White-papers for Alvin Brown and Mike Hogan

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[With the mayoral runoff exactly one month away, I thought it might be fun to take a closer look at what the campaigns must do in the weeks ahead to seal the deal. No one asked me, and certainly no one paid me, but I was bored, so hear ya go.]

Notes on the Alvin Brown campaign

*Aesthetics: The plainness of Brown’s buttons, signs, etc., reflects negatively on the campaign. It does the job for traditional voters, but the younger, hipper demographic he needs may see the stuff as cheap, plain, politics-as-usual. I’d strongly encourage the campaign to engage Tom P’s new designs for buttons, and provide him the resources to reboot the visuals associated with the campaign. Branding is crucial, especially with the campaign being so scandalously out-funded.

*Commercials: The Alvin Brown commercials that ran prior to the first round of elections are simply unacceptable. New ads should be short and sweet, emphasizing the key elements of Brown’s appeal: 1) Freshness and youth; 2) National connections that can be called on to the city’s benefit; 3) Real, tangible plans to move this city forward. He should be maintained as a smiling, yet serious leader who will fight to preserve the interests of the entire city. It’s good to utilize the river, an enduring symbol of the city’s history and its future. There should also be more visuals of Brown juxtaposed against people who don’t look like the “typical” Brown supporters—that is, working-class whites, veterans, police and fire personnel.

*The Democratic Party problem: The sad fact is that Brown’s party left him poorly-positioned for this battle. He was underfunded vastly by all his competition, which is disconcerting given his untouchable connections with the national party. They also failed to run a competitive slate for council elections, meaning that most progressives (i.e., likely Brown supporters) were bounced out in the first round, creating a situation where the Republicans can basically channel all of their energy and resources into backing up Mike Hogan. Even if Brown wins, he’ll be dealing with a City Council that will be overwhelmingly Republican, so he’ll have great difficulty enforcing his agenda while blocking the cuts favored by conservatives.

If Audrey Moran bows to party loyalty and endorses Hogan, there may be no possibility of an Alvin Brown victory. However, it should be made clear to voters and to the party itself that Democrats are unified behind Brown, and that he is the leader of the party. Members of the party leadership who dawdle should lose their spots; if they were at any regular job, they’d have all been fired weeks ago. Party leaders openly disparaged Brown, saying he had no chance of winning, encouraging liberal voters to support Moran. The people who did this need to fall on their swords and resign; keeping them around suggests that Brown is weak, and that he’s prepared to lose for the same of party unity. I’d suggest a letter, signed by all relevant persons, explaining the rationale (such as it is) behind the whispering campaign and expressing regret for having tainted their nominee.

*Minority outreach and uplift: A Brown victory will require the minority community to turn out in much greater numbers than they have in previous election cycles, and that is unlikely to happen without direct, aggressive action by his campaign. The GOP is counting on low minority turnout; the deliberately avoided challenging key black councilpersons like Denise Lee and Warren Jones so as not to get their people out in force to sway mayoral results.

*Winning the “Hipster” vote: Brown’s greatest asset in this race may well be the cadres of young, educated, well-traveled white people from affluent backgrounds active in the city’s cultural and business community. Young voters have the most to lose if the city goes into the tank, which is likely under a Hogan administration. Again, aesthetics are key to drawing them in. Also key is reaching out to tastemakers—bands, DJs, artists, chefs, owners of popular retail outlets. Not only do they command tremendous diverse influence across the city, touching on areas the other side doesn’t even know exist, but many of them are the children and grandchildren of the “good ol’ boys”, and their firm support for Brown may help sway their elders in that direction.

Young people are cynical about politics, and Obama’s problems in office have not helped. Brown needs to obliterate the perception that he’s “just another politician” and sell himself to the youth as the newest, freshest, most interesting mayoral candidate the state ofFloridahas had yet. He must appeal to those who are still working for their own financial security, those who needJacksonvilleto stay on-track for their own interests to prevail. Make it known that an Alvin Brown victory means empowerment for the young people of this city, and money in the pockets of the artists and musicians, chefs and brewers, baristas and bartenders, who need only a sympathetic ear in government, and less interference, to help make this city a national powerhouse.

*Appealing to the “Good Ol’ Boys”: The oft-repeated question “Is Jacksonville ready for a black mayor?” is fundamentally racist. It implies that black candidates are naturally inferior, and also that white voters are not smart enough to recognize the appeal of non-white candidates. The overwhelming success of Barack Obama in 2008 should have been the end of such talk, but now Brown has the opportunity to put that talk to rest. His election will immediately makeJacksonvillelook more intelligent and reasonable than most observers think, and that means more money in everyone’s pockets. In fact, a case can be made that Brown is actually more conservative than Hogan, if you start from a more classical conception of the ideology.

