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Corrine Brown battles Al Lawson, accumulated scandal in CD 5 debate

There are rough weeks. And then there’s whatever Corrine Brown is experiencing this week, as she girds herself for a fourth change of counsel in her federal case and a re-election campaign where she entered the last three weeks with $25,000 in the bank … a number more appropriate for a school board seat than a run for Congress.

Corrine Brown may have, as soon as next week, a court-appointed lawyer as she faces 22 counts for One Door for Education. But she won’t have a court-appointed campaign manager. Nor will she have much other help, as Jacksonville Republicans and many Democrats seem increasingly comfortable with the calming presence of Al Lawson.

If she were to make a stand, an appeal to voters in her home base, it would have to be Thursday night, at a televised debate at Jacksonville University.

And it would be against the odds.

Lawson and Brown showed up for a knife fight. Compared to the tedium of the CD 4 debate the night before, it was great theater. As it should be, given this will be the last campaign for one or the other of them.

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In a debate with an incumbent under indictment, policy positions aren’t what people are interested in; it’s about conflict.

Brown got the opening statement, and it was more muted than what was to come.

“God bless America, and he has because you’re here tonight,” Brown said, leading with very little edge and a respectful tone, as if begging Lawson (or third candidate L.J. Holloway) to go negative early.

It didn’t happen on the intros.

Brown, when asked about the challenges of the redrawn district that she fought in court for close to a year, used her “let the work I’ve done speak for me” line, talking about projects she’s brought back to Florida for veterans.

People in the district, she said, want “personalized service … a member that knows how to get things done.”

Holloway didn’t address her lawsuit. And Lawson, surprisingly, kept it anodyne and positive also, not going on the attack against Brown.

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HUD and Eureka Garden, and federal oversight, constituted the next topic.

Lawson has said in the past that Brown didn’t do enough on this, saying, “HUD, along with Ms. Brown, has failed these people for 20-some years.”

Brown countered that the HUD problem is not just in Jacksonville; it has been elsewhere in the state.

“HUD has gotten squeezed through the budget process,” Brown said, before talking about the redistricting that helped her get to office in 1992.

Lawson looped back to Eureka: “No one paid attention to them … looking like people living in a Third World country.

“My opponent was busy being wined and dined in Congress instead of helping the people,” Lawson said.

Brown countered that she has worked on the issue, adding, “Rubio [only] came to Jacksonville after he decided to run for the Senate.”

Holloway, meanwhile, bemoaned “recycled politicians” bickering, struggling to gain relevance in this debate. And failing.

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Brown’s court troubles were next. When asked about the prosecutors’ contention that One Door is a slush fund, Brown said “the 5th Amendment means prosecutors have to prove their case,” likening her defense (for reasons that no one sane can guess) to the hypothetical of the moderator being accused of being a pedophile.

“I feel the media is the fourth branch of government. Do your job. Don’t let someone give you a slip of paper,” Brown said.

Lawson noted Brown has “violated the public trust. I don’t think my opponent needs to be in this race.”

Brown says people want her to run, throughout the district:

“It’s very strange that they brought these charges just after qualifying … they don’t want me in office.”

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A while back, Brown contended that the feds allowed Pulse to happen because they were too busy investigating her to properly vet and prevent Omar Mateen‘s rampage.

Lawson was “embarrassed” by the analogy, because “there was no relationship” between the two.

Brown wanted to “move on to talk about issues my constituents are concerned with,” meanwhile, before getting flustered in a response that wasn’t especially coherent to this observer.

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After some time passed, Brown charged that lobbyist and Republican operative Susie Wiles is “running Lawson’s campaign,” and Lawson said “we just had a discussion on the issues.”

“I don’t know why my opponent’s referring to it, she just needs something to say,” Lawson, who is getting GOP money in this campaign, said.

Brown billed herself as a “yellow dog Democrat,” as opposed to Lawson, who’s “too comfortable” with working with Republicans.

During another exchange, when Lawson said Brown’s mind wasn’t on Tallahassee, Brown countered that her mind has “been on Washington for the last 24 years.”

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There was policy discussion, yes, but this is a referendum on character. The personal is always political, and for Corrine Brown, the political is personal.

Will a notable Jacksonville Democrat endorse Lawson in the next few days? That is worth watching.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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