When Michael D. Brown ran for D.C. shadow senator in 2006, he worried about being confused with another Michael D. Brown -- the erstwhile head of FEMA who had flubbed the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Four years later, Michael D. Brown is running for an At-Large Council seat -- and Councilmember Michael A. Brown is miffed.
In Wednesday’s Ward 4 straw poll, Michael D. Brown received 330 votes, not far behind incumbent Phil Mendelson’s 364 and well ahead of Clark Ray’s 199. This led Michael A. Brown, a Ward 4 resident who already holds another at-large seat not up for a vote this year, to accuse the other Brown of “political identity theft.”
The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis says he “personally witnessed three persons stroll up to” Michael A. Brown “to tell them they’d just cast votes for him,” and the Councilmember said Thursday “that ‘countless’ voters similarly approached him” at the Ward 4 event. He wants Shadow Senator Brown to put his photo on his campaign signs, and says the Board of Elections and Ethics owes it to voters to make a clarification. (The board says it only does so if there are identical names on the ballot, and Councilmember Brown, elected as an independent, is not up until 2012.)
But like the “Office Space” character who refused to change his name from “Michael Bolton” because he had it first, Shadow Senator Brown -- who turned 57 on Thursday and who is a dozen years older than Councilmember Brown -- isn’t having it.
“As far as my support being entirely based on name confusion, I think this is foolish,” he told me. “I don’t believe voters are that dumb.” Brown said he “has elected more than once in the District,” and added, “I was in politics when the other Michael Brown was in high school.”
It’s true that Michael D. Brown is hardly running as a silent candidate. Though he has not been spending money on his campaign, he has been attending candidate forums and has been making an aggressive pitch for D.C. statehood. He is an aggressive but avuncular spokesman for D.C., and DeBonis says he has “charmed attendees with a mixture of humor and moral outrage” at these events.
Michael D. Brown holds an M.A. in public policy from the University of Maryland, and is the president of political direct-mail firm Horizon Communications, which he founded. He spent some time working for the Democratic National Committee when Michael A. Brown’s father, Ron Brown, was party chairman, and tells me he even “hired Michael to work on a project at the DNC when he was a teenager.”
His campaign for Council, though underfunded, is not frivolous. “I am running because 72 percent of the people who work in the District of Columbia pay no taxes to the District,” he told me -- which he says amounts to $2 billion a year left “on the table because we are not a state and are prohibited by Congress from taxing income at its source, unlike almost every other jurisdiction in America.”
Brown says only statehood can turn D.C. around, and asserts, “Puerto Rico spent $20 million last year on its effort to become a state. D.C. spent $100,000. This year that money has been taken out of the budget completely. I believe we need an At-Large Member of the Council to focus on getting our rights and our money. It’s that important.”