In a Midtown apartment last week, Jake Brown gathered his friends and friends of those friends to launch his campaign for a seat on the Shelby County Commission in the 2014 county elections.
Brown is running in the May Democratic primary for County Commission District 10, the first bid for elected office by the political newcomer. Brown first surfaced on the political scene in the 2012 presidential campaign as a strategist helping to turn out the city’s Democratic base for President Barack Obama’s re-election effort.
Since then, he’s worked for Rincon & Associates, a political consulting and lobbying firm, with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees on the terms of the upcoming overhaul of city sanitation services.
“The merits of the locally relevant issues tend to get lost.”
Candidate, Shelby County Commission
The two experiences played a role in prompting Brown to run for the commission as a new voice.
“I think on the County Commission there is far too much of people trying to match up with the talking points on MSNBC and Fox News,” Brown said as his friend’s apartment filled with what became a group of about 30 supporters. “It’s frustrating, honestly. I feel like there’s far too much posturing – trying to sound like a good Republican or sound like a good Democrat. And the merits of the locally relevant issues tend to get lost.”
The 20- and 30-somethings at Brown’s campaign launch were mostly new to Memphis politics, and some were recent arrivals to Memphis. Three registered to vote.
Brown was introduced by Kemba Ford, who has two political outings under her belt in as many years – a race for Memphis City Council in 2011 and the Democratic special election primary for Tennessee House District 91 this year.
“We have to look at Memphis as our city now,” Ford told those at the fundraiser. “This is our time. This is our city now.”
Brown specifically called for changes in the way rape allegations are handled through the Rape Crisis Center, which is operated by Shelby County government.
“There’s something wrong with the fact that a college student can get locked up for having a gram of weed, but a young woman who reports a sexual assault has to face scrutiny you would never imagine,” Brown told those at the fundraiser.
He’s also critical of the approach both local governments have taken to economic development.
“We don’t have policies currently that promote long-term economic growth,” Brown said. “Our policymakers locally, when they decide what to build, what to subsidize, they are not looking for what is going to make Memphis a better place to live in 10 years. They are honestly looking at what projects can we build under the guise of which we can help pay back the bonds for stuff we built before.”
Brown will face Reginald Milton in the still-forming Democratic primary for the district that covers Midtown into South Memphis. Milton is executive director of the South Memphis Alliance, a nonprofit group that works with foster children and is part of the broader effort to redevelop the Soulsville neighborhood, which is where Midtown and South Memphis meet.
Milton finished second to Melvin Burgess four years ago in the hard-fought six-candidate Democratic primary for County Commission District 2 Position 3.
With the 2014 elections, commission candidates are running for new single-member districts, which makes it difficult at best to draw comparisons to past races or results.
Partisan differences on the commission have ramped up dramatically in the last three years.
While Brown talks about de-emphasizing partisan differences on the commission, Commission Chairman James Harvey was sanctioned by the local Democratic Party’s executive committee because he won the chairmanship largely with votes from Republican commissioners.
And when Democratic County Commission candidate and former Shelby County Democratic Party Chairman Van Turner attended a fundraiser for Republican County Trustee David Lenoir, he felt compelled to apologize to the local party for it.