Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has posed quite a problem for conservatives over the last five years. He has shown political skills he didn't display when he primaried U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., in the 1990s and has been able to find some success in traditionally Republican Jacksonville by hiding in the weeds and toning town his Democratic affiliation.
Coming out of nowhere, Brown barely survived the first round of the 2011 Jacksonville mayoral race, finishing almost 15,000 votes behind former state Rep. Mike Hogan who, as the only surviving Republican candidate, started the runoff as the favorite. But Brown caught Hogan and beat him by less than 2,000 votes.
The first Democrat to win a Jacksonville mayoral election since Ed Austin ousted Mayor Tommy Hazouri in 1991 and the first African-American to hold the position, Brown has done his best to blur party lines, stressing his pro-business policies and pointing out his working relationship with Gov. Rick Scott. Voters who watched Thursday nights debate can be pardoned if they think Brown served as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) under Scott, because the mayor seemed to stress his ties to the governor more than former RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry did.
Brown has also had an odd relationship with President Barack Obama. At times, he's thrown his arms around Obama; at other times he eschews the president. Brown has been much more vocal about his ties to former President Bill Clinton in whose administration he worked.
While Brown is one of the business communitys favorite Democrats in Florida, there have been problems. Jacksonville continues to sit on a ticking fiscal timebomb due to its public pension program. Crime also continues to plague the First Coast. But, because the GOP had the mayoralty for the 16 years before he took office and firmly remains in charge of the City Council, Brown has been able to deflect some of the blame back to the Republicans.
Brown edged Hogan in 2011 when the Republican veered too far to the right. Plenty of party faithful cast votes for the Democrat or, more likely, stayed home. Remember, in the 2011 runoff, Brown only won 668 more votes than fellow Democrat Nat Glover in the final round of the 2003 mayoral race. Hogan rounded up 95,623 votes in the runoff, far below the 133,497 votes Republican John Peyton received to become mayor in 2003. Brown might not be as popular with Republicans as his camp would have voters believe, but Hogan simply failed to turn out the party faithful, especially in the Southside and Mandarin. Those are voters Curry or former City Council President Bill Bishop will need to get to the polls in May to defeat Brown.
As one of the few rising stars his party has in Florida, Brown has received more than his share of interest from state and national politicians. But, with a few exceptions, hes generally kept his focus on Jacksonville. If Brown holds on for a second term, he could easily assume a larger profile.
Browns efforts in Jacksonville, one of the most conservative large cities in the nation, has been a high-wire act for the Democrat and he might plummet in the weeks to come. But theyve also ensured he ranks as one of the leading political personalities in Florida over the last five years.
(Alvin Brown is the sixth in a special anniversary series of 20 political personalities who loomed large since early 2010, when Sunshine State News set up shop in Tallahassee. To backtrack in the series, readNo. 20, Ted Yoho;No. 19, Jeff Atwater;No. 18, Adam Putnam; No. 17, Mike Fasano and No. 16, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.)