Two Florida A&M University alumni are preparing to face off in a Democratic Party primary challenge.
If U.S. Rep. Al Lawson wants to secure his seat for another two-year term, he will have to fend off a challenge from a fellow Rattler, Albert Chester II.
Chester, a football quarterback at FAMU a dozen years ago, is a pharmacist, entrepreneur and community advocate in Jacksonville who is running to replace Lawson as the next U.S. representative for Florida’s 5th District.
While Chester is just beginning his political journey, Lawson is a seasoned veteran with more than 30 years of experience in various elected positions.
Despite his lack of political experience, Chester has strong ties to Tallahassee and believes he can build trust as a candidate.
“I can understand how it could play a factor; however, my resume does read being a pharmacist, community advocate so that opened up post-secondary career training which speaks to my experience of getting things done,” Chester said. “I only owe the people, I don’t owe any political favors or debts, other than the people I intend to represent.”
If you didn’t know, anyone can run for Congress. As long as you are at least 25, have been a citizen for the past seven years and live in the state – but not necessarily the district – you would represent.
The 5th District has an interesting history considering it once included all of Citrus, Hernando, and Sumter counties and most of Lake, Levy and Pasco counties. The district also included some of Marion and Polk counties and suburbs of Tampa and Orlando.
In 2015 the Florida Supreme Court ruled that that state’s Congressional district map was invalid and needed to be redrawn. The new map opened the door for Lawson, who had last served as a state senator representing Tallahassee in the Legislature before being term limited out of office.
Lawson has served as a congressman since 2017 and was re-elected for a second term in 2018.
Before Lawson began his tenure in Congress, former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown held the 5th District seat. The 12-term congresswoman served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2017, until she was sentenced to five years in prison for her leading role in a charity scam.
Lawson has seen many contenders, but none that hail from his alma mater.
“Yes, we are both Rattlers and both former student-athletes at FAMU. I welcome the competition be they Rattler, Gator, Seminole, Panther or everyday citizen,” Lawson said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
The men may be “FAMU-LY” but the competition is brewing. According to an article on floridapolitics.com, Chester believes he can be competitive due to Lawson’s lack of a record of accomplishments.
To which Lawson responded, “Clearly, my opponent is uninformed. I have a long record of accomplishments in Florida and on this campus where I have had a hand in securing funding for many of the major construction and renovation projects that have taken place on this campus in the past two decades – the new pharmacy building, and the addition to the new pharmacy building, renovation of the Commons, Tucker Hall, the new
Polkinghorne Village, the journalism building, and the Lawson Center, just to name a few. I also played a major role in the return of the FAMU law school and securing a new branch FAMU pharmacy campus in Crestview.
“So, when my opponent says I lack a record of accomplishment, it is obvious he doesn’t know what he is talking about and hasn’t done a bit of homework,” Lawson added.
Patty Ball Thomas, Leon County Democratic Party vice-chair, can’t predict how the race between the two might go.
“We have to be very careful that we don’t get involved right now with our Democratic candidates,” Thomas said. “We have to wait until the primary and until one person is selected before we really come out with any support.”
Chester is running his campaign as “a visionary you can trust,” with the hopes of evoking excitement and seeing good voter turnout.
As Lawson gears up for the race, he said he had made good on his promises to the people and doesn’t plan to stop.
“I’m proud of everything we’ve accomplished, and I look forward to continuing my work in the years ahead,” Lawson said.
The primary will occur on Aug. 18.