Lawmaker responds after former mayor says he will challenge him in Democratic primary.
U.S. Rep. Al Lawson said it’s going to be hard for former Jacksonville mayor and congressional candidate Alvin Brown to shed his ties to former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown during the summer primary season.
Alvin Brown announced Tuesday he is challenging the first-term congressman for the 5th Congressional District seat, ahead of the Nov. 6 general election. Alvin Brown, Corrine Brown and Lawson are Democrats.
“How can you distance yourself from a person that is your mentor?” Lawson said from his Washington, D.C., Office.
The former congresswoman was convicted on 22 federal charges in December and reported to a Central Florida prison Monday to begin a five-year sentence for her involvement in the fraudulent charity, One Door for Education.
Lawson said his challenger’s appearance in the courtroom during her sentencing hearing, and the long-standing relationship between the two won’t be lost in the minds of voters this fall.
“He has spent an inordinate amount of time with her,” Lawson said.
“Going to D.C. with her, going around to see donors and lobbying groups with her. He’s been to court with her,” he said.
Alvin Brown and Corrine Brown’s relationship hasn’t always been supportive. He unsuccessfully challenged her in 1994 for the former 3rd Congressional District seat before returning to Washington to serve in President Bill Clinton’s administration.
A request to interview Alvin Brown for this story was declined. A spokeswoman for his campaign cited a scheduling conflict.
Lawson said he sees in Alvin Brown a candidate similar to Corrine Brown, whom he unseated in 2017.
He said he believes Alvin Brown’s strategy will be to emphasize his Jacksonville ties while overlooking Tallahassee and other parts of the district.
“I think Alvin seems to want, like Corrine, to divide the two cities,” said Lawson, who has a stronger connection to the Tallahassee area.
He also said he doesn’t believe Brown will resonate with the mostly rural towns and counties in the expansive 5th Congressional District, which stretches over parts of eight counties from Gadsden County north of Tallahassee to parts of North and West Jacksonville.
“I represented a lot of rural areas in the Florida Senate and in the House, and I think the two cities and the areas between them are more connected than not,” Lawson said.
Before his election to Congress, Lawson served in the Florida Legislature. From 1982 to 2000, he represented an area that included Gadsden County and parts of Tallahassee in the Florida House. He graduated to the Florida Senate in 2002, serving districts that included the same general area through 2010.
Lawson said his work as an elected official speaks for itself.
“I’ve only been here a year and I’ve been able to get a great deal accomplished,” Lawson said. He touted his working relationship with Jacksonville-area Rep. John Rutherford and Mayor Lenny Curry.
Rutherford was Jacksonville sheriff when Alvin Brown was mayor from 2011-15. Curry defeated Alvin Brown after one term in office.
Since taking office in January 2017, Lawson has sponsored 13 bills, with only one passing through the House. He’s listed as a co-sponsor on 187 bills.
Lawson’s legislative agenda has included laws addressing higher education, veterans and disaster preparedness.
One bill would allow students to refinance or recalculate certain federal student loan products. Another would create an $80,000 tax credit for veteran-owned start-up businesses. To address the destruction caused by hurricanes Irma and Matthew, another bill would shore up additional funds for the Army Corps. of Engineers flood prevention projects in Jacksonville.
Lawson said he’s ready for the challenges from both Alvin Brown and former Corrine Brown staffer, Rontel Batie, who in November declared his intentions to run.
“A challenge is good, we look forward to it,” Lawson said.
He said the news that Alvin Brown was making another run at a federal office “wasn’t a surprise at all.”
“It’s been a rumor for several months, he has been telling everybody he was going to run, so we were prepared,” he said.
“He’s looking for a job, I think.”
The primary election is Aug. 28 with the general election Nov. 6.