In terms of Jacksonville politics, few have a résumé to match that of former Chief of Staff Chris Hand, who worked in the Alvin Brown administration for its entire four years, and before that was press secretary for then-Sen. Bob Graham and campaign manager for Alex Sink when she won as state CFO in 2006.
Hand is working on a new edition of his book with Graham, “America, the Owner’s Manual: Making Government Work for You.”
Hand knows the players and knows the game, and on Friday, he’s been speaking out regarding the effectiveness of the 5th Congressional District’s Corrine Brown. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a rising star in the state Democratic Party, is considering challenging her in 2016, setting up an epic primary competition between the old guard and the new school, and the Tallahassee and Jacksonville ends of the district.
Hand didn’t mince words about Gillum spokesman Kevin Cate‘s assertion that supporters are reaching out to Gillum and urging him to run “because Washington desperately needs the type of energy and focus he brings every day as mayor.”
“With all due respect to my friend Kevin Cate and Mayor Gillum, who I do not know personally but has a very good reputation, Congresswoman Brown has been highly effective for any part of Florida she has represented,” Hand said.
He describes her work in North Florida as “especially productive.”
“Both before and during the time I spent at the city of Jacksonville I have seen her work miracles in Congress for the benefit of our region,” Hand said. “We are also fortunate that she now has the seniority to serve as the top Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, putting her in a vital leadership role for our state.”
Meanwhile, a narrative has emerged that Brown, the beneficiary of what courts have ruled to be a gerrymandered district, effectively is a tool of the GOP.
That narrative, augmented by Brown’s collegial relationships with many Republicans, strikes Hand as hogwash.
“That’s absurd and insulting,” he said.
“Congresswoman Brown is a proud Democrat who also happens to be very effective in part because she has good working relationships with both Democrats and Republicans. She cares about results and her record proves that she delivers,” Hand said.
Another incubating narrative is that Gillum’s time has come and Brown’s time has gone.
Hand also rebutted that line of reasoning.
“Congresswoman Brown is in her prime and at the top of her game,” Hand insisted, pointing to her influence in driving many policy outcomes for Northeast Florida.
“Just last year, she achieved what many said was impossible when she persuaded Congress to authorize the JAXPORT dredging project. Earlier this year, she became the ranking member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, which puts her in a unique position to advocate for the large number of North Florida residents who served in the United States military,” Hand said.
As well, Hand said, Brown “is close to likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, a positive for North Florida in the event Secretary Clinton becomes President Clinton.”
Indeed, Congresswoman Brown and Secretary Clinton were together during the latter’s fundraising swing through Jacksonville this week.
Those familiar with Jacksonville politics know Brown’s unique role in the local Democratic Party in picking and identifying talent on all levels. Local operatives Siottis Jackson and Mincy Pollock (the latter running an active, if unsuccessful, City Council campaign on a shoestring budget) have been instrumental to her messaging locally on Medicaid expansion and other issues. As well, when it comes to Democratic elected officials, as she has been the driving force behind the political ascendancy of myriad Democrats on the School Board, City Council, and the Duval County Legislative Delegation.
It remains to be seen whether political journalists will be treated to a Gillum challenge of Brown. If that were to happen it would be an interesting clash of regions, of temperaments, age groups, and approaches to the political game. Even though Gillum is a great candidate, one can expect heavy push-back from Jacksonville Democrats if he challenges Brown.