Brown should make no special effort to counter the lingering bigotry that exists in our city. Instead, he should position himself as the exception to whatever “rules” are thought to exist. He should be humble in dealing with them, thank them for all they’ve done for the city, and emphasize his willingness and desire to engage all viewpoints, whether they are in sync with his or not. He’s not here to torpedo their legacy; he and the young progressive who support him are the caretakers of their legacy. He’s not here to rock the boat; he’s here to plug the leaks so the boat can keep sailing toward a bright future that all citizens can share in.

The kinds of negative outcomes likely from a Hogan victory will be targeted as presumed “liberals”, but in the end it will most hurt those older white power players who put their entire lives into making this city great. These good ol’ boys now have to face the starkest choice of their lives: Either vote for a black man, a Democrat no less, or sit back and watch everything they’ve ever worked for destroyed, right before their eyes. Brown should work to get the endorsement of every living former Mayor, as well as former competitors like Moran and Rick Mullaney. Even if they are pledged to Hogan, he should still try to talk some sense into them, because they deserve a chance to do the right thing.

*Attacking Hogan: Not only is Mike Hogan a bad candidate, easily the weakest of the GOP field, but his lack of intellectual rigor and casual deference to national agitators like the Tea Party may be dangerous for a city facing great crisis in the years ahead. It’s a bad idea for Brown to do the attacking himself, but effective surrogates must be found who can make the case that, honestly, Alvin Brown is the only real choice available for anyone who wants to see this city remain relatively safe and profitable.

Hogan’s “joke” about bombing Planned Parenthood clinics should have been the end of his candidacy; the fact that it actually helped him confirms that many of his allies harbor similar sentiments. Hogan’s election could very well lead to someone bombing an abortion clinic, thinking their actions to be consistent with public opinion, as reflected at the polls. The feminist community (including NOW, Emily’s List and even Planned Parenthood itself) should be running their own ads emphasizing that Hogan was “joking” about an all-too-real threat to women and the doctors trying to get them access to family-planning services. A number of people have already been killed or maimed by such bombings; the commercials should include some of these images, and perhaps the insight of survivors and the loved ones of those who didn’t survive.

*The Debate Issue: The fact that there’s only one mayoral debate planned makes both candidates look like lightweights, but Brown’s campaign should emphasize his willingness to debate at any time, in any place and try to paint Hogan as someone who is afraid of contradictory opinions. Further, it’s worth asking (by surrogates) why Hogan’s camp feels the need to protect him. Is he afraid to debate Brown, specifically, or is he just afraid to debate in general? How can he expect to lead, to be part of what are certain to be highly contentious budget negotiations, if he can’t even spend an hour swinging at softball questions? Is the man even in control of his own campaign?

*Emphasizing the destructive nature of proposed cuts: Obviously, the changing economy requires new ways of dealing with the public sector. Waste must be reduced, spending must be curtailed, cuts must happen. There is nothing controversial about this. But the Brown campaign should make it clear, over and over and over again, that the kinds of cuts being proposed and talked about will undermine the city’s ability to build its tax base back up; they will lower property values, increase crime, and further limit the effectiveness of our public education system.

Hogan should be depicted as a puppet of this national movement to impose hard times on working families in order to service corporate interests, including Wall Street. No one else benefits from spending cuts, certainly not the people. Taxpayers who think they’ll be saving money are, in fact, being suckered into sacrificing what little financial independence the country has left. Hogan and his allies should be depicted as trying to use a machete to do a job better-done with scalpels or lasers. His support for draconian cost-cutting suggests unfamiliarity with how the free-market works, or the delicate balance between the public and private sector.

It’s further worth asking (especially of “old-school” conservative voters) why so-many so-called “conservatives” are jumping to do the bidding ofTallahasseeandWashington,DC. Local and state governments, as well as their citizens, are losing more and more of their powers of self-determination, and Hogan should be depicted as a tool of Tea Party interests that remain ambiguous and suspicious. With the City Council majority solidly Republican (largely because Democrats chose not to bother going after almost any of the open seats, while standing down against a half-dozen vulnerable Republican incumbents), a vote for Brown can be defined as an important check on aspirations of a lunatic fringe that’s using the city budget to enact social policy.

Many negative words can and should be used to describe the cuts: harsh, cruel, vicious, nasty, brutal, reckless, mean-spirited, excessive, reactionary, over-emotional, exploitative, opportunistic, poorly-researched, politically-motivated, self-destructive, anti-American. Alvin Brown once worked for a man who promised to “build a bridge to the 21st century”, and he did it, whereas Mike Hogan is part of a crew intent on burning that bridge down, regardless of the consequences. (Note also that the candidates who promise to cut the most, the fastest, are the one who draw the most campaign funding—an internal contradiction worth exploiting.)

