As Florida Politics predicted since Corrine Brown‘s legal fate was still in doubt, former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown is making his move.
Less than 24 hours after the former Democratic congresswoman reported to prison, Brown declared to the Florida Times-Union that he was running for Corrine Brown’s old seat.
“These challenging times call for each of us to stand up and speak out about the kind of community in which we want to live,” Alvin Brown said in a statement Tuesday. “North Florida deserves a pragmatic, visionary leader who will aggressively champion policies that create good-paying jobs, ensure economic and financial security for all, and improve our overall quality of life.”
Alvin Brown, since last spring, has told people that he would file as soon as Corrine Brown was out of the news.
And lo! It came to pass.
Now Alvin Brown is attempting to do what Corrine Brown couldn’t: beat U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a popular Tallahassee politician who beat Corrine Brown in all but two counties in the district.
The Times-Union article spotlights the perceived Tallahassee/Jacksonville divide in the district, calling Brown’s bid a “race of redemption not just for his own political career, but also for Jacksonville, which saw its decades-long hold on the congressional district end in 2016 when Lawson defeated former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown.”
Rep. Lawson, in a candid phone conversation with Florida Politics Tuesday morning, eviscerated his primary challenger, painting him as an opportunist looking for his next gig.
“He’s been telling people for months he is going to run,” Lawson said. “We welcome the challenge.”
Lawson rejected the idea that the race is Jacksonville versus Tallahassee.
“The district stretches from Gadsden County to Duval,” and Alvin Brown’s strategy, said Lawson, is “similar to what Corrine tried to do.”
“It won’t work. You have to be concerned about the whole district. You can’t just run a campaign out of Duval,” Lawson said.
Lawson was unsparing in his assessment of Alvin Brown’s single term as Jacksonville mayor.
“Alvin failed as mayor,” Lawson said bluntly, “and a lot of people in Duval are saying he’s just looking for a job. If he’s looking for a job, this is the wrong place to look.”
Alvin Brown, said Lawson, “wants to split the district. We don’t have enough clout to do that. We need to work together.”
To that end, Lawson has built a strong alliance with John Rutherford on regional issues. Laying the groundwork for that, Lawson said, was when both men ran in 2016.
“During the course of the campaign,” Lawson said, “I met with [Rutherford] a couple of times.”
They keep each other looped in when it comes to regional issues; it almost goes without saying that Alvin Brown, were he to win, wouldn’t be able to have that kind of relationship with Rutherford, a former sheriff with whom he battled during his term.
Lawson also touted his work with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry as key, saying that party affiliation doesn’t preclude collaboration and that Curry and Lawson have a “strong relationship.”
“I have served with many Republicans in Tallahassee,” Lawson — an expert in the legislative process — said.
Lawson wasn’t nearly finished talking about the race.
When asked if the Congressional Black Caucus would back Alvin Brown, Lawson was blunt.
“That won’t happen,” Lawson said. “The leadership in the CBC is all behind me. I meet with them every week.”
Lawson has been a voice of reason, he said, successfully cautioning against a proposed walkout of Tuesday evening’s State of the Union address.
And Lawson’s influence with the CBC happened despite Corrine Brown bringing Alvin Brown to D.C. last year to test the waters.
“Corrine had Alvin up there, but the CBC does not get involved in primary elections,” Lawson said. “We’ll be in great shape to run.”
Lawson, over the last two years, has “a lot more inroads in Jacksonville than ever before,” and is meeting Friday with the Jacksonville Chamber and Florida Blue.
And Lawson isn’t worried about what comes next in Jacksonville.
“People I speak to weren’t thrilled with [Alvin Brown] as Mayor,” Lawson said, adding that he believes Alvin Brown is running because “he needs a job.”
“He was trying to be Edward Waters College president,” Lawson said, “but he didn’t make the shortlist.” [NOTE: EWC President Nat Glover denies the claim in comments to POLITICO Florida].
Lawson saw it as ironic that Brown was running against him, given that at multiple points in the past, “he wanted me to help him raise money.”
Now he’s going to help Alvin Brown with something else.
“We’re going to retire him,” Lawson said.
Lawson has made his plays to prove his Jacksonville bona fides.
Among them: spending lots of time in Jacksonville after Hurricane Irma, taking a Jacksonville guest, Paul Tutwiler, to the State of the Union Tuesday evening, and filing the Flood Water Relief Act — which would bring $116 million to Jacksonville to help with storm hardening.
Alvin Brown will have some fence-mending ahead of him.
Some Jacksonville Democrats were less than enthused by his mayoral re-election bid, in which he essentially rejected Democratic orthodoxy until he started falling behind now-Mayor Curry in public polls.
Alvin Brown began to embrace proposals as a candidate, such as a minimum-wage increase, that he never embraced as mayor.
Alvin Brown also took heat from white liberals for failing to support an expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include the LGBT community — something that happened, ironically, only after he left office.
Some Democrats on City Council at the time said Alvin Brown worked to squash the bill in 2012.
“There was pressure to not vote for it,” Johnny Gaffney said, echoing allegations made by Denise Lee to this reporter that rumors were that Mayor Brown pushed Gaffney not to vote for it, that rumors were that “Johnny Gaffney was pressured to change his mind,” and that rumors said that he would veto it if it passed (an echo of persistent rumors since 2012).
There are also questions as to Alvin Brown’s support in the African-American community, and how much buy-in he has from the Duval donor class.
We asked Lisa King, leader of the Duval Democratic Party, for comment.
“Mayor Brown has a strong record of accomplishment and will be a formidable candidate,” King texted.
That record will be part of the discussion — though how much it matters west of the county line is up for debate.
All of that said, it boils down to one thing.
Alvin Brown wanted a battle.
And Al Lawson will give it to him.
We reached out to Brown’s campaign for response, and they offered it Tuesday afternoon.
“After Mayor Brown heard from voters in CD-5, there is a clear sense that Lawson seems generally uninterested in serving the district and has gone Washington. At a time when civil rights, voting rights, immigrant rights and women’s rights are under attack, Lawson seems content to live the life of a privileged Congressman who refuses to fight for the people of his district,” the campaign said via written statement.