How a Black Democrat Won Mayor's Race in Florida GOP Enclave

How a Black Democrat Won Mayor's Race in Florida GOP Enclave

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Alvin Brown, the tenacious hometown Democrat, made history Wednesday as the first black ever elected mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, pulling off a stunning come-from-behind victory with strong support from African-Americans and longtime Republicans.

Brown defeated businessman Mike Hogan, a Republican, by about 1,600 votes. Once sworn in, he'll become the first Democrat in the mayor's seat since Ed Austin was elected in 1991.

"I will work with people from every corner of this community to move Jacksonville forward,” Brown said in a statement last week. “Now is the time to bring Jacksonville together and unite our city. That will be my most critical priority as mayor."

The election was held Tuesday, May 17, but it took another day to count all the votes. Brown surprised political pundits and journalists by beating Hogan because Brown trailed Hogan by 35 points earlier this year.

Some pundits wrote off Brown, saying a black man could not win a mayoral race in Jacksonville, which usually leans toward Republican candidates.

Brown, however, said he relied on his faith to see him through a hard-fought campaign. He also told BlackAmericaWeb.com last month he firmly believed that if President Barack Obama could become the first black President of the United States, that he could certainly become the first black mayor of Florida's largest city.

Like Obama, Brown sees himself as a leader who can unite people of various races and ethnic backgrounds and work on behalf of all citizens.

Hogan, meanwhile, released a statement Wednesday thanking supporters and urging them to support Brown.

"I ask all of my supporters to join me in rallying around Alvin Brown and his team as they begin the work of getting City Hall's fiscal house in order and putting Jacksonville back to work," Hogan said.

Nat Glover, who was Florida's first black sheriff, called Brown's victory "a great day for Jacksonville."

“Certainly Alvin Brown was prepared, and he won the support of this community," Glover told the Florida Times-Union. "Again I get the opportunity to say how great the citizens of Jacksonville are.”

In the final weeks of his campaign, Brown picked up a number of high-profile endorsements from a cross-section of Jacksonville’s business community – including prominent Republicans. In fact, more than 30 GOP contributors endorsed Brown for mayor – a phenomenal turn of events considering Jacksonville in such a conservative city.

Brown, 48, 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, a former advisor in former President Bill Clinton's administration, said in a recent interview with BlackAmericaWeb.com.

On the campaign trail, Brown told voters that he wants to improve the city’s education system, invest in downtown development to create a vibrant downtown and clean up neighborhoods while addressing rising crime.

Creating summer jobs for young people is critical, and Brown says he’s equipped for the challenge. He previously worked as executive director of the White House Community Empowerment Board, a $4 billion initiative designed to create jobs across the city.

“I want to make sure the next generation has the same opportunity that I received,” Brown said. “My first priority is jobs. We must invest in the inner city and create public-private partnerships.”