Michael Brown name confusion affects council race
Possibly the most shocking development to come out of Wednesday night's Ward 4 Democrats' straw poll was not in fact Vincent Gray's thrashing of Mayor Adrian Fenty on his home turf.
Rather, I submit, it was that at-large council candidate Clark Ray, who has been running for nearly a year and has raised more than $120,000, was soundly outpolled by Michael D. Brown, who only decided to run three weeks ago and has raised no money at all. Brown won 330 votes to Ray's 199, with incumbent Phil Mendelson beating both with 364 votes.
The conclusion is inescapable: Name confusion between Michael Donald Brown, the "shadow senator," and Michael Arrington Brown, the freshman at-large council member, will be a factor come Sept. 14.
How do I know? Michael A. Brown, a Ward 4 resident, attended the straw poll, and this reporter personally witnessed three persons stroll up to Brown to tell them they'd just cast votes for him. Brown politely explained that, in fact, he was not on the ballot. He said today that "countless" voters similarly approached him last night.
Sen. Brown was there as well, and he said today that's he's quite pleased with his performance. It's going so well, in fact, that he may now start actively raising funds.
He's running on what's essentially a one-plank platform: Get D.C. statehood, by hook or by crook. "I'm out there beating the drum," says Brown, 57. He attended pretty much every candidates' event he can find, and in the ones I've seen, he's charmed attendees with a mixture of humor and moral outrage.
Brown says voters simply like what he's saying better than what Ray's saying. "What's his message? I'm not Phil Mendelson?" Brown asks. "Clark's a nice guy; I like him. But I don't know what he's saying. At least I'm saying something."
Brown touts his 30 years as a behind-the-scenes guy for national Democratic politics. "Name recognition is not unimportant. People bring this up to me a lot, and I don't know what to do about it. ... It's not like I got into politics to capitalize on this." He notes that he knew Michael A.'s dad -- former Democratic National Committee chair Ron Brown, and in fact hired the son for a summer some years back.
Michael A. Brown isn't amused. He said Thursday that he's the victim of "political identity theft" and that elections officials "have a duty" to clear up the confusion -- perhaps by issuing a letter to Democratic voters including each Michael Brown's picture and bio. The Board of Elections and Ethics indicated to him that it only interferes in such matters if there are identical names on the same ballot, and Michael A. Brown, an independent, won't stand for reelection until 2012.
Now, the straw poll might overstate the impact of the name confusion citywide. Michael A. Brown ran for the Ward 4 council seat in 2007, and Wednesday's crowd, heavy on old hands and party regulars, is probably much better acquainted with him than most. But that also has him worried: "There were a lot of sophisticated, savvy folks there," says Michael A. "These were informed voters that were confused."
Ray says he's not spending any time getting worked up about it. "It's the hand I've been dealt. I'm not going to sit here and be bitter about it. I'm going to continue what I've done." Ray notes that Brown gathered the requisite petitions to appear on the ballot -- as "Michael Brown" -- and is thus a "legitimate candidate."
Perhaps Ray can find comfort in the fact that the majority of straw poll voters preferred someone other than Mendelson. Or perhaps not.
"I don't know if I take comfort," Ray says. "I'd take comfort if I'd won the thing."
Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post
August 5, 2010; 4:36 PM ET
Categories: DCision 2010 , The District
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