OUT of the Game

Remember 2015? At this point, I just barely do.

I’ve forgotten almost all of it—except for the race for Jacksonville mayor between Alvin Brown and Lenny Curry.

I remember myriad media panels in which I predicted Curry would win—and got shredded for being correct.

Though Brown’s bungled handling of the HRO was significant, so was the campaign’s inability to make an affirmative case to keep Brown around. Despite being endorsed by Republicans who were on council, and despite some Republicans who are still on council sitting out, Brown was singularly unable to make the case for his re-election.

Part of that was that the race never slowed down enough for Brown’s campaign team—some of them hired guns from elsewhere—to make that affirmative case.

Brown was getting hit with oppo seemingly every news cycle, and kept hewing to a non-partisan posture, all the way through the first election (when he got 43 percent of the vote, six points ahead of Curry).

Money troubles began to surface late in the campaign, leading to an infusion of resources from the Florida Democratic Party (staff and ads). Brown voiced new positions not previously shared, such as advocating raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, a quixotic position, given that the city he governed didn’t abide by that standard.

Curry’s messaging stayed pretty much center right, meanwhile, though he was able to humanize his campaign when he started addressing issues of violence in places expected to be Alvin Brown strongholds, such as Grand Park.

Curry also got the backing of two African-American Dems on council: Johnny Gaffney, who endorsed, and Denise Lee, who performed a far more valuable service of eviscerating Brown’s assertions that Curry would “turn back the clock” as racebaiting.

Shit got real with Alvin and Lenny—the best drama was at the debate at First Coast News, when Curry dropped a bomb of a question: “Do you think I’m racist?”

Brown didn’t back down.

“At the end of the day, you will turn back the clock,” Brown said. “Your track record speaks for itself.”

Brown went away from that line of reasoning after that debate, the second of three. But he had no counter for Curry’s assertion about Brown.

“He’s not in the game,” Curry said. “On the tough stuff, he’s not in the game; on the visionary stuff, it’s not his responsibility.”

Curry knocked Brown out of the game. And now it seems increasingly apparent that Brown, after a couple of years in which he experienced personal triumph and tragedy, is looking seriously at a run for something.

“The best is yet to come. You will see my name on a ballot soon,” Brown told local Dems in October, a clear implication of a Congressional run next year against Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson.

As soon as I got multiple confirmations of that, I wrote an article—I knew reaction would tell the tale.

And the tale it told was that many local Democrats agreed that Alvin was “out of the game.”

Despite putting months into getting Brown re-elected, they essentially bought Curry’s narrative, giving Brown an existential problem to solve.

The question as the year closes: What would an Alvin Brown run for Congress in 2018 look like? Could he consolidate the Corrine Brown base? And will the Jacksonville moneymen back him?

These are all open questions, especially since Lawson has made a good faith effort to get Jacksonville.

Lawson stepped up his local presence after Irma, showing up at shelters and working to help people in his district get FEMA aid. He’s readying legislation to get $79M allocated to improving Jacksonville drainage in areas that suffered river-related flooding during Irma.

Lawson also has carried water for the business community, including collaborating with Rep. John Rutherford on a letter of support for Jacksonville’s Amazon HQ bid.

Mayor Curry says he has a “great working relationship” with Lawson, and wouldn’t take the bait when I served him up an Alvin-friendly question about whether Jacksonville needed a Duval person in that seat.

Maybe Curry was speaking idly, and maybe he was saying local powerbrokers are actually more comfortable with Lawson, a Democrat who finds it easy to work with Republicans in this region.

Whatever the case, Alvin has a decision to make.

Does he get back in the game and primary Lawson, and task himself with making the sale to local Dems and donors who question his work ethic and local presence since the ’15 loss?

If so, does he have the killer instinct he’ll need to go after one of the most likable pols in Florida?

And if he goes to all that trouble, will locals just kneecap him in the end?