Alvin Brown: The Power (and Profitability) of Prayer
“I always believe in my heart that I was called to run,” Mayor-elect Alvin Brown said during a recent interview. “God gave me a vision and I ran with it. And my message is going to be for young people that when God gives you a vision, you’ve got to go for it, even though other people can’t see it.”
It’s a common refrain, repeated often by Jacksonville’s newly-elected mayor.
Brown went on to explain that his faith is “a testament to how I’ve lived my life, that I’ve always prayed about it, and everything that I set out to achieve has mostly come to pass.”
Praise the Lord.
That, and a little help from his politically-connected friends in high places — an impressive list of benefactors that includes, among others, former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, and flamboyant lawyer Willie Gary, a multimillionaire philanthropist who took Brown under his wings.
There’s also U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and wealthy businessman Peter Rummell, a prominent Republican fundraiser and chairman of the Jacksonville Civic Council whose decisive support proved to be a turning point in the May 17 mayoral election.
Curiously, they’ve all been mere mortals.
The former Winn-Dixie meat-cutter, to be sure, has had no shortage of guardian angels in his seemingly rags-to-riches climb. On closer scrutiny, Brown also seems to have been blessed when it comes to even the most basic things in his life, including something as simple as selling a house.
That appears to have been the case in the spring of 2005 when Brown and his wife, Santhea Hicks, sold a property on W. 16th Street in Jacksonville for $89,000 — more than twice what they had paid for it in September 2001, only 43 months earlier.
Brown had purchased the three-bedroom property for $43,000 on September 25, 2001. It was financed with a $63,500 mortgage through the Oklahoma National Bank in Tulsa, a de novo bank founded a year earlier. It was a curious loan for a start-up community bank with seemingly no ties to Jacksonville, a city more than a thousand miles away.
God acts in mysterious ways.
While housing prices in northeast Florida jumped significantly in the period 2001 to 2005 — shortly before the nationwide housing bubble, fueled by relaxed lending standards and relatively low mortgage interest rates, began to burst so spectacularly in early 2006 — in most cases, they didn’t double in value.
According to the House Price Index, a weighted repeat sales index covering 380 metropolitan areas and published annually by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the median price for single homes in Jacksonville — and that percentage fluctuates considerably depending on the particular neighborhood involved — appreciated by 38.8 percent during the relatively brief period in which Brown and his wife owned the property on W. 16th Street.
The fact that Brown was able to turn a handsome profit on his property really isn’t the issue. Buyers and sellers set the price in a free market.
On the other hand, the buyer of that property could turn out to be somewhat embarrassing for the mayor whose background was never seriously scrutinized during the recent mayoral campaign.
It turns out that Brown’s property at 1518 W. 16th Street was purchased by the Community Rehabilitation Center, a federally-funded entity with more than its fair share of critics.
Brown’s property was one of five or six single family dwellings purchased by the rehab center, which offers programs for mental health, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS prevention and job training.
The Mayor-Elect Sold His Home to the Federally-Funded Community Rehab Center for a Significant Profit in 2005
According to its website, Brown — who takes office on July 1 — currently serves as an adviser to the non-profit organization, a post he shares with U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and several other local luminaries.
The controversial community rehab center has been in the news frequently in recent years, largely because of its ties to Rep. Brown, whose daughter, Shantrel, works as a lobbyist for the non-profit agency. The center had paid Alcalde and Fay, the Arlington, Virginia-based law firm that employs the congresswoman’s daughter, at least $185,000 since 2005.
Rep. Brown herself has requested more than $3 million in earmarks for the center since 2008.
In 2008, Brown secured $147,000 for Pearl Plaza that was earmarked for the Community Rehabilitation Center, whose top officials, coincidentally, owned three profit-making businesses that lease space at a reduced rate in the plaza.
The center is totally dependent on taxpayer subsidies. Last year, for example, more than $2.3 million in government grants and another $2.4 million in Medicaid payments accounted for the vast majority of the center’s revenues.
It’s unclear precisely what Alvin Brown’s relationship with the Jacksonville Community Rehabilitation Center might have been in 2005 when, according to records in the Duval County Property Appraiser’s office, the non-profit purchased his home, but by the time he sold his property that spring he had completely mended fences with Congresswoman Corrine Brown, a onetime adversary whom he had challenged unsuccessfully in the 1994 Democratic primary.
It’s hard to determine what caused the new mayor’s good fortune that spring, but divine intervention certainly wasn’t the reason.
By 2005, the mayor-elect had contributed at least $2,750 to three of Brown’s reelection campaigns, twice giving the maximum individual amount allowed. According to the Federal Election Commission, he has donated another $4,000 to Brown’s congressional campaigns since then.
Then again, it could turn out to be just a weird coincidence, one of those inexplicable things where of the more than 21,600 homes sold in Jacksonville that year, the rehab center just happened to have its eyes on the property owned by Alvin Brown.
And pigs fly.
Jacksonville’s new mayor can continue to speak endlessly — and piously — about prayer and the “vision” that God supposedly provided him, but his political success is largely attributable to his willingness to exploit his political connections, both personally and professionally, to a degree that would probably embarrass even the most shameless practitioners of “politics as usual.”