Alvin Brown’s Curious Contributions
“What’s past is prologue,” wrote William Shakespeare.
As Mayor-elect Alvin Brown assembles his transition team, we thought it would be instructive to learn more about the man who will lead the city of Jacksonville over the course of the next four years.
Everybody knows part of Brown’s personal story, encapsulated in his catchy campaign slogan — “From Winn-Dixie to the White House” — but even his most ardent supporters would be hard-pressed to tell you much else about the person entrusted with guiding the River City in what will almost certainly be some rocky periods ahead, particularly given Jacksonville’s continuing recession-ravaged economy and the city’s looming fiscal crisis.
Two weeks after his stunning victory on May 17, the 47-year-old Brown remains something of a mystery to most citizens of Jacksonville.
Part of that is due to his low-key nature, his natural aversion to appearing too boastful about his own accomplishments — he rarely mentioned his role as executive director of the Bush/Clinton Katrina Fund’s Interfaith Fund during the campaign, for example — and part is undoubtedly due to an unwillingness to subject himself to any media scrutiny.
That appeared to be the case early in the mayoral campaign when he failed to return a phone call requesting an interview from the Jacksonville Observer — his wife clearly kept the candidate at an arm’s distance — or when he displayed a similar reluctance to return phone calls from the Times-Union and other media outlets.
If Jacksonville’s newly-elected mayor has developed a reputation for secrecy — as some of his critics charge — much of it is a result of his own actions and unwillingness to be more forthcoming.
Perhaps he became too accustomed to working in a huge federal bureaucracy, far from the media glare, to ever really warm up to reporters.
Meet Your New Mayor
While the voters of Duval County didn’t have an opportunity to learn a whole lot about Brown’s past during the recent campaign, his personal campaign contributions can tell us a lot about his political instincts, for better or worse.
The former senior member of the Clinton Administration, it turns out, has been extremely generous in giving to candidates for federal office, donating nearly $50,000 to candidates — almost all of them Democrats, including quite a few members of the Black Caucus — during the past sixteen years, dating back to his ill-fated primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown in 1994. That’s pretty impressive.
A couple of those contributions speak volumes, however, about Brown’s judgment — or lack thereof — and his ability to read people.
Maybe he’s just a trusting soul.
"Dollar Bill" Jefferson
In 1995, for example, Brown contributed to the now-disgraced William J. Jefferson, the Louisiana congressman who was later convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison on bribery and money laundering charges while serving in Congress.
It’s unclear what Brown’s relationship with Jefferson — who stuffed $90,000 in marked money in the freezer of his Virginia home and later refused to cooperate with federal investigators — was at the time.
Brown, with no seeming connections to politics in “The Big Easy,” nevertheless contributed $500 to Jefferson’s re-election campaign during the 1995-96 election cycle, despite the fact that “Dollar Bill” — a nickname derisively hung on him by late New Orleans Mayor Dutch Morial — faced no opposition.
Meek and McKinney
Jacksonville’s next mayor also contributed a similar amount that year to Cynthia McKinney, the combative and controversial six-term Atlanta congresswoman who made headlines in September 2008 when — as the Green Party’s candidate for President — she accused the Department of Defense of systematically disposing of 5,000 bodies, each with a single bullet wound to the head, in the Louisiana swamps in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Brown’s one-time ally — somebody he was at least willing to part with money for — told the press that most of the victims were prisoners.
In addition to giving generously to Corrine Brown — the same woman who once called him a “carpetbagger” — Jacksonville’s newly-minted mayor also opened his wallet for U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek (D-Fl.) in 1996. He gave her $500, too.
Meek, the first African-American elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction, was another gem.
As recently as last year, the Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) cited the former congresswoman for accepting $90,000 in “consulting fees” and the free use of a Cadillac Escalade from a developer for whom her son — who, incidentally, conveniently inherited her congressional seat eight years earlier — had earmarked some $1,072,750 in taxpayer funds for a development project. The developer also reportedly gave the former congresswoman the free use of a 2,600-square foot office for her foundation.
CREW’s executive director Melanie Sloan, a no-nonsense former assistant U.S. Attorney, also brought up the questionable circumstances surrounding Meek’s role in her son’s initial election to Congress in 2002, when the 76-year-old congresswoman waited until shortly before the filing deadline to announce her retirement, putting other Democrats in the district at a distinct disadvantage while “essentially bequeathing” the seat to her son.
She was apparently Alvin Brown’s kind of candidate, too.
The Future First Lady and "Cash and Carry Larry"
Santhea Hicks, the future mayor’s wife, has also made a number of contributions, including a $1,000 donation to New York City Councilman Larry Seabrook, a longtime Bronx politician, who was indicted last year on a laundry list of corruption charges, including 13-counts of money laundering, fraud and extortion.
Hicks, who was then working at the U.S. Department of Transportation, made the contribution eleven years ago when Seabrook — long known as “Cash and Carry Larry” — was waging a particularly nasty campaign for Congress against U.S. Representative Eliot L. Engel.
Like her husband, Hicks — who listed her occupation as the executive director of the Willie Gary Football Classic — also made the maximum individual contributions of $2,300 to the presidential campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in 2008.
A Tight Bond
These are just some of the candidates that Alvin Brown and his wife have lavished with campaign contributions over the past sixteen years.
Brown’s most curious contribution, however, occurred in 2004 when he wrote out a check for $2,000 to Republican Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri. Bond appears to be the only Republican that Brown ever gave money to. The former Clinton aide, who had worked closely with the Missouri lawmaker on housing issues while he was at HUD, helped Bond raise money that year, including hosting a low-key fundraising event for him at the River Club here in Jacksonville.
That’s somewhat surprising since the four-term legislator had one of the lowest civil rights scores in the Senate, receiving a dismal 11 percent rating on affirmative action from the NAACP in 2005-2006 — a time-honored organization, incidentally, that our mayor-elect unsuccessfully sought to head a few years later. As one of three finalists, Brown lost out to current President Benjamin Todd Jealous.