Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, primarying incumbent U.S. Rep. Al Lawson in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, issued a lengthy statement Friday in support of Pride Month.
“During LGBTQ Pride Month, Americans recognize and reaffirm the right of all people to life, liberty and the freedom to pursue happiness. It was during this month in 1969 that LGBTQ Americans stood against brutality and violence outside the Stonewall Inn. Today, we continue the fight to ensure that all Americans are treated equally under the law and have access to the same opportunities and resources,” Brown, a mayor of Jacksonville from 2011 to 2015, asserted.
Brown continued: “I firmly believe no one should face discrimination, bullying or violence because of who they are or who they love. In Congress, I will fight for policies that ensure equal treatment that’s inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity, including in established policies like the Fair Housing and Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”
For Jacksonville Democrats with memories that go back a few years, Brown’s words may seem like policy evolution.
They may recall that in 2012, the Jacksonville City Council had a vote on a then-controversial measure: expanding the city’s Human Rights Ordinance to include protections in employment, housing, and public accommodations to the LGBT community.
Brown, a Democrat, would have seemed uniquely positioned to ensure the measure passed. However, as locals recall, the measure failed 9-10, with Democrat Johnny Gaffney initially saying he was confused during the vote, before eventually saying (in 2015, while endorsing Brown’s opponent) that he was leaned on to vote no.
“There was pressure to not vote for it,” Gaffney said,
“Whether you’re for it or not for it, be transparent,” Gaffney said. “Was the administration transparent?”
Another Council Democrat at the time, Denise Lee, said rumors were that Brown pushed Gaffney not to vote for it, that rumors were that “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).
Some, noting that Gaffney and Lee now work for the Mayor who defeated Brown, will take these assertions with a grain of salt.
However, what is clear is that Brown, who had most of three years to negotiate a workable bill, failed to … even as he told one local reporter that HRO may be a “second-term issue” during the re-election campaign.
Brown’s re-election bid came after three years of being the most nonpartisan Democratic mayor possible.
He rarely missed a photo op with Gov. Rick Scott, but was somehow absent during a 2012 President Barack Obama rally in Jacksonville. And, as a result of his Clintonian triangulation, Brown left himself open to being outflanked on the left by a Republican candidate, Councilman Bill Bishop, who rhetorically committed to HRO passage.
Brown, in his debates throughout the mayor’s race, was reticent to recommend a change to a law that had been a hot topic for his entire mayoralty. And his unwillingness to take a position left him open to attacks from Republican Lenny Curry.
“I’m not convinced that we need to change the law,” Curry said, adding during one debate that Brown was “punting on the issue,” and demonstrating “zero accountability.”
Ultimately, Brown lost the election, despite the best efforts of the Florida Democratic Party to pull him through.
And a big part of the reason he lost was, in an effort to pander to the religious right, Brown neglected protections of LGBT rights.
As the Human Rights Campaign reported, Jacksonville performed anemically during the Brown era on its 100-point municipal scorecard.
The city scored a meager 23 in 2015, and 20 points in 2014. By 2017, the city was up to 67 out of 100 — an irony, given the mayor during that numerical gain won despite not supporting an expansion of the HRO.
Some may wonder why Alvin Brown’s desire to fight for “policies that ensure equal treatment that’s inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity” didn’t surface when he was Mayor, and indeed took three years after his election loss to emerge.
We reached out to Brown’s campaign Friday afternoon, but they did not respond to inquiries.