Fireworks fly at candidate forum as Corrine Brown defends her home turf

Corrine Brown white

On Monday night, Corrine Brown, incumbent Democrat in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, faced off with Democrats Al Lawson and L.J. Holloway and Republican Glo Smith, the only one of the four guaranteed to be around in November.

Brown, losing the fundraising battle, facing 22 federal counts, and bedeviled by a radically remapped district, desperately needs to defend her home base against Lawson.

It was crunch time for the Congresswoman. And, as she did the day of her indictment, she wore all white.

Notable: Brown hugged Smith and Lawson both before the forum began. There were no hugs during the forum, as Brown showed that no matter what her legal situation might be, she has no peer in the race when it comes to the business of politics itself.

She commanded the mike. She commanded the forum. It was classic Corrine Brown from start to finish.


Brown, grabbing the dead mic quipped that “people are trying to [silence] my voice,” before giving her biography and then working the crowd.

“Are there any veterans in the house? Stand up! Let’s give them a hand!”

That was the highlight of the introductory statements.


The Affordable Care Act was the first topic.

Brown noted that she voted for the ACA, adding that Florida is sending back $50 billion to Washington because of unwillingness to abide by federal laws.

“As Lawton Chiles used to say, that dog don’t hunt,” Brown said.

Lawson noted, meanwhile, that “we need to improve on the Affordable Care Act.”

Brown responded, noting that she worked to make sure that children were kept on insurance plans until the age of 27, adding that concern is the “donut hole,” which affects lower-middle class people.

“I’m not saying it’s a perfect bill, but it’s a perfect beginning,” Brown said.

Smith, the Republican, disagreed.

“It’s about having affordable health coverage. I believe that Americans should be able to have companies compete” for their business.

As Smith talked, Brown signaled furiously for rebuttal, sticking to her contention that “a million people would have health care if the governor and the Legislature would do the right thing!”


Problems with affordable housing, about the local Fairway Oaks and Eureka Garden, were up next.

Lawson contended that “HUD has failed America,” noting Global Ministries Foundation’s issues, and quoting Marco Rubio saying “Eureka Garden is a Third World country.”

“I would not spend 24 years and have something like Eureka Garden,” Lawson said.

Brown replied that “the Republican Congress has cut HUD to the bone.”

“It’s very important that we have a team working together,” Brown said.

“When we walked into Eureka Garden, the interesting thing was the entire management team is white,” Brown said, getting applause.

“In 24 years, if you haven’t done anything, you can blame it on anyone you want to. People are hurt, living in dilapidated conditions … we don’t need Sen. Rubio coming to Jacksonville and telling us how bad things are,” Lawson rebutted.

Smith replied, saying that it was Congress’ job to “hold people accountable.”

“Go Google HUD and visit some of these sites. We ought not wait until the news cameras expose the problem,” Smith said.


From there, the remapped Congressional District 5 was the topic.

Holloway noted she was being received very well throughout the district, an impression belied by her poll numbers in the low single digits.

Lawson, of course, represented four of the counties for over 20 years, and “is becoming increasingly familiar with Duval County.”

Brown, meanwhile, noted that “they took the district I represented and divided the African-Americans into six different areas.”

The prison population is also a concern of the congresswoman’s.

Despite this, as a Florida A&M graduate and an enthusiast for Amtrak’s Sunset Limited and other work she’s done, she believes she can make the case.

“If you give me a better hand to play with, more people, I think we can do better,” Brown said.

Smith made her pitch along the lines of shared values throughout the district, saying economic development and jobs are key, and people are “excited about the prospect of having new representation” with “fresh ideas.”


The question went to Brown’s criminal charges next.

“Let’s be clear,” Brown said, loosely paraphrasing Proverbs 18, citing The Florida Star as a character reference, and then pointing out “last summer at this time, I sent 22 kids to China. Gave 60 kids scholarships. Over 1,000 kids received computers from Corrine Brown. I guess you didn’t know about that,” Brown said, saying the media didn’t report it, echoing comments she made to POLITICO earlier Monday.

“When you’re born, you get a birth certificate. When you die, you get a death certificate. The dash in between is what you’ve done.”

“I done the best I damn well could,” Brown said.

The crowd popped for that.


Black Lives Matter and police accountability was next.

Smith said, “I believe that black lives matter, but I believe that all lives matter, including lives in the womb.”

While she does support body cameras for officers, Smith also wants “body cameras on African-Americans because of black-on-black crime.”

“The reality is we are killing each other,” Smith said. And citizens don’t have an understanding of law enforcement investigations, he added.

Holloway noted her activism had taken her to Sanford and Ferguson and Jacksonville, in the wake of the Vernell Bing Jr. police killing, advocating a “national database for police brutality” and “dashcams,” as police officers will tell each other to turn their cameras off when they are “hot.”

“Yes, I do believe that black lives matter,” Holloway said.

Smith, meanwhile, urged that “we have to be careful not to stereotype law enforcement officers,” pointing out that her husband and other officers are worthy of prayer for their protection.

“The risk of me and you getting killed by a person that looks like us” is a “whole lot greater” than a police killing of an African-American.

Lawson noted he’d gotten the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police, adding that “diversity training” for law enforcement officers has been cut.

“You’re going to see a change because it is a national issue … but we need to protect the boys in blue,” Lawson said.

Brown noted that President Obama wants a comprehensive criminal justice bill.

“There’s a whole list of things we are working on … Democrats and Republicans … in fact, Rand Paul wants me to be one of the leaders in the House … on a comprehensive bill,” Brown said.

The comprehensive bill, Brown said, would encompass community policing and will counter the “overreach” of the criminal justice system.

“The prosecutors have too much say over the system,” Brown said, alluding to her own situation, then pointing out the injustices that beset Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander before her mike was cut.

Mitchell said, “I appreciate you playing by the rules.”

Brown: “I don’t play by the rules. Black people, we make up the rules as we go.”


“My work speaks for itself. Talk the talk, and walk the walk.”

If the race were won on debate performances, Corrine Brown would never lose. The race is one of demographics, however. And it is one of the realities of a congresswoman facing a boatload of federal charges.

It was a good show. But it was just one night.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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