PerspectivesA.G. Gancarski Jacksonville Today Contributor

OPINION | Corrine Brown’s pyrrhic victory

Published on May 22, 2022 at 9:05 pm

Months back, I pleaded to the federal government in this column space to stop prosecuting Corrine Brown.

Last week, they heeded that and similar advice.

Brown’s guilty plea ended the overheated drama of last decade’s One Door for Education saga, characterized by fat checks from the donor class for opaque purposes, promised donations from Brown to charitable entities that didn’t exactly exist, including computers for underprivileged youth that never really made it to the end user.

All of that noise about tickets to Beyonce concerts, trips to Beverly Hills (the one with the Clampetts, not the neighborhood in Jacksonville) and NFL games in Washington D.C. proved to be a stack of historical ephemera that vaporized in the end and was reduced to one piddly charge of tax fraud.

Like so much consumerist aspiration, it meant nothing once the novelty wore off, even to the feds.  

And as the court date wrapped, the narrative came full circle. Corrine Brown gave non-answers to the media demanding accountability one last time outside the federal courthouse, before heading to City Hall to cameo at a prayer event helmed by political associate Reggie Gaffney, a city councilman making moves as he looks to run for Senate.

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No one imagined any of this going down when the guilty verdict fell on 18 counts after one renegade juror was purged from the jury — Judge Matthew Corrigan sent the juror home after they claimed “The Holy Spirit” said Brown wasn’t guilty, a move that reporters didn’t razz at the time but that the 11th Court of Appeals eventually did.

Did you imagine Corrine Brown in 2022 on a live mic in Downtown Jacksonville saying “God is good … all the time,” as if it were any normal election year when she or her Quick Picks were on the ballot? 

Indeed, for Brown, God has been good, albeit after a period in the desert that was the Coleman federal penitentiary.

Corrine Brown owes about $62,000 more in restitution, which is a small fraction of how much this multi-year production cost to cast and staff and host. 

In terms of criminal prosecutions and their payoff, this is basically Ishtar. How many hours of prosecutor manpower were wasted by the federal government on this, and to what real end in terms of “justice” for whoever the wronged party was supposed to have been in this case?

Brown could be a political commentator on a local news station any day now, and if I were in a position to hire, I’d have signed that contract already. Hers is a singular and important voice in the local discourse, and she knows politics like few others.

That’s the good news. The bad news, of course, is that her legacy has been erased, and the constituents she served in this area will be mocked by the choices in front of them for the next decade in all likelihood. 

The minority access seat in Congress she represented for 24 years doesn’t even exist anymore. It was drawn out west to suit Al Lawson ahead of the 2016 election, the one where Brown lost in the primary. But as we know, the new redistricting map wipes out any semblance of a minority access district, and likely crushes the chance of a Black Democrat from Northeast Florida going to Congress.

Much of Duval north and west of the St. Johns River is yoked into the new 4th Congressional District, which is properly understood as an NCAD, or Nassau & Clay Access District. 

Democrat Tony Hill is Al Lawson’s choice here, a district aide for Lawson who previously served for many years in Tallahassee. But consider the Republican primary to see where things are really headed in this district.

The two filed GOP candidates, Navy veteran Erick Aguilar and legislative veteran Jason Fischer, are each running farther to the right than may have ever been seen in a Jacksonville district. (Gary Koniz, call your office.)

Running to serve a district that includes some of Jacksonville’s most materially disadvantaged areas, they are hustling to out-ultra-mega-MAGA each other in an effort to introduce themselves to voters who have never even seen them on a ballot before.  

Don’t expect that this field is the final iteration (Sen. Aaron Bean is expected to get in, and will be hit by Fischer and Aguilar both as a RINO immediately.). But do expect it to be tough for any Democrat to compete here.

It was ultimately Ron DeSantis’ call to wipe out the minority access district. And it likely would have still happened if Corrine Brown hadn’t had the fraud case end her career. 

But the enduring tragedy of the Corrine Brown case will be felt by Black Jacksonville Democrats especially, and by others in the new district, disenfranchised in a unique way here, with the city divided for the next decade in the congressional map to serve suburban interests over its urban core. 

Corrine Brown may be back, and that is cause for celebration for those who know and love her. But her legacy as a political operator is already a faded memory. 

Whether guilty on 18 counts or one, she is still neutralized, and so is the political machine she spent the prime of her life building. And Jacksonville itself will take a hit for years to come.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

A.G. Gancarski's columns were a staple in Folio Weekly for nearly two decades, and he has been the Northeast Florida correspondent for Florida Politics since 2014. He writes about the intersection of state and local politics and policy.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

A.G. Gancarski's columns were a staple in Folio Weekly for nearly two decades, and he has been the Northeast Florida correspondent for Florida Politics since 2014. He writes about the intersection of state and local politics and policy.

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