Republicans Warm Up, Leftists Cool, to Democratic Mayor Alvin Brown

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: September 20, 2012 3:55 AM
Alvin Brown

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown | Credit: Jaxport - Flickr

As Democrat Alvin Brown kicks off his second year as mayor of the Sunshine State’s largest city, he’s receiving criticism and accolades from some very unlikely sources.

A series of articles in recent months has drawn attention to criticisms Brown, the first Democratic mayor of Jacksonville in 20 years and the first African-American to occupy the office, has received from his party’s committed progressive wing. Particularly in question is his failure to support an expansion of Jacksonville's human rights ordinance to include homosexuals, and his apparent reluctance to endorse President Obama’s re-election bid.

“Clearly, the progressives are disappointed in him as a mayor,” says Dr. Matthew T. Corrigan, chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of North Florida and an expert on state politics. In an interview with Sunshine State News, Corrigan said, “He made a promise before he was elected, that he would work along party lines and not as a partisan Democrat. He also promised not to raise taxes. He had to run, and now has to govern, as a conservative Democrat. Progressives are wary of that.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Alvin’s been a really great mayor,” a conservative political strategist from Jacksonville tells Sunshine State News. “I don’t think anyone could have done a better job.”

Brown – a former adviser to Andrew Cuomo, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore – won a surprise victory in May 2011 over opponent Mike Hogan, who was a mainstay of Jacksonville Republican politics.

Another strategist, a Jacksonville political consultant who asked not to be identified, explained Brown's upset win this way: “Mike Hogan scared a lot of people with his talk – social issues that didn't have anything to with the election at hand. Hogan also ran one of the laziest campaigns in Jacksonville history. He thought he had it in the bag. He alienated a lot of pro-business Republicans by the way he treated them. He ignored them, insulted them, and called them RINOs [“Republicans In Name Only”]. People who supported his Republican opponents earlier in the election cycle jumped behind Brown.”

Brown, for his part, successfully cast himself as something of an outsider to Jacksonville’s political establishment.

“Hogan was a guy who was in the Florida House [of Representatives], and had been in Jacksonville politics forever, a county tax collector for several years,” the consultant continued. “He’s a career politician who’s been around forever. And now, all of a sudden, he was waving the ‘tea party’ banner and talking about ‘taking government back’? Nobody bought it.”

True to his campaign promise to reach across the political aisle, Brown has so far deftly kept himself at arm’s length from his party’s more extreme leftist policies. In a July interview with the Tampa Bay Times, he signaled his intention not to involve himself in President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, and declined to even state whether he would vote for the Democratic nominee.

Brown did attend the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., the following month, and later stated his intention to vote for Obama, but he has yet to associate himself in any way with the election campaign, and has managed to see to it he is out of town anytime the president has made a Jacksonville campaign stop.

He avoided taking a stance on a largely bipartisan, but no less controversial, effort in May to amend the city’s human rights ordinance to include language referring to “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression,” though he made it clear he is opposed to all forms of discrimination. That same month, he coordinated and attended a speech by popular former president Bill Clinton on jobs and the economy.

“Brown is essentially a centrist, middle-of-the-road guy, a guy who has been pushing a business agenda and working on crime and quality-of-life issues,” the conservative strategist observes.” I really don’t think he’s that much different from a Rockefeller Republican or a Rudy Giuliani on a lot of issues. “

“He’s always been a fiscal conservative. There’s no question about that,” Corrigan says. “But Jacksonville is still heavily Republican, and he needs to respect that if he wants to run for a second term in three years.”

Brown’s fiscal policy is not just conservative; some might say it’s downright hawkish. He has cut government jobs, vetoed bipartisan measures to furbish the Duval County courthouse, and has submitted budgets that cut funds from just about every agency of government from the offices of the public defender and state attorney to the parks department and public libraries.

“I hate to admit it, but he’s been very good on balancing the budget and in fiscal issues generally. Jacksonville was in a $58 million hole before Brown took over. He was able to plug that hole without raising taxes, without raising fees, and by cutting some 200 city employees from the work force,” says the conservative strategist. “Honestly, his Republican predecessor John Peyton, a guy who made money the old-fashioned way – he inherited it – essentially dropped the ball during his second term. He left the city a mess, with budget holes and overgenerous contracts with city employees. He became a big-government Republican. Alvin Brown was dealt a bad hand, and he’s done very well with it.

“Granted, he has a heavily Republican City Council, but he’s handled it well so far,” the strategist continued. “I’d give him a B or even a B+.”

Brown's staff on Wednesday declined comment for this story on the mayor's behalf.

Asked whether he thinks Brown’s bipartisanship bodes well for his political future, Corrigan suggests it will serve him well if he ever runs in a general election for a statewide race, given Florida’s purple political tilt. But “his failure to embrace a more progressive agenda will be brought up during primary challenges. He will have to mend some fences.”

The Republican strategist is more skeptical about Brown’s future political prospects.

“I don’t think he has anywhere to go. He can’t run for Congress: it’s a Republican district and Ander Crenshaw has that seat for life,” he insists. “No mayor of Jacksonville has ever gone anywhere. That office is just not a launching pad, even if you’re a Republican.”

Still, the strategist offers one possibility for Brown breaking free from that trend: a position in the executive branch of a future state Democratic administration, perhaps even the No. 2 slot on a gubernatorial ticket in 2014 or 2018.

“If Alex Sink or Charlie Crist or some other Democrat is elected in 2014, I don’t think Alvin would be a bad person to bring into that administration. The Department of Education or the Board of Governors would certainly be a good place, given his higher education experience,” the  Jacksonville political consultant suggests. “I could see him as a viable lieutenant governor candidate in 2014. It depends on who he’s paired with. Charlie Crist-Alvin Brown would make a great ticket. How far Brown goes beyond that, I’m not sure.”

Whatever his future plans, Brown’s bipartisan efforts seem to be paying off with city voters.

“We conducted a poll back in March,” Corrigan says. “Brown had about a 75 percent approval rating. “Granted, that was about six months ago, and his numbers have probably gone down a little since all the budget cuts have come into effect, but my sense is, he’s still pretty popular.”

“The voters like him more than they don’t,” the Republican strategist agrees. “Partisan Republicans might still hate him, but overall Brown is seen as a unifying figure, especially as the first African-American mayor. He’s in solid shape. Not great shape – I don’t think any Democrat in Jacksonville will ever be in great shape – but in solid shape, certainly.”

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

Comments (3)

Joanne Walczak
10:40AM SEP 20TH 2012
Another left wing politician. They are all one and the same. I saw who
he has worked for" enough said" May his days be numbered. I wish the negro population would wake up and stop voting Color
2:59PM SEP 24TH 2012
Right out of the 1950's South. Sad and pathetic.
5:05AM SEP 20TH 2012

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