Last week in Jacksonville City Hall, Rep. Al Lawson, despite being a Democrat from Tallahassee, looked local and in his element.
The building’s atrium was packed, and among the crowd were numerous politicians—State Sen. Audrey Gibson, Reps. Kim Daniels and Tracie Davis, as well as a host of City Councilors.
They were there for a legitimate reason: to dedicate the Kings Avenue post office to martyred civil rights leader Rutledge Pearson. But they were there, and therefore part of an implicit argument the Lawson campaign has made—that Lawson has done at least as much for Jacksonville as was accomplished in the Corrine Delivers era.
The renaming of the post office, his push for a local veterans’ hospital, a food drive after Irma’s days without power ruined perishables, dredging money and so on, are proof positive that Lawson cares about Jacksonville.
Do you buy it? Not if you’re Shad Khan and you tried to get Lawson to come to Jacksonville to meet, but the timing didn’t work out. And not if you’re one of those local Democrats who, despite all kinds of issues with Brown over his process botch on the Human Rights Ordinance, want him in Congress.
However, for those who aren’t waist-deep in the fetid waters of local political intrigue, Lawson has defined himself as probably good enough.
And he’s been helped along by going against an opponent who thus far hasn’t been willing to make his case in the media.
Alvin Brown, who really isn’t too busy when not running for office (per his Financial Disclosure Report, he’s made $8,250 this year through May 15), wouldn’t sit last week for an interview with Action News Jax—yet Al Lawson did sit for a chat.
So Al carved Alvin up. He got in his line about Brown being a failed mayor (based on not being re-elected). He also reminded voters that up until Corrine Brown was incarcerated, she and Alvin were traveling to D.C. trying to hustle some support for him.
Lawson also dropped some new intel, such as Alvin Brown telling Lenny Curry he was going to run against Lawson, a conversation that apparently led Curry to call Lawson to let him know.
Lawson is really good at talking smack, working it into casual exchanges with reporters. His best line of this campaign came early, when he told me he was going to “retire” Brown, who was running only because he’s “looking for a job.”
Brown, in the race for a half-year now, has yet to really prove Lawson wrong.
Alvin Brown, in essence, disappeared from public life in Jacksonville when he left the Mayor’s Office, reemerging briefly for such events as an Irma relief function at The Landing and the final phase of Corrine Brown’s trial, but otherwise, he walked a different path than any other former mayor.
There was little in the way of civic engagement, and what seemed to be inattention to his own legacy, even as Mayor Curry blamed the Brown Administration for city issues ranging from pension debt to an uptick in the murder rate.
In other words, Curry has dragged Brown for nearly four years, Lawson for a few months, and Brown won’t even go on a Sunday show to defend his record and explain why he’s running.
He could’ve used that platform to call for debates with Lawson—Brown did call, on Twitter, for debates in every county in the district. It would’ve been powerful to see Brown make that call on a live mike. But the ex-mayor seems to resist talking to a media more than willing to give him air-time.
Brown, thanks to Republican money, stayed competitive in the money race with Lawson through June. However, he’s proved quite inept at using that money and the position he had through 2015 to significantly make the case that Jacksonville needs to take that seat back.
If Lenny Curry can call Lawson and lobby for a wish-list item, what does he need Alvin Brown for?
Democrats have all kinds of issues with Lawson. Lawson supports ICE, is willing to diss Maxine Waters in interviews, is one of the least-reliable Dems in the Florida delegation on civil liberties issues, according to the ACLU.
None of this matters right now.
With the election a month away, and Brown uniquely unable to make an affirmative case for his election, it doesn’t look like anything will matter but Lawson doing enough to win—and silencing local calls to take back the seat until reapportionment or a decision to retire opens it up again.
Clarification: According to Brown's campaign, he sat down for an interview with Action News on July 22, scheduled to air July 29.