Robert Brown, a former school board member and former state Senate minority leader, is now also a former mayoral candidate. But don’t count him down and out just yet, say local political figures, who expect he’ll find more roles yet.
Brown netted 9.1 percent of the votes in Macon’s mayoral race, coming in a distant third to the very same men he’d defeated 20 years ago to win his state Senate seat -- Robert Reichert and C. Jack Ellis.
As a state senator, Brown was often credited with being a wily vote counter and a skilled politician. His ability to get voters to the polls was credited with his initial win as a state senator in 1991. But Tuesday, Brown’s best effort drew fewer than 1 in 5 votes in east Macon precincts. His worst performance netted less than 1 in 50 votes in the Howard 7 precinct around Coliseum Northside Hospital.
Brown declined to comment on election night. He hung up on a reporter Wednesday and did not respond to an interview request made through an aide.
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Three people who worked with Brown in the General Assembly all said they were surprised at the little support Brown drew at the polls.
Former Rep. David Lucas, who defeated Brown in three different House races decades ago and often worked with him in the General Assembly, said Brown learned from his experiences to become a skilled politician in the state Senate and with contacts in Washington, D.C., without losing sight of who he is.
“He didn’t really change,” said Lucas, who is in a runoff race with Miriam Paris for Brown’s former Senate seat. “I think he got better. He learned from the system in which he operated.”
Lucas said he couldn’t explain Brown’s poor performance, much as he was struggling to understand why he didn’t have a stronger turnout against Paris.
State Rep. Allen Peake, a Macon Republican who endorsed Reichert for mayor and often butted heads with Brown on issues including consolidation, said Brown’s recent statements -- including comments about white sheets and that a Macon murder victim got more attention because she was white -- divided the community.
“I think what you saw is that the people of our community are tired of the divisive rhetoric and behavior exhibited by Senator Brown,” Peake said. “They didn’t want someone that’s going to continue to divide us.”
Sen. Cecil Staton, a Macon Republican, said Brown brought passion and dedication to the Senate job.
“I learned a lot from him about Macon, its history, and he certainly helped me understand more about the deep racial divide that permeates much of politics in Macon,” Staton wrote in an e-mail to The Telegraph. “I found his methods and statements sometimes odd but never doubted his political savvy or intelligence.”
Theron Ussery, a former Macon City Council member, first met Brown when he was trying to save the Douglass Theatre and a related hotel. Though the city had already set aside $15,000 to tear down the buildings, Brown prevailed in saving the theater.
Ussery said more of Brown’s attitude became apparent as he entered more adversarial politics. But hints of that attitude where visible when Brown served on the school board in the 1980s, he said.
“He still had that defiant attitude. He was defiant then, and he’s defiant now,” Ussery said.
East Macon resident Tony Hyman said after voting Tuesday that he’d struggled to pick a winner in the mayor’s race, ultimately settling on Ellis. Hyman said he turned away from Brown because of Brown’s problems paying his tax bills. Brown has been late on both property and income taxes.
Local support was thin even before the election. In a campaign finance report, Brown reported relatively few donations from local residents but drew from a broad network of legislators. Calls from The Telegraph to a number of Brown supporters were not returned Wednesday.
But other political figures predicted Brown can still have a good future in politics.
“I will be very surprised if we don’t see him involved in politics in some form or fashion,” Peake said.
Lucas said he expected other politicians would ask Brown for help in their races -- Lucas said he hopes Brown will help him -- or Brown could get a political appointment.
“I don’t think Sen. Brown is through with politics,” Lucas said.
By e-mail, Staton said, “I suspect he is not finished and will find ways to be part of the process. He certainly has my respect for his service.”
In a brief posting on his website to supporters, Brown indicated he isn’t yet done.
“I lost this skirmish. The battle for justice is never fully lost but it is sometimes interrupted. This is a welcomed opportunity to expand the private part of my life. Though I will push this side of my life to extreme limits, I am not sure how far it will go or how long it will last,” he wrote.
He finished the statement with a Portuguese phrase meaning “the struggle continues.”