In the race to be mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, Alvin Brown was a long shot. He is a Democrat, with ties to the Clinton administration, seeking election in a conservative town that has elected only Republican mayors since the early 1990s. And he is African American. Jacksonville has never elected a black mayor.
In the May 17 runoff, Brown faces Mike Hogan, a Republican and the tax collector for Duval County. Hogan is white.
Brown also is not that well known in Jacksonville. Though he has run for office once before, for Congress in 1994, he was not successful. He lost to Corrine Brown, who continues to represent Florida’s 3rd Congressional District. She supports him in this race.
His opponent, however, has two decades of political history in the city — he was elected to the City Council in 1991, re-elected in 1995, then served two terms in the Florida House of Representatives before, in 2003, he was elected tax collector. He was re-elected four years later without opposition.
Yes, Hogan is well known in Jacksonville and, judging from his success in elections, well liked, too. Smart money, it seemed, was on Mike Hogan.
But not all smart money. On Friday, Peter Rummell of Jacksonville, a prominent Florida business leader, made that clear by announcing his endorsement of Brown to be the city’s next mayor.
“It’s an incredibly important election,” Rummell told the Florida Times-Union. “We’re coming out of a terrible time and how we treat that and what we do is terribly important. We need to have an adult conversation about this.… I happen to think Alvin will be more productive about that than Hogan.”
Rummell pledged more than his vote. He also said he would give $150,000 to a political action committee to support Brown’s campaign, an unusually large contribution for a civic election. Rummell went further and announced that he would work to raise another $150,000 in contributions. Suddenly, Brown’s campaign has deep resources.
In a Twitter message, Brown expressed his gratitude: “I am deeply honored to receive the support of Peter Rummell!”
Rummell brings more than dollars to Brown’s campaign. He brings serious credibility.
Rummell is the former chairman of the St. Joe Co., where he helped turn the company away from its tradition of growing timber to a new, more profitable practice of developing its vast holdings of Florida real estate.
Now chairman of the Jacksonville Civic Council, a non-partisan group of business leaders, Rummell has a history of supporting Republican candidates with money-raising efforts. He is known for his skill in business and real estate development, his perceptive analysis of public affairs, his good judgment and discretion (always of high value in political circles), and his knack for picking winners.
Has he picked a winner this time? Only the voters can say. But one thing is certain — Rummell’s endorsement and money-raising pledge has changed the race.
For his part, Hogan has a big gun of his own — none other than Florida’s new governor, Rick Scott. The Republican governor met with Hogan on Friday before they both attended at a tea-party rally in Jacksonville.
With his record of election success, Hogan remains a formidable candidate, but he can no longer be considered the favorite. The race for Jacksonville mayor, once one-sided, is now wide open.
Contributing Editor Bill Edmonds is a consultant in communications in Tallahassee, Florida. A native of Virginia, he has worked in the Florida capital for three decades in journalism, in public affairs and in communications. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Virginia Commonwealth University and a master’s in American Studies from Florida State University.