A former Jacksonville Mayor may be a key part of the incoming Joe Biden administration.
POLITICO reports that Democratic one-termer Alvin Brown is “high on the list of candidates for secretary of Housing and Urban Development.”
“Brown, who worked at the agency under Bill Clinton, also worked at the Agriculture and Commerce Departments in the Clinton administration,” POLITICO notes.
Brown was more recently a staffer for the Biden campaign, which took increasingly Democratic Duval County even as it failed to carry the state of Florida. Brown, in a prominent role, may help to shore up Northeast Florida, say some.
Word is that his selection is heavily advocated by Rep. James Clyburn, the South Carolina Democrat who helped Biden recalibrate his campaign when it looked poised to fall apart ahead of the South Carolina primary.
Response was varied this week to the rumor, with many prominent locals contacted by Florida Politics not being quick to respond.
Republicans, as a rule, were quicker to comment than Democrats.
Former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney noted that Brown has some D.C. experience.
“While Mayor, I visited with him at HUD … He also spent some time on Vice President Al Gore‘s staff,” Delaney related Monday.
“He is warm and good humored and a decent man and likes to help people,” Delaney, a Republican who served two terms from 1995 to 2003, said.
“Personally, I think his natural strength would be as a legislator,” he added. “The skill set is different than as an executive manager. But he of course had four years as CEO of the country’s 12th largest city — that is a big bureaucracy.”
“I would wish him well and it would be good for Jacksonville to have him inside HUD in any capacity,” Delaney noted.
His expectations are that the Biden transition team will move quickly given the sharp policy differences with outgoing President Donald Trump. That could help Brown, he said.
“Since Alvin has been there, [it] probably will take fewer background checks and could speed an appointment up,” he said.
Republicans currently in the City Hall mix are somewhat less laudatory.
One connected Republican in local government asked how Brown was going to run for Mayor in 2023 from a D.C. perch.
With the Mayor’s Office an open seat in 2023, Democrats are far more optimistic about their chances than they were last year against Republican Lenny Curry and his political machine, and Brown is a rumored contender.
A GOP political consultant, meanwhile, wondered if it was even good politics given that Brown has been on a losing streak since 2015.
Brown lost a primary in 2018 to Rep. Al Lawson, an early Biden backer, and other names floated by POLITICO offer more upside.
Among those names: Rep. Karen Bass, the veteran California Congresswoman; current Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; and former assistant HUD Secretary Maurice Jones.
Expect that Biden donors may have their thoughts about Brown compared to names with more currency.
A number of connected Duval Democrats noted that Brown was a surrogate for Biden, and that it’s at least “possible” he is in the mix. That said, at least one elected official with a statewide profile wondered if Brown could handle the “length and breadth” of running Housing and Urban Development.
If the former Mayor ends up in the Biden administration, it would complete a Phoenix-like rise from a tough reelection defeat half a decade prior.
Brown, who narrowly lost his 2015 reelection to Republican Lenny Curry, was popular even when he left office, with one internal poll showing him at 55% approval when he lost the election.
He has spent his time since leaving office in a varied number of pursuits, including campaigning for Biden and Hillary Clinton, running for Congress in 2018, and a stint teaching at Georgetown University.
We reached out to Brown for comment on the rumor, but have yet to hear back.
As Mayor, Brown dealt with a number of HUD issues, with one central controversy being his office working to bypass the local housing board in 2012 to help finance Global Ministries Foundation’s ill-fated purchase of six troubled low-income apartment complexes in Jacksonville.
Brown, in 2015 after he had left office, told the Florida Times-Union that no one voiced objections to the deal’s financing at the time.
Thereafter, Republicans and Democrats descended on GMF properties in 2016, especially the troubled Eureka Gardens on Jacksonville’s Westside, now called Valencia Way.
Then President Barack Obama‘s HUD admitted its culpability in selling the properties to GMF, with Mayor Curry and Councilman Garrett Dennis and Sen. Marco Rubio calling attention to the federally subsidized squalor at GMF complexes in Jacksonville and elsewhere.
Ultimately, GMF sold to new ownership, which has committed capital to the long-needed renovations for the properties.
For his part, Democrat Dennis says Brown would be a “great asset” to the administration and that he hopes Brown gets “real consideration.”
But if Brown does ultimately become the pick, Republicans may bring up these historical issues. That said, there is still a lot of doubt on the right that they will have to.
As one strategist noted, “you’ll often see sh*t floated as a reward for a region that then gets people fired up whether it happens or not and makes them feel like a part of the bigger thing.”
And the consensus among Republicans is that Biden wouldn’t hazard selecting Brown, described as a “horrible” administrator, for a Cabinet position, though a mid-level appointment may be more likely.