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Barras: Michael Brown's re-election strategies

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Photo - D.C. Councilman Michael Brown hopes that voters forget his financial woes when they head to the polls on Nov. 6. (Examiner file photo)
D.C. Councilman Michael Brown hopes that voters forget his financial woes when they head to the polls on Nov. 6. (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras

Michael A. Brown apparently wants District residents to suffer temporary amnesia when they vote on Nov. 6. Forget about his financial mismanagement woes. Focus on his legislative record.

"Most people running can talk about what they are going to do. But they can't match what I have done," the at-large councilman told me. "I'll put my legislative record up against anyone -- candidates or other council members."

He cited as his three top achievements "restoring more [money] for affordable housing, rewriting the largest jobs bill in the city's history and preserving the safety net. I like to take care of the last, the least and the lost -- the most vulnerable of our residents."

That phrase, popularized in the District by Marion Barry, is a rhetorical staple of old race and class politics, which Brown deployed in 2008 when he first ran for council. Then, facing a white Republican, Brown, a life-long Democrat, became an independent. He exploited the city's constitutional mandate, setting aside one of the at-large seats for the nonmajority party.

While Brown has drawn support in this 2012 campaign from the usual union suspects -- the Washington Teachers' Union, the D.C. Hotel Association and the Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO Central Labor Council -- a lot has changed over the past four years. There's a larger nonblack population that doesn't possess race guilt and isn't reticent about opposing an African-American -- even one with Brown's political pedigree.

Increasing numbers of residents are identifying themselves as independents. Three of Brown's opponents -- A. J. Cooper, David Grosso and Leon Swain -- are independents. (Republican Mary Beatty, Statehood Green Party Ann Wilcox and incumbent Democrat Vincent Orange also are on the ballot.)

More independents in November could spell trouble for both incumbents. Democrats could feel unconstrained and vote outside the party.

Many of them already are dissatisfied with District elected officials. A sweeping federal investigation into government corruption instigated their unhappiness. But the felony pleas of two then-sitting Democratic legislators -- Harry Thomas Jr. and Kwame R. Brown -- have further fueled it.

Untethered ambition can be a destructive thing.

The current environment and Brown's fiscal mismanagement narrative could dwarf his legislative record. Reports detailing his financial troubles have appeared almost daily since he accused his former campaign treasurer of stealing nearly $114,000; speaking through his attorney, Hakim Sutton has denied those allegations.

"I am not the first elected official to have had money stolen from him," Brown told me, citing U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which reveals his penchant for comparing himself with national politicians -- a clear indication of his outsize ambitions. "I did not benefit at all. I did not know anything about it."

Playing the victim could win over some voters. It also could weaken the potency of his portrayal of himself as a savvy, seasoned politico. But Brown doesn't seem worried: "People walk into the voting booth and vote for a variety of reasons."

A kind of similar circle-the-wagons code may have worked in 2008. But will it be effective this year?

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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