2010 Campaign Notes
That recent Washington Post poll which showed Mayor Adrian Fenty trailing by double figures in his race against challenger Vincent Gray?
That wasn’t the only surprise in the poll.
Try the race for the Democratic Party At Large Council seat currently held by 12-year-veteran Phil Mendelson.
For as long as his challenger—relative newcomer Clark Ray—has been running, which is approximately a year, you’d have thought that this was a race between Mendelson and Ray, experience vs youth, twelve years of service vs. an impressive resume. Guess again.
You’ll never guess who was leading the race according to the Washington Post poll. Guy by the name of Michael Brown. Better yet, call him Michael D. Brown, by which middle initial the current Democratic Shadow Senator can be differentiated from the other Michael Brown, (Michael A Brown) the at large Independent member of the council member who is not running this time around.
Mr. Brown, who didn’t enter the race until late this summer, raised no money and had no Web site, led Mendelson by 38-21 percent among all voters and 41-29 percent among likely voters.
Ray, who had been running hard throughout the campaign, was mired in single figures.
Brown, Michael D, in fact, registered high among African American voters, where he got 49% percent of the vote. His name on the ballot says simply Michael Brown.
The news almost made hash of the at large campaign. “Well, sure, it’s had a big effect,” Mendelson said. “But we’re moving to correct it on every possible front.”
At a recent candidate forum (which also included Ward 1 and the Chairman’s Race) in Adams Morgan, Brown, Michael D, professed not to be surprised by the events.
“I think people like my story, like my message,” Brown, who is a successful businessman, after having dropped out of high school, which he had called the biggest mistake of his life. A big, affable man who’s lobbied hard for statehood, and jobs for DC workers, as well as the district having a voting power and taxing power over suburban workers in DC, said. “There’s no subterfuge. I’ve used that name all of my life. It’s my name. I don’t really think people are confused.”
A local resident disagreed. “I think what you’re doing is misleading and dishonest,” he said to Brown. “It’s not fair to the other candidates or voters.”
Mendelson, who clearly thought he’d be ahead in this poll, moved quickly to staunch the crisis. “I’ve been representing voters for 12 years now,” he said. “People know they can rely on me. But this, well, I just think this was something that was clearly misleading, clearly a mistake. He was at one forum where Brown was pointed out to a man who had voted for him in a straw poll and the man said he was voting “for the other Brown.” Michael A Brown has sent out recorded calls to voters saying he’s not running
Mendelson has passed out flyers showing pictures of himself, of Michael D. Brown and Michael A. Brown. For one thing, Michael A. Brown, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor, and who is the son of the late U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, is black which Michael D. Brown clearly is not.
“You have to get the information out there,” Mendelson said in an interview. “It’s a problem. No question. But it’s obvious that the poll shows two things: voters haven’t been paying enough attention because the mayor’s race has taken up all the focus of voters, and they obviously confused this Brown for Councilman Brown, who is not running.”
“I thought we were running against Clark Ray,” he said. “But I also think it’s obviously hurt him (Ray) more than it hurt me.”
Mendelson has often opposed Mayor Fenty, especially on school reform. He voted against the mayoral takeover. Surprisingly though, he has some different views about what to do with Chancellor Rhee. “I wouldn’t propose firing her,” he said. “I’d want to keep her here. I’m for reform, but didn’t agree with how she did things.” But I think we ought to stick with continuity. We can’t keep doing this, firing people after a year or two and starting all over again. that’s not good for the kids.”
Ray, who looks boyish with a bald look, is sometimes confused not with any Browns but with the mayor. He said he was “disappointed” in the results. “Look, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t both surprised and disappointed,” he said. “But I can sleep at night, pretty easily.”
Ray has run with energy, intelligence, and great enthusiasm. He brings a big resume to the table—services with the Clinton Administration in the White House and the Department of Agriculture, a former teacher, and a former Head of the Parks and Recreation Department under Fenty, whom he still admires, even though Fenty fired him. “I don’t want to get into that, in terms of feeling, it’s something that’s between him and me,” he said without a trace of bitterness.
Of the polls, he said that there’s still a large bundle of undecideds to account for. “I’m not discouraged,” he said. “I’m going to keep on doing what I’m doing and I’m going to run as hard as I can up to the last moment.
At the forum, the candidates were asked about what their biggest mistake was and how they handled it. Brown, D, said it was dropping out of high school, and then talked mostly about overcoming that mistake. Ray remembered eagerly proposing a project in his role as parks and recreation director that would have eliminated some 20 jobs. “I didn’t know that at the time,” he said. “The lesson is that there are consequences to policy decisions. That’s a hard lesson, but it’s not something you forget.”
The rise of Brown, which in some ways almost undermined the, months of campaigning that had been done by Mendelson and Ray, didn’t faze him.
“I kind of think of it as poetic justice,” he said. “I mean, here’s Phil, who depends hugely on name recognition for twelve years, and here he’s become a victim of it.
The subject never came up during the forum. Well, almost. “I realize that we have a problem over some confusion about names,” Ray said to the forum audience. “Well, I want to make it absolutely clear . . ., it’s Clark Ray. ...Not Ray Clark. People make that mistake all of the time. So I wanted to clear that up.”