What has seemed like an endless Jacksonville mayoral campaign has finally reached its final few days. Mayor Alvin Brown was joined Sunday afternoon by cultural commentator Michael Eric Dyson and U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown and James Clyburn at an outdoor rally near Gateway Mall on Jacksonville’s Northside.
Brown said before the event that he expects to win outright on Tuesday. When asked whether he had a response to the Curry campaign questioning his claims to be a “conservative Democrat,” Brown said, “My response is to focus on building the momentum that we started.” He reiterated his campaign’s key talking points, including 36,000 new jobs he says his administration created and Jacksonville being the “No. 1 city to open a business.”
Most of the people who attended had come from church, to be expected because of the “Souls to the Polls” turnout movement in black churches the past couple of weekends. People hugged each other in greeting, and the line for the food truck giving away free fish was hundreds of people long at times.
Congresswoman Brown spoke first and described the urgency of the get out the vote (GOTV) effort. “I don’t trust Duval County,” she said. “I don’t believe in being close for elections. Make sure that five people you know vote on Election Day,” and then introduced Dyson.
“I’m here because (Corrine Brown) told me to come here,” the Georgetown University professor said, and told the crown he skipped Aretha Franklin‘s birthday celebration to make the appearance.
Dyson described himself as a “keep-it-real kind of brother” and criticized “people not understanding how the political game is played,” referring to people complaining that Brown hadn’t done enough in his first term.
He urged people “not to complain about getting no power and then letting it go so easy.”
“We’ve got a brilliant, insightful, creative mayor dealing with a lot of stuff at the same time,” he said, including getting investment from the “majority community” for economic development.
Dyson described his tenure at Georgetown: “I’m a spy in the camp. Over at Georgetown … shaping those people’s minds that don’t look like us.”
Then he pivoted back to the matter at hand.
“I’m telling you this on the real tip,” Dyson said. “Alvin Brown is mayor of Jacksonvile, Florida, and black people as citizens benefit” from such advancements as the “incredible reform of the pension system.”
Soon thereafter, South Carolina Congressman Clyburn took to the microphone, and described his day: “I’ve been to seven churches today, and I’ve got enough religion to last past Easter.”
Clyburn mentioned disquiet among some “people telling me the problems they’ve got with Mayor Brown.”
“Alvin Brown’s not perfect, Corrine Brown’s not perfect, I ain’t perfect, but I might be close,” he quipped, adding that voters on the fence should “compare Alvin Brown to his opponent. Who do you want the mayor to be: Alvin Brown or the other person?”
“Stop this foolishness. Don’t talk about what he ain’t done,” Clyburn said. “Talk about what he’s gonna do the next four years.”
Clyburn then introduced Mayor Brown, whose “roots run deep” in Clyburn’s Low Country South Carolina district, and who provided huge help to Clyburn when he was in Washington.
“This young man, when he was in the White House, we never had to worry about our issues getting through,” said Clyburn, describing his roles with then-Vice President Al Gore and at HUD with Secretary Andrew Cuomo. “He knows how to get the job done. Take issues to him; he knows the system.”
Then Brown took the microphone and promised, “I’m not gonna be long,” as he repeated the central themes of his case for re-election: “promises made, promises kept” from the “port to the pension.”
“(I) took a 20 percent pay cut and I pay for my parking,” he said, as the crowd replied, “Amen!”
Using a rolling cadence as if from a church pulpit, Brown described himself as having created “opportunity all over our city.”
He described how he took on “the No. 1 economic issue in the 21st century and that’s the pension. I came up with a plan; all they’ve got to do is vote on it,” he said. Regarding the council not yet passing the plan, he said, “Everyone supports the plan, [but] it’s politics, right?”
“Promises made, promises kept: I’ve never embarrassed you as the mayor,” Brown said, shortly before launching into his Reaganesque close: “Are we better off now that four years ago? The answer is yes. Thank God and Jesus for blessing us and blessing Jacksonville.”
Brian Hughes, a spokesman for the Curry campaign, pointed out earlier in the weekend that the liberal speakers ran counter to Brown’s claim to be a “conservative Democrat.”
“Alvin Brown says one thing and does another every day. While he claims to be bipartisan, today he announced that for of the nation’s most liberal public figures are making a push for him. Three of them are members of Congress who all have F grades from the National Taxpayers Union because, like Alvin Brown, they’ve had more debt and higher taxes and fees as part of their agenda,” Hughes said, regarding the speakers.
In the sense of the conservative/liberal spectrum in mainstream politics, Brown’s speakers certainly are liberal. Despite that, Brown has positioned himself as a black cultural conservative. His cadences, rhetoric, and morality are straight out of the Baptist church, a reality that at times has sent white liberals and progressives in Jacksonville into paroxysms. His messaging at events like Sunday’s is about community empowerment. It’s a commitment his opponents, such as Omega Allen, and critics in the black community, such as Bill Bishop supporter Juan Gray have questioned.
The GOTV sale that the mayor tried to make Sunday boils down to whether or not black voters on the Northside can accept what he has done in office as progress, contrary to his critics’ appraisals. Dyson, Clyburn, and Congresswoman Brown, along with the Mayor, uniformly were well-received as they made their case for “four more years.”
The only people to hear those leading Democrats make the closing argument for the mayor, though, were those on hand. One local TV station attended for a while, but their after-the-fact coverage would necessarily be fragmentary.
For all the powerful rhetoric dispensed, the speakers essentially preached to the converted.