The Brown campaign should reach out to all those interest-groups that stand to lose from the proposed cuts, and encourage them to speak out on his behalf, to help him raise the money needed to compete with this juggernaut. These groups include the Friends of the Jacksonville Public Library, Cultural Council, community groups like RAP, MHPA, etc. Also reach out to the athletics community, from high-school and Pop Warner parents and coaches to members of the Jaguars (especially people with local ties like Rashean Mathis and Tony Boselli, as well as the Weavers themselves). If proposed cuts go through, we may be unable to keep the Jaguars inJacksonville, which would mean a billion-dollar investment goes down the drain. That’s not conservative!

Notes on the Mike Hogan campaign

 [Being the apparent front-runner with only a month to go, Mike Hogan’s job is a lot easier than Alvin Brown’s, but this is anyone’s contest.]

*Aesthetics: Spot-on. The visuals are simple, but using the Main Street Bridge as an “H” shape was a really smart piece of business, accomplishing a couple goals at once: 1) providing a logo; 2) linking Hogan with infrastructure and the river in a positive way (even though both will suffer under his watch). Do nothing else.

*Minimize overall turnout, while maximizing turnout among Hogan supporters: The lower the turnout citywide, the better Mike Hogan’s chances of winning on May 17. Low turnout among youth, minorities, women and the poor are all key, as these are all constituencies unlikely to support Hogan’s agenda. A best-case scenario involves heavy rain that Tuesday, and preferably for days beforehand to reduce early-voting numbers, too; pedestrians don’t vote Republican.

Conversely, Hogan supporters must be sure to vote early, and spend their remaining time getting others out to the polls. Democrats know that victory depends on a big turnout, and if they do everything right, they can definitely win, so the Hogan team needs to prepare for the political equivalent of trench warfare, just in case.

The insanely-low turnout in the first round helped swing the vote in Hogan’s direction, even though it was a slap in the face to all the mayoral candidates, especially the ones who lost. Audrey Moran’s freak elimination removed the strongest candidate in the entire field, someone who would have likely crushed Hogan in the run-off. Alvin Brown is formidable, but it’s unclear if he can manifest his natural strategic advantages (youth, connections, an agenda that’s more palatable to voters at-large) enough to check the glaring disadvantages (he’s black, he’s underfunded, he’s a Democrat).

*Minimize candidate face-time: Mike Hogan has minimal appeal to the electorate. He seems a nice enough guy, but no one’s going to get excited over him. Plus, his agenda equates to prolonged austerity for everyone; the less said about that, the better. He will be better off staying out of the public eye, cruising on his cushion of cash and trusting that the Democrats will lay down and roll over like they usually do.

Resist attempts to cutesy him up with contrived TV interviews and excessive commercials—it does not work. Liberal media will, if they’re smart, be reaching steadily for any gaffes or gimmicks by which to bury him, and he’s already given them plenty. The fact that the Planned Parenthood joke was not the end of his political career speaks directly to the weakness of his opposition. Anyone who can’t bring down the walls ofJerichowith that kind of ammo is probably incapable of any real challenge.

*Reinforce establishment credentials, reaffirm establishment support: Democrats will try to paint Hogan as a puppet of the Tea Party’s reckless thirst for austerity—a step in the wrong direction from city tradition. Hogan must make it known that his agenda is the city’s agenda. He should enlist former mayors to restate the need for such cuts, to say they would be doing the same things in his position. The things being proposed just do not seem reasonable to many voters, and that sentiment will only increase as the cuts are executed, and the likely effects are incurred. The message should be that the voters have no other choice but to elect him and do whatTallahassee says we must. Will people leave this city? Absolutely—but most of them will be liberals, so good.

*Exploit vulnerabilities of the Democratic Party, while raising doubts about Alvin Brown’s capabilities: Many key Democrats never supported Alvin Brown to begin with, and openly advocated for Democratic votes to be thrown to Audrey Moran. Hogan’s camp should imply that Brown’s making the runoff was a fluke attributable to the low turnout and not really a reflection of the will of the voters. They should point to the vast fundraising disparity, despite Brown’s high-profile DC connections, as proof that, really, the choice for conservative domination of local politics has already been made. And with the City Council mostly Republican, how effective can he really be? A vote for Brown, under these conditions, can be defined as a vote for gridlock and stagnation.

(Republicans should master the phrase, “He’s a nice guy, but …”, re: Brown.)

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About Shelton Hull

I'm a writer/journalist with over 20 years experience covering all types of subject-matter, with a specialization in politics, music, food and dance. My work has been published in nearly 40 different magazines, newspapers, websites and zines, in addition to occasional forays into radio, TV and spoken-word. Former candidate for City Council District 14 in Jacksonville, FL (2011), and a proud member of Gator Nation.

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