When it comes to Congresswoman Corrine Brown, most of the public knows what they read about in the newspaper or see on television. It’s almost entirely negative.
But, if she was as bad as the media portrays, why did she get elected to Congress for so many years and get so much done?
Her methods were unorthodox and even crude to some. But she had shrewd political instincts that served her well. Brown’s work ethic and tenacity shocked many of her critics.
Her first week in Congress she was a mark. Brown’s district, which included Orlando, was designated as the site for a new Veterans Affairs (VA) Department hospital. It was a $117 million facility that was expected to create 1,500 jobs.
A veteran member of Congress from Florida’s Space Coast was attempting to relocate the hospital to his district in Melbourne, Florida. He was funny, charming and likable guy; a Yale graduate. He did things the new Washington way – through statistical analysis with the imprimatur of an important-sounding government agency.
He asked the Government Accounting Office (GAO) to create a study showing the VA facility would serve more veterans in his district than Orlando. At that time the GAO would give a member of Congress any study results they were asked to produce. Suddenly, the GAO reported more veterans could be served in Melbourne, Florida (population 70,000) than in Orlando (population 2 million).[i]
He wisely buddied up to the newly elected Clinton Administration and particularly incoming Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA), Jesse Brown (no relation). By the time President Clinton took the oath of office it was a done deal.
As soon as Congresswoman Brown caught wind of these rumors she called VA Secretary Brown demanding answers. What was going on? Why hadn’t she been notified? What could justify such lunacy?
Secretary Brown responded, “The GAO report says 3.4 more veterans….” but the Congresswoman cut him off.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah” she announced, “I know politics.”
At the time, Brown didn’t know the GAO from an HMO. But she knew politics and she was having none of the skullduggery.
The next day VA Secretary Brown and his aides were in the Congresswoman’s office putting on their best charm offensive. She appreciated their responsiveness, but she wanted results.
Thirteen years later the Orlando VA Medical Center was completed and today serves more than 100,000 veterans in Central Florida.
In Jacksonville, Congresswoman Brown was indispensable in funding the new Federal Courthouse in downtown Jacksonville. It revitalized a historic section of downtown which had become dilapidated. The district now includes the new Circuit Courthouse and City Hall; the latter occupies a restored downtown landmark.
This only scratches the very limited surface of her work and includes none of her legislative accomplishments.
But, this was not the Congresswoman Brown most of the public saw or knew. Her relations with the press were fraught from the beginning. The Florida Times-Union’s leadership and editorial board were populated by right-wing yes men and Republican hacks. They were always on the prowl for any negative angle they could use against Brown.
Occasionally the Times-Union would contract with reporters in D.C. to cover her. Even when these reporters tried to be fair, editors in Jacksonville would change their stories to reflect more negatively on the Brown. She felt like she couldn’t trust the reporters and would sometimes label their coverage “racist.”
Unfortunately, she made it too easy for those with an axe to grind against her. From the moment she was sworn into Congress, she was bogged down from scandals that pre-dated her campaign.
Prior to her election she owned a travel office that was involved in questionable dealings. In the Florida Legislature, she helped fund a social services One-Stop facility in Jacksonville that was mired by financial irregularities. This year Brown was indicted on multiple counts for defrauding a not for profit organization.
Moreover, her syntax, grammar and pronunciation were sometimes at war with each other.
On August 30, 2016, she was defeated in the Democratic primary to retrain her Congressional seat. By the time she leaves office in January, she will have served in Congress for 24 years.