Florida mayor-elect's roots grew deep in Lowcountry soil

June 6, 2011 

With his family beside him -- from left, son Joshua, 10, wife Santhea and son Jordan, 8 -- Jacksonville mayor-elect and Beaufort native Alvin Brown addresses the audience on the steps of City Hall on May 19. Outgoing Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton stands to the left behind Joshua Brown.


Beaufort native Alvin Brown will draw deeply on his Lowcountry roots when he becomes the first black mayor of Jacksonville, Fla., on July 1.

Brown hasn't lived in South Carolina since 1981, and outside of Florida, he's perhaps best known in Washington, D.C., where he served as an adviser to former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore.

But the foundation for those roles was laid even earlier, with lessons about hard work and faith in God.

Lessons he learned in the Lowcountry.

Asked to recall his years growing up on St. Helena Island, Brown offered tales about heading shrimp and waking up before dawn to check crab traps.

"I worked, man," he said with a laugh. "Picking cucumbers -- 25 cents a bucket."

Faith was also an integral part of life.

"My grandmother taught me how to read by reading the Bible -- the King James version," Brown said. "Sunday was a day of worship, so we went to church all day."

Jonathan Beasley, former principal of St. Helena Junior High School, remembered Brown as a "pretty good student" who was courteous and well-liked.

But Beasley's tone becomes earnest when talking about the Brown's ambition for success.

"He had a drive, now," Beasley said. "He believed in doing things, to tell you the truth."

Former Beaufort High School basketball coach Arnold Mitchell said Brown stood out on the court, not for raw ball-handling talent, but for sheer hustle.

"I think I had Alvin for three years, and he was one of those kids who was always willing to do whatever it took," he recalled. "He was quite an energetic player."

Mitchell said he had no idea the youngster shooting hoops would grow up to advise a U.S. president or lead a city.

"But I knew he would be successful in whatever he did," Mitchell said.

Brown's family moved to Florida after he finished high school, and he put himself through Jacksonville University by working at Winn-Dixie, first as a night stock boy and later as a certified meat cutter.

He speaks with passion about his adopted hometown, and points to his experience behind the meat counter when asked why he ran for mayor.

"This city gave me opportunity," Brown said. "I want to make sure that the same opportunity I had, the next generation is going to have."

He finished second in a March 22 election, forcing the top vote-getter into a runoff, and finally prevailed May 17.

When ballots for the runoff were initially tallied, Brown held a 603-vote lead out of more than 190,000 votes cast, The Florida Times-Union reported, prompting a day of nervous waiting as absentee and provisional ballots were counted.

One election official described it as the closest mayoral race Jacksonville has seen.

Now readying his administration, the mayor-elect is prepping to take the reins of a city of more than 800,000 people.

The lessons of faith and hard work, learned through family and labor, still apply.

"I just want to make sure I do everything in my God-given power to do the best that I possibly can," he said. "Because I know God has blessed me with this opportunity, and I'm going to do everything I can to make this a better place."

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