Mayor Alvin Brown, (pictured) the first African-American mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, is leading in the polls and has steadfast support from former President Bill Clinton. But he still takes nothing for granted.
“I’m out every day engaging people and making sure they turn out to vote,” Brown said in an interview with BlackAmericaWeb.com. “I’m talking about moving Jacksonville forward. I’m blessed and humbled to be mayor and I’m staying focused on putting Jacksonville first.”
Brown, 53, the tenacious hometown Democrat, made history in 2011 as the first African-American ever elected mayor of Jacksonville, pulling off a stunning come-from-behind victory with strong support from African-Americans and longtime Republicans.
But today, Brown faces another formidable challenge: On Tuesday, voters will decide whether to return Brown to the mayor’s office or vote for his top opponent, Lenny Curry, a certified public accountant and former vice president of the Republican Party of Florida.
Depending on your political perspective, Brown does have an advantage: He received an endorsement from Bill Clinton last month at a private campaign event. Clinton and Brown still have close ties since Brown once served as a member of Clinton’s White House staff.
Supporters of Hillary Clinton are hoping Brown wins Tuesday so he can help rally voters in Duval County around Hillary Clinton’s candidacy should she announce her intentions to run for president. Florida will certainly be a showdown state for Clinton if former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush decides to throw his hat into the ring.
Since Brown was elected mayor, there’s been good news on the economic front. Brown said the unemployment rate in Jacksonville has dropped from 11.2 percent to 5.2 percent. He also said he helped create 32,000 jobs through partnerships with the private sector.
The city’s downtown is being revitalized, Brown says, businesses are investing; his mentoring initiative for young men of color is a success, and young people are thriving in classrooms, in part, because Brown appointed the first commissioner of education in Jacksonville’s history.
Brown’s mentoring program consists of 600 mentors who counsel students in the city’s public schools “so students won’t drop out of school.”
“I’m very proud of what we’re doing on education in Jacksonville,” Brown said.
Brown isn’t the only African-American politician who hopes to win an election this year.
In Charleston, South Carolina, City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie is running for mayor. Election Day is Nov. 3.
“Protecting the brand called ‘Charleston,’ for me, is the No. 1 priority,” Gregorie told reporters.
Gregorie, who is Black, is making his third bid for the mayor’s job. Gregorie has served on council since 2009.
“Through a more hopeful brand of politics, we can advance sustained urban growth with livability and affordability at its core,” Gregorie said. He added, “Folks say ‘the third time’s a charm.’ We’re going to test it.”
In Montgomery, Alabama, two African-Americans have entered the mayor’s race. Montgomery County Commission vice chairman, Dan Harris and former U.S. Congressman, Artur Davis are trying to defeat incumbent mayor Todd Strange. Election Day is August 25.
Harris says he plans to focus his campaign on economic development, education, and crime.
“I think I served well on the county commission. I have a record and I’ll run on that record and I’ve enjoyed that service, but I believe that I can better use my talents and my vision in service to this community in the position as mayor,” Harris told reporters.
Davis said because there are two African-Americans in the race, the BNlack vote could be divided.
“I have one of two conclusions: either there’s even more dissatisfaction with Mayor Strange than I thought, or somebody really wants to divide up a certain part of the vote in this community,” Davis said.
Davis is a former four-term Congressman who represented the 7th District of Alabama from 2003 to 2010. After an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2010, Davis abruptly switched to the Republican Party to widespread criticism from Black Democrats.
“The people of Montgomery deserve more – not just a few handouts at election time and grand promises that don’t materialize,” Davis said when he announced his candidacy. “I fully understand that not every one of you will agree with me on every issue. And some of you haven’t agreed with every choice I have made. I respect that, but I know that this campaign is about something bigger than party or past disagreements.”
During Mayor Brown’s tenure, Jacksonviille has been nationally recognized for its superior business climate and employment opportunities. For two years in a row, Forbes magazine has ranked Jacksonville among the top five cities in the nation for job-seekers. Forbes also ranked Jacksonville as the second fastest-growing job market for IT business services (behind Austin, Texas). CNN Money showcased the city as “hot for startups,” and Jacksonville was recently named the “Best U.S. City to Start a Business” by Wallethub.com.
Brown was raised in Jacksonville by his mother and grandmother, who both worked two jobs and raised five children together.As a young man, while attending Jacksonville University, Brown worked 40 to 50 hours a week stocking shelves at a Winn-Dixie grocery store. He almost dropped out of school, but a Jacksonville pastor co-signed a loan so Brown could continue his college education and graduate with pride. Brown was the first in his family to graduate college.
“I grew up in a city that gave me an opportunity,” Brown says.
When asked what he’s learned as mayor during the past four years, Brown didn’t miss a beat.
“I learned how to stay focused and I learned that the key to making good things happen is partnering with the private sector,” Brown said. “It’s been challenging; I came into office when people didn’t know me but I kept focused on putting Jacksonville first. There are plenty of good things happening in Jacksonville and I’m glad we’re putting people back to work.”