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Alvin Brown Takes On Al Lawson In North Florida's CD 5 Primary

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown in 2015.

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown is looking to unseat incumbent Congressman and former state senator Al Lawson in August’s Democratic Primary. Both men are trying to distance themselves from each other, but they’re both walking a tightrope between being bipartisan and being perceived as “Democrats In Name ONLY” or DINO’s.

Alvin Brown draws his support from Jacksonville, his home base where he was elected as the first black mayor of the city, which means he had to work with everyone. 

"I have that track record. One of the big issues in Jacksonville was the port.  I was able to work with the Jacksonville Chamber and stakeholders in the region," he says. That means, "working on a national level with members of congress—Democrats and Republicans."

Brown wants to expand the Affordable Care Act at a time when Republican congressional leaders are adamantly working to dismantle it. He says he supports the second amendment but doesn’t believe assault weapons belong in the streets or in schools, and he’s against arming teachers. But not everyone is buying into what he’s pitching. Mainly the man he’s trying to unseat.

“When he was running for re-election, the people turned him down. They said he didn’t do a good job," says Congressman Al Lawson.

He and Brown have sparred in press releases and separate public appearances over which of the two men best represent North Florida Democrats. And Lawson has been targeted in his attacks, calling Brown’s party loyalty into question.

“He really snubbed Obama when he came down, and he really embraced Gov. Rick Scott a great deal, but we look forward to the race."

Brown says that’s not true.

“When I was mayor I worked closely with the Obama administration. I was a delegate for President Obama in 2012. I worked with the administration on the Affordable Care Act…when he came to Jacksonville I met him at the airport.” 

Lawson was the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus to stand and clap for President Donald Trump during the State of the Union Address. He’s a longtime supporter of charter schools and has Republican friends in high places. Lawson also backs President Trump’s aim to renegotiate the North American Free Trade agreement or NAFTA which he says has hurt farmers in the largely rural North Florida district he represents.

“Absolutely. Because Most farmers here, if you talk to the people who are tomato growers, they’ll tell you they’ve got a big problem. So I think something is going to happen in that regard.”

Alvin Brown has hammered Lawson over those stances. Yet, there’s the question of Brown’s position on a 2012 Human Rights Resolution before the Jacksonville City Council. The measure would have extended employment and housing protections to the LGBT community. Critics allege Brown tanked it. Brown says he didn’t.

“I believe everyone no matter who you are should have the same right I had—the ability to get a job, put food on the table, live where you want to live. I support that. Never said I was against it. I don’t know what happened…I don’t think anyone should be discriminated against.” 

Lawson has raised double what Brown has when it comes to the money race, but he’s also spent more –both men are only 30,000 t when it comes to cash on hand, according to Federal Elections Commission records.  Brown says if voters elect him, they don’t have to worry about starting over from scratch. He touts his work in D.C. during the Clinton administration and an endorsement from a former Congressional Black Caucus Chairman as evidence that he’s the better choice. Tuesday Brown addressed Leon County’s progressive Democratic Caucus. Afterward there were split opinions. Some said they were firmly in camp Lawson because of Brown’s tepid positions on LGBTQ issues. Others say they’re team Brown, because of Lawson’s support of Trump-backed proposals. 

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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