Heading into the Washington, D.C. primary Tuesday, a little-known white candidate for an at-large council seat, Michael D. Brown, has essentially stolen the political identity of another, far better-known black politician, the sitting at-large council member Michael A. Brown. Brown isn't even running for re-election this year. The candidate "Michael Brown," a self-employed consultant with no endorsements and virtually no campaign funds, entered the race a few months ago, ostensibly just to promote the D.C. statehood issue, while using his unpaid position as a symbolic "Shadow Senator" to tell voters in a mailer and robocalls that he's currently holding office.
Like Democrats who mistakenly voted for Alvin Greene in South Carolina or Republicans paying homeless people to run as Green Party candidates to drain Democratic votes, candidate Michael Brown is apparently following the disreputable legacy of Nixon-style "dirty tricks" to advance his campaign against the respected veteran at-large councilman, Phil Mendelson:
Michael D. Brown has claimed that he isn't attempting to fool voters -- "they're not that stupid." he says. It's also true that he hasn't broken any campaign laws. But all his campaign materials and promotional efforts have been designed to sow confusion in his race against a 12-year city councilman, Phil Mendelson. All this has been going on despite efforts by the sitting councilman, Michael A. Brown (see photo), to point out that he -- and virtually every major organization in the city -- has endorsed Phil Mendelson, a supporter of Vincent Gray in the race against Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Yet Brown's stratagem has worked: the latest Washington Post poll published at the end of August shows:
In a surprising development, the results also show that in the at-large council race, longtime incumbent Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) is trailing the District's lesser-known shadow senator, Michael D. Brown. Many voters have confused him with At-Large Council member Michael A. Brown (I) in part because he is listed on the ballot simply as "Michael Brown."
Brown, a late entry into the race who had raised no money as of the Aug. 10 campaign finance filing deadline, leads Mendelson 38 percent to 21 percent among Democratic voters and is receiving strong support from African Americans. Seven percent of Democrats favor a third candidate, Clark Ray, the former D.C. Parks and Recreation director. Among likely voters, Brown is clearly ahead of Mendelson, 41 percent to 29 percent.
Indeed, in a mailer sent to voters last week, Michael D. Brown didn't put his picture on it, and offered a variety of nominally true, but misleading, statements to further the impression that he's the "Michael Brown" who is currently sitting in the City Council. Among them: his references to being elected to citywide office a few years ago, without actually saying the "office" was the symbolic Shadow Senator position designed to promote statehood -- not the at-large council seat that Michael A. Brown now holds. As Washington Post local columnist, Mike DeBonis points out, in describing the mailer as well as robocalls from African-American supporters of candidate Michael Brown:
It's become increasingly clear that confusion is exactly what Brown is banking on. Last week, in addition to the other robocall, Brown sent out a mailer -- one that does not feature a picture or, like the call, any mention of his shadow senator position.
The mailer mentions Brown's "days working at the Democratic National Committee" -- Ron Brown, Michael A.'s father, chaired the DNC from 1989 to 1993 -- and his work "getting D.C. statehood" -- Michael A. chaired the a council special committee on "statehood and self-determination."
The local alternative weekly, Washington City Paper, when endorsing Mendelson, also pinpoints the threat this voter confusion poses to the city -- and its reputation:
At-Large council member Phil Mendelson
This year's Democratic primary for at-large member of the D.C. Council could provide proof-positive that the District, dynamic new image notwithstanding, houses the world's dumbest electorate. How else to explain the fact that a relative unknown named Michael D. Brown is running ahead in the polls--mostly because voters confuse him with popular incumbent Michael A. Brown, who's not on the ballot?
The reasons for opposing Brown go beyond concern for hometown dignity. They mainly involve Phil Mendelson, the stellar public servant who'd be ousted in the process. A legislative workhorse who shepherded initiatives like gay marriage into law, Mendelson is also kind of a quibbler, which can be irritating to mayors and other ambitious types. But he's in a job that suits his persnickety skills.
Vote Phil Mendelson.
Unfortunately, it's lower-income, ill-informed voters most likely to propel Michael Brown into a victory -- and suffer the consequences of an unprepared, inexperienced novice sitting in an important position when the city is facing a fiscal crisis.