, like Lawson did, that Colorado offered a model for the future of cannabis.
Both also agreed that they would vote to impeach the President.
Corrine Brown (who Lawson defeated in 2016) came up, as well, with Alvin Brown noting that in her case, “the justice system has spoken.” Brown stands by a letter he wrote on Corrine’s behalf “100 percent.”
Lawson, who some say wanted to write a letter on behalf of Corrine himself, noted that the Browns had been in D.C. and elsewhere “soliciting support.”
“It could be his relative. They have the same last name. They’re very close,” Lawson said, “even though he ran against her twice.”
“Mayor Brown was saying he’d wait until after her sentence and get in the race,” Lawson said, noting that Brown used to “say he wanted to be like” him.
Brown denied flatly that he had been to D.C. as a pre-candidate with Corrine Brown or that he had worked with her on fundraising, then went pious.
“Corrine Brown is a Christian … I don’t think it’s appropriate to kick someone when they’re down,” Brown said.