You apparently have to be brown to get elected to citywide office in the District of Columbia. Literally.
When Michael D. Brown, the District's little-known "Shadow Senator," won a straw poll for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council recently, I thought it was a fluke. It had to be. But today the Washington Post reports that polling shows Brown with a decisive lead over 12-year incumbent Councilmember Phil Mendelson and his primary challenger, former Parks and Rec Director and neighborhood services coordinator, Clark Ray.
When voters in a poll of 1,277 residents, including 780 registered Democrats, were asked whom they would vote if the election for at-large councilmember were held today 41% of likely voters answered Brown, 29% chose Mendelson, 6% said Ray, 2% went with other/not voting, and 21% had no opinion. Among black voters, the percentage favoring Brown was even higher -- 49% to Mendelson's 14%.
What's shocking is that the Michael Brown they will be getting is not the Michael Brown they think they are voting for. In 2006, Michael A. Brown, let's call him "A," got elected to an at-large seat on the D.C. Council as an independent after incumbent Carol Schwartz lost to Patrick Mara in the Republican primary. A is not up for reelection. Michael D is for Donald Brown ("D") will appear on the ballot as just "Michael Brown." As the photo above shows, there's no resemblence between the two in person.
Meanwhile, D has raised zero dollars for his campaign - he benefits from not advertising himself. He does not appear to have a campaign website, which would cost next to nothing. It's not as if D doesn't know how to get the word out. According to his wikipedia biography, D is the president and founder of Horizon Communications Corp., which provides direct-mail services to political organizations and non-profit organizations. Where's that mailing with your photograph on it, D?
Ray, on the other hand, has been campaigning hard for over a year -- knocking on doors across the city, distributing fliers, posters, and yard signs.
There could also be a handful of voters who vote for D because they instinctively think of the popular Kwame Brown, another at-large councilmember who is currently running for D.C. Council Chairman.
Who is to blame for this high level of voter confusion just two weeks before the primary?
A, who has endorsed Mendelson, accuses D "political identity theft." Some might say the voters' are at fault for not doing their homework.
But what about Phil Mendelson? He's run a lackluster campaign, spending just $12,000 in the 2-month reporting period just preceding the primary. He has one paid campaign staffer. And I have yet to see a Mendelson yard, window sign, or door hanger, or him campaigning... anywhere. Only recently did he distribute a flier that shows photos of the two Browns. Can someone tell him he is up for re-election?
Whatever your choice in the at-large election, it will be a travesty and a bad joke if a virtual unknown is elected to the D.C. Council purely on the basis of being a Brown.