Gulfport City Council member Christine Brown walked away Tuesday night with clear victory over challenger Mike Bauer in the race for the Ward 2 seat.
She was reelected to a new four-year term with just over 52% of the vote. Bauer was just shy of 48%.
But the win was far less decisive than four years ago when she walloped challenger Linda Bailey with 81% of the vote. The difference in her showing might come for good reason.
In a 2015 interview with Creative Loafing, Brown’s husband casually dropped the N-word and Brown appeared to enable his language. While that interview happened before Brown’s 2017 election, it resurfaced last month ahead of Pinellas County’s municipal elections.
The comments were perhaps more shocking in 2021 than they were six years prior, given that particular attention has been placed on racial relations in the wake of a spate of police killings of unarmed Black suspects that resulted in a summer of raucous protests against police brutality and for the Black Lives Matter movement.
In the interview, Louis Worthington told CL, “there’s Black people, and then there’s N**gers.” The author writing about the interview described the interaction as Worthington not having a problem brandishing the racial slur, but it also pointed out he was highlighting the difference between classes, not necessarily races.
But that distinction might mean little in an era where tolerance has all but disappeared for racially charged wording. Worthington went so far as to note his daughter was dating a Black man who Worthington described as an OK guy because he enlisted in the Marines, an aside that drew correlation to common racial demurring about having Black friends.
In the same interview, Brown herself dismissed her husband’s comments.
“You’re not a racist honey,” she said. “You were raised when it was acceptable. It’s just hard for you to shed the feelings of the past.”
Whether that resurfaced interview played a role in Brown’s decidedly narrower victory margin this year compared to four years ago is purely speculative, but in a sleepy municipal election that draws little fanfare it’s a coincidence that resonates.
But, at least one of Brown’s more powerful colleagues didn’t seem to mind. After new reporting on the interview, Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson came to Brown’s defense in a City Council meeting.
He accused Bauer of rehashing the story as a dirty political ploy.
“When I see people using race to push their personal agenda and to get around their personal gripes, that’s really second only to being engaged in discriminatory racism yourself,” Henderson said at the time. “You got to pay a lot of attention to the way that people campaign to get a job. If you’re willing to throw mud, if you’re willing to cause harm, if you’re willing to disseminate misinformation, if you do that kind of thing trying to get the job, that’s likely the kind of job you’re going to do when you get it.”
Bauer followed up the next day noting that he had not played a hand in rehashing the 2015 interview and offered his own statement.
“Attempts made at the close of the Gulfport City Council meeting on Tuesday, February 2nd to call this a less than honorable political issue rather than a moral one serve to underscore the challenge those fighting racism are battling,” Bauer’s campaign wrote in a statement.